Category Archives: Appetizers

Birthday Dinner

The last time Christine and Chuck visited, Chuck said something to the effect of, “I’d rather eat anything that someone I know made for me than go to a restaurant any day.”  It made me stop and think a minute and I decided that, almost every time, I would agree with him.  There is something about food that someone chooses to make for you – no matter what it is – that tastes especially satisfying. Luckily, my gracious friends pretty much feel the same way, or at least they make every attempt to appear that way.  Even when a dish comes out badly (overcooked meat or vegetables, a half-risen cake), I’ve had the luck of seeing smiling faces and clean plates.

When I asked the Bun what he wanted for his birthday dinner – mainly, whether he wanted to go out or stay in – he gave me a little look that said, “would you mind cooking for me?”  Of course, I was pleased with his answer.  After deliberating on a menu for a few days, I decided on a bit of inspiration in the form of pork rillettes, which is basically like a meaty, fatty spread you eat on bread.  It is, of course, French.  A French meal, of course!

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A Note on Cocktail Parties

If there is one thing I have learned about cocktail parties, it is this:  the simpler, the better.  Sure, you want everyone to be festive and have a good time, but it turns out that you don’t have to bust your hump to make a good party.  In fact, if you put too much time into the preparation for the party, you’ll find yourself exhausted and the affair will often come off as overwrought.  Simply put, people come to your party to see you and your friends, not for a big spread of fancy appetizers and complicated drinks.

For me, I always attend a cocktail party with a lot of gratitude for the host for putting the event on at all.  It isn’t often that people get a larger group of people together for an occasion, and to host such an affair is both stressful and rewarding.  As a guest, I just appreciate that someone was thoughtful about scheduling a gathering and providing some good cheer.  As a host, I think it is best to remember that perfect parties are never really all that fun, and almost come off as a non-event.  Keep it casual, but with a sense of occasion, no matter when you decide to hold your next cocktail party.

Regarding food, it turns out that people often gravitate to the simplest snacks.  Cheese and crackers, mixed nuts, and crudite plates are all simple crowd-pleasers.  Pick one or two slightly more complicated items from your latest food magazine or from a quick review your favorite food website; if you can make items in advance, all the better.  Remember, you want to spend time with your guests, not slaving over the oven.  Try to keep items small and portable, without gloppy sauces and or napkin-necessary greasiness.  Don’t forget sweet items, too.  Cookies are a great cocktail item to have around, because they contrast the saltiness of savory bites.  Savory usually = salty, and salty usually = more drinks, which we all know can end up being messy.  Keep everyone noshing and talking and not just sipping.

As for drinks, have several options in terms of booziness.  Some people can handle more than one Martini or Vodka Stinger, but I don’t happen to be one of those people.  Though the old-school rules of cocktail parties say to serve strictly spirits, I see nothing wrong with giving people the choice of beer or wine instead.  The old rules also say to have a fully stocked bar available for people to mix their own drinks.  Well, that might be an option someday, but for now, we try to keep costs low by offering two or three options, premixed in pitchers or punch bowls.  An old-fashioned drink (Manhattan, Sidecar, etc.) is always welcome for those who like a kick, and most people love anything made with sparkling wine or champagne.  I know I do!

Other than that, come up with a quick, but thoughtful playlist that is a mix of both upbeat and mellow (but not too much of either), and have some fresh flowers and candles around.  You’ll be surprised how just a little prep work can make for a great get together.

Quick Questions: Cheese!


Cheese, Please!

My lovely friend Kristie posted a question to me a few weeks ago that I didn’t get a chance to respond to in time. I apologize Kristie! However, I would like to address her question here now as a part of a new series I am calling “Quick Questions.” Basically, if you have a question about food, entertaining, shopping, restaurants, etc., that I can answer quickly or with just a little research, feel free to post them here and I’ll answer them in the order I get them.

Kristie’s question is a prime example: “I’m supposed to bring an appetizer to a get-together next weekend. I want to take the easiest route possible, so I decided to bring a cheese plate. Any suggestions on what cheeses to choose?”

Cheese plates are a great appetizer option; we almost always have one out when guests arrive – they can try a few different kinds, with different breads or crackers, and it keeps people busy while you are getting the rest of dinner together. Somewhere along the way, I remember someone advising that you should always have a blue cheese, a soft cheese, and a hard cheese. This is probably a good rule to go by, but I also find that blue cheese is not always the biggest crowd pleaser. If you have an adventurous group, go with a good French blue or English Stilton, an herbed goat cheese, and a smoked Gouda (not processed); they all have powerful flavors, but in different ways.

If you are unsure about your guests’ tastes, or know that they are more along the straight and narrow, opt for Havarti (or Dill Havarti, if you can find it), a good sharp Cheddar (not extra sharp) and a decent American Brie or cheap French Brie. Don’t waste a lot of money on cheese if people may not appreciate it! These choices should appeal to a wide range of people, especially when you serve them with good crackers and some fresh fruits – grapes, sliced apples and pears, and berries are always good choices. A thoughtful presentation (that is not to say complicated) is always appreciated, which includes taking the time to set the cheese out in advance of your guests arrival, since the flavors are always more pronounced at room temperature.

Keep the questions coming!

PS – I have to give a shout out to my friend Alex for coming up with the idea of posting this series!  Make sure you check out his hilarious website, which I have linked on the right.  He is not only clever, but pretty funny, too; okay, he’s one of the funniest people in the world.  Seriously.