Southern Spring Menu

Whether you are hosting a formal spring lunch or a casual picnic, this quick-and easy menu is all you need to please a crowd—and still allow time for some rest and relaxation.

Southern-Style Deviled Egg Crostini

6 hard-boiled eggs
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chives, plus extra for garnish, finely chopped
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Dash or two of hot sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Herb-buttered Saltines (see recipe below)

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise. Remove the cooked yolk from the eggs, and place yolks into a medium-size bowl, mashing together with a fork until they are a fine crumble. Finely dice the cooked egg whites.

Add the celery and next 6 ingredients to the mashed egg yolks. Add the diced egg whites to the mixture. Mix together well, and adjust seasonings if needed. Refrigerate while preparing the crackers.

Herb-buttered Saltines

½ stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives and parsley
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
30 Saltine crackers

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Preheat oven to 325°. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Stir in next 3 ingredients. Place Saltines on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush evenly with butter mixture, and bake 5 to 7 minutes until golden brown. Serve egg mixture on Herb-buttered Saltines. Makes about 30

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Paper muffin liners
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup canola oil
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups shredded carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, divided

For the frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened and at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Line muffin tins with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and next 4 ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, brown sugar, and eggs. Stir in unsweetened applesauce, vanilla, and shredded carrots. Add the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Stir in ¼ cup chopped walnuts.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until a cake tester inserted comes out clean, about 10 to 12 minutes for mini cupcakes, 20 minutes for regular. Let cool completely. Makes 24 mini or 12 regular size

Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium-high speed until very light, creamy, and smooth. On low speed, gradually add the sugar, and beat until fluffy.

Frost cupcakes, and decorate with remaining chopped walnuts or decorative candies. Serve or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Easy Asparagus Tart

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Use a rolling pin to gently roll out puff pastry to an 11- by 15-inch rectangle. and transfer to the lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry dough 1 inch from the edge to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, prick the pastry around the center (not the edges). Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from the oven. Deflate any bubbles in the pastry, if needed.

Combine olive oil and mustard in a small bowl; spread evenly onto the puff pastry, leaving a 1-inch border.

Sprinkle the Gruyère over the puff pastry, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Arrange asparagus spears to be parallel with each other or in a decorative manner.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown, rotating pan halfway through the baking process. Slice into squares, and serve. Serves 8

LEARN FROM LESLIE The easiest way to thaw puff pastry is to place it in the refrigerator overnight.

Pimiento Cheese Baked Grits

5 cups water
3 cups half-and-half
2 cups stone-ground yellow grits
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
20 ounces (1 1/4 pounds) extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1 (7-ounce) jar pimiento slices, drained and chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 large eggs, beaten

In a Dutch oven, bring water, half-and-half, grits, and salt to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 40 to 45 minutes or until thickened and cooked.

Remove from heat, and add the cheese and next 6 ingredients. Allow to cool slightly for 10 minutes; add the eggs, and combine thoroughly.

Place in greased ramekins or in 1 large 3- to 3½-quart baking dish. Bake individual ramekins for 40 to 45 minutes. For the larger baking dish, bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until almost set. Allow the grits to cool for 15 minutes before serving. They will be very hot. Serves 8 to 10

LEARN FROM LESLIE This recipe can be made ahead and simply warmed (covered with foil) before serving.

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