Tag Archives: buffet

4 Effortless Yet Elegant Party Appetizers for Busy People

20 Dec

I was recently invited to do a cooking demonstration at Nassau Community College (where my more usual role is as a full-time ESL lecturer in a language immersion program) for the Mom’s Club, a campus club for student-parents where they get support in their struggle to complete their college education while raising children and often simultaneously holding a full-time job!

So these are women who needed a fun mini-workshop that would include some nifty snacks, some honest conversation and maybe even a few ideas for inexpensive and easy appetizers they can easily prepare for their families. I think this line-up delivered.

All hands on deck!

All hands on deck!

It was a pleasure to cook for this small group — thanks to professors Beth Goering and Molly Phelps Ludmar for inviting me and also providing an electric skillet, bread and soft drinks.

Happy holidays ladies!

Happy holidays ladies!

Together — I put everyone to work, of course — we made Spanish-style garlic mushrooms, cilantro-sunflower seed pesto, black olive and walnut paste, and white cheese and red grape skewers. Everything was done within a half hour, so we had time to sit and eat, which is a rare treat for busy moms!

Not my best images ever, but you get the idea!

Not my best images ever, but you get the idea!

Here are the recipes:

White Cheese and Red Grapes (requires toothpicks!)

Cut Latin style white cheese into cubes about the size of the grapes. Skewer a single grape and a single cube of cheese onto each toothpick (this is a job kids love! and it keeps them busy while you are trying to do other things.) and arrange on a serving platter. The cubed cheese is the base.

Cilantro-Sunflower Seed Pesto (sunflower seeds are a terrific alternative to pine nuts or walnuts for those with nut allergies)

One bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped (YES you can use the stems)

2-3-4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2 Cup sunflower seeds (roasted and salted seeds add a lot of flavor)

Squeeze of freeze lemon

pinch of hot red pepper flakes (optional)

extra virgin olive oil

abundant grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or Locatelli cheese

salt to taste

Place cilantro, garlic, sunflower seeds, lemon, and optional pepper flakes in a food processor or blender and whirr until chopped. Add olive oil bit by bit (in a thin stream if you can pour while blending) until you achieve a thick paste. Add cheese to taste (start with about 1/4 Cup) and serve over pasta or as a spread for bruschetta, crackers or sliced bread.

For an easy basil pesto (my second grader makes it!) click here.

Black Olive and Walnut Paste (Tapenade)

1 can pitted black olives (or one cup good seedless black olives if you can afford them), drained indifferently

1/4 Cup walnuts (but add them Tbs by Tbs)

1 tsp capers drained indifferently

2-3 anchovies from a jar, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel

leaves from 3-4 thyme sprigs

optional extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients (except optional olive oil) in a food processor and blend till smooth, adding olive oil as necessary. Serve as a spread for toast or crackers.

For another version heavier on the anchovies, click here.

Spanish style Garlic Mushrooms

2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

12 oz white or Cremini mushrooms, stems removed (and saved in the freezer for stock) and wiped clean with paper towel.

3 Tbs dry red wine (I took some mushrooms out at this point to accommodate someone who doesn’t consume alcohol)

1 Tbs chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, heat the oil until loose and fragrant. Lower heat to medium low garlic and cook gently until golden brown.

Add mushrooms and stir to coat., Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms start to brown deeply and release their juices. Add wine and raise hand eat to a fast simmer for about 5 minutes, until alcohol has cooked off but there is still liquid. Sprinkle with parsley salt and serve with crusty bread.

For a more complex version of these mushrooms that includes butter, click here.

Advertisements

Easy, Hearty, Refried Beans for Bean Dip, Tacos, Burritos, and more

8 Jul

We’ve been having folks over or heading to other people’s houses for watch parties during the World Cup…as die-hard fanáticos del fútbol, this extravaganza of soccer is something we look forward to every four years with great anticipation.

I’ve mostly gonewith tried and true recipes like the incredibly delicious Chipotle Lime Jerk Slow Cooker Chicken and my Seasoned Ground Beef for Sloppy Joes, Tortilla Torcal (Spanish stovetop egg frittata with chorizo, ham and peas from our garden), Grapes and White Cheese (no-cook fab appetizer with just two ingredients — three if you count toothpicks), and such.

Go U.S.A.!

Go U.S.A.! Tim Howard is Hercules!

But for the first U.S. game of the Cup, I also made a new one: bean dip! I was very happy with the results. I did homemade refried beans (recipe below), then just layered it up with salsa and cheese and melted in the oven and served with tortilla chips, sour cream and avocado chunks and everyone liked it. A Lot.

This bean recipe is very versatile for Tex-Mex style foods like nachos, burritos, tacos and the like. Sure you can buy refried beans in a can, but this flavor and texture is more complex and of course the sodium and fat levels are reduced to human proportions. Give it a try!

 

Layered with cheese and salsa, this warm dip is a hot item

Layered with cheese and salsa, this warm dip is a hot item

Refried Beans for Bean Dip or Tex-Mex meals (with garlic scapes)

1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs garlic scapes (or garlic), chopped fine

¼ Cup diced ham (ham steak or deli ham)

½ Cup broth (chicken or veggie; not too sweet)

1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried)

3 Cups red beans (softened at home or from a can, rinsed and drained)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a generous pan to medium high. Lower heat and sauté the garlic scapes in the oil until tender. Add the diced ham and sauté an additional minute, then add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and with a potato masher or a fork, mash mixture roughly until you have a thick, rustic paste, adding tablespoons of water or broth as needed. Layer with salsa and cheese in an oven-safe dish and heat up, then top with sour cream, guacamole and olives, or use it to top nachos or stuff tacos and burritos!

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

The Best International Potluck Dance Party. Ever!

29 Apr

Regular readers know that in my other life I am a full time college instructor of English as a Second Language. This is a very good profession to be in if you like to adventure with food; immigrant and international students tend to be very proud of their national cuisines and more than happy to bring in samples in order to convert you to their way of eating.

I don’t travel as much as I did when I was a full time food, wine, and travel journalist, but since I started this teaching gig, I have covered thousands of miles of previously uncharted gastronomic territory.

We love when our students bring us special treats. But once a semester, they go all out, all at the same time. The most anticipated event of each semester at Language Immersion at Nassau Community College (LINCC) is the End-of-Semester Party – which might be better called “The Best International Potluck Dance Party on Long Island.”

A table groaning under the weight of fabulous international food!

A table groaning under the weight of fabulous international food!

Continue reading

Kid’s Party Snack Alternative: Bagel Buffet, Starring Cream Cheese Two Ways!

26 Jun

My pizza party days are over. I used to like the occasional slice, but once you have a kid and start attending kids’ parties with alarming frequency, the whole pizza thing becomes tedious (and hard on the waistline), except for the part about not having to figure out lunch for your kid for a day. I like that part a whole lot.

Mind you, I have served pizza at a number of Leandro’s parties. Three regular pies, sliced in 16ths, for the kids. Another one or two pies for the parents. Guilty as charged.

Cream cheese with chives

By the time they get served, the waxy cheese is getting hard, the crust is soft, and chewy and the sauce, whatever it was, is gone. Besides, regular slices bore the hell out of me. Call me a snob, but if you lived in Italy for a couple of years and ate wood stove-crispy thin pies (slice? Cosa e? Ma scherzi.…) topped with seasonal veggies and homemade sausage with a carafe of the charming local plonk most Friday nights out with your charming boyfriend who didn’t mind your bit of flirting with the charming Italians who owned the place….well, a leaden slice of regular from a box choked down to the soundtrack of overexcited preschoolers and bounce-house kiddie-pop might also feel somewhat wrong to you.

Maple-Walnut Cream Cheese

Anyhoo, I wanted to change it up just a little this time around. It’s not just the pizza thing; it’s that I like to cook and entertain and this seemed to me to be an chance to manifest my own self in a more public forum than usual. It is all well and good to set yourself up as a food blogger because your child has been indoctrinated to believe that what you are making him is good stuff. It’s quite another thing to lay it out there for public tasting and scrutiny.

And of course, the other reason is that in my universe, you honor your guests by serving them nice food.

We celebrated Leandro’s birthday at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center at Jones Beach. The time was from 10 am-noon on a Sunday. If you have ever been in downstate New York on a Sunday morning, you will understand that bagels are the only appropriate response. It’s like the venerable five o’clock cocktail, only heavier on the carbs. So I went with pre-sliced mini-bagels from Seaford Bagel – convenient, but with ample opportunities to prepare a few spreads of your own.

Buffet table note: cheese and ham slices and mustard and mayo rounded out the buffet. Not one of my 50 Shades of Martha moments on the decor, but it worked well enough. A Box of Joe, juice boxes, and bottles of water completed the spread.

In my own defense, I am not completely bonkers and did not bake the main event: The “birthday cake” was cupcakes, ordered from Stop & Shop. Yes. A chain grocery store. Did you really think I was going to bake an effen cake!?! They were, by all accounts, delicious, topped with butter cream and decorated with Spiderman, Hello Kitty and other rings. Eternal thanks to the wisdom of Marianne/Madrina, for her bagel shop and cupcake source recommendations.

Among the spreads were tuna salad and egg salad (click to get those recipes from earlier posts), and the following two easy cream cheese variations. The maple-walnut spread was especially popular (and so easy it’s almost embarrassing). The kids mostly ate straight-up butter or cream cheese. But the parents and big kids who came to show solidarity were All Over the buffet table and even made a few to-go bagels. (Hector and Sean, I am naming names!!!). We also had plenty of bagels left over to pack in the cooler for our glorious, post-party beach afternoon.

I hope you’ll try them next time you want to bring up your bagel buffet game without killing yourself. Don’t pay for store-made. These are too simple and the praise too gratifying.

Thanks to all of you who came and made this day one of Leandro’s best and most memorable ever. I will eat your party pizza every time and enjoy your company, so don’t fret or hesitate to invite us to the next one. Leandro needs the break from his mom’s obsessiveness!

Cucumber slices are an easy dress-up for cream cheese and chives or tuna salad

Cream Cheese with Chives

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 Tbs chives, chopped

1 tsp green onion, chopped fine (including white part!)

In a bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Chill at least a half hour for flavors to incorporate.

Maple Walnut Cream Cheese

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 Tbs real maple syrup

½ tsp vanilla extract (if you actually have maple extract, you can use it here)

½ cup chopped walnuts, plus walnuts for garnish

In a bowl, mix the cream cheese, syrup and extract. Stir in the walnuts and chill for at least 30 minutes. Turn the cream cheese into your serving dish and garnish with whole walnuts.

Pasta with Tomatoes, Spinach, Goat Cheese and Black Olives (feeds a crowd!)

22 Mar

The planting season is picking up at Restoration Farm, the C.S.A. that we belong to at the historic Old Bethpage Restoration Village here on Long Island. I say that as if I were right in there, pruning the apple trees and preparing the beds and raising those heritage birds, getting dirty and sweaty in honest, sacred labor on the land.

Uh, well, not exactly.

Farming has always been more theoretical than hands-on in my life. Sure I have come out to volunteer at the farms we have belonged to, but in all honesty, since I’ve had Leandro, it’s been more about picking a couple of pea pods, then taking him to see the pigs or the chickens  or to the bathroom, rush, rush, than it has been about actually doing anything useful in an agricultural sense.

This year will be different, in two ways:

1) We have a little more sun in our yard these days, thanks to some trees that had to come down. Last year we did some experimental container gardening to gauge where we could actually grow vegetables. Now that we’ve established that, we will be putting in some raised beds this year and trying to grow more stuff for ourselves.

2) Leandro is more self-sufficient and mature and I have hopes that our volunteering days at the farm will be less like outings to the zoo and more like real contributions.Call me crazy, but a girl’s gotta dream…..

In the meantime, we attended the season-opening potluck at the farm last Sunday and — while I listened with longing, yearning, and almost dismay as the real farm folks told me with great enthusiasm about everything they’ve been doing in the last few weeks — I tried to keep positive about what is to come for me in the world of growing things! (and we have started peas, tomatoes, peppers and culantro from seed this week).

This was my contribution to the potluck…it seemed to go well for everyone (except my own traitorous offspring who decided he didn’t like the look of it and proceeded to stuff his face with the stuffed shells and the two different baked macaroni and cheese, and the Hardscrabble chicken — anything but my dish, the one I had made thinking he’d love it; thanks for the support, little dude) and I had enough to bring in for my esteemed colleagues. At least one has decided that she doesn’t have to cook this week thanks to this abundant, rich, very easy and super-tasty, creamy dish.

You’ll be able to use this recipe next time you have to feed a bunch of people with stuff you already have on hand!

Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Black Olives

1.5 lbs penne or other short pasta

6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, sliced thin

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more if you want it spicy)

28 oz canned of diced tomatoes (or two Cups fresh)

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

10 oz – 16 oz frozen spinach

20-30 pitted black olives, sliced

½ Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or pecorino

6 oz fresh goat cheese (chévre)

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water, drain and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook at medium low until softened and golden, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste (if using fresh tomatoes, cook until they begin to soften) and then add spinach, cooking at medium low until the spinach is heated through and incorporated, about 5 minutes. Add olives.

Add the pasta and the grated cheese (and tablespoons of the reserved pasta water if the sauce is too thick) and stir until the pasta is fully coated. Add the goat cheese, mix well (but gently) and serve, with additional grated cheese if desired.

Pear, Berry and Goat Cheese Hors d’ouevres ¡Que Chévrere!

16 Dec

Once again, I underestimated how much time I had to make food and how much time each item would take. Regular readers know that I am trying not to fuss when guests come over, but I got a bit ambitious for a Lucas and Amanda playdate and ended up slicing and cooking more than talking for a good part of the early evening.

However, my trip into the weeds of food prep was well worth it, if only for this one new, festive appetizer that looks so pretty and explodes with flavor.

Inspired by a holiday recipe I saw in a magazine last time I went to get my hair done, I picked up some Bosch pears. The original recipe called for Camembert, but I couldn’t find it during my very brave (or ill-advised or just plain crazy?) trip to the nearest Costco Warehouse in the middle of the holiday shopping season with its completely lawless parking lot with a just a half an hour before I had to pick up both little lunatics from the daycare. I cut my losses, grabbed some goat cheese, extricated myself from Costco without incident, and hit the refresh button on my recipe plans.

I had just got the litle guys into a groove at home (which involved unforeseen complications, like my son’s grumpy mood, and taking out the old-fashioned spiral corer and peeler for them to prepare their own apples and other such mommy activities) and Amanda was already at the door! But no harm done – the fizzy stuff was cold and all I had to do was some quick assembly for the starters.

Later I bunged Lucas’ favorite Flex-Mex Shredded Chicken chicken in to a pot and all was well (although admittedly the kids were moaning for food by the time I had it all together – why, why, why do kids decide to get hungry EARLY just when you are overwhelmed? And is there any sound more grating — and distracting — than the whine of your little emperor child when you are trying to concentrate on getting him what he wants anyway? Sheesh!)

So, for the holidays, try this with a dry sparkling wine – we had Frexienet, but I might go with a dry prosecco the next time. Amanda, my colleague, Maryanne, and I loved this up and I think you will too!

Pear, Berry and Goat Cheese Hors d’ouevres (makes a light appetizer for two)

1 Bosch Bear, core removed and sliced into thin wedges (I used a push-down apple core-and-slicer and then sliced each segment in half)

1 tsp lemon juice

2 Tbs creamy goat cheese (chevre)

2 Tbs walnuts, chopped fairly fine

1 Tbs lingonberry jam (raspberry or red currant would also work)

Arrange pear wedges on a plate. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning. Add a dollop of goat cheese. Top with walnuts and a bit of jam. Serve immediately.

Shrimp in Seconds (tapas, party snack, salad topper or killer wrap/tortilla filler)

13 Sep

A bag of frozen shrimp in the fridge is worth its weight in gold when you have surprise guests, a hankering for seafood or you just want a tasty, quick, low-fat protein that you can eat with your fingers. It thaws in no time, cooks in less than no time, and is a virtually guaranteed crowd-pleaser. I also use any leftovers for lunch the next day!

This recipe is so basic it almost doesn’t seem like a recipe to me, but it gets the job done when you just want to eat without fussing and be able to sit down with your guests and actually eat and relax.

Casual Sauteed Shrimp (Appetizer or Salad Topper or Wrap Ingredient)

15-20 medium frozen shrimp (31-40 is fine and usually reasonably priced; pre-peeled is nice….).

1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Do a Quick Thaw McGraw on the shrimp in a bowl of room-temperature water, turning occasionally changing water if things are moving too slowly. Ten minutes is all you really need. Peel shrimp if necessary, leaving tails on.

Drain shrimp and pat dry with a paper towel and place in a bowl. Add Old Bay Seasoning and stir to coat.

Heat oil at medium high in a skillet. When oil is loose and fragrant, add shrimp and cook for about two minutes, stirring frequently until they are pink-white (not translucent) and curled up. You don’t want to overcook, so pull them out as soon as they begin to stiffen. You can cut through one experimentally to check that all translucence is gone.

Remove from heat and serve as finger food with plenty of napkins and cocktail sauce, lemon wedges or anything else you like to dip shrimp into. Garlic mayo (aioli) comes to mind https://hotcheapeasy.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/tapas-1-make-your-own-mayo/ Or use to top a salad. I have used them in wraps, cold out of the fridge and sliced in half lengthwise, along with fresh or roasted vegetables, white cheese or feta and a smear of hummus. You can also stir into pasta, adding a bit more oil and lemon.

%d bloggers like this: