I began making hors d’oeuvres at the age of 5.
They always consisted of the same thing: white bread spread with mayonnaise and cut into squares. I would put them on a tray and serve them to my mom and dad as they sat on the sofa drinking Highballs while listening to Dean Martin.
My daddy hated mayonnaise, but graciously took one of the all white canapés made by the apple of his eye. My mother’s loving push helped when she would say through her smile, “Eat it Tony.”
Although I’ve come a long way from sliced bread and egg yolks, I’ve had my share of failed attempts when preparing food for friends. It’s all part of this dream called, “cooking” and as in life, we understand that from time to time, we will play host to people and need to feed them.
It’s a must. What is life without food?
Here’s the thing about entertaining-
It’s not as hard or as intimidating as you imagine.
Before you begin to panic, think about it like you’re scaling the Sierra Nevada Cascade Mountains in California and Nevada: Travel light and remember the basics.
There are always certain items you should have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Having these culinary goods on hand will save you when you suddenly receive news that you are hosting dinner for 4 or 12 people for the football game.
- A whole chicken
- Boneless chicken breasts
- Wild rice
- Jasmine rice
- A few cheeses such as cheddar, brie, gouda
- Tortillas- flour and/or corn
- Coconut milk
- Thai curry paste
- Artichoke hearts in a can
- Flank steak or something equivalent
- Water crackers
This may seem like a lot of pantry items, but it’s not. They have a enduring shelf life and they don’t take up too much space.
Having these staples will make your life so much easier when pulling together a dinner or some appetizers for family and friends. You can make a million things from these items.
You may be wondering: what do I do with all of this?
In the next few weeks, I will give you a few recipes to start that will include items from the list above. You may have to go to the grocery store, but it will only be one trip and your friends and family will think you were slaving in the kitchen for hours when it just took a short amount of time (preferably with an open bottle of wine).
A whole chicken is a beautiful thing.
You can roast it with fresh rosemary, red potatoes and garlic and either throw together a salad from what you have in the fridge, or run to the store to grab a seasonal vegetable.
You can also throw the chicken in a pot for making stock and use the chicken as part of another dish, such as jambalaya.
Use flank steak for an hors d’ oeuvre, or a main course of fajitas.
If you need a tray of appetizers in a short amount of time, don’t worry. Just marinate flank steak in olive oil, garlic, lime juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Then grill it rare to medium rare. Slice it thin against the grain and roll it up to go on garlic crostini with chimichurri and caramelized onions.
And the chicken meat that has been hanging around from the whole chicken?
Heat it in a skillet with mixture of coconut milk and thai curry paste. Bake or fry wontons and put the curried chicken on top.
The chicken and flank can also go in a quesadilla or you can make mini tostadas with the chicken or beef by using a cookie cutter. Grab an avocado and use it on top with sour cream on the bottom.
For another quick meal, sear boneless chicken breasts in a skillet and while they are finishing in the oven, throw some white wine, artichoke hearts and capers into the skillet. Let the mixture thicken and pour over the finished chicken breasts.
That’s all for today on remedial entertaining. I don’t want to give too much information at once.
Just remember– you can make excellent food using basic ingredients with simple techniques that should be comfortable to anyone who has passed through the kitchen on the way to the living room.
If you have questions about how to throw together appetizers or a meal on the fly, give me a shout. I’ll have you looking like Julia Child in a few minutes.
I leave you with a recipe for jalapeno poppers. All you need to buy at the store is the jalapenos. Remember, you have the rest on hand.
Grilled Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers with Smoked Gouda or Vintage Cheddar
- 24 fresh large jalapenos
- 1 pound smoked gouda, grated
- 12 slices of uncooked thin bacon
- beer for drinking
* you will need a jalapeno griller for this but they are cheap and available everywhere
Heat the grill to medium-high
Wash and cut the tops off of jalapenos. Reserve tops. Scrape out the seeds and membranes with a small spoon. You may want to wear gloves especially if you are drinking beer and forget not to touch your eyes… Poke a hole in the bottom of each jalapeno
Stuff each jalapeno with cheese then wrap the bacon around the jalapenos and secure with a toothpick through the top third completely through the jalapeno.
Place the jalapenos in the metal griller holes and place on the grill. Balance the caps of the jalapenos on top of their bodies. Cook until the skin has some black spots, the bacon is cooked through and the cheese is melted
Drink more beer
And in case you don’t know who Dean Martin is…