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Traditional Irish Shepherd’s Pie with Lamb

18 Mar

So about this Anglo-Irish party.

I have long, long, loooong wanted to stage a dramatic reading of a play at someone’s home. You know, just get copies of a play for everyone, assign roles and read it. In my mind’s eye, it would be a wine-sodden affair (to ease stage fright and add to the hilarity), and there would be good food between the acts to keep the energy going (and keep the wine from creating utter chaos). I mean, I like a regular old dinner party as much as anyone, but since I can’t seem to leave well enough alone, I thought this would be a worthy way to imbibe in the name of Art.

A view of the early buffet items

A view of the early buffet items

This would, however, require a lot more space than I have in my little apartment. So I mentioned it to likely friends over the years, and everyone thought it would be a great thing indeed. A few even laid claim to having thought up the idea themselves (which I have most vociferously not allowed to happen…you know who you are and you are never-ever-ever going to get away with it).

Before the mashed potato topping

Before the mashed potato topping

But no one offered to have it at theirs.

Finally, I did what all of us high achievers must do when we have a great idea. I did it myself.

I set a date, commandeered my parents’ kitchen and living room in their absence (which in my teenage years would have been called having a party when your parents are away and sort of hoping it doesn’t go all Risky Business on you), invited a few friends, made an executive decision on the play (The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Play for Serious People by Oscar Wilde). I ordered multiple copies from the local library. Then I started menu planning.

This is where we wonder whether we've poured ourselves enough wine to last through Act One. We ended up bringing the bottles along...just in case

This is where we wonder whether we’ve poured ourselves enough wine to last through Act One. We ended up bringing the bottles along…just in case

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Yes! BAKED Broccoli, Spinach and Feta Empanadas (using store-bought disks)

24 Feb

Here is the second installment of 2014: The Year of the Empanada. After my first installment, in which I fried up my stuffings in Goya pre-made disks, I was showered with questions about whether they could be baked instead.

I wasn’t sure, but thanks Kathy Blenk for reporting back that she tried it and indeed they could!

How to pinch in those cute folds

How to pinch in those cute folds (photo Marianne Goralski)

So I decided to go for it as well (later in the year I hope to make my own, but one thing at a time) and was very pleased with the results. Continue reading

Olympic Snacks

8 Feb

While it’s nothing fancy, I thought I’d share with you how we’re keeping the Olympic theme going in our house…with the iconic rings….and the healthy snacks!

Watching the Olympics with my little guy!

Watching the Olympics with my little guy!

Hoping that you are enjoying the Games…we are. We are also enjoying those glimpses of rainbow from the athletes!

 

 

 

 

 

Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Dip (Barefoot Contessa Lightened Up Just a Bit!)

24 Jan

Recently my editors at Edible Long Island asked what we contributors were doing to eat local in the middle of winter.

Hmmm. Embarrassingly, I am not doing enough. Except drinking Long Island wine and using up the home-grown tomatoes, and CSA peppers, garlic scapes, and berries I froze this past summer when the getting was good. I must do better next year!

This will make an impact at your next party

This will make an impact at your next party

But, I am reading about cooking local…my godson, Sean, who understands me better than most, got me Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook with a forward by Martha Stewart for Christmas. For those who don’t know, The Barefoot Contessa is a specialty food store in East Hampton, Long Island, owned by Ina Garten, a former White House nuclear policy analyst and now Emmy-winning Food Network host. She is very charming, very Hamptons, and that makes her very local to me! Bonus, Martha Stewart also has a home in East Hampton, which makes her local too, at least part of the year.

Anyhoo, I do like Ina Garten and her relaxed style. She’s forever cooking up special treats for her beloved husband, Jeffrey, who seems to enjoy it very much. And since Super Bowl is coming up and that means a lot of entertaining, I adapted one of her signature recipes from the book to what I had in my fridge to see what happened.

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2014: The Year of the Empanada (first in an occasional series)

18 Jan

I love empanadas. The “pan” part of the word comes from the word for bread in Spanish, and empanadas are basically stuffed bread pockets. That’s basically…they have many permutations and depending where you are from they might be made with corn dough, wheat flour, fried or baked. They may be stuffed with meat or chicken or seafood or vegetables. We also call them pastelillos in Puerto Rico, pastel referring to pies, much like meat pies are hand-held dough pockets in other places.

Entry-level empanadas...premade discs. Do not be ashamed! I am not.

Entry-level empanadas…premade discs. Do not be ashamed! I am not.

Regular readers know that my son and I are not big sandwich eaters, but empanadas actually do the same job and we love those. You can pack them up for a picnic, grab them on the run and eat them in the car, have them for an afternoon snack after school, serve them as appetizers with an aperitif when your guests walk in the door.

Improvised rolling pin. Yet another reason to enjoy wine responsibly

Improvised rolling pin. Yet another reason to enjoy wine responsibly (photo: Ashley Fifer)

Every country seems to have a version of empanadas; Jamaican meat patties, Indian samosas, even Chinese dim sum (potstickers) could be called empanadas.

Picadillo

Picadillo

This year I want to explore the world of empanadas. My friend Ashley and my godson Sean have agreed to go on this journey with me (and calling them out here is my way of holding them to it). Ashley was my cooking buddy for this first go and took the picture of me rolling the dough. Continue reading

Lasagne, Lasagna, Lasaña: keeping it simple, making it Puerto Rican

14 Jan

No matter how you spell it, lasagne is great food for entertaining and with the SuperBowl coming up, you may want to consider this version as an option for the buffet table!

This is a wonderfully homey dish

This is a wonderfully homey dish

In its original Italian version (which may actually be adapted from a Greek dish) from Emilia Romagna (if Wikipedia is to be believed and on this one I am not really sure), lasagne is pasta layered with ragu, bechamel (creamy white sauce) and parmigiano reggiano. Lasagne has since been adapted and changed and reworked in so many ways that it has as many permutations as there are cooks who make it.

I have to say, I do not love bechamel. It’s okay when someone else makes it, but I would rather not. So, I do what so many do: layer mozzarella and ricotta and grated parmigiano and I am at peace with this shortcut that results in a creamy gooiness, no doubt horrifying to the Emiliani, but they are far away living their Italian lives and are not doing my dishes for me here in New York. And with apologies to the late, great Marcella Hazan, I am not ready to be making my own lasagne noodles, even though she maintains it is heresy to do otherwise.

Layers of gooey goodness

Layers of gooey goodness

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Guineitos en ájili-mójili (garlicky green bananas)

4 Jan

“What!?!”you are asking yourself. “Bananas with garlic!?! Eeeeew!!!!”

Yup. they are banans. But they are green.

Yup. they are bananas. But they are green.

But wait…this is not a sweet yellow eating banana dish. Nor is it a plantain dish. It is a savory, salty salad, served at room temperature and made with boiled green bananas (basically yellow ones – Musa sapentium – that are not at all ripe and must be cooked). They are widely used in the Caribbean and Central America because they are cheap and readily available. (For more on the origins of Puerto Rican ingredients, buy my ebook: Eat Your Way Through Puerto Rico!)

This is how you prepare them for boiling.

This is how you prepare them for boiling.

You might have a bigger challenge finding completely green bananas in your local supermarket; we usually get them at a Latin supermarket. I believe that Indian cooking also uses green banana; it makes sense, since the banana and all its relatives are believed to have originated in the Asian subcontinent, so if you have an Indian grocery near you you may find them there. And I have noticed that Costco’s bananas tend to be totally green; not good if you are looking for a raw fruit snack right away, but great for Latin cooking! Continue reading

Gravlax: Salty-Sweet Salmon, Fragrant with Dill

3 Jan

You might not expect my Caribbean family to serve something so distinctly Northern European as gravlax, a salt and sugar-cured Swedish delicacy, but we are equal opportunity gourmands. And there are two important sources of inspiration for how gravlax has become a frequent element of our party buffets. I’ll tell you about those and then give you some nifty background on the dish itself!

Start with the freshest salmon you can find/afford

Start with the freshest salmon you can find/afford

We get ours from Two Cousins Fish Market in Freeport. They are very accommodating to kids and to folks looking for sustainable options.

We get ours from Two Cousins Fish Market in Freeport. They are very accommodating to kids and to folks looking for sustainable options.

One source of inspiration is my Swedish sister-in-law, Annika, who has introduced us to the joys of Scandinavian cooking over the years and whose recipes have become part of family tradition. Second is Frank Eldridge, the college mentor for both my parents who helped them get together at Springfield College more than a half-century ago and who apparently introduced them to gravlax as well. He is no longer with us, but his gravlax is; this is an adaptation of his recipe, sent to us by his wife. 

Be lavish with the dill

Be lavish with the dill

The etymology of Gravlax is pretty cool…and not just because it comes from cold weather countries or because it is a fish dish served chilled. Continue reading

Bacalaitos: Light and Luscious Puerto Rican Cod Fritters

27 Dec

One of the pleasures of visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico is heading straight from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport to a beach area about five minutes to the east. Piñones, a long stretch of relatively undeveloped coastline is where beach shacks under the shade of coconut palms serve up ice cold beer, whiskey con coco, and all manner of snacks or frituras, flour or banana dough shaped in seagrape leaves and dropped into hot fat in blackened cauldrons over coal fires by ladies in hair rollers. Oh my God, I am so glad to be back, you say, toes in the crystal water and tearing into a delicious and greasy and tropical hunk of something.

Break up the de-salted cod as much as you can

Break up the de-salted cod as much as you can

One of the iconic frituras is bacalaitos: fried cod fritters. Salt cod is well-known to Atlantic coastal areas and the Caribbean…the New England cod fisheries have for centuries supplied coastal people with an abundance of this oily fish that preserves really well (if you are interested in the history of cod, you must read Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World).

Sawtooth coriander or recao or culantro adds authentic flavor to this dish, but cilantro is a worthy substitute

Sawtooth coriander or recao or culantro adds authentic flavor to this dish, but cilantro is a worthy substitute

Its popularity has led to overstressed fisheries. While they are being managed, they are not recovering well or quickly enough for me to have them as anything but an occasional treat.

skewered fritters draining, even as the next batch goes in!

skewered fritters draining, even as the next batch goes in!

In Puerto Rico we use salt cod in rice dishes, vinaigrette-style with local tubers, with tomatoes like the Basque people…in any number of ways. Bacalaitos are a good entry-level bacalao dish if you are afraid salt cod is too fishy for your family’s taste. Here it is not overwhelming, but more of a condiment and I daresay that salt cod lends umami (that fifth sensation of rich meaty mouth-feel) to what would be just a fish fritter…like many salted fish it is high in glutamates.

Letting the batter rest gives time for the baking powder to activate. that will give you nice airiness in the fritters.

Letting the batter rest gives time for the baking powder to activate. that will give you nice airiness in the fritters.

Most of the credit for this recipe is shared between Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s classic recipe in Cocina Criolla* and my dad’s adaptations and execution. It makes a perfect light dinner or appetizer…I like it with cold, dry sparkling wine, but of course a cold beer (on the lighter side) is a classic match-up. Kids and adults alike love them; we’ll be doing them up for our New Year’s guests when they arrive. Read on for recipe! Continue reading

Cozy, Sparkly, Happily-Appley, Holiday Cocktail

28 Nov

A post on Edible Long Island and a post-trick-or-treating Halloween mini-party inspired me to make Apple Crisps, an invention of Relish restaurant in King’s Park, using local apple cider from Richter’s Orchards. While the boys decorated skull- and coffin-shaped papier mâché boxes, ate hot dogs and watched Casper’s Scare School, the moms noshed on white cheese and grapes (the world’s simplest appetizer) and cocktail meatballs and these light and relaxing cocktails!

flutes work well in small spaces!

flutes work well in small spaces!

I kept it hyper-local with Jericho Cider Mills cider (both orchards are on Long Island — yes, the same place you thought had been cemented over a long time ago actually has farms and orchards– but Jericho is closer to us than Richter’s ) and — me being me — added a bit more prosecco. And then, once the initial, beautifully shaken, garnished, and presented ones were drained daintily, everyone just sort of poured themselves some cider and topped it off with a healthy slug of the fizzy and a sprinkle of cinnamon…there is nothing I like better than self-serve after I’ve made a lovely first impression.

P.S. I also made one of these for Adriana of the Sparkly Cosmo Night…it is so refreshing and so low in alcohol  that it hydrates and maintains your level for the long haul…

I suppose I should tell you about the artless, yet decadent nutella sandwiches that were aso part of the evening...

I suppose I should tell you about the artless, yet decadent nutella sandwiches that were aso part of the evening…

The Apple Crisp
2 oz. local apple cider
6 oz. Prosecco
Sprinkling of ground cinnamon (plus a tiny squeeze of lemon, if desired)
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine ingredients. Shake well. Pour into a flute (or other wine glass) and garnish with a fresh apple slice. Sprinkle with more cinnamon, if desired.

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