Posts filed under 'Hors D’Oeurvres'
This post has been a long time coming. As I went on (and on and on) about back in January, I helped my friend Patty cook for our friend Brynn’s engagement party. With a Spanish theme, we cooked up an array of tapas. But after planning, prepping, cooking and eating all of tapas for the party, I kind of ran out of steam when it came to the photographing and blogging. Sure, I made it around to the cake (of course) and a few of the nibbles from the party, but one of my favorite tapas of all didn’t make its way to this blog.
So, I was thrilled when Patty asked me to make that exact thing—Spanish Tortilla bites—for a wedding shower for yet another one of our friends (something in the water, I’m pretty sure) last Saturday. In addition to allowing me to rectify my remissive blogging of yester-January, the tortilla bites also had the advantage of being make-ahead-able. This allowed me to hand them off to Patty on Saturday afternoon, since Kevin and I would be at his grandmother’s Passover Seder that Saturday evening, making us a bit late to the shower.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
I’ve been making this bruschetta—a classic tomato-basil version—for a very long time. I’d love to say that it was my first “signature dish,” but my mom might call me out. Because I’m sure she remembers the Cool Whip-Raspberry “Surprise” that I used to whip up for family BBQs, church potlucks (if you thought my story about Minnesota “bars” was amusing, you should just see the line-up at one of these potlucks) and holidays. While that “surprise” (read: horror) is probably best forgotten, the same cannot be said for the bruschetta.
Holidays at my house are almost entirely focused around food. Sure, we might throw in some gift-opening on Christmas, perhaps a quick trip to church on Easter, and definitely more than one heated game of dominoes, but besides all that, it’s about the food. And not just the eating, the cooking too.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Last night’s engagement party for our friends was a great success. And now that I can finally tell you about the six glorious days I spent in the kitchen getting ready for the party, I don’t know where to begin! So, I guess I’ll begin at the, um, beginning: building the menu. There were a couple of major factors that guided that process. First, we had decided on a Spanish/tapas theme. Second, the party was not at our house; it was at our friends’ house about a mile away. Third, we were expecting about 30 people. So, I was looking for transportable Spanish food that I could ideally make ahead of time.
From there, I like to make sure the food at a cocktail party falls into several camps: food that you can graze on all night, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres that give plenty of variety, and at least one dish that’s more substantial and filling.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos and the recipe.)
Last night, we were invited to a wine tasting party to celebrate our friend’s birthday. I’m not sure what exactly has happened during the last half-decade, but this bunch of college friends has somehow jumped from beer-swilling and beer-pong-tournament-planning to discerning palates and wine tasting. And while our night’s activities might have gotten more sophisticated and our beverage no longer pours from a can, we still drank too much. Apparently, you can take the adults out of college, but you can’t take the college out of the adults.
But we tried, at least. And to do my part in this class-up-our-Saturday-night-trend, I thought I’d make an elegant snack. And I can’t think of a snack more elegant than gougeres. I mean just saying it is elegant. I chose this recipe for blue cheese gougeres because I thought it would pair excellently with the red wines we would be tasting (it did) and because I had an enormous hunk of blue cheese leftover from some other recipe.
Gougeres—which are pate a choux-based—are fairly easy to make. The critical stages can take on a supermarket-sweep-like-frenzy, so I recommend preparing all your ingredients and your baking sheets ahead of time. Doing so will reduce your stress quite a bit. You might also consider forgoing your weight-lifting for the day: the “vigorous” stirring involved here will provide a sufficient arm workout. Gougeres are also very versatile in that they lend themselves to a variety of cheeses and flavors. I loaded these with black pepper, because I think appetizers that feature the stuff tend to beg you to drink red wine with them. Like we needed another excuse last night.
(Click “more” for additional photos and the recipe)
Two things I mentioned yesterday factor heavily into today’s post too. First, the weather. Whoa it is cold. We are being mocked for enjoying the holiday season so much, apparently. Second, the new pot in my life. And the final element that completes the picture above was the fact that New Years Day, like a Sunday, calls for a meal that gives your day some purpose, but doesn’t have you chained to the kitchen all day. Something that you can invest in and something that will result in a soothing, memorable meal. But a menu that doesn’t hold it against you that you enjoyed one too many glasses of champagne the night before and thus need to put in some major couch time. Hypothetically.
A braise is just the thing to satisfy these New Years Day criteria: a braise takes hours, but requires very minimal attention, and the magic it works on short ribs—rendering them into fall-apart loveliness—is certainly comforting and memorable. Especially when it’s very, very cold out (okay, I promise to stop whining and start acting like the Minnesotan-turn-Chicagoan that I am) and when you’ve got the perfect new vessel for braising (that’d be the aforementioned dutch oven that I am obviously just way too excited about).
This meal also gave me a chance to re-create the lettuce wraps that I made for a holiday party in December. You see, when I made them then, I threw a little of this and a pinch of that into the pot and was delighted when they turned out to be delicious. But my delight quickly gave way to dismay when I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d done. This time around, I diligently measured and took notes and I think the result was even better.
And after a holiday season of heavy, decadent bite-sized treats, these bright, flavorful and light wraps are a welcome change. But I’m not ready to give up hearty, hibernation-worthy food like the braised short ribs just yet. I’d like those kind of dishes to stick around—and stick to my ribs—for at least another couple months. Even if my better judgment has me serving lightly stir-fried, garlicky and fiery baby bok choy along the side.
(Click “more” for the recipes)
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I simply will never be able to make certain things as well as my mom. She makes an excellent cup of coffee, the chewiest cookies, the most delicious breakfast potatoes and the list goes on. One that has particularly roiled me is her stuffed mushrooms. She makes them for all her parties and they are always quick to vanish.
I tried to recreate my mom’s version several times and finally gave up. For our holiday party this year, I went for a new recipe all together. I wrote about the results here. As I said, they were just okay. So when my mom announced she was making stuffed mushrooms—her stuffed mushrooms—yesterday, I jumped at the chance to spy.
My sleuthing uncovered a few tidbits: use a grapefruit spoon for cleaning out the mushrooms, double the herbs and be sure to use ciabatta (crust removed). I still have a sneaky suspicion that, even armed with this inside knowledge, my mushrooms will never be as good as hers.
And they were good. The filling is really savory, and flavorful enough to stand up to the strong earthiness of the mushrooms. We had some leftover filling, which was no problem. We baked it up in a small soup crock and it was perfect for dipping. I’m looking forward to trying these once I’m back at home, but, as I said, my hopes aren’t high that I’ll approximate my mother’s. I’ll just have to keep coming home for them, I guess.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I’m in the middle of final exams. While I’m moving into the home-strech now, last week was pretty busy. Because of that (and as I’ve also mentioned), our kitchen was a little under-utilized last week. One exception, though: family dinner. I really didn’t want to cancel on my sister, who comes over once a week for dinner. But I also couldn’t bear the thought of planning a menu, grocery shopping and prepping. Frankly, the Uniform Commercial Code had ruined my appetite.
So, we set a tentative night for family dinner (Tuesday) and all agreed that we’d play it by ear. By Tuesday afternoon, I still hadn’t made a call. While I would’ve gladly swapped text books for cookbooks and traded in my computer for a cutting board, I didn’t think I could afford the time away from studying. We were this close to pulling the plug. There would always be plenty of time for family dinners in 2008, right?
But, it was Ali to the rescue! My sister saved the family dinner by planning the menu (fajitas and fixins) and doing the shopping. She even braved Whole Foods for me (no fewer than five phone calls were exchanged for additional guidance). Then she hauled all the groceries over to our place on the bus (after waiting in the rain at the bus stop). When she got here (after toweling off—it was really raining), she unloaded the groceries and started chopping veggies and chicken (yes, mom, Ali was slicing and dicing raw chicken). By the time I finished studying and Kevin got home from work, dinner was well under way.
By the time we sat down to eat—with our tortillas bulging with spicy, smoky peppers and chicken, salsa and guacamole—all thoughts of good faith purchasers for value and the fiduciary duties had disapppeared. It was a family dinner fiesta! And it was just the re-charge I needed.
There’s nothing novel, fancy or complicated about these recipes. In fact, I’m sure mine resemble many of yours. But there’s something wonderful about a meal that involves recipes you know by heart and that you can put together with your eyes closed. And something completely nourishing about sharing them with people you love.
Sometimes, you find a recipe that looks so good that you are compelled to go out and buy the obscure piece of kitchen equipment for which the recipe calls. And then there are the times when there is an obscure piece of kitchen equipment so must-have that you will search high and low for the recipe for which it will be put to use. Behold: the rectangular tart pan. It’s the same old kind of tart pan that features the pop-up bottom (impossibly fun)—but, rather than a boring circle, it is a rectangle!
The recipe I want to share with you today captures a little bit of both of the scenarios I’ve depicted above. First, the recipe sounded so good that I just had to make it. And, even though it didn’t call for a tart pan (let alone a rectangular tart pan), I thought I could make it work. AND, it would be the most perfect starter for our dinner on Sunday night. The only problem was that I didn’t have said rectangular tart pan. So, I launched a holiay shopping trip last Saturday with a very selfish motive: Williams-Sonoma (coal in my stocking, for sure).
Needless to say, I came home from the shopping trip with not only a couple of Christmas gifts, but also a brand spanking new cupboard-space-taker-upper. But I will gladly shove the ancient circular tart pan (so yesterday) aside for my new rectangular-shaped friend.
I will also have you know that I am pretty sure that the new pan made for the perfect format for this tart. Oh, yes, I suppose I should tell you about the tart too: it featured a flaky, buttery puff pastry crust, filled with a completely decadent custard spiked with pungent camembert and melty leeks. The recipe calls for a broad rustic circlular tart, sliced into wedges. And I happen to think that this particular tart—awesomely decadent as it was—could be an example of too much of a good thing. So, the rectangular shape afforded by my new pan allowed me to cut it into thin, elegant fingers—just the right amount.
Lest you think that the only food we served on Saturday night was the fruit in the sangria, I’ll be writing today about Saturday night’s line-up of hors d’oeuvres. First, and by far the favorite of the night were the mini meatballs. The meatballs themselves are very good, though there is not much novel about the blend of meats, cheese, herbs and egg. The sauce, however, made this particular recipe a standout. And not only are you able to make them ahead of time (I made them on Friday, refrigerated overnight and slowly simmered them back to life before the party on Saturday), but I think they were even better on the second day. This was my first time making these meatballs and I can assure you that it won’t be the last.
Next, we have the antipasto platters. I’ve played around with various combinations of meats, cheeses, vegetables and olives and I’m finally satisfied. I love having at least one of these platters at cocktail or dinner parties, because they come together in a matter of minutes (if you pre-roast the vegetables, which I recommend—another example of something that tastes better on day two) but they look spectacular. They are also sure to please (even the pickiest eater is bound to find something on this platter that they’ll love) and perfect for all-night-long grazing.
Unlike the meatballs, this was far from the first time I’ve made these roasted rosemary cashews. To be honest, I usually add them to a menu for the simple reason that I personally love them. And if no one else likes them, it just means more leftover for me. (I’m sure you want to nominate me for hostess of the year after reading that line.) These nuts are equal parts sweet, savory and spicy–together in perfect harmony. And it’s an Ina Garten recipe, and I’m sure it’s already clear that I love her recipes (in case you missed them, I’ve written about her recipes here and here).
These mushrooms (mushroom caps stuffed with fromage blanc) were the biggest disappointment of the night. My husband hates mushrooms (after very vigorous efforts, I have realized that I will never win this battle) so I relish the opportunity to cook with them. And those occasions arise only rarely—usually when Kevin’s on a business trip (in such cases, I have been known to incorporate mushrooms into breakfast, lunch and dinner) and when there menu is large enough to allow Kevin to avoid them (so: cocktail parties). My mom makes some delicious stuffed mushrooms and my attempts to re-create them always fall short, so I thought I’d try a different tactic this time. I wish I hadn’t. My version of my mom’s stuffed mushrooms are definitely better than these were. They were just sort of lackluster. The filling didn’t stand up to the flavor of the mushrooms and they became soggy as they sat (unlike other stuffed mushrooms, which make great hors d’oeurvres precisely because they can hold up for a few hours). Unlike the meatballs, I won’t be making these again.
These Three-Cheese Mini Macs are a great idea. Everyone loves mac-and-cheese and who wouldn’t want to have a bite-sized version? The recipe called for American cheese and as I indicate in my notes below, I just can’t bring myself to use the stuff. I knew when I made the substitution (using gruyere instead) that I was taking a risk. I doubted the recipe creator was calling for American cheese because of its exceptional taste; I suspected that it was a cheese that helped these mac morsels to hold together. I was right. Don’t get me wrong, they were really good, but they were fussy to get out of the muffin tins (which is catastrophic when they happen to be the last thing you’re baking off right before guests arive) and they definitely fell a bit on their platter. But almost all of them were gobbled up, so the jury is out on these.
Mmmm. I liked these a lot. I’ve been wanting to try polenta canapes for a while, mainly because I like the presentation. And it doesn’t hurt that I like polenta a lot (especially when it comes with our entree at one of favorite Chicago restaurants: Terragusto). In a menu full of some heavier items (meatballs; mini macs), these were a lovely lighter selection. I’m excited to make them again and to experiment with different toppings.
Rounding out the menu were another perennial favorite (and my sister’s request, which I was happy to accommodate): spicy shrimp and chorizo kebabs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great picture, but they’re in the photo above, in the back. And the picture on Food & Wine‘s Web site will give you a better idea of what to expect (though, unlike the kebabs in that photo, I thread only one shrimp and sausage on each toothpick-sized skewer). I think people really love shrimp at cocktail parties, and this is a much more exciting option than a simple shrimp cocktail. Very flavorful–spicy, smoky and succulent. And the caraway seeds lend a very unique background flavor.
So, there you have it. A couple old favorites, a couple new “keepers” and a couple that probably won’t be invited to our cocktail parties of the future. I’ll be writing about the cake (yes, the birthday cake I baked myself) tomorrow.