Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hosting an Appetizer Party: Part 2

So, now we've established some of the basics, but actually picking a menu is another ball game. Here is a sample menu I would pick based on a party of 20 people coming for appetizers.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Crab Cakes with a Remoulade Sauce
Cheese Tray with Crackers, Fruit and Nuts
Caramelized Onion Dip with Crackers and Crudites
Coconut Macaroons

Why? I have 3 hot items and 3 cold items, one of which is a dessert. I have 2 meat dishes that will be filling, one dip and one cheese tray and then one pastry based item. In this case, the most expensive ingredient on this menu is the crab. The rest is pretty cost effective and involves more labor than anything else. I can also prepare most of this ahead to a greater degree and finish them prior to the party. The hot items keep very well in the oven on low so they can be kept hot for a good hour or so, enabling me to enjoy the party along with my guests.

Below are recipes for all these appetizers. I'll include how many of each to make for the party to have enough to feed 20 people and what you can make in advance. I'll also give some advice on assembling a cheese tray. Again, you don't have to spend a lot. In this case, rather than having a high price tag, I'm willing to spend a little extra time in the kitchen, stuffing, filling, and assembling to get a bigger bang for my buck. In future postings I'll focus on the opposite frame, spend a little more for a lot less labor, particularly when you are pressed for time. Enjoy!

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Yields: Approx 24 Mushrooms (I'd make 2 batches of this. These are really popular and are pretty much one bite)

24 Stuffing Mushrooms (Stems removed and peeled)
¼ cup vermouth or sherry
1 pound Italian Sausage (Casings Removed)
1 Tbl Herbes de Provence
Pinch Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 8 oz package cream cheese (Room Temperature)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese plus 2-3 tbls for sprinkling over top of mushrooms
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch salt & Pepper
2 tsps garlic powder
1 egg

Begin by browning the sausage with the Herbes de Provence and the Nutmeg in a medium saucepan over medium high heat for approx. 10 minutes or until no pink remains. If the sausage is very fatty, drain before assembling. If the sausage is only a little fatty, keep the juices as they will keep the mushrooms moist. Cool filling completely before assembling mushrooms. Place mushroom caps in a greased casserole and sprinkle with vermouth or sherry. Combine sausage with cream cheese, parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic powder and egg. Make sure the filling is well combined. It is easiest to use your hands for this process. Fill each mushroom cap with approx. 1 Tbl filling until all the filling has been utilized. I use a tablespoon to scoop and spread the filling into each mushroom cap. Sprinkle each cap with more grated parmesan. Mushrooms can be assembled in advance up to this point, covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator overnight. Place mushrooms in a preheated 375 degree oven and bake approx. 20 mins or until the tops begin to turn golden. Serve hot. Place baked mushrooms in an oven on low to keep warm during the party.

Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce (For a more cost effective alternative, substitute salmon for the crab)

Yields: Approximately 16 Cakes (Again, a double batch should do for 20 people)

1 lb of canned Crab Meat Drained
1 ½ cups Panko Bread Crumbs
2 eggs
1 Tbl Creamy Dijon Mustard
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbl minced parsley
2 Tbl minced cilantro
3-4 scallions minced
1 tsp old bay seasoning
½ cup real heavy mayonnaise (I prefer Hellman’s)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbl Lemon Juice
3-4 tbl olive oil

For the cakes, combine with eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, cilantro, scallions, old bay seasoning, mayo and garlic. Using your hands, gently work mixture until all the ingredients are combined well, adding enough bread crumbs just to hold the cakes together. Should be approx. 1/2 cup or less. Don’t over mix. Place remaining bread crumbs into a bowl. Form mixture into approximately 1 inch diameter cakes, coating them lightly with bread crumbs before placing them on a baking sheet. Once all the cakes are formed, place them into a refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before cooking. These can be assembled in advance, covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator overnight. To cook, drizzle olive oil into a medium sauté pan. Heat over medium high heat until the oil is spatters when sprinkled with water. Place cakes into hot oil and brown evenly on both sides, approximately 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels to drain. Place finished cakes into an oven set on low to keep warm. Serve hot with remoulade sauce.

For sauce:
1 cup real heavy mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
1 Tbl chopped dill pickles or gherkins
2 tsps creamy Dijon mustard
2 Tbl minced parsley
2 Tbl minced cilantro
2 scallions minced
2 Tbl lemon juice
Pinch Salt and Pepper
1 Tbl chopped capers
1 tsp Harissa (North African Chilli

Combine all the ingredients and whisk together. Place in a refrigerator for at least an hour to allow the flavors to marinate. Sauce can be kept in an airtight container for up to one week.

Caramelized Onion and Garlic Dip

Yields: Approx. 12 Servings (Make a double batch of this one)

1 Red Onion, Sliced
2 Leeks, Finely Sliced
2-3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Tbl Olive Oil
1 Tbl unsalted butter
Pinch Salt and Pepper
Pinch of Paprika
4 oz cream cheese, room temp
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellman’s

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat until the butter has melted. Add onion and leek and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Reduce heat to low and sauté over low heat for approx. 20 mins or until the onions are brown and caramelized. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer to a food processor and add cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. Season to taste. Serve with crackers and crudités. Can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.


Yields: Approximately 20 pieces (It's hard to divide this one in half so make a double batch. Leftovers reheat really well in a toaster oven and are a yummy snack)

1 pkg phyllo dough (thawed according to manufacturer’s directions)
8 oz feta
8 oz cream cheese
1 package fresh pre-washed baby spinach
1 Can Diced Tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 tsps chopped fresh dill or 1-2 tsps dried dill
3-4 scallions, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
Pinch Freshly Grated Nutmeg
Pinch Kosher Salt and Freshly Grated Nutmeg
2-3 tbl olive oil
2 sticks unsalted butter

Place olive oil in a medium sauté pan over med-high heat. Allow to heat for a couple of minutes. Add scallions and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the scallions begin to caramelize. Add garlic and sauté for one minute or until the garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes, spinach, dill, nutmeg, salt, pepper and oregano. Saute for approximately 10 mins or until all the liquid from the spinach and the tomatoes has evaporated. Add crumbled feta and cream cheese and cook until the cheese has melted, approximately 5 mins. Allow filling to cool. Melt butter. To assemble, brush one half of a sheet of phyllo dough vertically with butter. Fold second half over first half and brush again with butter. Place 1 tbl filling at one end of the folded sheet. Fold into triangles, like you would fold a flag. Place folded pastries on a buttered baking sheet. Continue making pastries until all the filling is gone. Brush all the tops of all the pastries with melted butter. Pastries can be made one day ahead up to this point, covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator. Place in a preheated 375 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Can be kept warm in an oven on low.

Coconut Macaroons

Yields: Approx. 14 (Make a double batch)

14 oz shredded coconut
1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
2 Egg Whites
Pinch Kosher Salt
Pinch Cream of Tartar

Combine coconut with milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Whip egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks are formed. Fold into coconut mixture. Using a medium ice cream scooper, scoop mixture into mounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place approx. 2" apart. Bake in a 325 degree oven for approx. 25-30 mins or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely. These can be placed in an airtight container and stored at room temperature for up to a week. They keep better than almost any cookie or other dessert I've ever made.

Cheese Tray

When assembling a cheese tray, I usually estimate about an ounce of each cheese per person. You can always add a couple of ounces to be on the safe side. I like to serve my cheeses whole so that you can wrap up leftovers and store them. Once cheese has been cut, particularly softer cheeses, they don't keep particularly well. I like to pick one softer cheese, like a brie, camembert or goat cheese, one semi soft cheese, like a havarti or baby swiss and one hard cheese, like an aged cheddar, smoked gouda or even a good wedge of parmesan cheese. The point is to look for contrast in texture, flavor and appearance. Place the cheeses on a large platter, surrounded by dried fruit, grapes, nuts and crackers. Make sure to serve cheeses at room temperature. I usually let them sit out for an hour before serving so you can assemble this ahead of time, pull it out before you start baking off the rest of your appetizers and forget about it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hosting an Appetizer Party

So, the holiday season is upon us. We all enjoy celebrating, but sometimes the logistics of getting a whole meal out along with work schedules, shopping, etc. is really daunting. So why not host an appetizer party. Appetizers are fun, informal, can be easy and can be more cost effective.

First consideration is time of day. If you are looking at an afternoon event, you may consider doing brunch items or just desserts. If you are looking at an evening event, then you can go hog wild with creativity. Either you can pick an ethnicity and go from there, i.e. Spanish Tapas or Mediterranean Mezze, or have fun with it and pick a variety of items. I personally like to diversify and offer a bunch of different items, hot and cold, sweet and savory so that everyone has something they will like and I always make sure there is more than enough to eat to make a meal out of. You don't want people to have to eat before or after the event.

Another consideration is beverages. Certainly having some non-alcoholic options is always recommended, but you can have a field day with various specialty beverages, i.e. sangria, egg nog and other "punches" that may or may not be alcoholic in nature. This can be as much a part of the fun as the food.

So, how much to prepare? Well, I always try to shoot for approx. 1 1/2 servings per person of each. This ensures that everyone can have at least one and some can have seconds. Inevitably some people won't try everything and some will want several of one thing so this seems to work out really well. As far as beverages, 2-3 per person is wise. You don't want people to be tempted to drink and drive, but some won't drink so those who have DD's should be free to party.

One thing I like to note is that even though an appetizer party is more informal, spend some time on presentation and on the serving utensils you use. Whether you set up the appetizers as a buffet or pass them around on trays, use real appetizer plates and forks. This extra little touch may result in a little more clean up, but it's so much easier to eat off of real plates, especially if you are eating anything saucy. Your guests will greatly appreciate the hassle it'll save them when they don't dump their appetizers all over their nice party outfits.

So, then the magic question is how do you pick your menu. Realistically, I think keeping it to 6 or 7 items is probably as much work as you want to do for a party. I try to do 3 hot items, 3 cold items and one dessert or so. Within that, I try to do at least one dip, one cheese tray, two meat or seafood items and a couple of pastry based items, i.e. things using puff pastry or phyllo dough. Next, you want to consider how many of the items you pick can be assembled in advance and how many require last minute assembly or cooking/heating. The more you have to do last minute, the less time you'll be able to spend enjoying your guests. Now some last minute work is unavoidable and will be greatly appreciated by your guests, but you don't want it to become too much of a burden or you wont have fun.

A final consideration is cost. Obviously putting on a full meal for 20 people can get quite costly. You could theoretically spend just as much doing appetizers for 20 if you aren't careful. Or, you could save money by strategically planning your "choice" ingredients to really get the most bang for your buck. That comes in with menu planning. As you look at the overall picture of the menu you are planning, identify the costliest ingredients in each appetizer. Are there better choices you could make that would still fit the bill but save you a little money?? How much can you make yourself versus purchasing pre-made?? Keep in mind, the more you do "from scratch" the less you are going to spend on your party. May take a little more time, but again, your guests will appreciate the effort and so will your pocket book.

Over the next few posts, I'll be suggesting a number of different appetizer parties. I'll provide recipes and suggestions for what can be made in advance and where you might save a little money along the way. So stay tuned!!