Tag Archives: Menu planning

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:

Mexican

  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.

Italian/Mediterranean

  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!

Brainstorming

Ok, ok…I know this is so predictable, but I need to go on a bit of a diet. I absolutely refuse to give up the things I love, but I am willing to make a much bigger effort to balance my diet and exercise. Especially if it means looking better in a dress.

I’m cutting back on calories overall, cutting way back on simple carbs after breakfast, and limiting myself to 2 non-fruit desserts a week. Combine that with the amped up excercise routine I started a few months ago (err, minus a small break around the holidays) and I think I’ll be good to go.

On that point, I did some brainstorming yesterday. I wanted delicious dishes that fit my restrictions so that I don’t feel all sad and deprived. Boo. Here’s where I landed….

Main dishes

  • Thai chicken and basil lettuce wraps
  • Entree salads: Cobb, Chicken Caesar, Nicoise, Steak, etc.
  • Turkey patties with mushrooms and cheese
  • Tuscan chicken casserole
  • Frittata
  • Lamb patties with  minty yogurt sauce  with chopped Greek salad
  • Thai shrimp soup
  • Pescado Veracruzano
  • Roast chicken
  • Mexican chicken & lime soup
  • Venison chili
  • Indian veggie stew
  • Roasted turkey breast
  • Chicken salad, tuna salad
  • French Onion soup
  • Veggie-rich egg scrambles

Sides and Snacks

  • Thai bean noodle salad
  • Green beans with almonds
  • Roasted asparagus (with Parm or hollandaise)
  • Just delicious salads…all kinds
  • Roasted mixed veggies
  • Roasted cabbage wedges
  • Roasted Indian broccoli over raita
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Portobella mushroom stuffed with spinach, pinenuts & feta
  • Fennel and Celery salad with mozz (Dama Blanca)
  • Jicama and green mango slaw
  • La Condesa brussel sprouts (sounds weird, but it’s brussels with red grapes and bacon)
  • Spinach Madeline
  • “Deviled” eggs (egg whites stuffed with hummus)

I’ll update with pics and recipes as I get started. Off to the grocery today!

Random goodness

Here are some random meals we’ve had (somewhat) recently that I really liked and don’t want to forget….

Leftover pot roast on egg noodles: Pretty self-explanatory, no? When my mom visited, she bought me my beloved crock pot and made an introductory pot roast for me. I popped about 1/2 of it in the freezer and resuscitated it 2 months later for a delicious dinner.

A scrumptious salad: Arugula with chopped cherries, Marcona almonds, grated Parrano cheese and balsamic vinaigrette

Pollo Rico! This is one of my favorite local spots. 1/2 a delicious roasted chicken, Mexican rice, GREAT beans, 1/2 a roasted onion, corn tortillas, fire-roasted tomato salsa and creamy jalapeno salsa…all for about $7. Seriously?

Veggie curry: This is now my go-to pantry/freezer/leftover dish. Yum. Basically onions, garlic, ginger and chickpeas + any veggies I have around, all simmered in a sauce of diced tomatoes, curry, coriander and turmeric. Served with a raita made of shredded cucs, garlic, yogurt and a pinch of salt. Super easy. Super healthy. Super supper

Cobb salad: Your basic composed salad. Romaine + bacon + hard boiled egg + tomatoes + feta + avocado + light, lemony vinaigrette

Birthday dinner

Well, the birthday dinner was a big success. The table was covered with candles, bright colors and little toys. I hung old pics (mostly Polaroids) from the chandelier and got these great balloons that say “Happy Dumb Birthday.”

It all started off with my spicy acorn squash soup, topped with some crispy caramelized shallots:

You can see the carrot cake in the foreground, but here’s a better picture of its insane deliciousness:

In between those scrumptious bookends, I serves roasted asparagus (I should add that recipe) and this Tuscan chicken dish I made up a million years ago. Basically, you serve chicken cutlets with crisped prosciutto and a mushroom Madeira sauce on creamed spinach.  I came up with it when I was on that Devil Atkins diet. It was a keeper, though. Here’s a pic…

Good breakfasts

During the week, breakfasts are designed to be fast and healthy. It’s a bonus if they are also delicious, but that is not the primary objective.

During the weekends, I usually turn up the dial a few notches. It may still be fast and healthy, but you better believe it’s delicious. Plus, it’s always consumed at the big kids’ table. No sitting at the bar or using the tv trays on the weekend. No sir.

Anyway, here are a few breakfasts that I’ve really loved recently:

  1. Chipotle black beans with yogurt + a corn tortilla + quick tomato salad + pineapple, grapes and mint
  2. Eggs scrabbled with pesto + multigrain bread with cheddar and feta + gazpacho + watermelon
  3. Eggs scrabbled with salsa, with Monterrey jack cheese in a whole wheat pita + watermelon

Some good meals that I am too lazy to post recipes for

1. Leftover (delicious) pot roast becomes a divine sandwich….pot roast, garden tomatoes, arugula, whole wheat bun and a smokey pickled ocra on the side.

2.  Roasted chicken, avocado and ricotta salata omelet, fresh corn, green chile and mushroom hash, and garden greens with garden serranos and lime juice

3.  Roasted salmon with tomato and basil relish, carrot mac and cheese, cucumber salad and garlic green beans

4.  Spicy Indian curry with chickpeas, garden peppers and tomatoes with garden cucumber raita

5. Tandoori chicken, garden tomatoes with sea salt and lime, and arugula, avocado and mango salad with spicy mango chutney dressing (ok, I’ll probably include that dressing because it was so scrumptious)

Good lunch!

This lunch reminds me so much of the time I really started cooking. It’s one of those “oh dear God, what is in my fridge” sort of meals. Basically, I took a look in my fridge and saw the following:

  • Too-salty, pre-marinated grilled lemon herb chicken breast
  • Greek yogurt
  • Mint
  • Watermelon
  • Arugula
  • Feta
  • Whole-wheat pita
  • Leftover roasted veggies
  • Cucumber
  • Etc.

I wanted to use the chicken, but it really is too dang salty. I figured if I chopped it up and mixed it with some Greek yogurt, that would balance out the flavors. To zest it up and add some veggies, I grated a cucumber and crushed a garlic clove into the yogurt. Now I had a yummy Greek chicken salad to fill my pita with…and it wasn’t too salty! Add a sliced tomato from my squirrel-infested garden, and we are good to go!

I made a quick watermelon salad with the arugula, feta, watermelon and a quick red wine vinaigrette. Yum!

All you can eat shrimp!

A few weeks ago, I decided I better scoop up some good Gulf shrimp while the gettin’s good. My market generally has both fresh and frozen gulf shrimp. It’s great to buy the frozen shrimp before they thaw it, so you can just put it straight in the freezer (they are able to flash freeze those suckers on the boat, so they stay really yummy for at least a month or two). So, I knew I would freeze a pound, but wanted 1) a intensely shrimp-y dish to cook up right away, 2) something intensely shrimp-y that I could make and put in the freezer. The problem with frozen shrimp dishes is that the texture of the shrimp ends up wonky- sort of mushy and nasty. A dilemma, no?

After pouring through a few cookbooks and websites, I decided I would try shrimp potstickers. They freeze beautifully and I loved the idea of just being able to pull out a few at a time. You know what? They are awesome! They are perfumed with shrimp flavor- light, fresh, delicate and insanely delicious. AND nowhere near as much trouble as I thought they’d be. Honestly. The filling is made in a food processor and then I rolled them the next day (while watching Dirty Harry, thank you very much). Check it out:

Before sealing:

All sealed up (and creepy looking):

Ready to eat:

As for my ready-to-eat, intensely shrimp-y dinner, I opted for New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp. Lordy. It was my first time making the dish and Michael’s first time eating it. It was soooooo good. The basic idea is to cook unpeeled shrimp in a skillet with a shrimp stock, Worcestershire sauce, butter and creole seasoning. Serve it in the skillet with French Bread.

I made some tasso maque choux and kale on the side. And, yes, that is Coors Light you see.It’s leftover from a party, so lay off.

In summary, BP can suck it.

Big, bad, beautiful brunch

My MIL just moved to Austin and we decided to host a brunch to welcome her to the land of the weird. I was traveling aaaalllll week, so I wanted something super easy. Well, easy and delicious…I have a rep to maintain, yo. I decided early on that a bagel bar was the ticket. Easy, filling and yummy. That would allow me to only make a few small items to fill in the holes. Here’s where we landed:

  • Plain and pumpernickel bagels with chive cream cheese, lox, red onions, tomatoes and capers
  • Sesame bagels with candied ginger cream cheese and shaved Granny Smith apples
  • Cinnamon raisin and cranberry bagels with plain cream cheese
  • Curry dip with veggies
  • Delicious yellow honey dew melon
  • The creamiest, dreamiest cheese grits with andouille and shrimp, served with a green tabasco cream sauce
  • Individual pavlovas (courtesy of my increasingly skilled sister-in-law) with mixed berries and almond Greek yogurt
  • Mimosas
  • The BEST Bloody Marys ever. (period)
  • Topo Chico sparkling water

I think it was a big success. The flavored cream cheeses are badass. Just let some cream cheese soften, chop up some herbs or whatever, fold in and serve in a cute container. The candied ginger cream cheese was TO DIE FOR.

Holy deliciousness

We had quite the super supper at the Feferdome on Saturday. M’s dad was in town, so we had his sis, her honey and some cousins over. 7 people- not so bad. Except Saturday was crazy packed and this meal was supposed to be a less of sorts for M’s sis. I wouldn’t normally pick such a large meal for a cooking lesson, but she doesn’t need much instruction anymore and I was happy for the help.

Anyway,  R requested that tabouli, pavlova and some salmon preparation be included. Those are easy, healthy, and can mostly be made in advance. Boom. I just needed to round it out with more of the same. So, here’s where we landed:

  • Appetizers: Dolmas, Castelvetrano olives, frozen spanakopita, and Linguica sausage (Portugese lamb and pork) with romesco sauce
  • Roasted king salmon with dill buerre blanc
  • Roasted beet and goat cheese towers with Mediterranean micro greens and vinaigrette
  • Tabouli
  • This delicious grilled eggplant dish that M’s cousin brought- yum
  • Individual pavlovas with almond Greek yogurt and mixed berries

It was really special.  Dang, I wish someone would upload all these recipes for me now.