Michele Crist uses the freshest ingredients when she cooks for friends and family. A walk through the Capitol Market recently inspired her selection of summer appetizers.
Fresh tomatoes, squash, basil, berries, watermelon and shrimp all play starring roles in a mouthwatering selection of Tomato Tart, Marinated Shrimp with Artichokes, Shrimp Bruschetta, Watermelon Fruit Salad with Mint and Basil Vinaigrette, Farmers' Market Kabobs and Watermelon Punch. It's a typical spread for Crist, who happily prepares meals for a crowd. She's been doing it since she was a young girl.
The youngest of six children, Crist remembers shadowing her mother in their South Hills kitchen as she prepared three full meals a day for her large family.
"I don't think cooking for the masses is hard," she said. "I'm used to cooking for eight, so 20 is no problem."
Crist, executive director of the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, especially loves to prepare appetizers. Her guests' preferences help narrow her decisions of what to serve. She's using more vegetable, fruit and seafood appetizers because so many people prefer light, healthy fare. "I hate mushrooms, but I'll use them in an appetizer if it looks appealing otherwise. I don't care if I don't like them if other people do," she said. "I like to take great stuff to parties."
When she planned this summer party menu, she started with marinated shrimp and tomato tart. Since she had too much shrimp and plenty of tomatoes, she whipped up shrimp bruschetta. She topped toasted baguette slices with a mixture of shrimp, tomatoes, garlic, fresh herbs and cheeses and baked them for another appetizer.
"If the tomatoes hadn't looked good, though, I would have gone with an onion tart," she said. "You have to be flexible."
The same ingredients or flavors often run through several of her appetizer selections. Not only does Crist like for the flavors to flow from one dish to the next, but she also appreciates the efficiency of preparing ingredients that may be used in several recipes.
Her kitchen resembles the set of a cooking show when she is in full production. She likes to prepare all the ingredients before she begins putting recipes together. Bowls and ramekins of ingredients at the ready, she'll construct several recipes at once. This spread required only two hours of capable Crist's time.
Crist's 17-year-old daughter Lori likes to cook with her mother. Her specialty is marinades. She invites her friends over to sample the meats she's marinated in her own concoctions. For Lori's 17th birthday, Crist made a fancy brunch. "Her friends know they're going to eat well when they're at our house," Crist said.
She's a cookbook fanatic, but relies most heavily on the bimonthly publication Cuisine at Home. The colorful step-by-step instructions and clear photographs encourage her to try the tempting recipes. She also likes cookbooks by Ina Garten (the "Barefoot Contessa") and the online recipes from the Food Network. "I enjoy cooking so much. It's almost therapeutic for me," she said. "It's very de-stressing for me to be immersed in my kitchen."
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 348-1230.
Michele's party food tips
before you start cooking.
Surprise - there's no watermelon in Watermelon Punch. It gets its pink color from the Crème de Almond. Crist said it's comparable to a punch served at the former Cheers bar in downtown Charleston.
1 64-ounce can pineapple juice
1/2 gallon carton orange/pineapple juice
1 bottle Southern Host liqueur
1/2 cup Crème de Almond liqueur
COMBINE all ingredients and serve over ice.
Serves 4 to 6
1 Pillsbury pie crust
5 roma tomatoes, diced
2 slices cooked bacon
1 tablespoons green onions
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Fresh basil and oregano
Salt and pepper
HEAT oven to 375°.
CHOP tomatoes and place on several layers of paper towels to draw out the water.
LINE 9-inch tart pan with pie crust, prick with fork and bake for 7 minutes.
SPRINKLE 1/4 cup of mozzarella on the pie crust followed by the tomatoes, bacon and green onion. Salt and pepper this layer and add a combined tablespoon of chopped fresh basil and oregano.
TOP with the rest of the mozzarella and then the Parmesan.
BAKE 18 to 20 minutes until the top slightly browns.
Marinated Shrimp with Artichokes
3 pounds cooked shrimp