Hosting an Appetizer Party: Part 2

Dec 13

So, now we’ve established some of the basics, but actually picking a menu is another ball game. Here is a sample menu I would pick based on a party of 20 people coming for appetizers.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Crab Cakes with a Remoulade Sauce
Cheese Tray with Crackers, Fruit and Nuts
Caramelized Onion Dip with Crackers and Crudites
Spanikopita
Coconut Macaroons

Why? I have 3 hot items and 3 cold items, one of which is a dessert. I have 2 meat dishes that will be filling, one dip and one cheese tray and then one pastry based item. In this case, the most expensive ingredient on this menu is the crab. The rest is pretty cost effective and involves more labor than anything else. I can also prepare most of this ahead to a greater degree and finish them prior to the party. The hot items keep very well in the oven on low so they can be kept hot for a good hour or so, enabling me to enjoy the party along with my guests.

Below are recipes for all these appetizers. I’ll include how many of each to make for the party to have enough to feed 20 people and what you can make in advance. I’ll also give some advice on assembling a cheese tray. Again, you don’t have to spend a lot. In this case, rather than having a high price tag, I’m willing to spend a little extra time in the kitchen, stuffing, filling, and assembling to get a bigger bang for my buck. In future postings I’ll focus on the opposite frame, spend a little more for a lot less labor, particularly when you are pressed for time. Enjoy!

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Yields: Approx 24 Mushrooms (I’d make 2 batches of this. These are really popular and are pretty much one bite)

24 Stuffing Mushrooms (Stems removed and peeled)
¼ cup vermouth or sherry
1 pound Italian Sausage (Casings Removed)
1 Tbl Herbes de Provence
Pinch Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 8 oz package cream cheese (Room Temperature)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese plus 2-3 tbls for sprinkling over top of mushrooms
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch salt & Pepper
2 tsps garlic powder
1 egg

Begin by browning the sausage with the Herbes de Provence and the Nutmeg in a medium saucepan over medium high heat for approx. 10 minutes or until no pink remains. If the sausage is very fatty, drain before assembling. If the sausage is only a little fatty, keep the juices as they will keep the mushrooms moist. Cool filling completely before assembling mushrooms. Place mushroom caps in a greased casserole and sprinkle with vermouth or sherry. Combine sausage with cream cheese, parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic powder and egg. Make sure the filling is well combined. It is easiest to use your hands for this process. Fill each mushroom cap with approx. 1 Tbl filling until all the filling has been utilized. I use a tablespoon to scoop and spread the filling into each mushroom cap. Sprinkle each cap with more grated parmesan. Mushrooms can be assembled in advance up to this point, covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator overnight. Place mushrooms in a preheated 375 degree oven and bake approx. 20 mins or until the tops begin to turn golden. Serve hot. Place baked mushrooms in an oven on low to keep warm during the party.

Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce (For a more cost effective alternative, substitute salmon for the crab)

Yields: Approximately 16 Cakes (Again, a double batch should do for 20 people)

1 lb of canned Crab Meat Drained
1 ½ cups Panko Bread Crumbs
2 eggs
1 Tbl Creamy Dijon Mustard
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbl minced parsley
2 Tbl minced cilantro
3-4 scallions minced
1 tsp old bay seasoning
½ cup real heavy mayonnaise (I prefer Hellman’s)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbl Lemon Juice
3-4 tbl olive oil

For the cakes, combine with eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, cilantro, scallions, old bay seasoning, mayo and garlic. Using your hands, gently work mixture until all the ingredients are combined well, adding enough bread crumbs just to hold the cakes together. Should be approx. 1/2 cup or less. Don’t over mix. Place remaining bread crumbs into a bowl. Form mixture into approximately 1 inch diameter cakes, coating them lightly with bread crumbs before placing them on a baking sheet. Once all the cakes are formed, place them into a refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before cooking. These can be assembled in advance, covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator overnight. To cook, drizzle olive oil into a medium sauté pan. Heat over medium high heat until the oil is spatters when sprinkled with water. Place cakes into hot oil and brown evenly on both sides, approximately 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels to drain. Place finished cakes into an oven set on low to keep warm. Serve hot with remoulade sauce.

For sauce:
1 cup real heavy mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
1 Tbl chopped dill pickles or gherkins
2 tsps creamy Dijon mustard
2 Tbl minced parsley
2 Tbl minced cilantro
2 scallions minced
2 Tbl lemon juice
Pinch Salt and Pepper
1 Tbl chopped capers
1 tsp Harissa (North African Chilli Paste-www.zamourispices.com)

Combine all the ingredients and whisk together. Place in a refrigerator for at least an hour to allow the flavors to marinate. Sauce can be kept in an airtight container for up to one week.

Caramelized Onion and Garlic Dip

Yields: Approx. 12 Servings (Make a double batch of this one)

1 Red Onion, Sliced
2 Leeks, Finely Sliced
2-3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Tbl Olive Oil
1 Tbl unsalted butter
Pinch Salt and Pepper
Pinch of Paprika
4 oz cream cheese, room temp
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellman’s

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat until the butter has melted. Add onion and leek and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Reduce heat to low and sauté over low heat for approx. 20 mins or until the onions are brown and caramelized. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer to a food processor and add cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. Season to taste. Serve with crackers and crudités. Can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Spanikopita

Yields: Approximately 20 pieces (It’s hard to divide this one in half so make a double batch. Leftovers reheat really well in a toaster oven and are a yummy snack)

1 pkg phyllo dough (thawed according to manufacturer’s directions)
8 oz feta
8 oz cream cheese
1 package fresh pre-washed baby spinach
1 Can Diced Tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 tsps chopped fresh dill or 1-2 tsps dried dill
3-4 scallions, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
Pinch Freshly Grated Nutmeg
Pinch Kosher Salt and Freshly Grated Nutmeg
2-3 tbl olive oil
2 sticks unsalted butter

Place olive oil in a medium sauté pan over med-high heat. Allow to heat for a couple of minutes. Add scallions and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the scallions begin to caramelize. Add garlic and sauté for one minute or until the garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes, spinach, dill, nutmeg, salt, pepper and oregano. Saute for approximately 10 mins or until all the liquid from the spinach and the tomatoes has evaporated. Add crumbled feta and cream cheese and cook until the cheese has melted, approximately 5 mins. Allow filling to cool. Melt butter. To assemble, brush one half of a sheet of phyllo dough vertically with butter. Fold second half over first half and brush again with butter. Place 1 tbl filling at one end of the folded sheet. Fold into triangles, like you would fold a flag. Place folded pastries on a buttered baking sheet. Continue making pastries until all the filling is gone. Brush all the tops of all the pastries with melted butter. Pastries can be made one day ahead up to this point, covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator. Place in a preheated 375 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Can be kept warm in an oven on low.

Coconut Macaroons

Yields: Approx. 14 (Make a double batch)

14 oz shredded coconut
1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
2 Egg Whites
Pinch Kosher Salt
Pinch Cream of Tartar

Combine coconut with milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Whip egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks are formed. Fold into coconut mixture. Using a medium ice cream scooper, scoop mixture into mounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place approx. 2″ apart. Bake in a 325 degree oven for approx. 25-30 mins or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely. These can be placed in an airtight container and stored at room temperature for up to a week. They keep better than almost any cookie or other dessert I’ve ever made.

Cheese Tray

When assembling a cheese tray, I usually estimate about an ounce of each cheese per person. You can always add a couple of ounces to be on the safe side. I like to serve my cheeses whole so that you can wrap up leftovers and store them. Once cheese has been cut, particularly softer cheeses, they don’t keep particularly well. I like to pick one softer cheese, like a brie, camembert or goat cheese, one semi soft cheese, like a havarti or baby swiss and one hard cheese, like an aged cheddar, smoked gouda or even a good wedge of parmesan cheese. The point is to look for contrast in texture, flavor and appearance. Place the cheeses on a large platter, surrounded by dried fruit, grapes, nuts and crackers. Make sure to serve cheeses at room temperature. I usually let them sit out for an hour before serving so you can assemble this ahead of time, pull it out before you start baking off the rest of your appetizers and forget about it.

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