Another Holiday Special – The Cocktail Party

Will you be celebrating the season with a festive cocktail party? If it’s been awhile since you entertained a crowd, this could be your year. December is a great time to entertain. After all, your house is decorated and spirits are high.

Not sure what to serve? Keep it simple with a few serve-yourself platters and a couple of one or two bite savories to pass. Here are a few ideas:

As for those platters –

Arrange a three or five beautiful cheeses on a cutting board. You’ll want to include a variety of textures and flavors. Combine a firm cheese like a beautiful aged cheddar, add a soft cheese like a triple-crème brie and don’t shy away from a fabulous blue cheese. Stilton is always a good choice or try my Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts. (You can prep it in advance.) Feel free to add a Spanish Manchego, a smoked Gouda or a log of goat cheese.

You can’t go wrong adding some prosciutto, pâté and artisanal sausage to your cheese board. Alternatively, you can create a separate charcuterie platter.

A seafood platter is a great idea. You can go crazy with oysters, shrimp and crab or keep it simple with gravlax or smoked salmon. Embellish the salmon with wedges of lemon, thinly sliced onion and capers. A little caviar or chopped egg would also be nice.

Finally, a vegetable platter with a wonderful dip or two is a good idea. Most of your guests will consider it dinner, so a few veggies will be appreciated. As for dips, can I suggest Roasted Beet & White Bean Hummus, Sun-dried Tomato Aioli and/or Spicy Red Pepper Aioli?

Now, what to pass?

Cook up a couple of one- or two-bite savories. (BTW – if you aren’t hosting but heading to a potluck, any one of these delightful little treats will be welcomed.) Could I suggest – Cheesy Spinach Tartlets, Spanish Stuffed Mushrooms and Roasted Shrimp with Rémoulade Sauce.

Don’t forget to scatter small bowls of Spicy Olives and my favorite Rosemary Cashews an strategic spots. At the very least, put one of both on the buffet table and on the bar.

Finally, finish the evening with a sweet treat. Who wouldn’t enjoy a Christmas cookie, brownie or mini cupcake or all three? Fill a tray with rows of Macadamia Snow Balls,  Gingerbread Cupcakes and Sweet Dream Bars. For a smooth and creamy treat, fill tiny dessert glasses (even a shot glass) with Chocolate Mousse or White Chocolate Mousse and topped with a raspberry.

Bon fête and bon appétit!

Want more? Try one of my seasonal menus or create your own with the help of my extensive recipe index.

What are your favorite recipes for cocktail party nibbles? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

© Susan W. Nye, 2018

Advertisements

Holiday Cocktails & Cheesy Spinach Tartlets

The holiday season means holiday parties. Don’t ask me why but expectations always seem to be over-the-top. Forget a casual get-together; it just won’t do. No indeed, our holiday parties should sparkle. If you’re thinking of hosting one this year, you may be feeling a wee bit of pressure. It’s okay, take a deep breath and don’t panic. After all, ’tis the season for holiday magic.

Be it dinner for eight or cocktails for fifty, don’t worry, everything will be smashing. Not only will you figure it out, you might even keep your sanity. First, let’s start by stating categorically and for the record that one-of-a-kind, special and specular do not mean perfect. After all, why settle for perfect when you can have wonderful?

It starts with the company. Collect a group of brilliant, funny conversationalists and the party will be a success. Good company makes for a good party. However, add great food and a beautiful setting and the evening becomes exceptional.

Whenever you put together an eclectic group, it’s a good idea to enlist some kind of conversation starter. Some hosts do it with ugly sweaters or twenty questions. I find that food, yes food, is a fantastic ice breaker. Set out a beautiful cheese board and someone will share a story about a recent trip to France. Smoked salmon with all the fixings will encourage a tall tale of a fishing trip or Christmas Eve smorgasbord.

Keep it simple but elegant. There is no need to buy box after box of hors d’oeuvres from Trader Joes or Costco. Instead, think homemade and two or three, not tens, of different appetizers to pass. Add a few beautiful platters, scatter bowls of olives and nuts or other nibbles and you’ve got it covered.

Every family has its holiday food traditions. From oysters on the half shell to Christmas cakes and sugar cookies, certain foods are inextricably linked to yuletide. When planning your menu, consider bringing a few updated family favorites to the table. That said, you might want to skip the green Jello salad in the Christmas tree mold. Some things are better left in the past.

End on a sweet note. Let’s face it, at least a few of your friends are night owls and don’t know when it’s time to go home. A subtle and delicious hint is to put the savory treats away and pass a tray of holiday cookies. After all, aren’t you suppose to go home after dessert? Even if they don’t get the hint, be flattered. Everyone is having too much fun to call it a night.

Now for the decorations. Start with lots of greenery and boughs of holly. Next, big bowls of simple glass balls are lovely – especially in candlelight. Elegant gold and silver or cheery red – it’s up to you. Of course, you will want to bring out all your favorite decorations. Whether you have a grand army of nutcrackers or Santas from around the globe, your collection is part of your holiday story.

Finally, everything looks better by candlelight. I’m rather fond of red candles for the holidays but it’s up to you. Fat ones, skinny ones, tall and short, more is better so don’t be shy. (Do be careful to place candles where they won’t be knocked over. As much as we love our volunteer firefighters, I’m guessing you’d rather they come as guests – not to the rescue.)

Have a lovely party and bon appétit!

Cheesy Spinach Tartlets
For a delicious little nibble, pass flavorful tartlets at your holiday cocktail party. You can buy and fill phyllo tartlet shells or make your own pastry. Enjoy!
Makes about 24 tartlets

Savory Tartlet Pastry (recipe follows) or frozen Phyllo Tartlet Shells
Olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
2 large eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Pinch nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

If using Savory Tartlet Pastry, make the dough and divide into 1 1/2 to 2-inch balls. Place the balls in mini muffin tins and, using your fingers, shape each ball into a tartlet shell. Place the tins in the freezer for 15 minutes. If using phyllo tartlet shells, put the shells in mini muffin tins and store in the freezer until ready to fill.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and make the spinach filling.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from the heat, stir in the spinach and cool for a few minutes.

Put the eggs in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the ricotta, season with thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper and whisk until smooth. Fold in the spinach and mozzarella.

Spoon the filling into the tartlet shells, sprinkle the tops with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and bake until the filling sets and the top and crusts are golden, about 20 minutes. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before removing and serving. You may need to use a small knife to loosen the tartlets.

The tartlet shells and filling can be prepped 1 day in advance and stored separately.

Savory Tartlet Pastry
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces
2-3 or more tablespoons ice water

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add the ice water and pulse until the dough comes together in large clumps. Remove the dough from the food processor, pat into a ball and wrap in plastic or parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Printer-friendly version of this recipe.

One Year Ago – Romaine, Radicchio & Avocado Salad with Pomegranate & Walnuts
Two Years Ago – Garlicy Shrimp with Tomatoes & Olives
Three Years Ago – Wild Rice Pilaf with Roasted Mushrooms & Kale
Four Years Ago – Maple-Nut Sundaes
Five Years Ago – Rosemary Cashews
Six Years Ago – Greek Stuffed Mushrooms
Seven Years Ago – Ginger Crème Brûlée
Eight Years Ago – Aunt Anna’s Pecan Pie
Nine Years Ago – White Chocolate & Cranberry Trifle
Ten Years Ago – Chicken with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Penne

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your favorite holiday cocktail party tips? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Winter Olympics Weekend Special

Uh oh, I’m feeling a little achy, my throat is a little scratchy and my nose is stuffy. With any luck, it’s a blip. Without that luck, it could be a weekend on the sofa. Thank goodness, the Olympics are on. There will be plenty to watch.

Hopefully, your immune system is holding up better than mine. After all the Olympics are a terrific excuse for a watch party and delicious dinner with friends. Buffet or around the table, you choose. Either way, here are a few ideas for a tasty Olympic feast with a bit of Asian flair:

Let’s start with a tasty appetizer, maybe two. There couldn’t be a better time to give my Savory Korean Pancakes a try. Need more? Let everyone help themselves to a beautiful platter of fresh vegetables, Roasted Shrimp and Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce?

Start your dinner with a lovely salad. Can I suggest – Spicy Cucumber & Radish Salad or Thai Salad.

Now, for the main course. How about a delicious combination of Hoisin Pork Ribs with Quick Braised Asian Vegetables and Dandan Noodles.

Ready for dessert? Green tea or ginger ice cream and/or fresh fruit works. If you’d like to take it up a level, you might like to try my Ginger Crème Brûlée or Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard. Neither is Korean or even Asian but both are delicious!

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!!

What’s up with you this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus!

Photo courtesy of  IOC Media © Dave Thompson/IOC. All content exclusive of IOC photo © Susan W. Nye, 2018 

What’s Cooking this Thanksgiving? More Holiday Menus

Still not sure what to cook for Thanksgiving? We’re getting close to the final countdown and there isn’t a lot of time left to decide. I’ve got three menus that you might find helpful:

Thanksgiving Dinner at my House

New England Meets France

A Rustic Harvest Feast Italian Style

If you need a dish to bring to a potluck … I’ve put together a list of Thankgiving-ish dishes. Give one or two a try.

Columbus Day Weekend Special

For those of you looking forward to a long weekend, enjoy. For the rest of us, well, we can still enjoy some time away from our day jobs. I’ve got a lot of writing to do but hope to spend some time outside too. Although it officially ended on Tuesday, I have an Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday. What about you? What’s up with you this Columbus Day weekend?

Whether you have a long weekend or not, ya gotta eat! Why not invite a few friends over for an Italian feast. (Columbus was from Genoa.) Here are a few suggestions for a delicious, early fall dinner:

Start with a glass of wine and an antipasto platter inspired by the harvest. I noticed beautiful eggplants at the farmstand this week. I think I have a great use for them. Start your antipasto platter with thinly sliced hard sausage, shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, some olives and nuts. Top it off with a bowl of Caponata. Caponata is a wonderful salsa. It is great with fish and just as delicious as an appetizer on an artisanal cracker.

When you sit down to the table, take a tip from the Italians and start the meal with a lovely vegetarian pasta. Again, you’ll want to benefit from the harvest with my Pasta with Pesto, Roasted Grape Tomatoes & Corn . Serve half portions and you’ll have plenty of room for the main course.

Speaking of which, I’d like to suggest my Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc and Roasted Cauliflower or Roasted Parsnips .

For a sweet finish, try my Rustic Apple Tart or the oh so Italian (and delicious) Chocolate Panna Cotta .

Have a great weekend and buon appetito!

p.s. If you think you’d like to go with an Oktoberfest dinner, you can start with my Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard. Then, move on to my Romaine & Radicchio Caesar Salad (not at all German but tasty.) For the main course, enjoy my Roasted Pork Loin with Apples & Onions with sides of Sauerkraut and Smashed Potatoes. And finally, for dessert, try my Cardamom Plum Tort .

For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!!

What’s up with you this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Summer Is Back Weekend Special

For anyone worried that summer was over, well, worry no more. Or at least no need to worry for at least a few more days. Even a couple of weeks. The warm weather has return and some of the humid air from down south has funneled its way north. Why, it’s almost tropical. The weekend promises to be sunny and a tad less humid.

The bounty at the farmstand is unbelievable. Add to that, the sad fact that there won’t be a lot of warm evenings left. Don’t pout, make the most of the few that are left. String some lights or set out a bunch of candles. Here are a few ideas for a tasty, end of summer feast:

Start with a glass of wine and a delicious appetizer. Something a little different like my Corn Cakes, Crostini with Red Pepper Tzatziki & Greek Salad or Summer Rolls.

Next, instead of a salad, enjoy a tasty mug of Gazpacho. The tomatoes are fabulous. I can’t get enough of them.

Make good use of the grill. What could be better than a rack or half rack Hoisin Pork Ribs . Pair the ribs with my Asian Noodle Salad and Asian Slaw or Thai Salad .

Cap your meal with a beautiful end of summer dessert. For a sweet finish, try my Fresh Berries with Creamy Lime Custard . Try the late summer strawberries – they are wonderful.

Have a great weekend and bon appétit!

For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!!

What’s up with you this weekend? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Welcome September with a Harvest Party & Hoisin Pork Ribs

First, a mini update on the kitchen reno adventure … a couple of old walls are out and a few new ones are in. In addition, some of the drywall was replaced. As you can imagine, it’s been a bit dusty around here. Coming next, I’m about to wield my paintbrush and roller. I’m not worried about the walls but I’m a bit intimidated by the ceiling. Intimidated but not thwarted, I’m ready to roll away. Getting rid of the popcorn ceiling was so worth it. By the time you read this, Bruce and Co. will be installing the new counters.

For those of you who are not in the middle of a kitchen renovation, now is an excellent time for a harvest celebration. At least in New Hampshire, the fields are at their most abundant. The local farmstand is overflowing with tomatoes, corn, beans, beets, summer squash and more, lots more. Plus, you can enjoy some or all of the party outside. (Be sure to tell your friends to bring a sweater.)

Here are few ideas to put it all together:

Do your sun dance. With any luck, it will be warm enough and dry enough to enjoy cocktails on the deck. If you like, invent a signature cocktail for the party. Create a Harvest Bellini with Prosecco and plum purée. Or think grog and whip up an adventurous cocktail of rum and apple cider with a dash of maple syrup. For nibbles, you can go to town on a favorite appetizer or two. Alternatively, take it easy and set out a few nuts and some olives. Add a wedge of cheese, thinly sliced dried sausage and some fruit.

The sun dips behind the hill early these days and the evenings are growing cool. You might want to take dinner inside. After a summer of grilling, perhaps you’ll be delighted to turn on the oven and roast a chicken, some salmon or a tenderloin of pork or beef. Do roast up some of those beautiful beets, carrots and cute little potatoes that are filling the farmstand. If you’re not ready to give up the grill, that’s okay too. I don’t really blame you. A rack of ribs sounds pretty darn good. Don’t forget to throw a few ears of corn on too. Since the fire is already going, you must grill up some romaine for a terrific salad.

By the way, even if you cook outside, you might want to eat inside. Keep your decorations simple. There is no need to go all Martha Stewart with a bunch of hay bales and dozens of pumpkins. It’s a little early for pumpkins. They’re an October thing. No, for September, I’d go with sunflowers, lots of sunflowers. They are both cheery and in season.

Since the sun goes down at about seven, you can bring out the candles. As we all know women look best by candlelight. As for those floodlights in the backyard, skip them; they’re for bears and burglars. String up some of those little Christmas lights that have been sitting in a tangle in your garage since January. Or was it February or March when you finally took them down? Believe me, I’m not judging. Last Christmas, I wound a few strings around the tree and that was all I could manage. Anyway, this summer I put a couple of strings outside above the terrace. They are lovely.

While it’s a good idea to eat dinner inside, a campfire will make a perfect ending to an already fabulous harvest celebration. After all, what could be better (and easier) than s’mores for dessert? Give a look around the house and collect all those old blankets you’ve been meaning to take to the Salvation Army. Light the fire pit, cozy up with a blanket in an Adirondack or beach chair and star gaze with good friends and a gooey s’more.

Happy harvest and bon appétit!

Hoisin Pork Ribs
Slow roasted in the oven and then finished on the grill, these sweet and spicy ribs will make a delicious addition to your harvest feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Marinade:
1 cup hoisin sauce
4 cloves garlic
1/4 onion, roughly chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon or to taste Sriracha
1 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lime

8 pounds baby back ribs
Hoisin Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)

Make the marinade: put the hoisin sauce, garlic, onion, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar and Sriracha in a small food processor or blender and pulse to finely chop and combine. Add the white wine and lime juice and process until well combined.

Cut each slab of ribs in half or three pieces. Put the ribs and marinade into a large re-sealable plastic bag (you may need more than 1 bag) and marinade for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the ribs from the re-sealable bag and, slathering with marinade, wrap the pieces in a double thickness of aluminum foil. Place the ribs meaty side up in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets and slide into the oven.

Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and roast for 3-3 1/2 hours. Carefully remove the ribs from the foil, save the juices and cool completely.

Can be baked ahead, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Heat the grill to medium-high. Brush the ribs with the reserved juices and Hoisin Barbecue Sauce and grill, turning once, until heated through and nicely charred, about 5 minutes per side.

Cut into individual ribs, pile them on a platter or individual plates and serve with more Hoisin Barbecue Sauce.

Hoisin Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 2 cups

Vegetable oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon or to taste Sriracha
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Juice of 1/2 lime

Lightly coat a saucepan with oil and heat on medium. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 2-3 minutes more.

Add the hoisin sauce, ketchup, sherry, vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce and Sriracha and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes.

Cool to room temperature, transfer to a blender or small food processor and process until smooth. Add the sesame oil and lime juice and pulse to combine.

Print friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Curried Carrot Soup
Two Years Ago – Warm Gorgonzola with Caramelized Onions & Walnuts
Three Years Ago – Baked Haddock with Fresh Tomatoes & Herbs
Four Years Ago – Pumpkin-Ginger Muffins
Five Years Ago – Roast Pork with Apples & Onions
Six Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc
Seven Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Soup
Eight Years Ago – Rustic Apple Tart
Nine Years Ago – Oktoberfest Sausages & Sauerkraut

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have any Harvest Party advice to add? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017