In the Kitchen – End Your Cocktail Party on a Sweet Note

A big weekend is coming up – it’s Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby. Celebrate one or the other or both this Saturday night with a festive cocktail party. Invite your friends and neighbors around to watch the race or dance a little salsa … or both!

No matter what the occasion, I always like to end a cocktail party on a sweet note. Tiny brownies or mini cupcakes will do double duty. A sweet bite will delight your guests’ palettes and signal that it’s time to head home.

Have fun and bon appétit!

More Tips, Tricks & Tools

What’s your favorite cocktail party trick? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2012

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A Few Things You Should Know (If You Don’t Already) & Israeli Couscous

Life is filled with simple truths. Some we believe intuitively while others are learned through trial and error. Some gems of wisdom are passed down from our parents. In case you haven’t figured it out, many of those gems are not true. For instance, your face will not freeze that way and chocolate will not give you pimples. Anyway, here are a few things you should know if you don’t already:

1. Recipes with more than six ingredients are NOT difficult to make. They just have lots of ingredients. Sure there is a bit more measuring but how difficult is it to spoon out a teaspoon of this and a half teaspoon of that. And yes, you’ll probably have a little more chopping to do. But heck, if you can chop a carrot, you can chop a radish.

When in doubt, read the recipe carefully, take a deep breath and be fearless!

2. It’s okay to use olive oil to sauté, roast or grill but use a good extra virgin for vinaigrettes, sauces, dips and that final, finishing drizzle. Season as you go, never cook with wine that isn’t good enough to drink and always cook with love. You’ll taste the difference. When in doubt, remember “everything tastes better with butter.” If you don’t believe me; believe Julia.

3. Lots of people will tell you to choose a recipe, it doesn’t really matter what, and make it your signature dish. Once you’ve perfected it, your friends and family will shower you and your fabulous red velvet cupcakes or goat cheese tartlets with unwavering praise.

Until maybe the umpteenth time (sometimes even sooner), when all that unwavering praise will inexplicably begin to waver, then falter and even evaporate. It’s our short attention span, culinary and otherwise. You’ll know everyone is tired of you tartlets when you are specifically instructed to bring a salad to the next potluck.

Change is good.

Except maybe at Thanksgiving. Then your family won’t be looking for your specialty. They’ll be looking for your mother’s specialty. Except she actually got it from her mother who got it from her mother all the way back to Ellis Island, Plymouth Rock or the invention of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup in 1934.

4. Eight is the perfect number for a dinner party when you want sparkling conversation to go with your amazing food. On the other hand, the more the merrier on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. It wouldn’t be the holidays without a side order of melodrama to go with the turkey or leg of lamb. Same holds true for a Super Bowl bash and any birthday that ends with a zero.

5. Unless it’s a small, intimate dinner party, don’t bring flowers. A nice bottle of wine, a box of chocolates or a sweet little tchotchke from your favorite gift shop – they’re all good.

I love flowers. I really do. However, I remember one party when nineteen people piled into my little apartment and more than half of them brought flowers. I was already juggling coats and kisses, pouring wine and passing canapés. Adding a mad scramble to find more vases than I owned was … well … you get the picture.

If you insist on flowers (and I’d be delighted if you did), don’t be offended if your host unceremoniously plunks them in an old jug in the corner of the kitchen. If she’s like me she will happily find the perfect vase and spot for them in the morning.

Better yet, send a nice bouquet the day after the party.

Bon appétit!

Israeli Couscous
A great side dish, Israeli Couscous is delicious with a lovely fish stew on a cold winter night. In the summer, serve it hot or at room temperature with grilled lamb or chicken. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
Pinch saffron
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced

Bring the broth to a boil, stir in the couscous, saffron and thyme; season with salt and pepper and return to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the broth is absorbed.

Add the citrus zests and juices, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss to combine. Let the couscous sit for a minute or two to absorb the juices. Sprinkle with pine nuts, parsley and scallions, toss to combine and serve hot or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Tuscan White Bean Soup
Two Year Ago – Wild Mushroom Risotto
Three Years Ago – Swimming Pool Jello
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

When it comes to cooking and entertaining, what’s your favorite advice? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2012

Weekend Special – Holiday Cocktail Party

Will you be bringing friends and family together this holiday season for a cocktail party? Not sure what you want to serve … but know you don’t want a mish-mash of this-and-that. Why not pull it all together with a bit of Mediterranean flare?

Start with a strategically placed antipasto platter or two. Whether I’m
passing the hors d’oeurves or setting everything on a buffet table, I like to have a couple of big, beautiful platters.

A traditional antipasto platter with prosciutto, sausage, a few wonderful cheeses and some great breads and crackers is always a winner. For color and a little sweetness, add some green grapes and dried apricots as well as some toasted  walnuts for crunch. Bite-sized grilled or roasted vegetables would also make a nice addition. For a lighter platter, serve raw vegetables with small bowls of Sundried Tomato or Lemon-Basil Aioli and Tapenade.

You might also like to set out a few spreads for people to help themselves. Staying in and around the Mediterranean, Caponata, Peperonata and Feta with Walnuts are all good choices. Serve them with flatbread crackers or toasted pita wedges. In addition, I always scatter bowls of Roasted Almonds and Spicy Olives around for a quick nibble.

For a nice touch, set small plates and forks by the platters to make it easier for your guests. Unless you really want to, there is no need to go out and buy a bunch of special hors d’oeurvre plates. I certainly don’t have room for another stack of plates in my cupboards. Instead, I use the saucers that came with my tea and espresso cups.

On to the Finger Food, including some of my favorite crostinis. In case you are wondering (and who isn’t), as far as I can figure the only difference between bruschetta and crostini is the bread. Bruschetta uses thick, grilled slices of wonderful country breads. Crostini is made with oven-toasted, thin slices of still-wonderful baguette. While bruschetta is often topped with a chopped tomato salad, the sky’s the limit when it comes to toppings for both. Following the one-or-two bite rule for appetizers, crostini are the better choice for a cocktail party. Some of my favorite crostini toppings include thinly sliced Beef Tenderloin with Gorgonzola and caramelized onions, Goat Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes and Olives and Roasted Mushrooms. Then again, you can’t go wrong with a good pâté, homemade or from your favorite specialty store.

Maybe it’s expected, maybe not but let’s face most, if not all, cocktail parties serve shrimp with a spicy or not-so-spicy red sauce. Why not add a twist to this perennial favorite! Try my Artichoke Leaves with Shrimp or my Mediterranean Shrimp.

Soup, yes soup, is one of my favorite cocktail party dishes. Your favorite pureed soup will work beautifully. When in doubt, Zuppa di Zucca is a great choice. (And yes, it is my old standby Roasted Butternut Squash Soup!) If you usually make it very thick, thin the soup a bit with a little extra stock. Serve the soup in espresso cups and then pass through the crowd with a teapot for seconds.

As the party winds down, end the evening on a sweet note with tiny Sweet Dream BarsTriple Threat Brownies or mini Gingerbread Cupcakes.

And finally, a quick reminder … depending on the size of your guest list, serve five or six and as many as ten dishes and, depending on your guests’ appetite, plan  two to three pieces per person.

Bon appétit and have a great party!

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

What are you serving at your holiday party? 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! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011

In the Kitchen – Cocktail Party Planning

Having a cocktail party this holiday season?
What’s you biggest party planning dilemma – what to make? … or how much? … maybe it’s both.

Start with a Theme.
When inviting a crowd for cocktails, I like to choose a culinary theme. The theme shouldn’t confine, just help tie everything together. Focus your menu on the spicy flavors of Latin America or Asian delicacies, or maybe you’d like to go with some of my favorite Mediterranean dishes.
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The invitation may say cocktails … but many (most?) of your guests will make a meal of it.

For a nicely balanced spread, make sure you’ve got a good variety. Unless your theme is feast of the seven fishes, include at least one plate with meat or chicken, another with seafood, something with veggies and one more with cheeses.

Depending on the numbers, you’ll want to plan on five or six and as many as ten dishes. If you can manage it, it’s nice to pass a few plates of warm hors d’oeuvres. When choosing your dishes, stick to nibbles which are easy to eat in one or two bites. Whether you pass them or set them on a buffet table, figure on two or three pieces per dish per guest. If your friends aren’t voracious eaters, you can cut back a bit. On the other hand, if a hungry horde of college students are coming for an après ski party, you’ll want to add more.

Even if you plan to pass the hors d’oeuvres, it’s a good idea to park a platter or two at strategic locations so people can help themselves. Beautifully vegetables, cheeses or smoked salmon with all the fixin’s can be as pretty as it is yummy.

Finally, as the party begins to wind down, pass trays of tiny brownies, mini cupcakes or Christmas cookies. It will end the evening on a sweet note.

Have a great party and bon appétit!

Want more? Click here for more tips, tricks and tools! Or here for some of my favorite appetizer and hors d’oeurvre recipes! for some of my favorite

What are you serving at your next cocktail party? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Thanksgiving Special – Tinkering with Tradition

Three Thanksgiving Menus & Game Plans to Celebrate with Ease

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I’ve put together three menus and game plans to help you make it through the feast of feasts in one piece. Whether you choose traditional New England, French Bistro or Rustic Italian – have a wonderful holiday!

Traditional New England Fare
~.~.~
Butternut Squash Soup
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Roast Turkey with Mom’s (or your Mom’s) Stuffing and Giblet Gravy
Cranberry Sauce
Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Pearl Onions or Broccoli Puree or Roasted Green Beans
Decadent Cheesy Potatoes or Smashed Potatoes
~.~
Apple Crisp with Cranberry Coulis or Rustic Apple Tart

The Game Plan for this flawless day of family and fun!

~.~.~.~

Five Course French Bistro Dinner
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Wild Mushroom Soup
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Roast Turkey with Giblet Sauce
Cranberry Sauce
Savory Butternut Squash & Swiss Chard Bread Pudding
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Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes, Olives and Feta
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Cheese Platter
~.~
Rustic Apple Croustade

The Game Plan to make it happen

~.~.~.~

Rustic Italian Feast
~.~
Mixed Greens and Roasted Mushrooms
~.~
Roast Turkey with Giblet Sauce
Cranberry Sauce
Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Stir-fried Leafy Greens
~.~
White Chocolate & Cranberry Trifle

The Game Plan for this relaxing feast.

~.~.~.~.~.~

Bon appétit!  *  Buon Appetito!  *  Happy Thanksgiving!

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

What are you cooking for Thanksgiving? 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! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Thanksgiving Special – A Rustic Italian Feast

This week, I’m sharing three different menus to help you create your perfect Thanksgiving feast.

Whether you and your family are hungry for traditional New England fare, a five course French bistro dinner or a rustic Italian feast, I’ve decided the turkey is sacrosanct  but the rest of the dishes are fair game. I’ll be doing a bit of mixing and matching and taking dishes from all three of these menus. Feel free to do the same!

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Now this is the dinner I would serve if my family didn’t insist on classic or close to classic New England dishes.

Antipasti – a salad to start!
Fall is mushroom season in Italy. My salad of Mixed Greens and Roasted Mushrooms will make a great start to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Move on to the main event!
Many Italians would move onto a pasta course but I prefer to keep it simple. I suggest you combine a beautiful fall risotto with, what else, the Roast Turkey. Feel free to keep the Cranberry Sauce on your menu but skip the stuffing. Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto will be the perfect side dish for your turkey. Complete the main course with Stir-fried Leafy Greens.

For a sweet finish!
It’s not quite Tiramisu but White Chocolate & Cranberry Trifle is creamy and delicious and, well, let’s just call it a distant cousin

The Game Plan

Now:
If you haven’t done it yet, order the turkey!

Saturday morning before Thanksgiving:
Finalize your menu, gather your recipes and make your shopping list. Check it twice. Pick up any and all nonperishable items and everything with a long expiration date at the supermarket and farm stand.

Sunday or Monday:
Find 15 or 20 minutes to make the Cranberry Sauce and the vinaigrette for the salad.

Tuesday:
Set the table and pull out your serving dishes.

Wednesday:
It’s Thanksgiving Eve, time to move into high gear. Check and double check your lists and head to the store. Pick up the fresh turkey, perishables, flowers and anything you forgot on Saturday.

Make the White Chocolate & Cranberry Trifle.

Roast the squash for the risotto. Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator.  Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano for the risotto.

Wash and bag the leafy greens.

Turkey Day:
First thing in the morning, roast the mushrooms and onions for the salad. Your menu may have its roots in the north of Italy but the house will smell warm and homey … just like Thanksgiving. Cool and slice the mushrooms, cover and store in the refrigerator. Cool and cover the onions. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving or reheat to warm but not hot. Toast the walnuts, cool, cover and store at room temperature.

If you haven’t already, check your recipes and, based on your dinner hour, list the start times for each and every dish. If you haven’t already, think about assigning tasks to friends and family. Your foodie friends will be happy help to pitch in.

About a half hour before it’s time to shove the turkey into the oven, remove it from the refrigerator. Quarter a lemon or orange and onion and put them in the turkey’s cavity. Tie and truss the bird. Do not forget to remove the neck and bag of giblets from the turkey’s cavity.

While the turkey roasts, make broth for the gravy with the turkey neck and giblets.

When the turkey has finished roasting, remove it from the oven and let it rest for about thirty minutes before carving. Make the giblet gravy and keep it warm. Or better yet, I suggest you forget the flour and roux and make a giblet sauce instead.

Cook the garlic and chili flakes for the Leafy Greens over very low heat and then remove from the heat and set aside.

Carve the turkey and cover it to keep warm.

Start making the risotto. Whether you are having a cozy dinner in your farm kitchen or a more formal affair in the dining room, you can make risotto for Thanksgiving, And no, you do not have to stir it constantly! It can simmer by itself why you enjoy your salad. I cheat little and, instead of 1/2 cup, I add the stock about 1 cup at a time. I use a timer and add stock and stir about every five minutes. Sometimes I lower the heat to slow the risotto down and then finish it quickly on medium-high heat to keep it from getting mushy. When the risotto is almost finished, stir-fry the greens in the chili-garlic oil. If you are a relaxed group, especially if you are doing a kitchen Thanksgiving, just slow it down and start the risotto after the salad course.

Toss the mixed greens with vinaigrette and plate the salad on a large platter or individual plates. Dinner is served! If you’ve got a large group, serve family style. It won’t take forever to get everyone served, if you pass two platters or bowls of everything. Start dishes at both ends and in the middle of the table. Relax and enjoy. A rustic Italian feast celebrates la dolce vita or the good life. Take your time between courses and let the conversation and laughter flow.

Bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving!

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

What are you cooking for Thanksgiving? 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! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Thanksgiving Special – Five Course Dinner with a Little French Flare

This week, I’m sharing three different menus to help you create your perfect Thanksgiving feast.

Whether you and your family are hungry for traditional New England fare, a five course French bistro dinner or a rustic Italian feast, I’ve decided the turkey is sacrosanct  but the rest of the dishes are fair game. I’ll be doing a bit of mixing and matching and taking dishes from all three of these menus. Feel free to do the same!

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I lived in Switzerland for almost two decades. While I was there, I liked to serve a five course Thanksgiving dinner with a foot on each continent.

Start with soup!
Fall is mushroom season in France and Switzerland so I always started my Thanksgiving feast with Wild Mushroom Soup

Move on to the main event!
The star of the show is still the Roast Turkey. And no, don’t skip the the Cranberry Sauce. When serving a five course dinner, it’s important to pace yourself. Instead of stuffing and a couple of veggies, combine them with a delicious Savory Butternut Squash & Swiss Chard Bread Pudding. It’s one of my favorite festive cold weather dishes.

Time for salad!
The French typically eat their salad after the main course. A lovely salad will add a special touch to your bistro Thanksgiving. Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes, Olives and Feta is a great choice.

Cheese please!
My cheese of choice for my Thanksgiving dinners in Switzerland was always Vacherin Mont d’Or. It hit the market in mid-September and was beautifully aged and at its best by mid to late November. You can find it on-line or serve a platter of your favorite cheeses.

For a sweet finish!

It was such a hit last year that I’m baking it again! My Rustic Apple Croustade is just wonderful.

The Game Plan

Now:
If you haven’t done it yet, order the turkey!
If you want to try Vacherin Mont d’Or, order it on-line. With any luck it will arrive in time for Turkey Day.

Saturday morning before Thanksgiving:
Finalize your menu, gather your recipes and make your shopping list. Check it twice. Pick up any and all nonperishable items and everything with a long expiration date at the supermarket and farm stand.

Sunday:
If you don’t already have a batch in the freezer, make the Wild Mushroom Soup but don’t add the half & half. Cool and store the soup in the freezer until Thursday morning.

Monday:
Find 10 or 15 minutes to make the Cranberry Sauce.

Tuesday:
Set the table and pull out your serving dishes.

Wednesday:
It’s Thanksgiving Eve, time to move into high gear. Check and double check your lists and head to the store. Pick up the fresh turkey, perishables, flowers and anything you forgot on Saturday.

Prep the bread pudding and store it in the refrigerator.

Roast the grapes and onions for the salad, cool and store covered in the refrigerator. Pit and slice the olives, cover and store in the refrigerator. Make the vinaigrette. Toast the pecans, cool, cover and store at room temperature.

Turkey Day:
First thing in the morning, bake the apple croustade. Your menu may have its roots in France but the house will smell like Thanksgiving.

Don’t forget to remove the mushroom soup from the freezer. Put it in a large soup pot to thaw.

If you haven’t already, check your recipes and, based on your dinner hour, make a list of start times for each and every dish. If you haven’t already, think about assigning tasks to friends and family. Wine aficionado and foodie friends will be happy to lend a hand.

About a half hour before it’s time to shove the turkey into the oven, remove it from the refrigerator. Quarter a lemon or orange and onion and put them in the turkey’s cavity. Tie and truss the bird. Do not forget to remove the neck and bag of giblets from the turkey’s cavity.

While the turkey roasts, make broth for the gravy with the turkey neck and giblets.

As dinner time approaches, bake the bread pudding. Finish making the soup. Remove the cheese from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

When the turkey has finished roasting, remove it from the oven and let it rest for about thirty minutes before carving. Or better yet, I suggest you forget the flour and roux and make a giblet sauce instead.Make the giblet gravy and keep it warm.

Carve the turkey and cover it to keep warm. Keep the bread pudding warm. Follow my Nana Nye’s example and put the apple croustade back into the oven which is off but still warm.

Ladle the soup and dinner is served! Relax and enjoy. A five course dinner is a marathon of small portions not a sprint. If you’ve got a large group, serve family style. It won’t take forever to get everyone served, if you pass two platters or bowls of everything. Start dishes at both ends and in the middle of the table. Take your time between courses and let the conversation and laughter flow.

Bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving!

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

What are you cooking for Thanksgiving? 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! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011