Party Time!

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Annabel Cohen
Food Columnist

Throwing a party for your grad can be as easy as A-B-C. Once you’ve set your date, size, venue and guest list, you can move on to the fun stuff — the menu!

One of the more often-asked questions is what and how much to serve. If your event is an open house from, say, 2-5 p.m., you may choose to serve desserts and munchies. Piles of cookies and brownies, fresh-cut fruit and perhaps some frozen treats served from a cooler are an easy idea. For those who don’t prefer sweets, add baskets or bowls of chips, pretzels and nuts.

Although there’s no rule of thumb when it comes to how many guests are coming and how much food to buy, know that if your party is on a busy “graduation party day,” people may just stop in and eat very little, so don’t think you need full servings for each guest. I know I’m generous with portion sizes, so I usually cook for about 75 percent of the guests attending.

GRILLED VEGETABLE SANDWICHES WITH PESTO MAYO
1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch slices

3 zucchini, halved lengthwise
2 red peppers, halved lengthwise
4 large carrots, halved lengthwise
3 Tbsp. plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 large Spanish or other mild onion, sliced into rings
2 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup pesto (homemade or jarred)
1 large baguette or 16 slices good-quality grainy bread

Preheat grill. Lightly brush eggplant slices, zucchini, red pepper and carrots with up to 3 Tbsp. olive oil and grill, turning once or twice, until softened and cooked through. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and set aside to cool. Cut into smaller pieces to use for the sandwiches.

In a large skillet, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion slices and sauté, breaking up the slices into rings, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add sugar and continue to cook until the onions are golden. Let cool.

Make Pesto Mayo: Combine mayonnaise with pesto and stir until smooth.

Cut the baguette into 8 diagonal pieces and halve each piece horizontally. Spread some Pesto Mayo on the bread. Or, if using sliced bread, spread some of the mayo over 8 slices of the bread. Divide vegetables among the slices and top with remaining bread slices. Wrap well in plastic wrap. Slice sandwiches into halves just before serving. You may also pack all the ingredients separately and build your own sandwiches. Makes 8 full servings/16 half servings.

CHICKEN CAESAR PITA SANDWICHES
For a kosher version of this sandwich, leave out the cheese or use vegan cheese.
Dressing:
¼ cup mayonnaise (regular or low-fat)

2-4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Juice from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 anchovy fillets, drained, optional
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Chicken:
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Olive oil for brushing on chicken
Salt and pepper to taste

Pitas:
8 pocket pitas

½ pound very thin-sliced Provolone cheese
12 cups clean, dried and torn Romaine lettuce
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Make dressing: Combine dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Chill until ready to use.

Brush chicken breasts with oil and season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat grill to high heat and grill the chicken on both sides until just cooked through. Remove from grill, cool, chill and slice the chicken into ⅓-inch thin strips.

Toss half the dressing with Romaine lettuce leaves and remaining Parmesan cheese to coat them completely. Add more dressing as needed to taste.

Cut the pitas in half and open the “pockets.” Stuff them with salad and chicken. Makes 8 whole/16 half sandwiches.

ROAST BEEF GLAZED-ONIONS WRAPS
Caramelized onions:
1 Tbsp. olive oil

3 cups thin-sliced Spanish onion
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Roll-ups:
½ cup mayonnaise

2-4 Tbsp. white horseradish, or more to taste
16 large leaves Bibb lettuce
8 12-inch-diameter whole-wheat lavash or flour tortilla
1 pound thinly sliced roast beef
5 plum tomatoes, seeded and sliced into thin circles
2 roasted red bell peppers, cut into strips (jarred is fine)

Prepare the caramelized onions: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat or over a hot grill. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until the onions are very soft, about five minutes. Add the sugar and cook for several minutes more, stirring frequently until the onions are golden. Set aside and cool completely.

Combine mayonnaise and horseradish in a small bowl. Stir well. Set aside.

Lay lavash on a clean flat surface. Spread ¼ of the mayonnaise mixture over the lavash to the uppermost edge (this is the “glue” that holds the sandwich together), leaving a 1-inch border on the side edges.

Lay 2 leaves of lettuce over the lavash. Layer a few slices of the roast beef over the bottom half of the lavash, leaving a 1-inch border on the sides. Arrange ⅛ of the remaining ingredients over the bottom half of the lavash, including the caramelized onions (the ingredients will “fill up” the other half when you roll).

Starting at the edge of the tortilla closest to you, begin to roll up the lavash, enclosing the filling. Roll tightly, but not too tightly or the fillings will spill out of the ends of the lavash or the lavash may tear. Practice will help you determine the perfect roll. Set the sandwich aside, seam-side down. Repeat with remaining lavash and filling ingredients. Cut wraps in halves, arrange on platters and serve. Makes 16 sandwich halves.

KALE, QUINOA, CRANBERRY, ALMOND AND FETA SALAD
Quinoa:
2 cups water

1 cup quinoa

Salad:
1 bunch (about 10 leaves) kale, chopped

1 cup toasted nuts (any variety)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup crumbled Feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette:
¼ cup olive oil (regular or extra-virgin)

3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. minced garlic

Cook the quinoa: Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a saucepan. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover with a lid and allow to rest for 10 minutes more — quinoa should not be “exploded.” Drain if necessary.

Combine dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.

Combine hot quinoa, kale, nuts and cranberries and toss well. When cool, add feta and dressing and toss well. Makes 8 servings.

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED MARSHMALLOW KEBABS

12-18 bamboo skewers
1 bag (about 10 ounces) large marshmallows
24 ounces milk- or semi-sweet chocolate chips (or white vanilla baking chips)
½ cup total of assorted sprinkles or chopped nuts

Thread 2-3 marshmallows on skewers (keep them near the pointed ends of skewers). Set aside.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium microwave-safe bowl. The bowl should be deeper than wide, otherwise it will be difficult to submerge the marshmallows. Microwave on high, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Although the chips will not appear melted, a quick stir with a tablespoon will reveal that they are. Stir well. If a few chips remain unmelted, microwave again for 30 seconds. Repeat stirring. Repeat this step as needed.

Dip the kebabs in the chocolate and shake off any excess chocolate (the chocolate must be thin over the marshmallows). Holding the kebab in one hand, sprinkle the “sprinkles” over the kebab on all sides.

Place the kebab on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining ingredients, re-melting chocolate as needed. Set in a cool place to harden. May be made up to a week in advance. Makes 12-18 kebabs.

THE FUDGIEST BROWNIES EVER
This is my signature recipe, exactly the way I always prepare them. This recipe makes a huge amount of gooey, fudgy brownies.

1 pound (4 sticks) butter or margarine
2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
2¾ cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
8 large eggs
4 cups of flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a commercial baking sheet with edges (called half-sheet pans) with parchment paper. Set aside.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a large microwave-safe bowl Cook on high for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth (microwave for 30-second increments more if chocolate is not melted enough). Stir in the sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Stir in flour until smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared baking sheet and smooth the top. Bake for 25 minutes (do not overbake). Remove from oven and cool completely (or chill) before running a knife around the edges of the pan and turning the entire pan over onto a cutting board.

Cut the brownies upside-down (cut off hard edges first) and turn them upright to serve. Makes 48 or more brownies, depending on how large you cut them.

DRINK UP!

If your graduation party involves multitudinous underage drinkers, consider limiting your drink choices. Or, hire a professional bartender or server to control who imbibes what.

Fill a large metal or plastic tub with bottled or canned drinks and top with copious amounts of ice.

Smoothie Bar: Frozen drinks are always great fun at parties. Set up a blender and include “smoothie” ingredients — bananas, berries, orange or grapefruit juice, sugar and ice — for a self-serve smoothie station (great for non-alcoholic parties).

Warehouse clubs often sell large attractive containers for drinks. Fill them with bottles of lemonade or iced tea. Bottled water is a must for summer parties; consider removing labels from 8-ounce or 16-ounce plastic bottles and creating your own labels — standard labels are available at office-supply stores and are easy to print on your home printer.

FRUIT SMOOTHIES
If a whole glass of smoothie is too much, consider serving smoothie “shooters.”

1 ripe banana
1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened strawberries, or other berries
1½ cups small ice cubes
1 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp. sugar

Cut peeled bananas into chunks. Place banana chunks, strawberries, ice, orange juice and sugar into the pitcher of a blender. Cover blender and blend on high speed about 30-60 seconds, until mixture is smooth. Makes 2 regular servings or about 8 “shots.”

All recipes ©Annabel Cohen 2017
annabelonthemenu@gmail.com.

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