So I have to be honest here. This catering thing had me a little stressed. For the most part I think we were pretty on top of organizing and getting as much done ahead of time as possible. But creating the menu was a bit of a challenge. Usually for whatever event Annie and I are cooking for an event, we have a fairly specific theme that gives us parameters. Pierson's birthday this year was Caribbean food. Annie's birthday was Latin. New Years Eve this year was Mezze and the year before, tapas. For Easter, the theme was "Vegetarian Italiano." But for Heather's party, there were not really any limits. Just cocktails and nibbles. The menu could go pretty much anywhere. You could totally get away with serving say, shrimp summer rolls, little turkey sliders, and goat cheese and smoked salmon quesadillas.
Of course there were a few things to consider - Heather's kitchen is on the smallish side (although mine is smaller). This was not going to be a tray pass kind of party, so whatever we make needs to work as a buffet of sorts. We wanted to keep the food small enough so that all you need was a napkin, not a plate. We wanted a mix of items, some that could sit out at room temperature, others that we could have pretty much ready in the kitchen and could bake off so there would be some hot hors d'oeuvres. And finally, we didn't want to be stuck in the kitchen all night assembling endless little bites with lots of components.
For Heather's party, this is the menu of bites, nibbles, drinks and dips we came up with:
- First off, the signature cocktail was a a big jar of lemon basil vodka gimlets. (I love herbs in my adult beverages)
- We also decided to do a white wine sangria, just in case the idea of basil in one's cocktail was unappealing to some guests.
For the food we had:
- mini leek and tomato frittatas which we served on a cutting board strewn with arugula leaves.
- Medjool dates wrapped in applewood smoked bacon (which I've made before) only this time instead of stuffing them with slivers of Parmesan cheese, I stuffed them with a mixture of ricotta cheese, fresh minced thyme and parsley and cracked black pepper.
- Garlic rubbed crostini with arugula leaves, a smearing of white bean puree and a drizzling of rosemary infused olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a scattering of fresh thyme.
- A cheese plate featuring Humbolt Fog, squares of nutty Unie Kaas Robusto (which is an aged Gruyere from the Netherlands), a wedge of St. Agur blue and an interesting creamy cheese that's a mix of goat, cow, and sheep called Fior di Langa.
- The roasted cashew, garlic and cilantro chicken skewers that I mentioned in my previous post.
- Crispy fingers of grilled ciabatta piled with Pulled pork, a dalop of tangy cider vinegar barbeque sauce and a lacy coil of pickled red onions.
- The not particularly exciting sounding but always crowd pleasing caramelized onion dip.
- Artichoke and roasted garlic hummus with pita chips. Because you sort of have to have hummus, don't you?
- And for dessert, the most incredibly dense, moist and chocolaty chocolate cupcakes EVER topped with a glossy, dark ganache frosting.
- The most adorable miniature pistachio shortbread and fresh, homemade strawberry ice cream sandwiches.
And then, of course, every party has to have a crudite plater with some sort of dip. Often the melange of veggies doesn't get much thought or respect. I mean when you have all this other stuff to chose from, who's going to go for a carrot? I wanted to change that. Or at least try. I wanted the vegetables to seem just as interesting and tempting as everything else. So first off I decided to mix up some of the vegetables that usually get served. Instead of the tired old broccoli, cauliflower and radishes, I went for baby farmers' market zucchini, jicama, and daikon.
Then instead of the pedestrian ranch dip (God just that name makes me shudder) I went with Green Goddess. It's both kitchy and retro, but also unexpected and sort of refined. The recipe I planned to use was between Ina Garten's and Suzanne Goin's. Ina's had basil in it, which I like the idea of, whereas Suzanne's had watercress. And while both women's recipes are totally reliable, I decided on Suzanne's. The drinks already have basil in them and the onion dip recipe and the cupcake recipe are from Ina, so I thought it best to mix it up a little.
(For the Green Goddess Dip)
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup packed watercress, washed
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
3 tablespoons chives, minced
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 salt packed anchovies, rinsed and bones removed
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream (lite works fine in this instance)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
(for the crudite)
1 small jicama, (about 5 ounces)
1 medium cucumber, peel on
12 ounces carrots
yellow squash, (about 5 ounces)
zucchini, (about 6 1/2 ounces)
1 medium daikon, (about 12 ounces)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, preferably heirloom
First make the dip. Puree the parsley, watercress, tarragon, minced chives, garlic, anchovies, lemon zest and juice and 1/4 cup grapeseed oil in a blender or food processor until is resembles a sort of loose pesto.
Meanwhile in a large bowl combine the mayonnaise and sour cream.
Then stir in the herb puree, vinegar, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper into the mayonnaise and sour cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
Next prepare the vegetables. Peel jicama, and cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks, measuring 3 to 5 inches in length. Set aside. Wash cucumber very well, and cut in either spears or slices, and set aside. Wash and peel carrots, and set aside. Wash squash and zucchini very well. If you are using baby zucchini and squash, slice each in half lengthwise. Peel the daikon, and cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks. Wash and dry cherry tomatoes. Set aside.
The presentation is pretty much however you want to pile the vegetables on your platter, however, taking a cue from Martha Stewart, I put some in a couple different glasses and I piled some on the platter with the dip at center stage. So cute.
The green goddess dip is works so well with the vegetables. It has a really pretty, pale green color and the flavor has a depth thanks to the anchovy. The herbs and watercress just make it so fresh tasting. I tend not to like really creamy dressings like this on salad (I should point out that the original recipe does not include sour cream. I added it to make the dressing seem more dip like). In the book, Suzanne suggests serving it with romaine, sliced avocado and cucumbers or she suggests spooning some on fish (a few spoonfuls on some grilled salmon would be great), or smearing a little on a sandwich, like roasted chicken or sliced turkey. Sounds good to me.
Makes about 2 cups of dip and serves a lot.