Tag Archives: Food

The Anatomy of a Dinner Party

4 Mar

If you read my last post then you know that my husband and I love to throw dinner parties, now I will tell you how it’s done. When you say the words “dinner party” people automatically think it means it has to be formal but not in my world. I do think that dinner parties should take place in the dining room with a beautifully set table. In my world there are 3 kinds of dinner parties:

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Mexican Fiesta tabletop.

Take Out Dinner Party – This is when you haven’t seen particular friends in a while and want to squeeze some time to see them but time is limited so you order take out.

Casual Dinner Party – A casual meal such as salads, tacos or flatbread pizzas for a fun night with friends.

Formal Dinner Party – This a planned event from beginning to end, complete attention to detail and a gourmet meal.

To start with, chose a theme. Pick a country or a region, a movie or even a song. I’ve done A Night in Greece, Italian Countryside, Mexican Fiesta, A Parisian Valentine and I even threw a Breakfast at Tiffany’s dinner party for my girlfriends. When you start with a theme everything flows from that, which makes things easier and fun.

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Parisian Valentine tabletop.

Once you’ve decided on a theme you can make your list; invitations, music, menu, decor and guest gifts.  From the menu you can create your shopping list. I like to have each recipe in front of me while I make my list so I don’t miss anything; no one wants to run the grocery store last minute when you’ve already began to cook.

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Menu, I don’t always type it but sometimes it’s nice.

Now I know that gifts for the guests are not customary but I like to have a little something for our guests to take home and I use them as place cards.

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Mini Champagne bottles as place card guest gifts.

Invitations of course can be done via an on-line site but I prefer a paper invite sent through good ol’ fashioned snail mail. Who doesn’t like to get something in mail that is not a bill or advertisement? I know I do. Be creative and do something fun by making them yourself or go visit your local card shop for something pre-printed that fits your theme. No matter what you do for the invite your guests will love getting it in the mail.

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Love a good spread!

Music is key. Actually, good music is key. I really like Pandora for music; they have just about any kind of music you could need. We recently got The Dot and play it on that, but before we had her I would use our television widget. Pandora has everything from Paris Cafe to martini music on the Frank Sinatra station. And if you end up having a dance party in the living room you can always change the station to dance music!

Ah yes the menu…the most important part. Chose wisely so that you can enjoy your guests and aren’t stuck in the kitchen the whole time. Hors d’oeuvres and a theme cocktail are a great way to start the evening. Once the cocktail “hour” is over I like to serve either a salad or soup before the main dish and then of course dessert.

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Jalapeno margaritas as the cocktail for our Mexican fiesta!

As much as I love to cook, decorating for a dinner party is always my favorite part. The flowers, candles, props; so much fun to be creative and change up dinner table. I also like to dress the part, for example for my Parisian Valentine dinner party I wore a black jumper with a white blouse, a scarf tied around my neck, a beret and red lipstick.

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Mini loaves of French bread for each guest at our Parisian Valentine party.

The guest gifts, they don’t have to complicated or expensive. One of my favorite things to use are the mini booze bottles with name tags tied to them. A small bag of homemade cookies or brownies, a tiny plant or cactus, a pretty soap, the ideas are endless.

Yes, throwing a dinner party can be a lot of work but it is also lots of fun. Creating memories around the dinner table, eating great food…doesn’t get better than that.

 

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Dinner Parties, A Lost Art

25 Feb

Here in the Northeast it is not patio season and hasn’t been for a while. So what do we do to entertain, we throw a dinner party.  As you’ve heard me say before, my husband and I love to entertain and we love to throw a good dinner party. From what I hear it is not so common anymore. When I tell people they usually say something like “really, how fun, no one does that anymore” but recently when I told the woman at the shop where I was buying a gift for our guests she said “oh wow, now that’s a lost art!” I guess it is. But not in our house.

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What’s better than good friends, good food and lots of laughs? Nothing in my book. The first thing I do when I decide to throw a dinner party is to come up with a theme. I am big on themes. It can be anything; pick a favorite city or country, type of food, a movie or even a song. Everything springs from the theme, the food, the music, the decor and even the dress code can.

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We always start off in the kitchen. Now I know these days everyone is all about the “open concept”. I am not. I like a kitchen, a living room and a dining room. People say “oh but then you can’t socialize and cook at the same time” and I say “oh yes I can”. We have a very small kitchen but that’s ok, it works. We start out there with hors d’oeuvres while I finish up cooking then head to the dining room for the meal. Many times we end staying at the dining room table until way after we finished dessert; talking and laughing. Other times we will head into the living room to continue conversation and sometimes even having a dance party.

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Wherever it ends up, I would like to say we always have a great time and I would like to think our friends leave with full bellies and great memories. Stay tuned for my next post on the Anatomy of a Dinner Party…

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Chicken Tagine or Tagine Chicken?

22 Dec

Either way, it is delicious! I wanted to do something different, so as usual I go to Pinterest. Scrolling through all those chicken recipes, I came across several recipes for chicken tagine, I like Middle Eastern flavors so they really appealed to me. The only thing was, there was at least one thing that I didn’t like in each recipe, so I took from the ones I liked and made my own version.

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I hope you enjoy  this as much as my husband and I did. I served it with couscous but you could also serve it with potatoes. If you choose to serve it with potatoes you can add some cubed potatoes to the pot for the last 20 minutes and voila!

Ingredients:

2 Tbs Olive oil

2 Chicken breasts with bone-in and skin on

4 Chicken legs with bone-in, skin on

1 Yellow or Spanish onion, finely chopped

3 Garlic cloves, minced

4 Cups Chicken stock

1/2 Cup Cilantro, roughly chopped

1/2 Cup Parsley, roughly chopped

2 tsp Ginger, minced or 1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp Cumin

1/4 tsp Saffron, crushed

1 Cup Green, pitted olives, reserve the juice

2 Lemons, juiced

Salt and Pepper to taste

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Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Dry chicken pieces and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place skin side down in a single layer in pan.

Brown in batches until skin is golden and crispy, about 5 minutes then turn over and brown other side for about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add onion to pan and cook until soft, stirring to mix it well with the olive oil. Once the onion is soft, add garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add chicken back to pan. Add stock, cilantro, parsley, ginger, cumin and saffron. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer; cook uncovered for 30 minutes.

Add olives, reserved olive juice (I used about 1/2 cup) and juice from the 2 lemons. I also added one of the lemons that I juiced. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for another 30 minutes, chicken should fall off the bones.

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I like to serve it with the couscous and also roasted carrots to round out the meal. And whether you like to call it Chicken Tagine or Tagine Chicken…Enjoy!

Souper Easy Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

29 Oct

Now that soup weather is finally here I decided to make tomato soup. Growing up we always had Campbell’s and I always loved it but now that I rarely eat anything processed or pre-made I thought it was time I grew up and made my own tomato soup. I found a super easy recipe and it tasted great.

As far as what kind of tomatoes to use, you can really use any kind. I did a mixture of Roma and Compari. The recipe called for white onion, not sure I’d use that again, I think I’ll try a Spanish onion the next time I make it. Not crazy about the white onion flavor.

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Ingredients:

6 cups tomatoes, chopped

1 white onion, chopped

Salt

5 or 6 garlic cloves, peeled

2 large red peppers

Red pepper flakes, optional, to taste

2 tsp red wine vinegar

2 tsp olive oil, plus more for roasting

To do:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss tomatoes and onions in olive oil, spread evenly on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. You may need 2 baking sheets, you don’t want them too close together.

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Peel garlic and place on tin foil, drizzle with olive oil, fold tin foil and secure edges, place in oven.

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Roast everything for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping tomatoes and onions half way through.

 

After removing the tomatoes and garlic from the oven, roast the red peppers under the broiler. Turn on the broiler, place red peppers whole on baking sheet. Put under broiler on the highest rack so they are close to the flames. Roast about 2 to 3 minutes each side turning as they get charred.

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Once they are well charred, remove and place in a bowl, cover bowl tightly to allow the steam to loosen the skin. At least 5 minutes. Remove the skins, just be careful, they are hot. You can leave some of the char as it adds a nice flavor to the soup.

Once the peppers are peeled; cut, core and remove seeds.

In batches add tomatoes, onions, red peppers, vinegar and olive oil to a blender, only till the blender is half full. Blend until smooth.

 

As you blend each batch, put the blended batch in a pot over low heat, once it is all blended and in the pot you can taste and adjust the seasoning. You may need to add more salt or red wine vinegar for a little more tang.

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Serve with a loaf of rustic bread and enjoy!

 

Cacciatore, Hold the Chicken!

16 Aug

Since becoming a vegetarian I learned how to make all kinds of recipes without meat, and this has become a favorite. Summer time in New Jersey means lots of fresh local vegetables including eggplant, peppers and the famous Jersey tomatoes all of which I used in this recipe. Now I know most of you think of New Jersey as crowded and dirty, with bad drivers but in fact, there is a lot of farmland and beautiful rolling hills. We have lots of local farmers markets where we can get everything from local produce to homemade pies. (We are called the Garden State for a reason.)

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This is the perfect summer time pasta dish that is light, has lots of taste and loaded with healthy veggies!

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Just a few notes-I peeled the eggplant, I don’t like the skin but it’s up to you. You can use your favorite mushrooms, I used baby Portobello, just about any kind will do. Finally, instead of the 14 oz can of diced tomatoes I used fresh Jersey tomatoes.

 

Ingredients:

1 lb eggplant, sliced into 1/4 thick slabs

3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

6 oz dried penne pasta

1 lb cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced

1 small onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, any color, sliced into strips

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup crushed tomatoes

2 Tbsp capers

1 Tbsp fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dry

1/2 tsp dry oregano

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rub eggplant slabs with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake until eggplant are slightly browned and tender, but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

 

While eggplant is baking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to instructions. Drain when done and return pot, toss with a bit of olive oil. Set aside.

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While eggplant bakes and pasta cooks, coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and  place over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper, cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes more. Add garlic and sauté’ for another minute. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Allow to cook until liquid is reduced by about half, 3 to 4 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, capers, rosemary, oregano and red pepper flakes to skillet and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and add eggplant, simmer 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Serve over pasta with a salad, crusty bread and a glass of delicious wine!

Thank you to Connoisseurusveg.com for this recipe and the photo of the final dish, mine didn’t look quite as good.

 

Vegetable Soup Mexican Style

29 Jan

Two things I love combined together to make something really great and tasty-Mexican food and soup. It is souper easy, tastes souper and it is vegan! It has lots of healthy vegetables and plenty of flavor, my husband ate 3 bowls of it, that says it all.

Ingredients:

1 tbs olive oil

3 bell peppers-1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow-all seeded and diced

1/2 red onion, diced

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbs cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes

2 (4 oz) cans mild diced green chili peppers

8 cups vegetable broth (I used 6, it would’t all fit in my pot and it was fine)

1 can corn, drained

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 zucchini, diced

salt to taste

Suggest serving it with:

lime juice, fresh squeezed

avocado

cilantro

tortilla strips

chopped scallions

shredded cheese

sour cream

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Directions:

Heat oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add diced bell peppers, red onion, jalapeño and a bit of salt. Cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add minced garlic and spices-cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper. Stir and cook for another minute.

Add diced tomatoes, green chilies and vegetable broth. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add beans, corn and zucchini. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes until zucchini is tender. Add more salt to taste if needed (mine did).

Soup is ready to eat! Ole!

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*Recipe courtesy of Show Me the Yummy blog.

**Obviously adding sour cream or cheese makes this dish non-vegan.

 

Not your Momma’s 7 Layer Dip

15 Jul

Who doesn’t love 7 layer dip? Well, here’s a Greek version and not only is it super tasty, it is also kinda healthy. I made it this past weekend for a small gathering and it was huge hit (there was nothing left). You can serve it with pita chips, warmed pita bread cut into triangles or bagel chips. Stacy’s actually makes a new pita crisp that I happen to love because it is thinner and lighter than the regular pita chips. Vegetables are good too, especially if you or your guests are gluten free.

I dip, you dip...we dip!

I dip, you dip…we dip!

I adapted this from SkinnyTaste.com. There are just a few changes, the first one being she makes hers in a 9″ x 13″ Pyrex pan, not to insult her but I happen to like to serve in a prettier way so I made mine in a white ceramic serving dish. Secondly, I beefed up the amount of hummus and greek yogurt to make it more substantial, 8 oz seemed to spread out too thin. Give it whirl and let me know what think!

1 1/2 cups hummus

1 1/2 cups plain low-fat or no fat Greek yogurt

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh chopped dill

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Pinch of Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp finely chopped red onion

1 cup chopped English or regular cucumber (seeded)

1 cup seeded, chopped tomato

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, chopped

In a small bowl combine yogurt, dill, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In the dish of your choice, spread the hummus as the first layer, then the greek yogurt mixture, red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, feta and lastly the olives.

Super easy, super tasty and good for you!

*The dish should be 1.5 or 2 quarts.

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