Party Time! Entertaining Low on Budget, High on Flavorfeatured

The Birthday Boy

The Birthday Boy

Hua entered the next age bracket of his life last week and we celebrated with two of his favorite things: friends and food! As we sat there making the invite list...we quickly realized 1) Jeez, Hua has a lot of friends, and 2) how are we going to feed all these people on the cheap, easy, and good? The answer was...finger foods (and Costco). We successfully fed 25 guests on $250, cooking up an array of tasty hors d’oeuvres. I mean, who doesn’t love appies? They’re usually the best part of the meal anyway. Plus, they’re perfect for large parties. They’re unassuming, filling, and allow people to mill around and chat while noshing on bite-sized bits of delicious. So how do you do it? 1) Plan ahead. Make as much as possible ahead of time so that you can actually talk to your guests and not be in a sweaty frenzy all night. 2) Put your guests to work. Trust me, it doesn’t make you a bad host, you’re actually doing them a favor. They would feel weird and awkward just standing there watching you prepare food. (Thanks to all my expert slicers and cutters and servers, you know who your hot asses are.) 3) Variety. It’s nice to have a balance of food so there is something for everyone. (I know some of you out there would love nothing more than a pork fest...but that’s for another time.)

The Menu: Salami & Manchego Crostini – This is super easy and you can get your guests to help out. All it takes is some meat, cheese, and bread. I forgot to get a baguette, but regular bread with the crusts cut off worked out just fine. Simply cut the bread into little triangles, drizzle with olive oil, and pop them in the oven to toast them up.
Me, Hua, and his salami

Me, Hua, and his salami

Fried Chicken Tortelloni – I adapted this recipe from Giada’s Roasted Chicken Purses. The use of wonton wrappers here is a great time-saving trick and the filling of shredded chicken, ricotta, lemon, and thyme tastes fresh and light.
Fried Chicken Tortelloni

Fried Chicken Tortelloni

My adjustments: I thought the tortelloni shape would hold the filling in better than the "purse” shape she uses. To fold it, brush some egg wash on 2 adjacent edges. Fold into a triangle. Bring the 2 corners around together, and seal with more egg wash. I also opted to fry these rather than boil them since I was already all set up to fry for another dish (and because I’m a fatty and love fried food...mmm). Crispy Smoked Mozzarella with Honey and Figs – Another Giada recipe, this one I followed to a tee, and it was AH-mazing. Not only was it easy to prepare (no fuss, you basically just cut up a block of cheese and wrap it in phyllo dough), it contains one of my favorite flavor combinations.
Crispy Smoked Mozzarella with Honey and Figs

Crispy Smoked Mozzarella with Honey and Figs

The sweet figs marry perfectly with the smokiness of the mozzarella, which oozes out from the crispy phyllo dough when you cut into it. The honey drizzled on top soaks into the shell and gives that sweet baklava feel to it. And if you have black sesame seeds to garnish, it really gives an added depth of flavor and pretty presentation to the dish.  Here’s a resurrection of a prior post with a link to the recipe. Cheeseburger Sliders – This was all Hua and unfortunately, we don't have a real recipe for this since we kind of just threw in spices and condiments until it tasted right. What I can tell you is we did dice up some onions, let them caramelize, and added it to the ground beef.
Cheeseburger Sliders

Cheeseburger Sliders

Orson Pizzette – Inspired by the best fancy pizza I’ve had in SF so far, at Orson (btw, they’ve started a Monday Night Pizza special now!), my take is topped with sausage, gruyere, and herb salad mix tossed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary salt and pepper. I cheat with the crust and use Boboli whole wheat (thank you, Shell, for the tip!). Be sure to bake the pizza with sausage and cheese first, then top with the salad after so it doesn’t wilt on you. I originally wanted to use baby arugula because I love the peppery flavor of it, but couldn’t find it! (Safeway, please start carrying arugula.)
Orson Pizzette (sausage, gruyere, herb salad tossed in balsamic vinegar)

Orson Pizzette (sausage, gruyere, herb salad tossed in balsamic vinegar)

Roasted Eggplant Spread & Hummus with Pita Chips – These are great fillers and make-ahead items. Leftovers are particularly good for sandwiches the next day. The eggplant dip is a recipe from Ina Garten that I am absolutely in love with. Here’s a prior post with a link to the recipe. The hummus I adapted from Epicurious. I like more lemon and less garlic in mine, but feel free to play around and see what you like best. Try adding some roasted red pepper, or perhaps garnishing with chili oil and pine nuts. Artichoke Dip with Grape Tomatoes and Baby Carrots – This is my store-bought help. Quickies like dips and chips and veggies can tide people over if you’re caught running late with the cooking the evening of the party. Birthday Cake! – This Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate is my favorite special occasion cake.
Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate

Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate

It’s all about the frosting. Make the cake, brittle, and topping the night before so that the day of the party all you have to do is whip up the frosting of mascarpone cheese (the base of many things delicious) and assemble. The brittle folded into the frosting is a lovely surprise, and the orange zest in the topping is the perfect floral, citrusy complement to the chocolate.
Make a Wish!

Make a Wish!

Disclaimer: Successful achievement of this will indefinitely raise the epicurean bar and your friends may or may not feel slighted if you order pizza for your next party.

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