Cocktail Party: The Line Up

December 3, 2007


Lest you think that the only food we served on Saturday night was the fruit in the sangria, I’ll be writing today about Saturday night’s line-up of hors d’oeuvres.  First, and by far the favorite of the night were the mini meatballs.  The meatballs themselves are very good, though there is not much novel about the blend of meats, cheese, herbs and egg.  The sauce, however, made this particular recipe a standout.  And not only are you able to make them ahead of time (I made them on Friday, refrigerated overnight and slowly simmered them back to life before the party on Saturday), but I think they were even better on the second day.  This was my first time making these meatballs and I can assure you that it won’t be the last.


Next, we have the antipasto platters.  I’ve played around with various combinations of meats, cheeses, vegetables and olives and I’m finally satisfied.  I love having at least one of these platters at cocktail or dinner parties, because they come together in a matter of minutes (if you pre-roast the vegetables, which I recommend—another example of something that tastes better on day two) but they look spectacular.  They are also sure to please (even the pickiest eater is bound to find something on this platter that they’ll love) and perfect for all-night-long grazing.


Unlike the meatballs, this was far from the first time I’ve made these roasted rosemary cashews.  To be honest, I usually add them to a menu for the simple reason that I personally love them.  And if no one else likes them, it just means more leftover for me.  (I’m sure you want to nominate me for hostess of the year after reading that line.)  These nuts are equal parts sweet, savory and spicy–together in perfect harmony.  And it’s an Ina Garten recipe, and I’m sure it’s already clear that I love her recipes (in case you missed them, I’ve written about her recipes here and here).


These mushrooms (mushroom caps stuffed with fromage blanc) were the biggest disappointment of the night.  My husband hates mushrooms (after very vigorous efforts, I have realized that I will never win this battle) so I relish the opportunity to cook with them.  And those occasions arise only rarely—usually when Kevin’s on a business trip (in such cases, I have been known to incorporate mushrooms into breakfast, lunch and dinner) and when there menu is large enough to allow Kevin to avoid them (so: cocktail parties).  My mom makes some delicious stuffed mushrooms and my attempts to re-create them always fall short, so I thought I’d try a different tactic this time.  I wish I hadn’t.  My version of my mom’s stuffed mushrooms are definitely better than these were.  They were just sort of lackluster.  The filling didn’t stand up to the flavor of the mushrooms and they became soggy as they sat (unlike other stuffed mushrooms, which make great hors d’oeurvres precisely because they can hold up for a few hours).  Unlike the meatballs, I won’t be making these again.


These Three-Cheese Mini Macs are a great idea.  Everyone loves mac-and-cheese and who wouldn’t want to have a bite-sized version?  The recipe called for American cheese and as I indicate in my notes below, I just can’t bring myself to use the stuff.  I knew when I made the substitution (using gruyere instead) that I was taking a risk.  I doubted the recipe creator was calling for American cheese because of its exceptional taste; I suspected that it was a cheese that helped these mac morsels to hold together.  I was right.  Don’t get me wrong, they were really good, but they were fussy to get out of the muffin tins (which is catastrophic when they happen to be the last thing you’re baking off right before guests arive) and they definitely fell a bit on their platter.  But almost all of them were gobbled up, so the jury is out on these.


Mmmm.  I liked these a lot.  I’ve been wanting to try polenta canapes for a while, mainly because I like the presentation.  And it doesn’t hurt that I like polenta a lot (especially when it comes with our entree at one of favorite Chicago restaurants: Terragusto).  In a menu full of some heavier items (meatballs; mini macs), these were a lovely lighter selection.  I’m excited to make them again and to experiment with different toppings.


Rounding out the menu were another perennial favorite (and my sister’s request, which I was happy to accommodate): spicy shrimp and chorizo kebabs.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great picture, but they’re in the photo above, in the back.  And the picture on Food & Wine‘s Web site will give you a better idea of what to expect (though, unlike the kebabs in that photo, I thread only one shrimp and sausage on each toothpick-sized skewer).  I think people really love shrimp at cocktail parties, and this is a much more exciting option than a simple shrimp cocktail.  Very flavorful–spicy, smoky and succulent.  And the caraway seeds lend a very unique background flavor.

So, there you have it.  A couple old favorites, a couple new “keepers” and a couple that probably won’t be invited to our cocktail parties of the future.  I’ll be writing about the cake (yes, the birthday cake I baked myself) tomorrow.

Meatball Sliders
Bon Appetit 


1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

Arugula leaves (optional)*
18 small soft rolls, split horizontally*

Instructions:Mix all meats, panko, 1/2 cup water, 6 tablespoons cheese, egg, egg yolk, 1/4 cup parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in large bowl. Form into eighteen 2-inch-meatballs.** Heat vegetable oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry meatballs until brown all over. Transfer to plate. Pour off drippings from skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Add olive oil to skillet. Add onion, garlic, basil, and fennel seeds. Sauté until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add all tomatoes with juices. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Puree sauce in processor until almost smooth. Return to same skillet. Add meatballs. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes longer. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. 

*  I served these with toothpicks, rather than sandwich sliders.

**  To make these bite-sized, I made mini-meatballs (about 1 inch balls

Antipasto Platter  

5 Roma tomatoes
1 bunch asparagus
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 c. mozzarella bocconcini
One log herbed goat cheese
Assorted Italian cold cuts (such as Genoa salami, capicola, and sopressata)
Assorted olive
3 cloves garlic 

Up to a day in advance, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Quarter the Roma tomatoes (making spears) and trim the asparagus.  Arrange the asparagus and tomato spears on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes.  Cool and refrigerate.  

Prior to serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the baguette into thin crostini.  Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. 

Meanwhile, arrange the tomatoes, asparagus, peppers and olives on a platter.  When the bread is done toasting, allow to cool slightly and rub the surfaces with the garlic cloves.   Serve crostini alongside the platter of vegetables, olives and cheese. 

Spicy Rosemary Cashews
Ina Garten

1 lb. roasted, unsalted cashews
2 T. minced fresh rosemary leaves
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. light brown sugar
1 T. kosher salt
1 T. unsalted butter, melted 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the cashews on a sheet pan.  Toast in the oven until warm, about 5 minutes.  In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and butter.  Thoroughly toss the warm cashews with the spiced butter and serve warm. 

Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Fromage Blanc
Delores and Jack Cakebread via Leite’s Culinaria 

1 large leek, white part only, julienned (2 cups)*
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
4 oz. fromage blanc**
2 T. finely grated Parmigano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper
18 large crimini mushrooms, wiped clean and stemmed
White truffle oil (optional) Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Brush a baking sheet with olive oil.  Heat the leeks and olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the ½ tsp. salt.  Cook, stirring often to prevent browning, for 8 to 10 minutes, until wilted and tender, but not browned.  Transfer to a small bowl and let cool. Add the fromage blanc and Parmigano to the leeks and stir to mix well.  Season with salt and pepper. 

Scoop up about 1 heaping teaspoon of the mixture and spoon into the bottom of the mushrooms.  Set on prepared baking sheet. Bake in the top 1/3 of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cheese mixture begins to brown and the mushrooms become tender to the bite.  Transfer to a serving plate & drizzle with a few drops of truffle oil. 

*  To me “julienned” means long thin strips.  That didn’t seem right, but I did it anyway (giving me about 2 inch long thin strips).  This made the filling a little hard to deal with because of the long tangles of leeks (especially for the smaller mushrooms).  In the unlikely event that I make these again, I think I would mince. 

**  I used well-drained ricotta in place of fromage blanc, mainly because I had some on hand that I wanted to use up, rather than buying another cheese. 

Three-Cheese Mini Macs
Food & Wine

½ lb. elbow macaroni
1 ½ T. unsalted butter, plus more for brushing
¼ c. freshly grated Parmigano-Reggiano cheese
2 T. all-purpose flour
¾ c. milk
4 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded (one packed cup)
4 oz. deli-sliced American cheese, chopped*
1 large egg yolk
1/4 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika** 
Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, shaking off the excess water.  

Brush four 12-cup, nonstick mini muffin tins with butter. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano; tap out the excess.

In a large saucepan, melt the 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking, until boiling, about 5 minutes. Add the cheddar and American cheeses and whisk until melted. Off the heat, whisk in the egg yolk and paprika. Fold in the macaroni.  

Spoon slightly rounded tablespoons of the macaroni into the prepared muffin cups, packing them gently. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano on top.*** Bake the mini macs in the upper and middle thirds of the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden and sizzling. Let cool for 5 min­utes. Using a small spoon, carefully loosen the mini macs, transfer to a platter and serve.  

*  I substituted grated gruyere, because I’m not really sure what American cheese is.

** I have the hardest time finding this spice.  I just need to order it from Penzey’s.  I tried three grocery stores with no luck.  So I substituted a pinch of cumin and cayenne.

*** Instead of additional Parmigano, I sprinkled panko bread crumbs (tossed in melted butter) on top. 

Arugula- & Parmesan-Topped Polenta Canapes

4 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup instant polenta
2 large shallots
1 large garlic clove
3 cups arugula leaves
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces) 

Line an 11- by 7-inch baking pan with foil, leaving a slight overhang on all sides.
In a heavy saucepan bring water with salt to a boil and add polenta in a thin stream, whisking. Cook polenta over low heat (it should be barely boiling), stirring constantly, until very thick, about 10 minutes. Spread polenta evenly in pan. 

Separately mince shallots and garlic and chop arugula. In a non-stick skillet cook shallots in oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, arugula, and salt to taste and cook, stirring, a few seconds, or until arugula is just wilted. Spread arugula mixture evenly over polenta and cool to room temperature. Chill polenta, covered, until firm, at least 2 hours, and up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Sprinkle arugula topping evenly with Parmesan, pressing gently to make it adhere, and, using foil, transfer polenta to a cutting board. Cut polenta lengthwise into thirds and cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide canapés. Arrange canapés on a large baking sheet and bake in upper third of oven 10 minutes, or until just heated through. Change oven setting to broil and broil canapés 2 minutes, or until tops just begin to brown. Serve canapés warm or at room temperature.

Spicy Shrimp & Chorizo Kebabs
Food & Wine 

2 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced
2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. caraway seeds
2 T. pure chile powder, such an ancho
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs. large shrimp, shelled & deveined
8 small chorizo (about ½ lb. total), sliced ½ inch thick* 

On a cutting board, using the flat side of a chef’s knife, mash the garlic and salt to a coarse paste. Add the caraway seeds and finely chop them. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the chile powder and olive oil. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the chorizo and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Let cool slightly. Tuck a chorizo slice in the crook of a shrimp and thread onto a skewer; the shrimp should be attached at both ends. Push it to the end of the skewer and repeat with 2 more shrimp and chorizo slices. Using more skewers, repeat with the remaining shrimp and chorizo. Grill the kebabs over a hot fire, turning once or twice, until charred and the shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.  

*  I used smoked turkey sausage this time, because the menu was already pork heavy (meatballs; antipasto meats) and I didn’t want the non-pork eaters to go hungry.



One Response to “Cocktail Party: The Line Up”

  1. Joyce Says:

    Appetizer descriptions and pictures made my mouth water. I will be trying these recipes at my next party. Thanks for sharing.

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