Party food

Last night our church hosted a party for our Sustaining Members (Sustaining Members are parishioners who make a financial pledge commitment to the church, commit to having their pledge roll over each year and pay their pledge electronically.)  Since this is an enormous help to the church, we wanted a nice celebration to honor them.  I volunteered to prepare the food.

When planning an event like this, it’s important to make sure that there is something for everyone.  Today, dietary restrictions are common so I wanted items that would satisfy those who are gluten-free, those who don’t eat beef, those who are vegetarian, etc.  Here was the menu:

  • Cocktail meatballs (these are for omnivores as they include beef and have gluten)
  • Hot shrimp dip (gluten free and no red meat,)
  • Crab dip (gluten free and no red meat)
  • Seared tuna with sriracha mayo (gluten free and no red meat)
  • Chicken skewers with avocado crema (gluten free and no red meat)
  • Black bean and goat cheese dip (gluten free and no meat)
  • Vegetable platter with two sauces (gluten free and vegan)

I label everything so people know what they can and can’t eat.  I was delighted when someone said to me that they really appreciated so many gluten free items.  As they pointed out, those of us who can tolerate gluten can still enjoy the gluten free items but it doesn’t work the other way around.

Here are the recipes:

Cocktail meatballs

  • 2 lbs ground beef (I used the meatloaf blend of beef, pork and veal)
  • 1 cup panko
  • 1/3 cup dried parsley flakes
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 TB soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 2 TB minced onion
  • 1 16 oz can jellied cranberry sauce (actually I think they shrunk the cans to 15 oz)
  • 2 TB brown sugar
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 12 oz bottle chili sauce

Combine first 9 ingredients and mix well.  Form into small bite-size balls (about 75).  Arrange meatballs in a 2 inch deep baking dish.  Combine the last 4 ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until cranberry sauce is melted.  Pour sauce over meatballs and bake, uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Serve in a chafing dish to keep warm.

NOTE: If making ahead, let sauce cool before pouring over meatballs.  Then refrigerate and bake before serving.  This actually works well because the meatballs keep their form.  These freeze really well.  I doubled for the party.

Shrimp dip
This recipe came from my mother and it is delicious.  I am generally suspicious of recipes made with canned soup but this is very good and always popular.
  • 1 can cream of shrimp soup
  • 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 4 oz canned ripe black olives, chopped
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • dash Worcestershire
  • 1/2 cup cooked shrimp, chopped

Melt soup and cream cheese in top half of a double boiler until completely melted and combined.  Add remaining ingredients.  Serve hot (in a chafing dish) with crackers and raw veggies.

Spicy Crab dip

We usually make a crab dip with sour cream and cheddar cheese.  It is delicious.  When friends introduced us to this spicier version, we fell in love with it.  Part of what makes it so good is the ratio of crab to filler – lots of crab.  I doubled for the party.

  • 1 pound crabmeat
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 lb grated pepperjack cheese
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 2 tsp chopped pickled jalapenos
  • 1 oz grated Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients except Parmesan and then top with Parmesan.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Serve hot with crackers.

If you have leftovers, which is very unlikely, the leftovers are amazing in an omelet.

Black Bean dip

  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • squirt of lime juice
  • 8 oz goat cheese, but into 8 discs.

In a medium saucepan, cook beans with onion, cumin and lime juice for about 5 minutes until soft.  In a small casserole dish put about 1/2 the beans and top with 4 discs of goat cheese.  Repeat with remaining beans and goat cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes and serve with corn chips.

Seared Everything tuna
  • 1 lb of sushi grade tuna
  • 3 TB Everything bagel seasoning
  • 1 TB canola oil
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • Sriracha to taste
  • flat bread crackers

I’ve been serving seared tuna for parties for years and it has always been popular.  I used to dip in a mix of sesame and poppy seeds and then I discovered the Everything bagel seasoning.  It’s a fun twist.

I also used to serve it with wasabi sauce.  I mixed Sriracha and mayo to taste and used that instead.

Cut tuna into long blocks.  Season with salt and pepper.  Put Everything seasoning in a shallow pan and dip tuna blocks in seeds, coating each side.  Using a non-stick pan over medium high heat, heat canola oil and sear tuna blocks about 2 minutes a side.  (You want tuna to be rare).  Remove from heat and chill in refrigerator.  When ready to serve, slice tuna and put on flat bread crackers – top with a small amount of sauce.  I always leave a few without flatbreads for the gluten free friends.

Grilled chicken skewers with avocado sauce

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into about 1 inch cubes (I got 50 pieces)


  • juice from 2 limes
  • 2 TB honey
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper


  • 1 avocado, pitted
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 TB red wine vinegar
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Combine all marinade ingredients and toss with chicken.  Refrigerate for at lest an hour and up to a day.  Soak 6 inch wooden skewers in water while chicken is marinating and then skewer one chicken cube on each skewer.

Broil skewers about 5 minutes a side.  NOTE: I lined my pan with aluminum foil and put the skewers on them.  I did them in our countertop oven and needed to cook in batches as a result.  The skewers started to brown in the first batch even though they had been soaked in water so I figured out that covering the skewers in foil helped to keep them from burning.

Vegetable platter


I’ve started doing a vegetable platter at every party we have.  I read an article in Food and Wine about a restaurant in L.A. that serves a tower of vegetables instead of a tower of seafood.  That was my inspiration as they treat each vegetable separately.  I roasted cauliflower with olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin seed (40 minutes at 375), roasted carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika (45 minutes at 375), blanched asparagus, blanched broccoli, raw peppers and raw mushrooms.  I made two sauces (Green Goddess and chipotle mayo) and served them in hollowed out peppers.  Very popular!


Party time

Last night we hosted the parent party for Samantha’s Third Grade.  It was a great opportunity to spend an evening with some very nice people and get to know the parents of the children we hear so much about.  This is not a group we have entertained before so I went with a mix of old and new.  I have folders with notes from parties past and I like to go back to those for favorites and then look in my folders of recipes for some new inspirations.  Here is the menu we used (I wish I had taken a picture of the table):

New inspirations

  • Black bean dip with corn chips
  • Chicken Liver Mousse pate
  • Lemon squares (I used the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe which you can find on Google.)

Old favorites

  • Slow roasted beef tenderloin with mustard horseradish sauce
  • Tuna tartar on tasting spoons
  • Shrimp dip with veggies
  • Asparagus with wasabi mayonnaise
  • Mushroom filling in pastry cups
  • Creme de menthe brownies

I always try to mix it up so there is something to suit every taste.  Here are the recipes (starting with the new inspirations):

Black Bean dip

  • 2 cups dried black beans
  • 1 yellow onion, peel on, cut in half
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
  • 1 TB ground cumin
  • 12 oz goat cheese

In a medium saucepan, cover beans with about 2 inches of water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and then let beans sit covered for 1 hour.  Drain and rinse beans.  Return to pot and cover with fresh water (about 2  inches)  Add onion, garlic and cumin and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove onion and garlic.

Put about 1/3 of beans in a 1 1/2 quart casserole and top with 1/3 of goat cheese.  Repeat with additional layers of beans and goat cheese.  (I made to this point the day before and refrigerated until ready to serve.)  Bake at 400 for 45 minutes to an hour or until hot and serve with corn chips.

Chicken Liver Mousse pate

  • 1 lb chicken livers
  • 2 TB canola oil
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 TB brandy
  • 5 TB butter
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Trim chicken livers and season with salt and pepper.  Heat oil over high eat and sear livers on all sides.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 – 4 minutes until livers are browned on outside but still pink inside.  Remove livers to a dish.  In pan with remaining fat, cook shallots and garlic over medium heat until translucent.  Reduce heat to low and add brandy.  Add 4 TB of butter and nutmeg and stir.  Remove from heat.

Add liver and butter mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth.  Add remaining butter.  Whip cream into soft peaks and fold into pate.  Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.  NOTE: This is best if made the day before.

Beef Tenderloin 

We always used to cook tenderloin at high heat until we discovered this slow-roasted technique.  Meat is moist and tender.

  • 1 beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • coarsely ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 275.  Brush filet with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check temperature – when a thermometer registers 125, your meat is rare.  If you want medium rare, cook to 135.  Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil.  Let rest for about 20 minutes and then carve and serve with sauce of your choice.  Our friends wanted to know how the beef had been cooked – it is so consistently rare throughout, they thought we had cooked it sous vide.

Mustard Horseradish sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 3 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 TB whole-grain mustard
  • 1 TB horseradish
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Whisk together to combine.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuna Tartar
  • 1 lb fresh tuna, chopped finely
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp wasabi powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 5 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper with seeds removed, minced
  • 1 1/2 avocados, chopped

Place tuna in a bowl.  Whisk together olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, wasabi, soy sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper.  Pour over tuna.   Stir in  scallions, jalapeno and avocado.  Refrigerate for a few hours until ready to serve.

Shrimp dip
This recipe came from my mother and it is delicious.  I am generally suspicious of recipes made with canned soup but this is very good and always popular.
  • 1 can cream of shrimp soup
  • 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 4 oz canned ripe black olives, chopped
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • dash Worcestershire
  • 1/2 cup cooked shrimp, chopped

Melt soup and cream cheese in top half of a double boiler until completely melted and combined.  Add remaining ingredients.  Serve hot (in a chafing dish) with crackers and raw veggies.

Asparagus with Wasabi Mayonnaise

  • Asparagus spears, tough ends broken off
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 tsp wasabi paste
Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes per batch.  Rinse under cold water and refrigerate.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and refrigerate.  Serve asparagus with mayonnaise dipping sauce.  (Mayonnaise keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks and is also good on turkey sandwiches.)

Creme de Menthe Brownies

Base layer:

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup Hershey’s chocolate syrup
  • 4 lightly beaten eggsw
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine all ingredients in a mixture and mix until well mixed.  Pour into 9 x 13 greased pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes.  Let cool.

Green icing:

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 – 4 TB Creme de Menthe

Beat together and spread over brownies.  Let set.

Chocolate topping:

  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 stick butter

Melt chocolate chips and butter.  Cool slightly and spread over green icing layer.  Let set.  Cut into small pieces.