Finger Food For Thought!

     It truly is scary to think about how much time I spend brainstorming a party menu.
     I used to do Summer soirees, Halloween hootenannies AND Christmas carousing, but that can be exhausting on the mind, the gut and the budget.
     So, I’ve decided that focusing on an All Hallows Event is really the way to go. Costumes are so much fun and I mean, we can’t all come dressed as Santa or elves, right? Plus, Christmas parties can really but a damper on the present-buying.
     This year’s Halloween shindig was a blast. I had about 17 people show up. The get-ups proved that my friends aren’t afraid to get-down, and I love that.
     The menu came together in the days leading up to the party.
     I’ll let you in on a little secret: I turn into a nutjob on the day of a get-together. I usually wake up at the butt-crack of dawn and spend every second thereafter cooking, cleaning, decorating, prepping, stressing, whining, yelling and throwing things. Even the dog hides in the closet.
     This year, though, I decided to go easier on myself and those around me. I used vacation days on the three days leading up to the big event. So, on the day itself, I really just had a few last-minute things to do. Wow. What a difference. I highly recommend taking off at least one day before any big gathering you might throw.
     My goal was to create a menu that was more of a do-ahead. I also went for more cold items, because trying to keep dishes hot for an entire event is like trying to diet around Christmas – you get one step closer to a murder-suicide situation. Blood is in on Halloween, but the real thing, when painfully drained from someone else, just isn’t legal. Technicalities, right?
     Another big issue for me is quantity. Somehow, I end-up feeling as though I’m tasked with preparing food for the population of Great Britain. This year, I backed off and I ended-up without leftovers. Love that.

Sweetly Stuffed Pint-Sized Peppers
     My advice to you is to think realistically.
     Most of your guests probably aren’t coming over after being on a weeks-long fast. Go for appetizers, unless you’re throwing a dinner-party (duh).
     Don’t be afraid to let your guests bring something. I never ask, except that they bring their own drinks. Otherwise, they’ll clean out your liquor cabinet. If your guests offer to bring a dish, let them. Just let them know what you’re making. Duplicates don’t really help.
   Think about dishes that improve over time. I made two dips with ingredients that taste better after they marry. In other words, I made them the day before.
               I did take one risk. I opted for shrimp as a dipper. The issue there is that shrimp aren’t good over time. You can make them one day ahead, but you’ve got to keep them cold. I’m talking North Pole cold.
     I boiled the shrimp with lemon halves, bay leaves and salt for 2 minutes then dropped them in an ice bath (bowl of ice and water – it should be cold enough to sting your hands). From there, they went into resealable bags. I then put ice in a bowl. Put a bag of shrimp on the ice, covered it with more ice, added another bag of shrimp and covered it with ice. The bowls then go in the fridge. Use them the next day. If you don’t, throw then out or face some sort of skin altering ickyness.
     Also, remember your guests and their needs. One of mine hates cheese and another hates onions.  Obviously, these are two pretty common ingredients. So, I minimized the cheese dishes and I actually managed to not use onions – though my stuffed mini sweet peppers really could’ve used some.
     In one case, I made one big batch of an appetizer and made a smaller version without cream cheese – both versions were a hit.
     So, now onto the menu:
Feta dip with homemade pita chips Betta Feta Dip
Curry dip with shrimp and fresh pineapple Kickin’ Curry Dip
Stuffed mini sweet peppers Sweetly Stuffed Pint-Sized Peppers
Texas stackers Texas Stackers
Oreo truffles Oreo Balls
Mini pumpkin chocolate chip cheesecakes Pumpkin Chocochip Cheesecakes
     I also put out a few kind of chips, some pretzel rods and a lot of candy.
     My dear friend Carla made her famous (she brings them to all my parties) cranberry-rosemary chicken salad cups and mini burritos. My friend and co-worker, Kim, brought a delicious hot apple pie dip. So, we really had plenty of food.
  Now that you have the recipes for my dishes – try them. If you’re not having a party make one for your family. An appetizer on any old night can really make an ordinary dinner feel special.
     The Texas stackers have a back story. Carla and I used to go to a restaurant that served a “Texas Roll” as part of their sushi menu. It was some sort of a wrapping, not seaweed, filled with medium-rare steak, jalapeno and cream cheese. It was a true explosion of flavor. Simple dish. Amazing results.
Texas Stackers


     Well, the restaurant closed. So, my Texas stackers were my answer to the “sushi” roll that we mourn quite often.
     Let your favorite restaurant dishes inspire you. Figuring out how to turn them into an appetizer can really be a lot of fun… I promise.
     I don’t have recipes for the dishes Carla and Kim brought, but let me tell you: Add chopped fresh rosemary and cranberries to your chicken salad. You’ll never eat it any other way. (FYI, she uses dried cranberries. She puts them in a dish, covers them with orange juice and nukes them for about 2 minutes. Then lets them sit. Drain and add to your chicken salad. Tart, sweet, yum!)
     There’s still time for your to throw a Halloween party. Do it. Or, maybe start planning one for next year. Parties are so fulfilling. You get to share your home and your food with your friends – doesn’t get much better than that.

Mini Pumpkin Chocochip Cheesecakes
   Tip: This one goes out to Tracy, the only one to participate in my last post. She wrote: “I’d love to know what is in your kitchen supply that you just can’t live without AS WELL AS some less often, but just as loved items.”
      I keep a cutting board on the counter at all times. I’m always chopping something. Right now, I have one by Giada DeLaurentiis from Target. My tongs get used a lot. I have the kind that have a little lever on the end that lets you lock them. You should never use a fork to flip meat in a pan – all the juices run away. I love my zester, which is by Microplane. It’s great for parmesan cheese and of course, zesting citrus – which can brighten any dish. I also have a hand juicer, which is metal, holds half of a piece of citrus and lets you squeeze it like your life depends on it. It does a great job. I use a TON of citrus juice in my cooking.
     And I adore my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I don’t use it every day, but it looks darn good on the counter and it is an energy (yours, not the power company’s) saver when it comes to making cakes, cookies, cupcakes, mashed potatoes, Oreo truffles or whipped cream.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Carla Field says:

    I feel honored to get a mention! Your recipes — and parties — are always superb!

  2. Mary Lu Saylor says:

    Once again you hit a bullseye! We all get so caught up on things that we forget to have fun with our guests. Trader Joes sells the best orange infused cranberries. I was so bummed when Ocean Spray stopped making them. Just a few make a huge flavor difference. I have a great spinach tortilla roll up recipe that you can make 4 days ahead. Message me if you are interested. It’s a Southern Living recipe that I have tweaked.
    Keep cooking and sharing Mike! You outrageous bars helped to bring in about $2300 for Jimmy! Thank you for pitching in. ML

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