Make-ahead Hors d’oeuvres

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.
Champagne cocktail with St Germain elderflower liquor and fresh rosemary

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. 

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. Grilled shrimp appetizer with Asian slaw

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
Tuna tartare in cones - appetizer recipe

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. 

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.
Elegant crudite presentation

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. 
Chicken and waffle appetizer recipe with honey sriracha sauce

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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) 
Recipe for crostini with peppered filet mignon and caramelized onions

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

Williams-Sonoma’s offering is also a good option

Tips for hosting a cocktail party – Part I

Each winter, I host a little retreat for some of my closest photographer friends. We hole up at home in Maine in our coziest sweaters and work together, talk, laugh, occasionally cry, make lists, photograph each other and laugh some more.

In previous years I’ve cooked a hearty ragu or lasagne for the welcome dinner but this year I decided to switch it up and do a festive cocktail party with clever little hors d’oeuvres. I’ll share what I cooked in part II tomorrow but I thought it might be helpful to share some of my tips and suggestions for actually enjoying hosting such a party vs. being stuck in the kitchen away from the action. 


No deep frying
It’s messy and your house will be stinky. Trust me on this one.

Account for enough food and drink for each person
I don’t know about you but whenever I read magazines or cookbooks that say things like “allow 3-4 bites per person for a 2 hour event” that sounds like a pretty crappy time to me. 1 bite-size morsel to eat every 30 minutes? Time to leave and go get a burger! If I’m standing around talking to people at a party then I want to eat something delicious at least every 10 minutes. Also consider that many people like to try “one of everything” so if you decide to make lots of different hors d’oeuvres you’ll likely need more of each.

Have a plan
List out your menu. Write out your shopping list. Work out the steps/timing required for each item. Ask yourself “Can I do this? Do I want to do this?” Revise plan accordingly. I have a tendency to overcomplicate my menu and it’s only when I realize I’ll be cooking/prepping for 16 hours that I say “Cool, I’m going to pick up some of those little ready-made brie pastry things from the Whole Foods freezer”.

Make sure everyone can eat something
Check food allergies and dislikes ahead of time. I once hosted a cocktail party for 16 people including 2 gluten-free guests, 1 Pescatarian and 3 people doing Whole 30. It wasn’t easy but I made sure at least 2-3 different items would be edible for each person. If you know in advance, you can plan accordingly. Don’t be the guest who announces that they’re lactose-intolerant vegetarian on arrival (yes, that happened once). If in doubt, aim for 2-3 different vegetarian options (plus non-meat recipes are usually cheaper!). Labeling your food is helpful for guests with dietary restrictions.

Have a menu that makes sense
Consider texture – you don’t want to have 4 mushy dips and not much else as well as the food group – 4 recipes involving red meat could be too rich (not to mention expensive. 1 dip, 1 “something on bread”, 1 “something on skewer, 1 “something in pastry” would work. You also want a mix of seafood, vegetable, red or white meat options.

Recipes that can be made ahead of time will enable you to be more present
It’s no fun if you’re stuck in the kitchen trying to tie chives into knots around artistic bunches of asparagus. You can have 1 or 2 dishes that need your undivided attention for a few minutes but no more than that. Otherwise you may as well just go work for a catering company.

It’s OK to cheat
By cheat, I mean to serve food that you might not have actually cooked yourself. Store-bought appetizers. The whole point is to have a fun evening with your friends right? Not to make them think you’re the next Martha Stewart. Because there can be no other Martha Stewart so don’t even try. Pick up frozen hors d’oeuvres and wow your friends with your scintillating conversation vs. your artfully tied asparagus bundles.

You don’t have to pass everything
Stationery food – cheese plates, crudite bars with dips – located in different areas will encourage movement, mingling and conversation. You can also rope a few friends in to walk around with a tray, it’ll encourage conversation.

Don’t overcomplicate drinks. 
You don’t need a full bar. Consider a signature cocktail that can be mixed ahead of time. Ice buckets filled with Champagne or Prosecco always work. Hire a bartender if you have more than 10 guests. Make sure you have iced water in jugs and non-alcoholic offerings for teetotal/designated driver guests.

Be realistic
If you’re inviting 20 guests then consider getting your party catered. Or do a potluck thing. Or have big chafing dishes of a braised meat and mashed potatoes. Hors d’oeuvres for 30 guests is a job best left to the professionals.

Think about logistics and guest comfort. 
Can an item be eaten in one or two neat bites whilst holding a glass of champagne? Or will your guests be awkwardly dropping crumbs all over the floor. Sauces are not your friend at a cocktail party. Likewise recipes containing chopped spinach that can get stuck in teeth. Lots of little cocktail napkins are helpful.

Play it. Make a playlist that fits your event. A quick look on Spotify found this gem. Cheesy? Why not!

Choose food that tastes good at room temperature 
If a food item will go soggy if not served and eaten immediately it’s probably not the right one for a cocktail party.

Presentation goes a long way
If you’re making more than a couple of different hors d’oeuvres then it can be helpful to set out your platters in advance and assign each to a dish. Nothing worse than realizing you have one clean platter left and it won’t work with the food that just came out of the oven. Chives, pomegranate seeds, edible flowers, sprigs of rosemary can all be used to fancy up your dishes.

Allow more time than you think you need
Ideally you want to have most of the cooking/preparation done in advance so you have at least an hour to relax, have a sip of champagne, shower and dress. If you greet your guests in a frazzled mood with food stains down your shirt it won’t really set the tone for a fun event. Clean the house (or schedule a cleaning!) in advance and set out extra towels, toilet paper etc. Buy extra napkins, trashbags and aluminum foil, plastic wrap and baggies.

Dessert ends the party
If you want people to get the message that the kitchen is closed and it’s time to head home, then bringing out sweet treats or a platter of tiny desserts will help them get the message.

chocolates - mainely eating

I’d love to hear about your tips, tricks or suggestions for a great cocktail party – say hi or leave a note in the comments! What’s your go-to recipe?

How to serve and eat caviar.

Osetra caviar and creme fraiche on a blini

Last week we celebrated our 8-year wedding anniversary and as Paul is almost impossible to buy gifts for, I decided I’d put together a celebratory anniversary lunch. He’s a big fan of caviar – not quite sure how he acquired this habit as neither of us grew up eating caviar – so caviar it was.Caviar tasting with champagne at home for anniversary lunch

Just like Tom Hanks in Big, I was a caviar virgin and I didn’t want this to happen:

So I spent a little time with my friend the google and found out the following useful information about how to serve and eat caviar:

  1. Caviar must be kept very cold at all times, in the coolest part of your fridge or on ice.
  2. Air is the mortal enemy of caviar. Once you’ve opened that tiny jar of caviar you really need to eat it in one-sitting. It can be better to buy multiple small jars vs. one big jar. If you absolutely can’t eat it all in one-sitting then smooth it down and gently place a piece of plastic wrap over the caviar, replace the lid and you can keep it in the fridge for 2-3 days.
  3. Caviar etiquette calls for small bites, so don’t, you know, shovel it in.
  4. No metal spoons – they make it taste funky – only bone, crystal or mother of pearl. Plastic can be used in a pinch but seriously, if you’re eating caviar you may as well do it properly right? I personally don’t have many bone or crystal spoons 😉 but you can buy affordable mother of pearl spoons on Amazon.
  5. If you have really good caviar then savor it bite by bite alone. If you want to make your caviar go further, you can enjoy it on small unsalted crackers, white bread or toast points or blini.
  6. Good caviar doesn’t really need any accompaniments but it’s all a matter of personal preference. Most websites seems to be vehemently against the use of lemons but popular is finely diced red onion, capers, finely chopped hard boiled egg (ideally white and yolk separated) and creme fraiche or sour cream (helpful to “stick” the caviar to the blini).
  7. Enjoy caviar with champagne or ice-cold vodka, they clear the oils from your tongue allowing you to fully enjoy the caviar experience.
  8. Caviar is best enjoyed with someone special.

We have the wonderful Browne Trading Company close to home so I stopped by and asked for some advice in what to buy. They were super helpful! As luck would have it they were having a once-a-year sale on caviar and suggested I take advantage of this by choosing some of the more pricey options.

I ended up with three tiny jars of caviar – from left to right –
American White Sturgeon Classic
Osetra Supreme
Caviar Galilee Royal Osetra

As I didn’t happen to have any crystal or bone spoons lying around (if you have crystal or bone spoons you probably eat caviar with the same frequency as I eat grilled cheese!) I also bought two little mother of pearl plates and spoons:
Mother of pearl plates and spoons for serving caviar

I figured I’d have all of the accoutrements available – capers, onion, creme fraiche and eggs (boiled for 10 minutes, cooled, white and yolks separated and then finely chopped)
How to serve caviar - popular accoutrements

I set out two small glasses of vodka, I guess hypothetically it should have been Russian vodka but I’m a big fan of Cold River Vodka made right here in Maine. The vodka and glasses had been in the freezer so they were icy cold. We also had champagne and blinis on hand: How to serve caviar with vodka and blinis

Here was the final spread: Tips on how to serve and eat caviar at home

There’s something about caviar with all of the trimmings that feels special and festive and we had a most enjoyable lunch.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the caviar, it wasn’t at all fishy or slimy like I imagined!  Next time, I’d probably skip all of the accompaniments, other than the blini with a dab of creme fraiche. I’d love to tell you I could taste the difference between the different caviars but I don’t think I’m quite there yet. Paul insisted he could with the Royal Osetra being his favorite. I guess we’ll just have to wait for our next anniversary to try it all again 🙂

Are you a caviar fan? Do you have a favorite? What kind of food do you like to eat on special occasions?