March 2, 2013

Oscar Mania

Every year for the past 12 years, I've been throwing an Oscar party. Some years have been crazier than others, with up to 40 guests one year. That year, I made crab cakes, lamb meatballs, harissa carrot dip, and all manner of hot appetizers. While this may have been the peak of my culinary achievement, it created a very stressful day since everything needed to be hot when served.That sounds like a fun title for an autobiography: "Hot When Served."

I've learned a few lessons over the years about making entertaining cooking easier.

Lesson #1, and my biggest aha: don't serve very much hot food! It just sits there anyway, so even a hot dish is eaten cold. Make dishes that can be made ahead of time and taste great cold or at room temperature. Make one hot dish and serve it right when the party starts or even a little later so that people can have something warm. I made one or two dishes the night before and everything else the day of, and was pretty much done by 2pm.

Lesson #2: minimize prep and save space by preparing things with common / easy bases. The two bruschetta dips and spinach dip can share carb bases. Instead of serving the bruschetta spreads on he breads themselves, I created a carb platter so everyone could choose the base of their choice and not be constrained by the amount of bread I purchased.

This year, I took most of my menu from Food & Wine, which has a nice list of quick appetizers and 30-minute hors d'oeuvres. The menu with links to recipes are below. Everything was served at room temperature except for the chicken chili. A quick note: The snack mix recipe, from the dessert guru at Momofuku, was definitely a highlight of the evening and oh-so-easy-to-make. The milk powder is totally worth it and makes the recipe.

Warm Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon - 30-Minute Hors d'Oeuvres on Food & Wine
Warm Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon
Green Bean Salad With Walnuts, Fennel, and Goat Cheese | Get the recipe:
Green Bean Salad With Walnuts, Fennel, and Goat Cheese

Spicy Spinach Dip with Pine Nuts - 30-Minute Hors d'Oeuvres on Food & Wine
Spicy Spinach Dip with Pine Nuts

Spicy Chicken Chili Recipe on Food & Wine
Spicy Chicken Chili

Bruschetta Duet Recipe on Food & Wine
Bruschetta Duet
Crab-and-Avocado Toasts Recipe on Food & Wine
Crab and Avocado Toasts

January 10, 2013

Pink Buddies

One of the great pleasures of early summer is finding that peonies are available again in June. Last year, I got kind of busy and somehow missed the season and was very sad (I won't use the hyperbole of "devastated"). I did find a few brownish little buds at a florist, but they didn't flourish into the pink puffs that I'm used to.

So imagine my delight when I walked in to Whole Foods a few weeks ago to find a few bunches of healthy-looking pink peonies looking out at me from their thin black plastic flower containers. They were calling, "buy us, buy us!" So I did.

With the dining table still crowded with craft items, I wanted to put together a low arrangement that could go on my coffee tables.

I've seen quite a few arrangements lately that leverage the small bud vase as a way to arrange flowers, so I wanted to try it for myself.

I used three small (identical) glass vases and put my peonies and some greens in them.

I basically like how this turned out, but I think I made a mistake by not having any variation in either the flowers or the vases. Next time, I would try to use vases of varying heights or try to mix the flower color.