Tag Archives: appetizers

Party planning

I need to take a break from work, so here’s some info on a party I’m planning right now. We’re having 25-30 people over on Friday night for apps, sweets and booze. I’m in the middle of a crazy week, so I’m looking to make it pretty easy on myself…but still amazing.  A few tips to that end:

  • I think a spread looks more impressive as a whole if it follows something of a theme (e.g. Italian, Mexican, Comfort food).
  • When the whole looks impressive, you have a little more wiggle room on the individual items. Meaning that you can buy more dishes ready-made or ready-to-assemble.
  • Always plan several items that can be wholly or partially cooked 1-2 days in advance.
  • For a cocktail party, I shoot for 3 savory dishes (1 veggie, 1 vegetarian or seafood, and 1 meat), 2 sweets and 1 signature drink.
  • Try to avoid dished that need utensils or more than 2 bites.

With those rules in mind, I came up with the following 3 menus:


  1. Guacamole topped with chipotle puree and toasted almonds, served with chips (vegetarian): Easy-peasy. You have to make the guac the day of, but easy to puree the chipotle in adobo and toast the almonds in advance
  2. Cilantro dip  with crudite (veggies): The dip is store-bought and I’d cheat and buy a lot of veggies already prepped
  3. Oregano-crusted pork tenderloin sliders with pickled red onion and lime aioli (meat): Cheap, delicious and easy. I can make the pork and red onions in advance, the rolls come from the freezer section and the “lime aioli”is just mayo with lime zest and sauteed garlic.
  4. Subtly spicy Mexican chocolate pudding with cinnamon cream, served in little shot glasses (sweet #1): You literally make this dish in a blender. It is so good and easy…and vegan (minus the whipped cream)
  5. Key lime bars (sweet #2): The hardest thing on the menu, so I might think about a substitute.
  6. Margaritas (signature cocktail): Always easy, always delicious. Pre-mix everything and just have it out for people to serve themselves

Comfort food

  1. Michael’s curry dip with crudite (veggie): Easy to make in advance because it tastes better after a day or two…and I can outsource it to my husband
  2. Little crawfish pies (seafood): Store-bought pie shells filled with crawfish etouffee and cooked with parm on top. YUM. The etouffee isn’t “easy” but I’ll end up with more than half of it in my freezer for a rainy day, so I don’t mind the effort
  3. Pigs in a blanket (meat): Come on, people. They are delicious and everyone loves them. Literally just store-bought little sausages rolled in crescent roll dough and baked. Sprinkle some poppy seeds on some before baking, mix up some honey mustard (yellow mustard, honey and a bit of mayo) and Schriracha ketchup, and people with think you’re Christ come again.
  4. Brown-butter rice krispie treats (sweet #1): Just increase the butter a bit and let it get nice and brown before you mix it up. Sprinkle a bit of course salt on top while it’s still warm in the pan.
  5. Peanut butter, chocolate chunk cookies (sweet#2): My earliest signature dish and still a winner. Stay great for days, so you can make in advance.
  6. Bourbon slushes (signature cocktail): Mix it two days ahead and  pop it in the freezer. Then you just separate the ice with a fork and leave it out for people to serve themselves.


  1. Rebecca F’s delicious prosciutto wrapped goat cheese (meat): So easy, plentiful and yummy. They do need to be assembled the day of the party, but it’s an easy job for a hubby or child (hah)
  2. Puff pastry tartlets with pesto, fresh mozzerella and sun dried tomatoes (vegetarian):  Another day-of job, but easy and great at room temp.
  3. Mediterranean platter (veggies): Store-bought grape leaves, hummus + crudite, olives, and Marcona almonds
  4. Nutella and banana tea sandwiches (sweet #1): Seriously. Nutella and bananas in perfectly square, little white-bread, crustless  sandwiches
  5. Meringue cookies with lemon curd (sweet #2): Store-bought meringues with store-bought lemon curd. Add a blueberry or raspberry on top and we’re in business
  6. Blood orange Sangria (signature cocktail): Add “blood orange” to the title and people will think it was harder. 🙂 Better if you make it a day in advance

So, 3 menus that are all easy, delicious and well-balanced. My honey picked the last one for the party. What do you think?

Either way, I’ll start linking back to some of these recipes. Fun, fun!

Roasted beet salad

I lurve beets + goat cheese. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s spectacular. The bright, earthy sweetness of the beets, mixed with the creamy tang of the goat cheese. Plus, it is soooo pretttty. That’s “pretty” with 4 t’s.

Anyway, aside from loving the flavor combo/plate appeal, I love this dish because it is easy, impactful and great for serving a group. Check it out:

3  medium beets

3 Tablespoons olive oil

Goat cheese (amount depends on how high you stack them, how much you like goat cheese- just buy a log)

Greens or microgreens (optional and amount varies)

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1  teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Rinse the beets and trim off any leafy tops. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in the oven. Roast until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. Once cool, remove beets from packets, reserving oil. Remove beet skins by simply scrubbing with a paper towel. It should just slip off. This is messy work, though. Consider gloves. Set aside peeled beets.
  3. Whisk the mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl. Gradually 2 T of the reserved beet oil. Season with salt and pepper. The dressing should be pretty tangy and a pretty color.
  4. Slice the beets into even 1/4 inch slices. Start building stacks by placing a larger slice of beet on the plate. Add a circular slice of goat cheese and press out until roughly the size of the beet. If you didn’t get a big enough slice the first time, just nab a bit more. Top with a slightly smaller beet slice, press down and repeat until you have several layers.
  5. If using greens, toss with a small amount of dressing and a bit of lemon juice and scatter around plate or under beet stacks. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve.


I am in love and the bread that I love is focaccia. Holy salty, chewy, crisp goodness. And it wasn’t even hard! I blatantly used Cook’s recipe with minimal edits. Frankly, only a fool would monkey with a bread recipe the first time. It’s science, no? So, I am blatantly copying and pasting below:

Makes one 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch rectangle.   Published May 1, 1997.

Rapid-rise or instant yeast reduces the preparation time by more than an hour. If you use an equal amount of regular active dry yeast instead, let the sponge in step 2 develop for thirty minutes rather than twenty, and increase the first and second rises to one and one-half hours each.

1 medium baking potato (about 9 ounces), peeled and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup water (warm, 105 to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil , plus more for oiling bowl and pan
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon sea salt , coarse, (or 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt)


  1. For the dough: Boil 1 quart water in small saucepan; add potato and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain potato well; cool until it can be handled comfortably and put through fine disk on ricer or grate through large holes on box grater. You will need 1 1/3 cups lightly packed potato for this recipe.
  2. Meanwhile, in large bowl of electric mixer or workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, mix or pulse yeast, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/2 cup warm water until combined. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (or put workbowl lid on) and set aside until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Add remaining dough ingredients, including reserved potato. If using mixer, fit with paddle attachment and mix on low speed (number 2 on KitchenAid) until dough comes together. Switch to dough hook attachment and increase speed to medium (number 4 on KitchenAid); continue kneading until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. For food processor, process until dough is smooth and elastic, about 40 seconds.
  3. Transfer dough to lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm, draft-free area until dough is puffy and doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  4. With wet hands (to prevent sticking), press dough flat into generously oiled 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch jelly roll pan (see illustration 1). Or, halve and flatten each piece of dough into 8-inch round on large (at least 18 inches long), generously oiled baking sheet (illustration 2). Cover dough with lightly greased or oil-sprayed plastic wrap; let rise in warm, draft-free area until dough is puffy and doubled in volume, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  5. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. With two wet fingers, dimple risen dough (illustration 3) at regular intervals.
  6. For the topping: Drizzle dough with oil and sprinkle evenly with rosemary and coarse salt, landing some in pools of oil.
  7. Bake until focaccia bottom(s) are golden brown and crisp, 23 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool slightly. Cut rectangular focaccia into squares or round focaccia into wedges; serve warm. (Focaccia can be kept on counter for several hours and reheated just before serving. Or, wrap cooled focaccia in plastic and then foil and freeze for up to 1 month; unwrap and defrost in 325-degree oven until soft, about 15 minutes.)

Lemony Artichoke Hummus

1  (14/15 oz) can artichoke hearts in water, rinsed and dried (pat with towel or put in colander)

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/4 Cup rool  temp water

6 Tbl tahini

2 Tbl EVOO

1 (14/15oz) can chickpeas, drained

1 toe garlic

1/2 tspn salt (+ more to taste)

2 tspn parsley and/or mint

  1. Combine lemon juice and water in small bowl. Whisk together tahini and 2 tablespoons oil in measuring cup.
  2. Process chickpeas, artichoke leaves and most heart bases (set asides some bases fro garnish), garlic, salt, cayenne, and lemon zest in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, add lemon juice-water mixture in steady stream through feed tube. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute. With machine running, add oil-tahini mixture in steady stream through feed tube (oil acts as a emulsifier); continue to process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.
  3. Transfer hummus to serving bowl. Sprinkle with reserved chopped artichoke heart bases and parsley/mint over surface

Caramelized Onion Dip

(Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (I prefer dark)
1 pound onions , root end cut off, halved pole to pole, peeled, and sliced 1/4 inch thick across the grain
1/2 tablespoon water
Ground black pepper
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 scallions , minced
1 teaspoon cider vinegar


cup sour cream (light or full fat…full fat is better. Sorry)

cup Greek yogurt (2%)

  1. Fry 3 slices (about 3 ounces) bacon, in small skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes; remove with slotted spoon to paper towel–lined plate and set aside. Drain grease into container and wipe out skillet
  2. Heat butter and 1 Tablespoon bacon grease in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat; when foam subsides, stir in salt and sugar. Add onions and stir to coat; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and release some moisture, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are deeply browned and slightly sticky, about 40 minutes longer.  I know this seems obvious, but if the onions are burning, turn down the heat. If they aren’t changing colors after 2o minutes, turn up the heat a tad.
  3. Off heat, stir in water; season to taste with pepper. Since the onions can be refrigerated for a week or so, I often double the onion part of the recipe and just keep some in the fridge. They are great on sandwiches or used to stuff a portabello (with spinach and feta)
  4. Combine caramelized onions, cider vinegar, scallions, sour cream, and bacon in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature. Great with kettle chips. Leftovers (hah) can be refrigeratedfor up to 3 days. The leftover dip makes the best baked potato topping I have ever had.


We just got back from a hugely successful trip to Marfa. It is such a cool little town and we met so many great new people. Not to mention that we discovered BananaGrams, my favorite new game. I woke up thinking about it… obsessed? Maybe. We ate a few fantastic restaurants on the way to/from Marfa and in the town itself.

Art installation in the desert outside of Marfa

  • The pancakes at Rather Sweet in Fredericksburg were the best I have ever had. I am stating that in all seriousness and with apology to my mother, who now makes the second best pancakes in the world. I also met the first Danish I liked. Serious yum
  • We loved Cochineal in Marfa. Exihibit 1? We ate there 3 times in 3 days, twice for breakfast and once for dinner. The huevos rancheros were exceptional.
  • We loved the Food Shark. It’s a little trailer in “downtown” Marfa with great daily specials and exceptional Marfalafel. Get the plate, not the wrap. The falafel is better than the tortilla that it is served in.

Anyway, here’s what I ended up bringing to the party:

  1. Caramelized onion dip with kettle chips (A+)
  2. Caponata (B-)
  3. Molasses ginger cookies (A, but only because I made them a teeeeeny bit too salty)
  4. Coffee bar (A+)
  5. Salty Redneck Toffee (A+)

I’m going to try to salvage my caponata tomorrow by turning it into a pasta sauce with ricotta. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I still need to start actually adding the recipes. Haven’t figured out the best way to yet. Will do, will do.

Heavy apps?

Heading to Marfa on Wednesday for a fantastic New Years getaway. Have you heard of Marfa? It’s this random little town in waaaaaay South Texas that has been taken over by artists. Good food, good art, beautiful skies. It promises to be a worthy outing.

Our good friends, Steven and Eugene, are hosting a NYE party and I’ve signed up for some heavy apps. I need a few things that 1) I can make in advance, 2) can handle the 7 hour drive down, 3) will be easy to replate/heat/serve/whatever, and 4) are Sick Delicious.  A tall order, yes. But we can make it work.

I know for a FACT that one item will be a coffee bar [concept by the always Creative Carolyn..CC]. My hubby makes his good dark coffee, we pull out a bottle of Tia Maria (like Kahlua, but better and cheaper), I whip up some lightly sweetened whipped cream and serve some warm dark caramel sauce. Everyone can mix their own tasty treat. Easy, suitable for advanced prep, and consistently a huge hit with guests. Plus, it’s an especially good choice for NYE when everyone is trying to stay alert.  I’ll add the Caramel Sauce recipe and some pics later.

But what else? Maybe some caramelized onion dip with bacon and chives, served with kettle chips? Not fancy, but great for the munchkins and really, really good. I do a great adaptation of Emeril’s Seafood Cheesecake. That holds well, is filling and looks way harder than it is.  My hubby loves Baba Ghanoush with veggies and pita. I was also thinking a big platter of a roasted Caprese salad would be nice–  slow roasted tomatoes, fresh mozz, basil and a balsamic reduction. It doesn’t suck. Hmmmm…..

I’ll noodle on this and get back to you with the final menu and some recipes. Maybe a grocery list too? I wouldn’t mind having those organized for posterity