5 Appetizers That Impress & Relieve Stress

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Let’s face it, it’s not only during the holidays when we need easy appetizer ideas. Handy dandy, simple offerings are in demand throughout the year. These 5 appetizers can certainly be used anytime, but will surely be useful right about now.

Now when it comes to navigating entertaining, we can be the driver of our own roadmap. It’s up to us to take control. It can be as elaborate as a sit down plated meal with several courses. Or as simple as making a salad, a vegetable and protein. Or even simpler (and better!) a huge bowl of pasta. But it is up to each host/hostess to decide whether to make it complicated or easy. Admittedly, there are times when entertaining calls for a little more pizzazz. And I would venture to say that the holidays definitely require a little more brio. Believe it or not, adding an appetizer to any meal can elevate an evening. I always want my guests to feel special, whether it’s a weeknight meal, an weekend dinner or a big party celebration, and I’ve found that serving appetizers somehow ups the ante and makes any event feel special. But please, let’s not confuse special with hard and stressful.

How I plan out what appetizers I will serve depends on my mood, and it can swing full pendulum, from easy breezy all the way to ones that require a day of prep, cook time and time in plating. For me, it all comes down to how much experimenting I want to do, and how much time I have to play. But that’s just me. I like trying new things and being adventurous. But sometimes, I need speed and simplicity. Luckily, in my experimenting I have come up with a few apps that don’t take a ton of effort, and really please my guests.

Here are Apps that impress AND relieve stress.
(Disclaimer: In no means are these appetizers magical or medicinal in their ability to relieve stress. It’s soley their ease, and delicious impact that creates a stress free zone! Well, I might consider that magic.)

Shaved Parmigiano with Roasted Peppers & Hazelnuts

This is as easy as using a flick of the wrist. That is, one that is holding a vegetable peeler. Simply shave slices of Parmigiano Reggiano. Roll roasted pepper strips up into rosettes or twirls. (A good jarred kind is the way to go. Even I admit, roasting your own peppers is more work than it’s worth. This is definitely one time when homemade doesn’t make sense!) Arrange the platter as you like. I like all the peppers in the middle with the cheese acting like a moat. Then generously sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. It seriously could not be simpler.

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Platter of Crunch - Fennel Bites & Cucumber Carrot Roll Ups

I always like having a platter with a fresh offering. Not only does it help to refresh the palate but it’s a satisfying treat for the vegetarians. Create a platter full of fresh vegetables. You can use whatever you like but I love big chunks of fennel drizzled with olive oil, course sea salt and pepper. Ribbons of English cucumber plain or rolled up with carrot shreds. The carrots were marinated in a basil balsamic vinaigrette. Check out the recipe here.

My method for platter arrangement is color blocking. I think this looks inviting. Do what pleases your eye and your palate.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh Ricotta with Herbs & Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Well, if you took my advice in late summer and roasted a bunch of tomatoes and stored them away, then this one is as easy as opening that container. (Now you understand why I suggest this because the tomatoes can be used in so many ways.) But if you don’t have any roasted tomatoes in your freezer, making a fresh batch is not difficult. Click for The Great Tomato Caper post. For the rest of the dish, simply buy fresh ricotta and spoon it into a bowl creating a nice mound. Generously sprinkle course sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, chopped basil and drizzle with good olive oil. Arrange the roasted tomatoes around and serve with crusty bread.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

Sauteéd mushrooms & polenta chips

This one takes a bit more time, but you can actually do some of this ahead of time. I’ve served this appetizer several different ways. Click here for the recipe. In this version I made the polenta squares thinner so they act more like a cracker. Your guests can make their own little bite with as much or as little sauteéd mushrooms as they want. Heck, if you also serve the Ricotta dish, guests can top their polenta squares with mushrooms and a bit of ricotta!

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Dry Cured Meat & Arugula Platter

This seriously could not be simpler than buying and arranging. Pick up your favorite dry cured meat and serve it up with some spicy baby arugula. Guests can roll up the meat with some zest greens for a crisp, salty bite. I love keeping it simple and rustic by serving it right on a wooden board.
Some dry cured meats that I like to serve: Bresaola, Prosciutto or Serrano ham, Capacollo, Mortadella, Coppa.

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I hope these few ideas help keep your stress levels down this holiday season. I really don’t like that I keep repeating that, but it is true that the holidays, and entertaining can be just that - intense. I’m here to help in any way I can, because for me, gathering together with the people you love, serving them food you all love is a glorious thing. And something for which we can all be grateful.

Stirred with love, these apps are just as easy as the ones we download on our phones!

 

Fried Polenta Topped with Mushrooms & Goat Cheese

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Oh, how I love mushrooms.  Oh, how I love polenta.  So, is it any wonder that, oh, how I love this appetizer.  I have made these tasty bites for many an occasion. Be it a formal dinner party, a buffet for a crowd or a simple first bite to a meal. They look impressive on a platter, but they are even more pleasing to the palate.  

You've heard me rave about polenta before.  It can dished out in an abundance of ways.  Creamy and soft, molded and fried.  For breakfast instead of grits or crumbled up on a salad instead of croutons.  As an app or a main meal. Some foods are just like that, they give and give like the famous tree in children's book, The Giving Tree.  "Here boy, take my stone ground corn and make magic with them."   I love that book, and I love polenta.  Did I say that already?  Well, I do.

Keeping with the abundant uses mode, you can top polenta with other veggies or even proteins like shrimp or pulled pork.  But today's recipe features earthy mushrooms. That's what I had available, so that's what I made.  I only had Creminis on hand but I have made this with a combo of mushrooms.  I implore you to explore and mix and match to suit your taste buds.

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Ingredients

2 c polenta
2 T butter
6-7 c mushrooms, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 c parsley, chopped
1 T rosemary, chopped
Magic 3 (Olive oil, salt, pepper)
Lemon zest
7 oz goat cheese
 

Instructions

Cook the polenta according to the package.  Whisking as you slowly pour it in to avoid any lumps.  

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Once it is cooked and reached a thick consistency, add salt, pepper to taste and stir in the butter until melted.

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Then pour the polenta out onto a buttered baking sheet.  Using a spatula, spread the polenta evenly out.  I usually use a larger sheet pan so the entire polenta base is thinner.  But I was at my mom's house and her pan was smaller, so these were thicker.  In the end, I liked the size of these. You can choose the thickness according to whatever floats your boat.  

Since I was taking the photos, I enlisted my mom to help out with the action shots. It's fun cooking with her.

Since I was taking the photos, I enlisted my mom to help out with the action shots. It's fun cooking with her.

Spread it out to create an even layer.

Spread it out to create an even layer.

Once the polenta is evenly spread, cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to set in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, start cooking the mushrooms by adding 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan.  I like using a cast iron pan as it retains high heat and gets a good sear on the mushrooms.  The key to mushroom cooking is let them cook on one side without moving them around.  This allows them to get nicely browned.  Also, salt them when they have browned.  If you add salt too early to the cooking process it makes the mushrooms release water.

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I also cook mushrooms in batches in order to avoid crowding the pan.  Too many reduces the pan heat and they begin to steam instead of sear.  Once all the batches are done, remove the mushrooms and cook the garlic, rosemary and parsley in more oil.  Then add to the mushrooms.  I grated some lemon zest over the mushrooms which brightens the flavor.  (you can also zest more once you assemble the whole dish.) Set aside while you continue preparing the polenta.

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Once the polenta is firm, cut into squares or use a cutter.  I was going to cut these into my usual small squares using a knife, but I found a round ravioli cutter in one of my mom's drawers and thought it would be fun to use especially because it had a scalloped edge. 

This time I got my sister, Alyssa, to help with the action shots. Of course, using a square cutter or a knife will eliminate waste, but I liked the rounds.

This time I got my sister, Alyssa, to help with the action shots. Of course, using a square cutter or a knife will eliminate waste, but I liked the rounds.

And don't worry, I didn't waste all the leftover cut outs. I fried them up and added them to my salad.

And don't worry, I didn't waste all the leftover cut outs. I fried them up and added them to my salad.

Using the same cast iron pan, add oil to coat the pan and fry the polenta rounds in batches until crispy and golden brown.  These are already cooked, so you just want to get them crispy.  Remember, varying textures make food more interesting.  Crunchy outside with soft inside.

Once done, place them on a baking sheet, so you can keep them in a warm oven until all have been fried.  Then top them with dollops of goat cheese, and with a spoonful of mushrooms.

You can see that some of the rosemary from the cooking the mushrooms snuck onto the polenta. That is less of a problem and more of a blessing.

You can see that some of the rosemary from the cooking the mushrooms snuck onto the polenta. That is less of a problem and more of a blessing.

Little drops of goat cheese to add creaminess to the crunch,

Little drops of goat cheese to add creaminess to the crunch,

Make the platter look pretty by using the rosemary sprigs as adornment.

Make the platter look pretty by using the rosemary sprigs as adornment.

We had some roasted red peppers also as an appetizer.  It made a wonderful partner to this earthy, crispy bite.  

Side note:  Using a 2" ravioli cutter,  I got about 18-20 pieces.  You can get more if you cut the pieces smaller and in squares.   Also, this is an appetizer than can be prepped ahead of time.  You can make, and even fry the polenta ahead of time.  Then when you are ready to serve, pop them in the oven to warm them up and assembly.  Enjoy polenta, the giving tree of corn!

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Last Minute Stir Fry - Everything You Have

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Oh the panic!  What to make?  I know that doesn't sound like the me who is the cheerleader for 'don't worry, 'just throw something together.' Yet that was the overwhelming feeling I had last week when I got entrenched in work, looked up at the clock, realized it was 7pm and I hadn't started dinner.  Not only was nothing prepped or cooking at that hour but I really had no clue what I was going to make. And, tick tock, my sister was due to arrive. 
It's time like these when one really needs to rely on the Houdini skill set of making something appear out of nowhere.  Sure, I had produce in the fridge.  Some of which were destined for future recipe ideas for the blog, but, oh boy, did these seem like random items.  Fear not, as nothing is ever random or can't party together.  You just need to ruminate on what unites them.  (I venture to say that that is true in all aspects of life.)

Upon grabbing every produce item I could find, I sectioned off what I thought would work.  As I stared at them, pondering their destiny, I wondered what common thread would weave this tale... 

Rice Sticks.  The perfect item to string them together.  Let the chopping, stirring and combining begin.

From the top left: Enoki mushrooms, spinach, Cremini mushrooms, scallions, Shitake mushrooms, garlic, snow peas, parsley, onion, red cabbage (which at the last minute I opted not to include), and savory cabbage which seemed to be camera shy and slipped out of the shot.

From the top left: Enoki mushrooms, spinach, Cremini mushrooms, scallions, Shitake mushrooms, garlic, snow peas, parsley, onion, red cabbage (which at the last minute I opted not to include), and savory cabbage which seemed to be camera shy and slipped out of the shot.

Ingredients

Vegetable Stir Fry (These were the amounts that I grabbed.  It was enough for 2 servings.  Increase for your needs.  Also, you can add more of any items that suits your fancy but these proportions created a good blend of flavors.)

3-4 T olive oil
1 T sesame oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove
6-7 Shitake mushrooms, sliced
8-10 Cremini mushrooms, rough chop
1 - 7oz package of Enoki mushrooms
1.5 c snow peas, cut on diagonal
2 c Savory cabbage, chopped
3 c baby spinach, rough chop
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 c parsley, rough chop
salt and pepper to taste
fresh grated ginger (optional)

Rice Noodle Stir Fry
1/2 pkg Rice Stick Noodles (you can also use a wider rice noodle, or rags)
1/2 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove
1/3 heaping c chives, fine chop
2 T olive oil
1 T sesame oil

Whenever I have a lot of ingredients that don't need to be cooked all at the same time instead of the usual mise en place ( prepping everything first), I opt to chop what needs to be cooked first. Then while those are cooking, I continue to prep the remaining ingredients.  Ah, multitasking. It's a glorious thing.  To help make this recipe easier, I listed the ingredients above in the order they should be prepped and cooked. 

Instructions

Let the rice stick noodles soak in warm water until softened.  Do not cook these, just soak them first.

Rice Noodle sticks.  You can use whatever style you prefer.  A wider noodle would also work well.

Rice Noodle sticks.  You can use whatever style you prefer.  A wider noodle would also work well.

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic in olive and sesame oils until translucent. Add the Shitake and Cremini mushrooms, allowing them to get a nice sear before adding the Enoki mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper. If you are adding the freshly grated ginger, add that at this time. 

An earthy mix that starts the flavor base.

An earthy mix that starts the flavor base.

While the mushrooms are cooking, in a separate sauté pan, add oils, onions, garlic and chives and cook until softened.  Add the rice stick noodles and stir until all the noodles are coated with the oil.  You might need to add some of the soaking liquid to avoid them clumping together.  Season with salt.

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Once the mushrooms have a good sear, then add the snow peas and allow to soften but still have crunch.  Next add the cabbage and spinach and stir until just wilted. Then add the scallions and parsley. Taste for seasoning and adjust according.

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To serve, you can combine the noodles and vegetables together. We opted for noodles on the bottom and stir fry on the top.  I didn't use grated ginger because Jill isn't a fan. (What!!?? I know, it's a crime.  Even though I didn't add it for our dinner, I am absolutely sure it would be a great addition to the dish.)

So sure, this is another easy, something from nothing, pull it out the air kind of dish, but here is the funny part.  I realize that I always say this or that recipe is easy.  And I truly mean it. So when my sister, Jill, enjoyed this meal so much she went back for seconds, a very rare occasion since she eats the amount of tiny bird, I told her it was easy, she could totally make it. Her response, "You say that about everything you make. It's easy for YOU."  But when I recounted what I did she said, "Well, I guess that IS easy."  So there you have it.  From the mouth of my muse, if she thinks it's easy, so will you.

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash Purée - A Recreation

 

 

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So yeah, I have a food and entertaining blog which means I cook a lot.  I also like to experiment, so that keeps me in the kitchen cooking things up. But I fully realize that not everyone has time to dedicate to home cooked meals all the time.  Indeed, it does take time and energy.  For some, making a meal at home can be as much of a treat as going out to dinner.  It just depends on your perspective.  Sometimes going out is the salvation and sometimes vice a versa.  And so it was a couple of weeks ago when I was down visiting my dear friends Emily and Lorne.  Emily had just watched some videos about grilling and she was excited to test drive some ideas. The goal was to grill and fill the dinner table with a variety of selections, from cauliflower to sweet potato slabs to hamburgers.  It was a delicious meal, with the best part being that everyone got involved in either cutting, flipping or tending to the grill. Plus the big treat; eating a healthy, good meal at home. And as any good 'vice versa' goes, the next evening was dinner out. They took the family, and me, for a delicious dinner at restaurant near their home in Maryland.  Two treats; one in, one out, two different ways.

On our restaurant adventure, Emily made a healthy but yummy choice of roasted butternut squash soup and salad. As did Lorne, who ordered a seared scallop dish. The boys had chicken dishes and grilled pizza.  I, on the other hand, went for the full indulgence of a Butternut Squash Pasta dish.  Decadent and delicious is the only way to describe this piece d'resistance.

There were so many layers of earthy flavors in this dish, all co-mingling in luscious harmony. I can still taste it.  So why not try to bring that harmony back.

It was Sunday again. Boy, do the weeks fly by fast.  And Sundays have traditionally signified pasta feasting day. So it goes to stand that was what I would make.  With the taste of that pasta still lingering in my mind and on my palate, I ventured to recreate it for JuanCarlos.   

I do warn you that this dish is going to take a few more steps than my own recipes.  I am usually a firm believer in simple preparation, few but fresh ingredients and not too fussy.  But this pasta was so good that I'm willing to go the extra yards.

The restaurant offered it with bucatini, which I'm sure would have been amazing, but since I am gluten free they served me a spaghetti option fitting that need.  The flavor combos were bold. Spice roasted butternut squash purée as the base. Pasta tossed with pumpkin seed pesto chive oil, wild mushrooms and wilted spinach topped with garlic confit.  Oh, if only I had thought up this medley to take credit. But alas, I did not.  I can only try to figure out what they did and remake to indulge once again.

Here goes.  Stick with me.  It will be worth it.

The line up: Spinach, wild mushrooms, butternut squash, basil, garlic, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, parmesan cheese, and pasta.

The line up: Spinach, wild mushrooms, butternut squash, basil, garlic, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, parmesan cheese, and pasta.

Ingredients

For Roasted Butternut Squash
1 butternut squash (8 c cubed), roasted
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 c olive oil 

For Garlic Confit
1 head garlic cloves (approx. 11 large cloves)
2/3 c olive oil

For Spinach & Mushrooms
5-6 c wild mushrooms (Cremini, Shiitake, Oyster, Japanese Brown Beech)
8 c baby spinach
Magic 3 (Olive Oil, salt, pepper)

For Pesto
8 c basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 c pumpkin seeds, roasted (reserve some to garnish)
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1-2 garlic cloves
1 1/4 c olive oil
salt, pepper to taste
1 lb pasta (I use Tinkyada brown rice linguine)
Parmesan cheese shavings (optional)

Before I embark on instructions. A quick note about multitasking.  I may not highlight this point in each post I write but it's always there.  It's the art of preparing items in a order so that food is cooking, marinating, chilling, etc while you are tackling another task.  This recipe will definitely call for some serious multitasking.

In this recipe there are two parts that will need up to an hour of cooking time.  Those are the roasted butternut squash and the garlic confit.  So we will start there.  (Confit just means poaching in oil slowly, slowly, slowly.  Did I say it takes time? Yes, slowly. And don't let the fancy name freak you out.  This method is beyond super easy.)

Instructions

Peel, remove seeds and cube the butternut squash.  (You can wash and dry the seeds, then roast them for snacking... or toss them out.)

Carefully peel the hard skin off the squash.  I find that a knife works best.

Carefully peel the hard skin off the squash.  I find that a knife works best.

Coat the squash with oil, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.   Then roast at 400 degrees for 45 min to hour, until very soft and mashable.

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Once you have the butternut squash in the oven, start on the garlic confit.

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Peel garlic cloves and leave whole. In a small saucepan, add garlic and enough olive oil to cover.

Olive oil's golden goodness poured lovingly over garlic cloves.

Olive oil's golden goodness poured lovingly over garlic cloves.

Over low heat, poach for one hour.

While the oven is still on with the squash roasting away, place the pumpkin seeds on a separate baking sheet, roast for 7-10 minutes, or just until lightly toasted.  Set aside to cool.

Pumpkin seeds add great texture to the pesto.

Pumpkin seeds add great texture to the pesto.

The next ingredient to tackle, and in order of length of cooking time is the mushrooms.  Clean and cut them into bite sized pieces.  Sauté them in oil, seasoning with salt and pepper.  The key to cooking mushrooms is not fussing with them.  Once you place them in the pan don't touch them.  Let them get a good sear on them then you can turn them over.  Allow them to cook and get crispy.  

I used a mixture of cremini, shitake, oyster and Japanese Brown Beech mushrooms.  Use whatever ones you like.

I used a mixture of cremini, shitake, oyster and Japanese Brown Beech mushrooms.  Use whatever ones you like.

Put the pasta water up to boil. While the water is going and the mushrooms are cooking move onto making the pesto.

In a food processor, combine basil, pumpkin seeds, garlic and pulse until a fine chop. Then add in parmesan cheese and oil. (The restaurant version called for chive oil, but I didn't feel it was necessary to tack on another item.) Pulse until well blended and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove and clean the processor, as you will need it to purée the squash.

Pesto goodness in the making.

Pesto goodness in the making.

Once the mushrooms are done, remove and use the same pan to wilt the baby spinach, add a bit of oil to help wilt the leaves.

Spinach just needs to be wilted over low heat.

Spinach just needs to be wilted over low heat.

By this time, the garlic should be done.  The butternut squash should be roasted and ready to purée.  But before that it's time to put the pasta in to cook.  Place the squash cubes in the processor and plus until smooth.  You may need to add some oil if too thick.

Roasted chunks of sweetness

Roasted chunks of sweetness

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée

Now with all the ingredients roasted, sautéd and mixed you are ready to compose the final dish. Drain the pasta and reserve some of the water.

All the work is done.  All the ingredients are ready.

All the work is done.  All the ingredients are ready.

In a bowl combine the pasta and pesto together until coated.  Then mix in the mushrooms, spinach and garlic and gently toss together. Spread the roasted purée on the bottom of each plate and then pile the pasta on top.  Finish with some roasted pumpkin seeds, shaved Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of the garlic oil and a clove or two.

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I know this sounds like more work than my usual recipes.  That's because it's not my recipe.  But honestly, once and while it's nice to spend a bit more time creating a dish that warms your belly and your soul.  It's perfect for a Sunday when you might have a bit more time to spare. And to give you some incentive to take this dish on,  increase the ingredients amount.  Since you are taking the time to make each of these items for this one dish, why not make a bit more and use the extra butternut squash, spinach, mushrooms in dishes for the remainder of week. You can use the squash to make a soup.  Use the spinach and mushrooms to make a frittata or quiche or as side dishes for chicken.  Cook once, eat twice or thrice.

As I mentioned, I use the brown rice pasta for mine but made JC's with regular wheat penne pasta. He really enjoyed this dish but in all fairness, he thought the butternut squash was too sweet for his palate. I thought it gave just the right amount to counter all the other intense flavors.

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Please give this one a try.  I can't take credit for any part of this dish other than tasting it and attempting to recreate it to share with you.  It's nice to share.

 

 

Sent from my iPad

A Backyard Party How To

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Over here at the Perri-Casas household, we like to entertain.  We love hosting and sharing food, wine, music/dancing, and just a plain ole good time with family and friends.  When the parties are small; but a handful of folks, the preparation is easy, breezy.  But when the guest list gets bigger, so does everything else.  Including the ideas for hosting a successful event.  Top of list; effortless decor and easy, crowd-friendly dishes.  Hearty, simple to prepare, allergy-friendly, and most of all, delicious. Foods that hit all the right notes.  

Just this past weekend we hosted a pig roast. On our guest list were a handful of vegetarians and vegans. 
Yeah, you read that right.  We invited vegans to a pig roast.  According to my husband, that's completely kosher because the pig only ate vegetables thus making it vegetarian/vegan!  Oh, my Taurus husband can justify anything!

We structured the party to be about mingling, not about a formal sit down meal.  One main reason for this is that our patio, though large, really cannot comfortably seat more than 24.  Plus this style of entertaining helps with flow of both food and people, as guests go to the buffet table to partake of various treats then bump into different guests to chat with.  

My sis, Alyssa and cousin Therese (photo credit: Dori Eckert)

My sis, Alyssa and cousin Therese (photo credit: Dori Eckert)

George contemplating fire with my brother in law Peter

George contemplating fire with my brother in law Peter

My dear friend Jackie catching up with my nephew, John

My dear friend Jackie catching up with my nephew, John

Organization is essential with a party this size.  So I ALWAYS make a list.  I am famous for making lists both in my professional life and home life.  Make fun all you want but this is key to staying organized and not accidentally missing things.  Just ask JuanCarlos who forgot some items in the basement fridge.  (He said I left one item off my list: Remind JC to make his own list.)

The day before I also place out all the platters I want to use with notes of which dish will go where.  This helps for two reasons.  First; one less thing to think or worry about the day of. Two, if a guest wants to help serving up dishes, this identification system tells them what they should use. Takes all the guess work out of the equation.

As far as what to serve, my game plan was to make sure we had a wide variety of food options for everyone.  30 guests were expected.  The best way to keep it manageable was to make some dishes from scratch and mix it up with some prepared items. Here was my thinking.  Note the ones with (*) are the ones I just had to put on a plate!

Appetizers
Cheese Platters with Jams, Grapes, Cucumbers, Radishes *
Breads/Gluten free crackers *
Assortment of Tapenade & Olives *
Roasted Chick Peas * (these were store bought but here is the link to my version which I prefer)
Pickled Mushrooms * 
Marinated Artichoke Hearts *
Crostini platter with Fresh Ricotta, roasted garlic mash, Roasted Tomatoes, Mushroom 'Bolognese'

All these can be plated well ahead of time and placed out as guests arrive.  These are perfect starter offerings to let them mingle and jingle amongst themselves with a drink.

Abundant cheese platters with jams and grapes, cucumbers and radishes.

Abundant cheese platters with jams and grapes, cucumbers and radishes.

Ready made items ready to go.

Ready made items ready to go.

Roasted tomatoes, garlic, mushroom bolognese, ricotta, crostini.

Roasted tomatoes, garlic, mushroom bolognese, ricotta, crostini.

 
JuanCarlos at his beloved grilling station.

JuanCarlos at his beloved grilling station.

Since a whole roasted pig takes hours upon hours upon hours to make, there needs to be food in between the appetizers and the main course.  This is what I call the intermezzo eating portion of the festivities.  I know, you are thinking; more food before the meal, that is hog wild nuts.  But believe it or not, people come to our home ready to eat.  So we make sure they are well fed.  Plus it's cool because we like to experiment on them!

Intermezzo
Grilled meats served with bread & chimichurri sauce
Grilled sausage
Grilled Corn on the Cob

Farm fresh corn roasted on the grill. (Photo credit: Dori Eckert)

Farm fresh corn roasted on the grill. (Photo credit: Dori Eckert)

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Main
Potatoes with Basil/Garlic oil
3 Bean Salad
Tomato Salad
Roasted Salmon Platter
Puerco Asado

Once the roasted pig was ready, the main portion of the meal was served.  All the above items were easy to get onto the table since I prepped them earlier.  The tomatoes were sliced and assembled on a platter in the morning and refrigerated. So was the bean salad.  I boiled the potatoes the day before, cooled them down on a sheet tray and in the fridge they went.  Right before serving, I popped them in the oven just to warm them enough to absorb the basil/garlic dressing I made the day before.  The salmon was roasted earlier in the day then served at room temperature.  And that is how you get a bunch of big platters out without being taken out on a stretcher yourself.

3 Bean Salad is easy when you prep everything ahead of time so right before the party all you need to do is combine the ingredients.

3 Bean Salad is easy when you prep everything ahead of time so right before the party all you need to do is combine the ingredients.

Chick peas, cannellini & black beans, yellow pepper, red onion, English cucumber, scallions and hearts of palm.

Chick peas, cannellini & black beans, yellow pepper, red onion, English cucumber, scallions and hearts of palm.

Tossed with a simple lemon/lime mint viniagrette

Tossed with a simple lemon/lime mint viniagrette

Oven roasted Wild Caught Salmon with cucumber slices, capers, radishes and homemade 'tartar sauce' of sour cream, greek yogurt, shallots, dill.

Oven roasted Wild Caught Salmon with cucumber slices, capers, radishes and homemade 'tartar sauce' of sour cream, greek yogurt, shallots, dill.

The whole hog, roasted to perfection.

The whole hog, roasted to perfection.

Fall off the bone tender chunks of pork.

Fall off the bone tender chunks of pork.

Desserts
Gluten free chocolate cake with coconut cream/fruit
Black bottom cupcakes (Mom made these, YEAH for me)
Apple Tart
Fresh Fruit Platter * 
Goat cheese & blue cheese & honey & figs * 
Turron *

In my opinion, desserts should be just like the meal, offering a mix of items to your guests.  That is why I like offering baked sweets along with a cheese plate and fresh fruit. 

Since it was getting chilly outdoors, we moved inside for dessert. A few choices giving some variety to make everyone happy.

Since it was getting chilly outdoors, we moved inside for dessert. A few choices giving some variety to make everyone happy.

 
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But wait, the details aren't done yet. Food is the key component, but let's not forget the 2D's.  Drinks and Decor. 

Drink wise; we mostly focus on having wine but usually have a few other drink options such as Vermut, Scotch, Gin and Vodka.  We always have plenty of sparkling water, too.

Decor; an informal outdoor gathering requires nothing more than cohesion.  So let me briefly run down how I handled the tables and flowers. Can you say wing it!  (Was that brief enough?)

Normally I have a visual theme planned out but this time it was indeed a last minute pull together. Evidence that you can create something from nothing on the fly.  I didn't have time to get flowers from my favorite place Dahlia NYC so I took my scissors and went hunting in my backyard and a nearby park.  I cut hydrangeas from our big tree and some other flowers to help fill out the vases for big bursts of florals.  

I arranged one large vase for the food table and smaller ones to place on all the other tables, bringing the look together.

I arranged one large vase for the food table and smaller ones to place on all the other tables, bringing the look together.

Also, while I was raking the yard I notice there was an abundance of pine cones and thought I could use those somehow.  

Hunter gatherer.

Hunter gatherer.

Using the flowers I cut from the park plus the extra leaves from the hydrangeas, I laid them across the stone wall then nestled the pine cones on top to create a fall festive row of flora.

Tablecloths. I didn't even bother to iron.  It was an informal outdoor gathering, so I was ok with that.  I went with a blue and cream theme because I knew I had a variety of coverings that could work in tandem.  When you have several tables, do not fret over everything being matchy matchy.   Coordination is the name of the game.  Just make it all look visually cohesive. I used different patterns all within the same color scheme layering cobalt blue placemats to tie the tables together.

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There was plenty of food, good wine, dancing music and joyful guests.  The perfect party mix.  I think a good time was had by all.  I hope some of these tips can help you throw your next gathering with ease and less stress so you, too, can enjoy along with your guests.

My sister, Alyssa

My sister, Alyssa

Grill masters tossing success

Grill masters tossing success

Aleida and my mother in law Dora tearing it up to salsa music.(Photo credit: Dori Eckert)

Aleida and my mother in law Dora tearing it up to salsa music.(Photo credit: Dori Eckert)

My sister in law Dori

My sister in law Dori

My always helpful, cheerful parents.

My always helpful, cheerful parents.

JC with our dearest friends, Angelica and Marcos

JC with our dearest friends, Angelica and Marcos

CHEERS to all!