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.

Catching up

We started the New Year with a little more entertaining.  Keith’s sister and her family came to town on Friday.  We don’t get together often enough and we wanted to give them a nice meal.  We reprised the slow cooked filet of beef from Christmas Eve with Keith’s parents and reused the basil parmesan mayonnaise.  With it we served potato gratin and a green salad.  Here is the recipe for the potato gratin:

Potato Gratin

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 lbs baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin (a food processor speeds the process)
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1 cup of cream

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut garlic clove in half and rub shallow porcelain dish with garlic.  Spread half of the potatoes in dish.  Top with half of cheese and half of cream.  Spread with remaining potatoes and top with remaining cheese and cream.  Sprinkle with pepper.

Bake 50 – 60 minutes.  Gratin should be golden on top.

Not health food for every day but nice for a special occasion.

Last night we had a classmate of Samantha’s and her parents over for dinner.  We don’t know them well so I wanted something likely to appeal to almost any palate.  I opted for one of my winter favorites and a great company dinner – braised chicken over rosemary polenta.  I’ve made this before and always gotten rave reviews.  Here are the recipes for these:

Braised chicken and polenta

  • 4 bone in chicken breasts, washed and patted dry and cut in half
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 oz pancetta, chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock

Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 TB olive oil in a heavy saucepan and cook chicken until browned on both sides.  Remove from pan and place on a plate.  Pour off the fat from the pan.  Add remaining 1 TB olive oil and add onion, pancetta, rosemary, sage, bay leaves and cloves.  Saute 5- 10 minutes or until onions are browned.  Add wine and scrape pan brownings.  Add tomato paste and stir in.  Return chicken to pan and add chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and then simmer 20 – 30 minutes or until chicken is done.  Serve over:

Rosemary polenta

  • 2 TB butter
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp minced rosemary
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 4 TB grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter and olive oil.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes and rosemary and saute for 1 minute.  Add milk and chicken stock and boil.  Add cornmeal and whisk, stirring over low heat.  Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

Grace tried it and liked it.  I was hoping that this would rub off on Samantha but she stuck to chicken tenders and applesauce.

Making the impossible possible

When we picked tonight to host my husband’s Interclub tennis team for dinner we knew that we were going to be away overnight visiting friends in New Jersey on Saturday night.  We did not know that I would need to be in the office on Saturday morning from 7:30 a.m. until time to leave for New Jersey.  That left very little time for party preparations.   (We also didn’t know that we would end up with 32 grownups and 8 children coming.)

I had been giving thought to the menu ahead of time (easy for me since I spend lots of time thinking about food) and drew my inspiration as I often do from The Barefoot Contessa.  In her Parties cookbook, she had a canoe party menu with Chinese Chicken salad.  She matched it with pasta with pesto and shrimp salad but I decided to use the Chinese Chicken salad to set a theme and am pairing it with sesame noodles and bok choy salad.  I am also not using her recipe exactly but am combining my favorite elements of hers and one I found in a Bobby Flay cookbook.  (One of the fun things about picking a dish that is in many cookbooks is that you can compare multiple variations and find one that suits you perfectly.)

I always make lists when I’m entertaining so I started with a list of all items.  Here is the full menu:

Snacks

Asian snack mix and asparagus with wasabi mayonnaise

Dinner

Bok Choy salad

Sesame noodles

Chinese Chicken salad

Dessert

A country dessert platter (also inspired by Barefoot Contessa) with lemon iced gingersnaps, brownies, orange pound cake and chocolate chip cookies

From this list I started identifying items that could be made ahead – the snack mix and wasabi mayonnaise were made earlier in the week and I blanched the asparagus this afternoon.  The dressing and topping for the Bok Choy salad are fine to make ahead so the salad just needs assembly on Sunday.  The dressing for the sesame noodles and the Chinese Chicken salad can both be made ahead and the chicken can be cooked.  The lemon iced gingersnaps and orange pound cake can be made ahead and frozen and I’m buying the chocolate chip cookies.  So all that needed to be done this afternoon was one more trip to the grocery store and a fair amount of assembly.

All of a sudden, this is looking manageable.  If you like to live with a little less stress you could simplify by doing any of the following:

–       Choose snacks that you buy instead of make and focus on the entrée and/or dessert

–       Buy one or more of the side dishes and focus just on the entrée

–       Buy all of the desserts from a bakery

–       Let people bring things and make it a potluck

–       Skip the whole thing and have dinner by yourself (many people would go for this option!)

Here are all of the recipes:

Asian Snack Mix

  • 3/4 lb. butter melted
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 2 t. onion powder
  • 1 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 1/2 t. ground red pepper
  • 1/2 t. brown mustard
  • 2 T. sesame oil
  • 1 box rice Chex
  • 1 box wheat Chex
  • 2 5 oz. cans chow mein noodles
  • 2 9.5 oz. jars cashew halves
  • 3 c. sesame sticks
  • 7 oz. jar sunflower seeds
  • 3 c. wasabi peas
  • 1 jar crystallized ginger

Combine first 10 ingredients. Combine all remaining ingredients EXCEPT crystallized ginger & slowly stir in butter mixture tossing to coat.  (You will need a few big bowls.) Spread in even mixture in 5 or so pans.  Bake at 250 for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Cool in pan 10 minutes; spread on paper towels to cool completely. Mince ginger and mix in.  Delicious and good for a crowd.

Asparagus with Wasabi Mayonnais

  • 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.)  I did 3 lbs of asparagus and doubled the mayo.

Bok Choy salad

  • 1 head of bok choy, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 bunch of scallions

topping

  • 1 jar of sesame seeds
  • 2 oz slivered almonds
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles broken in pieces (do not use seasoning package
  • 2 TB of olive oil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder

In a medium sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute almonds and Ramen noodles tossing with garlic powder for about 3 – 4 minutes.  Add sesame seeds and sauté an additional 3 minutes.  Cool and store in a covered container until ready to use.

dressing

  • 2 TB soy  sauce
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup olive oil

Boil all ingredients and boil for 1 minute.  Reserve until ready to use.

When ready for salad, toss bok choy and scallions with dressing and then toss in topping.

Sesame noodles with peanut sauce

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 TB chopped ginger
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 TB sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 package linguine noodles, cooked according to package instructions, drained and rinsed in cool water
  • 1 red pepper minced
  • 4 scallions, minced
  • 1 TB sesame seeds

In a food processor, combine garlic and ginger, chopping thoroughly.  Add peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and rice vinegar and combine well.  Toss with noodles until well covered and add red pepper, scallions and sesame seeds.  Mix well and refrigerate until ready to serve.  (I quadrupled this for 30 people and will be happy if we have leftovers.)

Chinese Chicken Salad

Dressing

  • 3 TB low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 TB rice vinegar
  •  1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 3 TB smooth peanut butter
  • 1 TB brown sugar
  • 1 TB finely chopped fresh ginger
  •  1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (save the rest in a glass jar in the refrigerator for chipotle mayo and that wonderful marinade)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a blender or mix well in a bowl.  (If mixing in a bowl, mince the chipotle pepper.)

Salad

  • 2 cup sliced red cabbage or Napa cabbage
  • 2 cup sliced romaine lettuce
  • 2 carrot, grated
  • 1 cup trimmed snow peas
  •  3 thinly sliced scallions
  • 2 whole chicken breasts, bone in
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 chopped peanuts
  • 1 lime halved

Mix cabbage, lettuce, carrots, snow peas, cilantro and scallions in a large bowl.

Toss chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 350 for about 30 minutes or until thermometer reads 140.  Let cool and then shred chicken meat.  Reserve until ready to use.  (We got ambitious and made stock with the skin and bones.)

Toss lettuce mixture with dressing and top with chicken and chopped peanuts.  Serve with lime halves.  I quintupled this for 30 people.

Lemon iced gingersnap sandwich cookies

  •  1 stick butter softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • Gingersnap cookies (I used Anna’s)

Combine together with a mixer.  Add juice and zest of 1 lemon and beat until spreadable.  Spread on purchased ginger cookies and sandwich together.

Brownies

  • 2 squares Baker’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Melt chocolate, butter and sugar over low heat.  Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  Stir in flour, eggs and vanilla.  Transfer to a  baking pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 22 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit in pan for at least an hour before cutting.

Orange Pound cake – click on link for the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe

On the bright side I might have leftovers for another night this week!

 

 

Feast with friends

Last night we hosted a dinner party for people we didn’t know.  It may sound odd but it is actually a wonderful program at our daughter’s school.  They call it Feast with Friends and you sign up to either host or attend a dinner party with other parents from different grades.  As soon as I heard about it I thought it sounded like fun so we volunteered to host.

When you cook for friends or family you know about their food preferences; when you are cooking for people you have never met it is a little bit different.  I did email my guests in advance to see if anyone had any food allergies – I certainly didn’t want to make anyone sick!  Here is the menu I came up with

  • Asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto
  • Mushroom and shrimp tarts
  • Tenderloin with red wine butter sauce
  • Rosemary popovers
  • Arugula salad
  • Mocha Icebox cake

All of these are things I’ve made before (which was helpful since I played in a paddle tennis tournament most of the day yesterday) and there wasn’t a lot of last minute attention needed so we could spend time getting to know our guests.  Here are the individual recipes:

Asparagus spears wrapped in proscuitto

This is easy to fix, is pretty healthy and looks nice on a platter.  I blanched the asparagus in the morning so it would be ready to go.

  • 3/4 lb asparagus spears, rough ends broken off
  • small amount of plain cream cheese
  • 1/2 lb very thinly sliced prosciutto

Blanch asparagus by cooking in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Remove to a colander and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.  Wrap in paper towels and refrigerate.  Spread each spear with a small amount of cream cheese and wrap tightly with prosciutto.

Mushroom and shrimp tarts

We made these for the New Year’s Eve tapas feast and I made a note at the time that the filling would be great in purchased shells.  I buy boxes of the little pastry shells when I have parties – I often fill them with salmon tartar.  The filling doesn’t take long to make – I did that when I got home from my tournament.  I waited until our guests had arrived to fill and cook the shells – they will get soggy if you let them sit.

  • 1/4 lb chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1/4 cup champagne (perfect since we’ll want to have some left for the toast at midnight)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 5 cooked jumbo shrimp, peeled and chopped
  • 2 oz. grated cheddar cheese
Saute mushrooms and garlic in butter over low heat for 15 minutes.  Add wine and bring to a boil.  Cook until almost dry.  Add cream and shrimp and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  Fill shells with mixture and top with grated cheese.  Cook in oven at 375 for 2 – 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and serve.

Roasted beef tenderloin with red wine sauce

This is a nice thing to serve for company unless you are entertaining vegetarians.  Most people like tenderloin and it doesn’t need to be served hot.  My husband cooked it about 2 hours before everyone arrived and had it carved and set up on a platter so everyone could serve themselves.  We like ours rare and everyone seemed happy with it.  The sauce is a little tricky – I thought I got it a little bit burned last night but my husband thought it was still good.

  • Beef tenderloin (about 1 lb per person is generous and allows leftovers)
  • vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper

If using whole tenderloin, cut in half.  Preheat oven to 475.  Using a heavy roasting pan with vegetable oil, start the beef on top of the stove over 2 burners.  Sear about 2 minutes a side so beef is browned on all sides and then cook in oven for about 20 minutes or until internal temperature is 125 for medium rare.  This can be prepared ahead of time.

Red wine sauce

  • 1 cup red wine (Merlot or Cabernet)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup butter, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 TB minced chives
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon

Combine wine, bay leaves, salt and pepper and boil over high heat.  When reduced to about 2 TB, remove from heat, remove bay leaves and whisk in butter.  Whisk continuously to keep from separating.  Add in chives and tarragon.  Watch closely – this can burn quickly.  I’ve tried to make ahead of time but find it’s easier to make at the last minute to reduce the risk of separating.  If it does separate, try adding a small amount of cold water.

Rosemary popovers

We made these on Christmas Eve and they were so good, we couldn’t wait to make them again.  They need a little bit of last minute attention but they aren’t hard.  They are beautiful and so delicious!

  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 5 TB melted butter
  • 4 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine flour, salt, eggs, milk and 4 TB of butter in a blender for about 2 minutes.  Brush popover tins with remaining butter and heat in oven about 5 minutes.  Fill tins half full with batter and sprinkle each popover top with rosemary.  Bake 45 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Arugula Salad

I love the peppery taste of arugula and thought it would go well with the tenderloin.  I had the dressing in the jar

  • Arugula
  • 5 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • shaved Parmesan cheese

Rinse and dry arugula.  In a jar, toss remaining olive oil and lemon juice, mustard and shallot.  Pour dressing over arugula and top with Parmesan cheese.

Mocha Icebox cake

This dessert is perfect because you have to make it the night before and it is so delicious.  We have a local bakery – Otterbein’s that makes the best chocolate chip cookies ever.  If you can’t get Otterbein’s use top quality chocolate chip cookies.  (This is a perfect dessert for people who don’t like to bake because the bakery did the baking part for you.)

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 12 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 24 oz Otterbein’s chocolate chip cookies.

Combine all ingredients except cookies in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix at high speed until it forms firm peaks.

In an 8 inch springform pan, make a layer of chocolate chip cookies – try to cover the space as completely as possible.  Spread with a layer of the flavored whipped cream.  Continue layering cookies and cream making a total of 5 layers of each.  Top layer will be cream. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

Before unmolding, run a knife around the outside of the cake and then remove the sides of the springform pan.  Cut into slices and serve to very happy guests.  This is a rich dessert so the pieces don’t need to be big.

Our guests were delightful, everyone seemed to like everything and it was a really nice evening.  I’ll volunteer to host again next year!

Healthy appetizers

We have friends coming for dinner tonight.  I like to put out some nibbles before dinner but they can really add calories – chips, dips, cheese and nuts are all high in fat and calories.  We have been looking to the olive bar at our grocery store for some healthier alternatives.  We have mushroom bruschetta, olive tapenade, roasted tomatoes, spicy peppers, marinated artichoke hearts and little onions with melba rounds.  It looks pretty and is much better for you:

Holiday entertaining savory

One of the things that can be special during the holidays is spontaneous entertaining.  Inviting a family or a few friends to stop by for a drink or dessert allows you to show off your holiday decorations and spend time with people you don’t always get to see.  Having a few things on hand gives you the flexibility to extend these invitations without adding to the chaos.  I posted a few cookie recipes earlier this week – here are a few savory treats that can be made ahead.

Cheese Puffs

My mom always made these for parties.  They keep well in a tin and only need to be popped into your toaster oven for a few minutes for serving – they are best served hot.  This recipe can easily be multiplied.

  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 TB softened butter
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt

Combine cheese and butter in a mixer.  Add flour and celery salt and mix thoroughly.  Roll into balls about 1 inch in diameter and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  You can use the tines of a fork to flatten slightly and make a waffle pattern on each puff.  Dust with paprika and chill for several hours.  Bake at 450 for 8 minutes.  Store in tins until ready to reheat and serve.

Salmon Spread

My mother-in-law got this recipe in Alaska.  It’s a great way to serve smoked salmon to a group and can be made a few days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz smoked salmon
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 1/4 tsp tabasco
  • 1/4 cup chopped black olives

Mix all ingredients.  Press in a mound or a bowl for shape and chill.  Serve with crackers.

Rosemary walnuts

Most people love nuts and there are lots of recipes for herbed and spiced nuts.  This is one of my favorites.

  • 5 TB unsalted butter
  • 4 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups walnuts

Melt butter with rosemary, salt and cayenne.  Toss with walnuts.  Bake on a cookie sheet at 350 for 10 minutes.

 

Dinner parties

Dinner parties are great fun to host and to attend.  Part of the reason is you never know what will happen.  I love collecting stories of epic dinner parties – the one where the hostess forgot to cook the entree, the one where the power went out, the one where a dinner guest lifted her shirt to show off her newly acquired breast implants (that was in South Florida).

We’re hosting a small dinner party tonight.  If the very idea makes you nervous, here are a few tips for success:

  • Stay within your comfort zone.  If you don’t do a lot of cooking, don’t try to make Beef Wellington for 16 as your first dinner party.  Start small and entertain a few close friends.  Read cookbooks, look at food magazines and pick something that sounds doable.  It’s fun to stretch a little bit but you don’t want to be so worn out that you can’t enjoy yourself.  If you want to take a chance, have a Plan B.  I made parmesan bowls for my salad course but I knew that if they didn’t work, the salad would be fine served on a plate.
  • Go for balance.  If I have seafood for appetizer I don’t usually have it as the entree, if I have a decadent rich dessert I want the rest of the meal to be a little lighter, etc.
  • Plan, plan, plan.  Read all of your recipes twice.  I write out the full menu (this makes sure that you don’t forget the entree), I make a detailed grocery list double checking each recipe and confirming that I have plenty of all of my staples (nothing worse than getting ready to cook your main course and realizing that you are out of olive oil for sauteing) and write out a timeline.  As I make each item ahead, I check it off.  It is also good to do this planning ahead of time so you can pre-order any hard to get items (I ordered my sushi grade tuna on Wednesday).
  • Do ahead.  The point of having friends over is to be with them, not to spend the whole evening in the kitchen alone.  My dessert is already made and only needs to be sliced when ready to serve, my side dish is made, the appetizer and salad can be assembled ahead of time.  The table is set.  I’ll be able to visit with my guests and will only need to excuse myself to assemble the salad, and then for a few minutes right before dinner.
  • Don’t fret if something goes wrong.  If you have a problem – a guest who doesn’t show, a dish that doesn’t work, a child who doesn’t cooperate about going to bed, a power outage, whatever the catastrophe – laugh, pour everyone another glass of wine and accept the fact that you have given everyone an epic dinner party story of their own!
Here is my menu for tonight:
  • Tuna Tartar – I’m using the recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.  I’ll make it this afternoon and serve with crackers
  • Arugula Salad in Parmesan bowls – I made the Parmesan bowls last night, the arugula will be washed and ready to go and I’ll have the dressing mixed in a jar before our company arrives (Same arugula salad with lemon dressing that I’ve blogged about before)
  • Rack of lamb with Merlot sauce (from the Gotham Grill), Rosemary Polenta (Barefoot Contessa), Green Beans with Shallots (Barefoot Contessa) – the Merlot sauce will cook this afternoon (takes about 3 1/2 hours of cooking), I made the polenta last night and the green beans are blanched ahead of time and only require warming.  The lamb will need to be cooked shortly before we eat and the polenta will need to be sauteed last minute.
  • Mocha Icebox Cake (Barefoot Contessa) – A friend introduced me to this awesome dessert – it has layers of chocolate chip cookies (she uses Tates and I use Otterbeins) alternating with layers of whipped cream, mascarpone cheese, kahlua, cocoa powder, sugar and espresso powder.  You layer in a springform pan and chill overnight.   This is not low calorie but it is amazing and it’s finished!
I’m looking forward to a fun evening with friends.