Tag Archives: party food

Cucumber Sandwiches (Wilde Party Essential)

27 Mar

There is nothing that says English high tea quite like cucumber sandwiches. They call to mind white lace tablecloths, starched just so; the fine china; someone’s Aunts Augusta and Elizabeth; itchy wool socks, the smell of wet dogs just come in from a run in the garden, that sort of thing.

But when you are reading Oscar Wilde’s  The Importance of Being Earnest with friends, two things become apparent.

Watch them disappear

Watch them disappear

One is that it is not the prissy or genteel aunts who are nibbling delicately on the the cucumber sandwiches…no, no. they never get a chance. In this play of love and marriage and double entendres, it is the naughty, insouciant young gentlemen who can’t keep their hands off those cucumber sandwiches and who eat them up before anyone else has a chance. If you choose to look into this further, you might make some connections between the rigidity of social norms of the times and the lust for life that busts out around the edges of it all. Or you might not.

The second thing that becomes apparent is that cucumber sandwiches are fantastic. This is the recipe: Good white sandwich bread from a bakery (thanks to David and Citarella), crusts removed (thanks to Ashley), good salted butter (Irish, in this case), and thinly sliced English hothouse cucumbers (unpeeled, by executive decision; if they’d been the thick-peeled American ones, the peels would have had to come off), topped with a sprinkle of sea salt before putting the top slice of bread on, and there you have them.

“Why are these so good?” Lori kept asking me. “What is it?”

And there really isn’t a particular answer to that except that every one of the ingredients was exactly right. But they are really, really good, and I can see plates of these disappearing off the picnic platters this summer at my house.

Why are they so good? Because they are.

Why are they so good? Because they are.

For more on throwing a play-reading party, click here.


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

Continue reading

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

Chocolate Mini-Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

16 Jun

I caved. Yes, I did.

Driven by the fear of being “that mom” who rains on every party and won’t let kids enjoy their sugar fix and makes others feel guilty or annoyed by my holier-than-thou eating habits…and because my son asked very nicely to have a special treat…for Leandro’s birthday celebration at school, we made cupcakes. Chocolate Cupcakes. With Buttercream Frosting. Go big, or go home.

Mini-muffin before frosting

Mini-muffin before frosting

In my feeble defense, I also made fruit kebabs (which went over as well as, if not better than, the cupcakes) and we actually went little, making mini-cupcakes so that they were  a tiny treat rather than an exercise in excess, but BE IT KNOWN: I am not immune to peer pressure and I am not a complete whole food Nazi.

Mind you, making it all homemade is also a form of penitence for sins of sugar and spice. I put a lot of time and effort into it and was not always thinking gracious thoughts. Particularly about the moms who just pick up a box of Dunkin’ Munchkins for class celebrations and call it a day and don’t give that much thought to what children consume or what maniacs like myself choose to do with our precious time, but who are not going to waste their precious time making desserts for five-and-six year olds, when kids are just as happy with a Dunkin’ drive-by.

That buttercream frosting is NAUGHTY! and nice....

That buttercream frosting is NAUGHTY! and nice….

It’s that same grim satisfaction some of us get from pointedly and conscientiously using our directional when driving, as if anyone would care to learn from our example, or as if there was some direct HOV lane to heaven for courteous and law-abiding drivers. Underneath it all, I know no one gives a rat’s posterior. But the girl can’t help it. Continue reading

Walnut Cups – gorgeous holiday cookie alternative (who doesn’t love a cream cheese crust?)

18 Dec

2012-12-16 09.19.14I absolutely cannot believe that I have never posted this recipe!

Yes this much butter, this much cream cheese. Get your jaw off the floor and get cooking!

Yes this much butter, this much cream cheese. Get your jaw off the floor and get cooking!

For the last I don’t know how many years — since my neighbor Teresa brought some over for us one holiday season and was kind enough to give me the recipe — Marianne and family and I (and now Leandro) have included this recipe in our Christmas cookie baking extravaganza although  think last year we did Walnut Toffee Triangles instead. When we went to do the cups this year, I went straight to my own blog and was horrified (or perhaps I should say gobsmacked, simply because I can) to find I had never shared this with you! Continue reading

Feta, Avocado and Sun-Dried Tomato Snacks — Use ‘Em While Ya Got ‘Em!

30 Jan

I’m in a Use-It-Up frenzy at the moment; bought more fresh food than Leandro and I could consume during a week in which we were unexpectedly invited to dinner at other people’s houses and even if I could afford the waste, I have a really hard time throwing out food.

(For more on the food we throw away  visit Jonathan Bloom at Wasted Food; or the E.P.A. — where you’ll find out that Americans generate 34 million tons of food waste each year; or this NYTimes article from 2008 which says “As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study” ).

So, no real recipe today, but a serving suggestion of flavors and textures that worked well in a “scrappy” snack…horrid pun intended.

I took half an avocado left over from the previous day, some slices of feta that needed using up, and some sun-dried tomatoes in oil that have been lurking in my fridge. I just sliced fairly thin, laid them on woven wheat crackers and called it a light lunch.

It was delicious and satisfying and effectively utilized my natural resources! Pretty too, don’tcha think?


Mango Tango Salsa!

16 Nov

It was almost too late for that poor mango, bought in a frenzy of nostalgia for the tree my grandmother planted in her backyard in Mayagüez, a Puerto Rican town celebrated for its delicious, juicy, juicy, sweet, meaty, fiber-free mangos. In June, those suckers drop out of the sky and plop heavily onto the ground where you have to get them before the other critters do. They fall in such quantities that I spent many mornings cutting, slicing, peeling and freezing – you can’t possibly eat them all as they ripen. Friends in San Juan used to love to see me arrive with freezer bags full of Mayagüez mangos; they’d have the blender, booze and ice ready for action before I could even lock my car and get to the front door.

No such welcoming committee for this mango, even after its long journey from Brazil or Mexico or somesuch warm place, after its boring days in a chilly supermarket produce aisle next to a basket of equally foreign avocados, after too many days in the pale fall light of my southern exposure window, defended from attackers by its only company: several very busy spiders and a valiant Venus Flytrap. No, this poor mango was in dire need of attention and accessorizing, as its best days were behind it.

So, Mango Salsa it was, quick and dirty. Good excuse to eat blue corn tortilla chips, which are a weakness of mine (Waterloo to any attempt to get bikini ready) and to further prove that the Spanish love for fruit and cheese is grounded in pure genius and has infinite possibilities. The salsa sweet-tartness and the tortilla crunch just beg to be completed with some salty squeaky cheese – Queso Blanco (the firm kind of Latin white cheese) and Monterey Jack are my choices, but salted mozzarella would likely work also.

So here it is – a one bowl operation, served up in a margarita glass, a neglected mango finally loved up the way it should be.

Mango Tango Salsa

1 cup mango, chopped into small chunks*

1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded (or not) and chopped into small chunks

3 Tbs red onion, minced

1 Tbs mango-orange juice (or mango or orange)

2 tsp chipotle in adobo paste (spoon it off the chipotles, but don’t include the peppers themselves)

3 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice

1 pinch salt

Put all ingredients into a small bowl. Mix thoroughly, add seasonings to taste, cover and refrigerate until chilled. Serve with sliced Caribbean white cheese, salted mozzarella or Monterey Jack and tortilla chips.

* To cut up a mango, hold it on its side lengthwise on a cutting board and choose a spot about a third of the way in. You want to slice down on either side of the seed so you have two bowls.  Score the flesh of each bowl like a checkerboard and turn it inside out (we call this a porcupine). Slice off the chunks and dice as needed. Yo can also cut flesh off the seed (or just eat the flesh off the seed yourself- you are the cook after all and deserve the treat!)

Mini-Fiesta Chili con Carne and Perfect Latin White Rice (Yes, all the kids ate it…eventually)

10 Oct

My friend Pam often opens her home for massive Mom-and-Kid-Family playdates on Saturday afternoons with our extended group of single mom friends. Think a dozen little maniacs — ages 7 and under — tearing around a big backyard on bikes and scooters and what have you, swinging, arguing, playing…while the moms share stories from the frontlines of parenting solo.

On these occasions I often invite myself and Leandro to stay for dinner after everyone’s gone.  These meals tend to be a collaborative effort (as the best sort of friendships tend to be). Our kids — she has two — love each other’s company and she’s got loads of toys so they leave us in relative peace to chew the fat, complain about them, worry about everything, laugh at ourselves…you know the routine.

This time I invited ourselves over again, but I had the meal already in hand. In my cooler tote went a pint of Basic Seasoned Ground Beef that I pulled from the freezer, a 28 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, a 15 oz can of red kidney beans, chili powder, cheddar cheese (secret weapon) and a bag of rice.

I also brought a bottle of Wölffer Estate apple wine, because it’s locally produced, refreshing, tasty, good with food, and –at just 7 percent alcohol — Pam — the Lightweight Champion of the World — can have more than one glass and so can I, even though I have a drive home later. Kim and her two girls also stayed, so we popped the cork and got the party started!

Now, don’t think the kids just tucked right into it. No way. Leandro loves the stuff, but the other moms were skeptical whether their kids would go for something quite so bean-y, quite so meat-y, quite so seasoned, quite so different from what they usually have, ’cause that is how kids are.

They were right; the cute little molded mounds of rice went quickly, and they picked the cheddar cheese off the top of the chili, but they were decidedly unenthusiastic about the main part of the meal. So I told them they were hurting my feelings, offered to mix in rice and cheese to anyone who would just try the food to make me happy, and soon enough, they were eating it up. Score!

Please note: this is easy to assemble in no time at all (20 minutes or so from fridge to table), IF you have pre-made seasoned ground beef stored in pint containers in your freezer. I include the recipe here; it is a pillar of my kitchen strategy and I recommend you make it three pounds at a time!

I also include my recipe for perfect Latin white rice…Pam actually made excellent rice in her pressure cooker this time, but I include the recipe just the same. The parboiled quick stuff is just not acceptable, except in extremis, sorry.

Chili Con Carne (serves four adults)

1 pint Basic Seasoned Ground Beef (see below)

28 oz can tomato puree/whole peeled tomatoes/crushed tomatoes (Italian-style NOT recommended; basil has no place here)

15 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 Tbs chili powder

hot sauce, if desired

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Monterey Jack would work too)

In a large pot, add beef, tomatoes, beans and chili powder, bring to a boil and then simmer. Begin preparing rice (see recipe below). When the rice is ready, the chili should be ready too. Just adjust for seasoning and serve rice topped with chili and cheese.

Basic Seasoned Ground Beef

You can build on this dish to make many different meals

BASIC SEASONED GROUND BEEF (this is half of what I usually do to freeze. To do 3 lbs. at a time, double everything – Note: do NOT skip the olives and capers, even if you hate them. I never eat olives — green or black –yuck! but I cook with them. In this dish they give a salty, sharp, savoriness that is crucial and the little bits pretty much disappear in the cooking. Pam and Kim and the kids all ate them without noticing!)

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 baseball sized onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced (go for more if you like – I do!)

1.5 lbs. ground beef

(Optional1/4-1/2 C. chopped red pepper fresh or roasted from a jar)

1/2 tsp adobo powder* (if desired – I generally don’t use it, but some people love the extra salt and the umami)

1 heaping Tbs capers, drained

10 manzanilla olives (pitted and stuffed with pimientos), chopped small

(optional 1/2 cup tomatoes from a can – diced, chopped, whatever or a spoonful of tomato paste you need to use up)

Heat oil on high in a large saucepan until thin and fragrant. Add onion and cook, stirring, for two minutes until well coated and getting translucent. Lower heat to fairly low and cook for five minutes, add garlic and cook for another minute. Raise heat to high and crumble in ground beef, stirring and breaking up frequently until fully-browned. Spoon out fat or pour off (don’t make it too dry!) into sink (carefully!).

Return to heat, add red pepper, optional adobo, capers, olives and optional tomato. Mix completely. Lower heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes until fat begins to separate from sauce. Serve or freeze.

 *instead of adobo powder, mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1 Tbs mixed chopped fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley) or 1 tsp dried

Perfect White Rice (you can halve this recipe if you are not big into carbs)

1 Tbs olive oil

2 Cups long-grain white rice (Sello Rojo, Goya or other Latin brand preferred)

4 Cups water

½ tsp salt

Place olive oil in a medium pot (with a tight lid). Begin heating to high while adding the rice. Stir to coat, Add water and salt. Stir once, then bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and allow water to evaporate until it goes below the surface of the rice and there are a couple of holes in the surface. Turn rice over once with a big spoon. Cover and cook on low another ten minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

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.

Watermelon Gazpacho (and a cry for help)

14 Aug

Have you ever tried a lovely new recipe that is almost -, just short of-, achingly close to- perfect, but that you know needs a spike, a dash or a splash of something, but you can’t quite figure out what it is?

Well that’s what is happening with this Watermelon Gazpacho.

As is, it is a cool and refreshing welcome cross between a soup and a sorbet with which to greet guests. In Puerto Rico, some restaurants bring you a complimentary shot of fish soup or chicken soup to relax you while you read your menu options. At a recent poolside birthday party I attended here on Long Island, a server carried round trays of long elegant shot glasses of tomato gazpacho as part of the hors d’oeuvres and they were delicious starters. This watermelon gazpacho is a sweeter version of the same idea. It is gorgeous in its summer pinkness, accented by green mint or lime. My book club friends liked it a lot, as did my colleagues the following day when I tried it out on them.

However, I can’t help feeling like it needs something zingy to really complete it. I didn’t want to blend a spicy element in; I feel that is needs more side-by-side contrast. One suggestion was a drizzle of seasoned chile oil, so I have included that option here. It may be as simple as a pretty curl of green chile pepper or a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes and I will try that soon too. The original recipe, from Vegetarian Times, calls for verjus rather than vinegar, but I didn’t have any, so perhaps that is the missing element?

So, even as this recipe gives a truly lovely result in its current incarnation, and I encourage you to give it a try, I am asking your help in making it perfect. Let me know before the watermelon season is over!

Tips on selecting watermelons below.

Watermelon Gazpacho

2 lbs watermelon flesh, rind and seeds removed and chopped (approximately 6 cups)*

1 clove garlic, peeled

¼ medium red onion, peeled and chopped (about 1/4 cup)

½ medium cucumber, peeled and seeded (about ½ cup)

¼ medium red bell pepper, chopped (about ¼ cup)

1 inch thick slice day-old bread, any real hard crust removed

2 Tbs red wine vinegar (you may want to add more to your taste; do it 1 Tbs at a time)

2 Tbs fresh lime juice

Kosher or sea salt to taste

2-4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

(optional: hot pepper/chile oil for drizzling; hot pepper flakes for sprinkling?)

Mint leaves for garnish

In the food processor or blender, add all ingredients except olive oil, salt and mint. Puree until smooth (or relatively smooth; I like the tiniest bit of chunkiness myself). Drizzle in extra virgin olive oil (about 2 Tbs) and season with salt. Serve cold, garnished with mint and drizzled or sprinkled with something spicy.

*The sweeter the watermelon, the sweeter the gazpacho. To buy a perfect whole watermelon, look for an even shape that would indicate even ripening. You DO want there to be a yellow mark somewhere on the green rind; that yellowed spot indicates the place the watermelon sat, getting field-ripened and sweet, instead of being picked too early to develop. Then listen to the fruit. A couple of raps on it with your knuckle should produce a hollow knock, not a dull thick thud.

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