Every October for the past several years, my parents have celebrated their wedding anniversary by driving from Michigan to Topsail Island, North Carolina.  I’ve never been there myself, but they’ve brought back pictures of little crabs on the beach and ocean sunsets, unique treasures found in the shops in Asheville, and stories of fresh seafood and local charm.  A couple of times, they decided to visit Virginia instead.  This year, they chose our house as their romantic getaway destination.

Yep.  Our little town in North Dakota, population forty-something, won out over the warm ocean breezes.  I’m guessing their cute little granddaughter had something to do with it.  Anyway, we had a great time–playing card games, taking walks, catching up on Downton Abbey.  My dad lent his painting and light-installing expertise to make our kitchen more awesome.  I did all the fun cooking, and my parents chopped onions and washed dishes.  I could get used to this.

For my parents’ last night here, we decided to make them a nice anniversary dinner.  I made chicken piccata as the main course and rounded out the meal with appetizers, soup, and an amazing dessert.  With some white wine, candles, and a little Duke Ellington, it was almost as good as the ocean.  Nah.  Even better.

Part 1:  Appetizers
We started out with homemade crostini with bruschetta and tapenade.  Both were new recipes, and both are definitely going back in the recipe binder to make again.  The crostini can be made a day in advance; just store them in an airtight container until they’re ready to use.  They take barely any time and are ten times better than crackers.  The tapenade can also be made in advance; it should keep a week or so in the fridge.  The bruschetta, on the other hand, will turn mushy and soggy if it sits too long, so make it shortly before serving.

Bruschetta and Tapenade on Homemade Crostini
Mystery Soup
Chicken Piccata
Mystery Dessert

Homemade Crostini, Bruschetta, and TapenadeCrostini  (my recipe)
Time:  30-35 minutes
Yield:  About 2 dozen

1 baguette loaf (the fresher, the better)
3-4 T. olive oil
1-2 large cloves garlic, peeled

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Slice baguette on an angle into 1/4″ to 5/8″ thick slices.  I use my biggest kitchen knife, rather than a bread knife, for this.

Spread out the bread slices on a baking sheet (you’ll probably need two).  Lightly brush each piece with olive oil.  Bake for 10 minutes, then switch the pans and continue to bake in 3-minute increments until golden brown.

Cut off the wide ends of the garlic cloves, then rub the garlic over each piece of bread (sort of like you’re grating the garlic).  You can also do this step before brushing the crostini with oil, but I’ve found it goes more quickly when the bread has been toasted.

Cool completely.  Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Tomato-Basil Bruschetta (original recipe here)
Time:  10 minutes
Yield:  about 2 cups

3 plum (roma) tomatoes, chopped (I used two larger tomatoes)
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 T. olive oil
1 T. minced fresh basil OR 1 tsp. dried basil
1 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Combine all ingredients; refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serve on crostini.

Kalamata Tapenade (original recipe here)
Time:  10 minutes
Yield:  1 cup

1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 tsp. anchovy paste
1 T. capers
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1 1/2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. olive oil

Combine first seven ingredients (through lemon juice) in a food processor.  Slowly add olive oil while blending the ingredients together, until mixture resembles a smooth paste.  Serve on crostini (use sparingly; tapenade is quite salty).