The Cocktail Party
Before I owned a specialty food store, I could spend hours making hors d'oeuvres for a cocktail party. Now I think it's more important to have fun and to spend time with my friends. If I am racing around getting drinks for everyone and then running back and forth to the kitchen to get hot hors d'oeuvres out of the oven, I have missed the point of having a party. So now I have several guidelines for myself.
First, all the fixings for drinks are on a table in the room where cocktails are served: glasses, wines, alcohol, mixers, ice, lemons, and limes. I often have one special drink which everyone ends up choosing: Campari with soda and blood orange juice, champagne and crème de cassis, or margaritas. Second, I do everything possible to ensure that I never leave the room. Friends need to be greeted, people who don't know each other need to be introduced, and the energy of a party is set from the moment people arrive. I choose appetizers that can be served at room temperature and everything is out on tables or ready to pass before the first guest arrives. Third, despite my passion for good food, it's not my first priority for a good cocktail party. The first one is the guest list. Are the people interesting? Will they enjoy each other's company? Are there surprises? I sometimes ask people to bring friends who are fun so surprises happen.
Cocktail parties with good, hearty food can be a very easy way to entertain, particularly on Friday night. I serve five or six different kinds of appetizers and three of each kind per person. Plan a menu like a meal: seafood (crab cakes), vegetables (roasted eggplant), and meat (chicken satay). You can even serve coffee and a country dessert platter at the end. Friends stop on their way home from work—who needs dinner after a good cocktail party?—and they can be home by 9:30, having had a wonderful start to their weekend. What could be better?
Roasted Eggplant Spread
serves 6 to 8
This is not only good, it's good for you. Many years ago we developed a group of recipes that have almost no fat for customers who like to save their calories for dessert. I love to serve this alongside other Mediterranean specialties, such as hummus, pita bread, Greek olives, feta cheese, and stuffed grape leaves.
1 medium eggplant, peeled
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
11/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking. Cool slightly.
Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend.
Taste for salt and pepper.
Serve with toasted pita triangles or crackers.
Lamb Sausage in Puff Pastry
makes 28 appetizers; serves 6 to 8
Whenever I am catering a party and the husband wants good old "pigs in blankets" and the wife wants something more sophisticated, I recommend lamb sausage in puff pastry. It looks the same but tastes so much better. You can use any kind of thin fresh sausage for this recipe. I like to serve it with extra mustard.
1 pound fresh lamb sausage, 1/2 inch thick, in a coil
2 sheets commercial puff pastry, thawed (see note)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon
water or milk, for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bake the sausage on a baking sheet for 20 minutes. Turn the sausage and bake it 5 to 10 minutes more, until it's fully cooked. Cool to room temperature.
Unfold the puff pastry on a lightly floured board. Cut each piece in half lengthwise and brush the top sides with mustard. Divide the sausage into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the long end of the pastry, place 1 piece of the sausage on top of the mustard and roll it up tightly, overlapping the end by 1 2 inch and sealing the pastry by brushing the edge with water. Cut off the excess pastry. Roll the other 3 pieces of sausage in puff pastry. Place the 4 rolls, seam side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with the egg wash. Lightly score each roll diagonally to make 7 equal pieces. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until browned. Slice and serve immediately.
Lobster Salad in Endive
makes 24 appetizers; serves 6 to 8
If you want to be good to yourself and your guests at the same time, ask your fish store to sell you cooked fresh lobster meat, instead of cooking a lobster yourself. This is a great summer appetizer or a special treat for New Year's Eve. This recipe is also good, and not quite so expensive, with cooked shrimp or crabmeat. You'll see that a little salad makes a lot of appetizers.
3/4 pound fresh cooked lobster meat, small-diced
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
1/2 cup small-diced celery (1 stalk)
1 tablespoon capers, drained
11/2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
pinch kosher salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
4 heads Belgian endive
Combine the lobster, mayonnaise, celery, capers, dill, salt, and pepper.
With a sharp knife, cut off the base of the endive and separate the leaves. Use a teaspoon to fill the end of each endive leaf with lobster salad. Arrange on a platter and serve.