Did you catch my post about how to host a successful cocktail party and actually have fun vs. spending your evening in the kitchen? It’s right here – Tips for hosting a cocktail party
You know how some people are super affectionate, always sharing their feelings and hugging complete strangers? Well, I’m not really one of those people. I’m like a stereotypical British person who gets uncomfortable when people get too close and I’ll always take a handshake over a hug. And then probably say sorry for no reason. But I’m not a complete robot, I just express my feelings through food. Just had a baby? I love you so here’s two weeks of homemade food for your freezer. Sick family member? I love you so here’s a cooler of individually wrapped bags of homemade chicken bone broth. Bad day at work? I love you so here’s your favorite dinner.
So when deciding on the menu for the first night of the fourth annual winter retreat gettogether of my favorite girlfriends I wanted them to know how much I appreciate their friendship and love their company. I’m not one to say it with hugs so I said it with sixteen different delicious bite-size hors d’oeuvres. Because nothing says I love you, like something you have to eat with a tiny fork. Here’s what I made and served:
We started with a CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL – a splash of St Germain elderflower liquor topped up with champagne and a sprig of rosemary (bash the stem of the rosemary to release the oils). Elderflower juice cordial with sparkling water in the glass on the right for my non-drinking friend.
ASIAN-INSPIRED SOUP SIPS
Martha Stewart’s recipe was inspiration for this simple but warming opener. I added a dash of soy and ponzu to some fairly intense duck broth (in the freezer from Christmas) and served it piping hot with thin slices of shitake mushroom (or enoki mushroom if you can find them) and scallions. Serve with little cups of sake and suggest your guests go back and forth between the soup and the sake.
You can also cheat here – get great beef pho or ramen soup takeout from your favorite restaurant and simply warm up the broth and serve in little sake sipping cups. Add a few Enoki mushrooms or slivers of Shitake mushrooms for fun.
Make ahead? Yes so you only have to warm the soup on the stove and pour into the sipping cups.
SHRIMP WITH GINGER & CASHEW KALE SLAW
Make slaw with finely chopped kale and cabbage mixed with white miso paste, kewpie mayo, rice vinegar, grated ginger, soy sauce and top with scallions and cashews. Saute shrimp in peanut oil, squeeze in lemon juice and add a dash of chili flakes.
Make ahead? Slaw can be made a day ahead. Shrimp can also be cooked a day ahead and kept cold in the refrigerator or cooked to order and served hot on top of the cold slaw.
TUNA TARTARE CONES
My guests voted this the winner. Make wonton wrappers into little cones (form into a cone, use a little water to seal, pop a little scrunched up ball of aluminum foil into the cone opening (to prevent them from collapsing) while they bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes. Let cool. Whisk up a tablespoon of Kewpie mayo with a teaspoon of ponzu, a splash of soy sauce, a good squeeze of lemon juice and as much sriracha as you like. Cube sushi-quality fresh tuna and avocado, mix with sauce and fill cones. Add long strips of European cucumber. More on tuna tartare here.
Make ahead? Kind of. Prepare cones and store them in an airtight container. Make sauce the day before. Tuna and avocado should be freshly chopped and mixed with sauce just before serving
CHICKEN SATAY STICKS ON BUTTER LETTUCE
Bust out your steamer lid to serve these babies if you have one. Use your favorite chicken satay recipe (that’s another blog post for another day) or cheat and pick up chicken satay takeout. Lay the butter lettuce leaves in the steamer, add the chicken satay sticks and drizzle with a little peanut sauce (not too much, you don’t want your guests to be dribbling sauce all over your floor)
Make ahead? Make or buy the chicken satay the day before. Reheat in a 350 degree oven until hot yet still juicy.
VEGETABLE CRUDITES WITH HUMMUS DIP
Although I minimized my time in the kitchen by making as much as possible ahead of time, I also wanted some options that could be set out for snacking. Hummus dip in a baby squash (seeds removed) with fresh celery, cucumber, peppers and different colored carrots is vegetarian-friendly and somewhat healthy.
CHICKEN & WAFFLES
Kind of a cheat recipe – just buy baby waffles (WholeFoods homestyle mini waffles are tasty) and the best chicken nuggets you can find (Organic Bell & Evans air-chilled chicken nuggets are my preference). While the chicken and waffles cook (follow package directions), mix 1 tablespoon of honey with 1 teaspoon of sriracha. Add a little dab of butter to the waffle, top with the chicken and drizzle over the honey sriracha.
Make ahead? Nope but you’re basically just popping a few things in the oven so deal with it.
TINY BLUE POTATOES WITH CREME FRAICHE, CAVIAR & CHIVES
Boil little potatoes (blue looks great against the creme fraiche) until just tender. Use a melon baller to scoop out most of the flesh. Use the melon baller to add a small dollop of creme fraiche (or sour cream) to the hollow and top with caviar and finely chopped chives. More on caviar here.
Make ahead? The caviar should be kept icy cold prior to serving so this can’t really be made ahead. You can prep the potatoes the day before and then just reheat in a 300 degree oven until warm.
STUFFED MEDJOOL DATES
Two options here. The first is to stuff your pitted dates with a rich foie gras patê and the second is to stuff the dates with a soft and creamy goat cheese. Push a marcona almond into the stuffing and then crumble over crispy prosciutto (bake the prosciutto on a cookie sheet for ~10 minutes at 375 degrees).
Make ahead? Dates can be made a day ahead and kept covered in refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
ENDIVE LEAVES WITH HERBED GOAT CHEESE & ROASTED BEET CUBES
Roast beets in a foil packet until cooked through. Slip the skins off (use gloves or paper towels to prevent skin staining!). Make a little quenelle (oval shape) of goat cheese. Place goat cheese on endive leaf, add a little cubed roast beet and a little crispy prosciutto. This was also a unanimous winner.
Make ahead? Roast and chop beets the day before. Prepare quenelles of goat cheese and lay on saran wrap. Assemble an hour or so before your guests arrive.
CITRUS-CURED SMOKED SALMON WITH CREME FRAICHE ON BLINIS
You can make your own buckwheat blinis but I’m lucky enough to have really great frozen blinis available at Browne Trading Company in Portland, ME. Heat the blinis in the oven, top with a little dab of creme fraiche, a ribbon of delicate smoked salmon and a couple of strands of chopped chives.
Make ahead? You can pre-slice smoked salmon into ribbons and store in plastic wrap in the fridge.
PEPPERED FILET MIGNON WITH CARAMELIZED ONION ON CROSTINI
Crostini are simply thin slices of bread that have been toasted/dried out in the oven. They make wonderful delivery vehicles for all sorts of spreads (goat cheese and fig paste, fresh pea and mint puree just to name two). Sauté a seasoned (heavy on the cracked black pepper) filet mignon until medium rare. Cook two thinly sliced (with a mandolin) vidalia onions in a little butter on a very low heat for around an hour until soft and just starting to turn golden brown. Spread the caramelized onions on the crostini and top with a slice of seared filet.
Make ahead? Crostini and caramelized onions can be made a day or two ahead of time and stored in airtight containers/baggies in the fridge. The filet can be cooked a couple of hours before your party, assembled on the crostini and then served at room temperature (consider food safety/refrigerating if you have elderly/infirm/child/immuno-compromised guests)
TWICE-BAKED POTATOES WITH GRUYERE CHEESE
Similar to the caviar filled blue potatoes above, simply boil tiny creamer or fingerling potatoes until just tender. Cool and cut in half. Use a melon baller to scoop our flesh into a bowl. Mash potato flesh with a little butter, heavy cream, salt and grated gruyere cheese and chopped chives. Use melon baller to add a scoop of the cheesy/potato mixture back into the potato skins. Bake in 350 degree oven until piping hot and cheese is just starting to bubble.
Make ahead? Potatoes can be prepared ahead of time and the final bake should be done just before serving.
CREAMY TOMATO SOUP WITH BABY GRILLED CHEESE
Who doesn’t love grilled cheese and tomato soup? Cut the grilled cheese into long strips (known as soldiers in the UK!) and encourage dipping!
Make ahead? Soup can be made ahead of time and reheated just before serving. Grilled cheese can be made ahead of time (panini press for cute little grill lines) and then reheated in the oven.
MINIATURE BEEF WELLINGTONS
Sauté finely chopped mushrooms (with salt and pepper) in a little butter until moisture has released and they just start to turn golden. Sear a large filet mignon on all sides in a screaming hot pan. Cool and then chop into 8 small cubes. Defrost 2 puff pastry sheets and roll out until a little thinner than usual. Cut each sheet into 4. Take a thin slice of prosciutto (ideally Palma or San Danielle) and add a teaspoon of mushroom mixture in the middle, add a cube of seared filet on top and wrap the prosciutto tightly around the meat. Place prosciutto-wrapped filet onto a square of pastry and wrap. Brush egg wash (egg beaten with a little splash of water) onto seams to seal and then brush top of pastry. Bake in a 375 degree oven for around 15 minutes until pastry is golden.
Make ahead? Yes! The Wellingtons can be made the day before (don’t bake!) and stored in plastic wrap in the fridge. Just bake them when you’re ready to serve.
ARTISANAL CHOCOLATE PLATE
End the night with something sweet. At this point in the night I might have had a couple of adult beverages and was too “tired” to bake so I set out some of my favorite chocolates, truffles and caramels and raised a toast to my friends.
I probably have every cookbook about appetizers and hors d’oeuvres out there and there are some good, some bad and some ugly (yes, book about easy party food where EVERYTHING is deep fried, I’m talking to you!). Here are some of my favorite books for hors d’oeuvres and appetizer recipes and inspiration (affiliate links):
If you only want to have one recipe book for appetizer and hors d’oeuvres then it has to be Martha right?I actually have this older version from 1999 which I prefer slightly to the new version but they’re both great additions to your cookbook collection.
Slightly more complex recipes so this probably isn’t the best book for a beginner homecook but the recipes are really beautiful in both taste and presentation.
This was the most incredible meal EVER. Thank you thank you. I send you non-cooking hugs. 😉 PS My personal favorites were the twice baked potatoes, the soup sips, the mini beef wellingtons, the endive with beets, and the filet mignon on crostini. All courses were spectacular though!!
I second everything Kate said! Leah, you are a wonder and a generous soul. Other favorites for me were the tuna tartare, soup sips and the salmon blinis. How I wish i was back in your kitchen smelling all the wonderful aromas of your cooking. Thank you a million times!