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Wine spritzer punch is a hit

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Published 1:00 am, Tuesday, November 18, 2008
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For my mother-in-law-to-be's birthday, I volunteer to cook a feast that lasts all weekend. There are about 40 people of all ages coming from as far away as Canada where she is originally from. It is a good group for which to cook because there are vegetarians, vegans and mainstream diners. And it is a great excuse to create recipes that appeal to all.

I also am careful to make dishes that can be prepared ahead and put out as a spread, so I only have a few last-minute things to finish, and I can enjoy the party.

The party starts with wine spritzer punch made from dry white wine, cranberry juice, apricot nectar, ginger ale and lime juice. I add ice cubes made from frozen cranberry juice.

I admit this idea came from my fiancee, Lori. I garnish the punch with frozen mixed berries from a bag. They are a nice touch. Lori thinks no one will drink this concoction, but I have to refill the punch bowl twice in the first 30 minutes. Must be those antioxidant-rich berries.

For the meal, I make a platter of grilled seasonal vegetables that I drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and some type of vinegar. This dish looks beautiful and is easy to make ahead. If you can't grill outside, cook them in a grill pan on the stove top.

I also make whole-wheat penne with artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, kalamata olives and basil.

For a salad, I toss chickpeas with a vinaigrette flavored with smoked paprika. I also make a huge Greek salad and one of cucumbers and Vidalia onions. I also create a recipe for Broccoli Salad With Sun-Dried Apples, Cranberries and Candied Pecans. I make it with Creamy Almond Butter Dressing. It becomes a new favorite. I serve a plate of assorted cheeses and try making a potato salad with Yukon gold potatoes and scallions that turns out fabulously. I'm a sucker for potato salad of any kind.

I also offer a selection of smoked fish as well as tuna salad, deviled eggs, cream cheese spreads and fresh bagels.

This is a workable menu that prompts plenty of compliments (and I don't think the punch had anything to do with it).

Broccoli Salad with Sun-Dried Apples, Cranberries and Candied Pecans

Chef Steve's tip: Serve this any day, but this salad will be on my Thanksgiving table this year. Use Fuji, Gala or Granny Smith apples for this recipe. Although you can use raw nuts, toasting them brings out their flavor. If you don't have dried apples, you can use dried apricots or figs. Be sure to add the dressing soon after cutting the apples and combining them with the broccoli or they will turn brown.

Broccoli Salad:

Water and ice

2 heads broccoli cut into small florets (5 cups)

2 unpeeled large apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup chopped sun-dried apples

1/2 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup toasted pecans halves (See NOTE)

Juice of 1/2 lemon, optional

Creamy Almond Butter

Dressing:

1/4 cup almond, cashew or smooth peanut butter

1/4 cup hot water

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Pinch cayenne pepper

To make salad:

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and water; set aside. Add the broccoli florets to the boiling water and cook about 30 seconds until they just turn bright green; they will still be very crisp.

2. Immediately drain and put broccoli into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain broccoli and place in the bowl. Add the apples, cranberries and lemon juice, if using to keep apples from browning.

3. Make the dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a whisk or immersion blender until smooth and creamy. Combine dressing and broccoli mixture well. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

(NOTE: To toast nuts: Place nuts on a baking pan in a 375-degree oven 6 to 8 minutes until lightly browned and aromatic.)

Per serving: 391 calories, 49 percent calories from fat, 21 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, no cholesterol, 50 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams total fiber, 34 grams total sugars, 42 grams net carbs, 7 grams protein, 335 milligrams sodium.