Whether hosting an intimate dinner party or catering to the masses, a party platter should exude a feeling of bountiful goodness, quality and understated elegance.
If seeking to make an impression, this is no time for the salted crackers or frozen mini pizzas to make an appearance. Lavish servings of Lavosh and home-made dips counterpointed by exotic fruits in a range of colours, should be the order of the day.
Think of the platter as a tasting plate overflowing with rare and delicious goodies that guests may never before have experienced. If the first bite is with the eye then the party platter should be a masterpiece, foretelling the sumptuousness of the main meal to follow.
Tip 1 — Presentation
Dedicated or scrupulously cleaned wooden chopping boards are the ideal medium for displaying your platter to its best advantage. There is a rustic, earthy and organic feel to them which cannot be replicated in plastic or other materials.
The word ‘dedicated’ means it is used strictly for the purpose of serving rather than to prepare food.
While wooden chopping boards have been proven safer than plastic ones due to the fact that they tend to have less deep furrows for bacteria to thrive, research has also found salmonella and other bacteria doesn’t survive on wood like it does on plastic.
It is still imperative that you clean your wooden chopping boards meticulously before every use. Whilst cleaning, inspect the surface for deep grooves, mould or staining, which all indicate it is time for a new board.
Tip 2 — Centrepieces
Set a central focus point on your platter and branch out from there. Hollow out a round cottage loaf, cabbage, capsicum or similar and fill with homemade dip. Many foodstuffs with a hard exterior can be used in this way to excellent effect.
Stunning ramekins filled with homemade sauces and dips, surrounded by sushi, prawns, smoked salmon parcels and lobster, will elicit gasps of delight. Consider emptying a lobster shell, mixing the contents into a seafood dip or Mornay, returning the mixture to the shell and serve ringed by lashings of warm bread or pita.
The ever popular dessert platter is perfect for lakes of melted chocolate in lavish, heated serving tureens or fountains; surrounded by strawberries, marshmallows and skewers for dipping.
Tip 3 — Crackers and dippers
Vegetables and Middle Eastern breads make nutritious, colourful and tasty dippers including Lavosh crackers, Turkish breads, carrot sticks, red capsicum and celery. Use foods which will remain crunchy for the length of the function.
Warm falafel balls on toothpicks can also double as scoops for exotic dips.
Tip 4 — Texturing
Something cold, something hot, something crunchy, something smooth – give diners variety whilst exciting both the eye and the taste buds.
If serving large groups, roll meats into easy to pick up parcels. Utilise unusual and interesting receptacles full of bite-sized portions such as porcelain spoons which can be easily picked up by guests.
Fold, roll, layer or fan meats out in an arc and garnish with radish roses, coriander or other fresh herbs, kale or cheeses. Hot finger foods can be interspersed with unusual yet tasty dipping sauces and leafy greens.
Tip 5 — A touch of the exotic
Take a stroll around a large fruit shop to select colourful, exotic or tropical fruits. Get creative with the presentation. Cut fruit into intricate shapes, florets and roses. Avoid pitted fruit which may present a choking hazard. Some suggestions to get you started are:
Tip 6 — Choosing cheeses
Serve cheeses on a separate platter, identifying them with rustic cheese labels. These can be purchased, printed at home or better still fashioned DIY style from corks or small chalk boards. The more creative the better!
When using this idea it is best to have a wide variety of cheeses in small quantities of each. Go for a mixture of crumbly, smooth, mild, pungent and tasty.
Some suggestions may be:
Try to get a mixed variety of tastes, textures and colours. For instance, Brie and Camembert have a similar consistency and presentation, so you may choose to avoid having both. Display cheeses with a selection of dried and fresh fruit and nuts to set them off to best advantage. Don’t forget the cheese knife!
Tip 7 — Get creative with colour
The party platter should not merely be about taste, it needs to be visually captivating. Consider the occasion and build a palette of colours based on that. Examples of this are Australia Day or St Patrick’s Day. A national flag can be created using a variety of complementary foods.
Begin with these ‘colourful’ tips:
- Whites – Australian feta, cauliflower florets, tzatziki dip or brie
- Blues – Blueberries interspersed with tropical blue flower leaves
- Reds – Stuffed cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, red capsicum, strawberries
- Yellows – pineapple, cheddar cheese, lemon
- Oranges – carrot sticks, mandarins, American cheese
- Greens – olives, kiwi fruit, beans, broccoli florets
Try to incorporate typically national foods to create the effect and continue the theme. An example of this could be a Mexican flag fashioned from white corn chips, salsa and jalapenos.
Tip 8 — Theming
Catering to large groups using multiple platters, affords the opportunity to build a theme into each serving tray.
Mix spices, garnishes and dipping sauces, in with the following:
- Seafood – oysters, caviar, prawns, lobster, warm fish balls, seafood croquettes and hot seafood rolls. Use rock salt or crushed ice as a bed.
- Meat – salumi including prosciutto, bresaola, mortadella, salami
- Vegetarian – olives, dolmades, cherry tomatoes, fetta, falafel balls
Alternately, platters can be themed by cuisine – Mexican, Italian, Thai and Chinese are some popular suggestions. Source or make little national flags to decorate each platter.
Other ways to personalise platters is to create artwork using specific foods. For instance the Netherlands – fashion feta stuffed tomatoes into tulips with spring onion stems and voila, you have spectacular national emblem!
Include a selection of tasting and dipping sauces tailored to complement the flavours.
Tip 9 — Simple savouries
The combination of olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar is always a favourite. Serve garnished with sprigs of fresh herbs like sage or parsley plus a side of fine grain sea salt.
Offer a range of heavy breads for dipping and surround with traditional European fare like olives, feta and prosciutto.
Tip 10 — Filling in the gaps
A party platter should be about displaying abundance and variety. Garnishes and edible greens such as lettuce leaves, mint and parsley are all colourful and luxuriant bases from which to present or set off a platter to best advantage. Replace food often to avoid the appearance of the platter having been ‘picked over’.
When seeking to make a lasting impression, putting energy and thought into planning and fashioning superb food platters can be time well spent. The colours and contents can form a delicious and eye-catching prelude to the main meal or be a parade of main courses in themselves.
Sumptuously presented food arrangements can encourage socialisation and stimulate the gastronomic juices. So get your artistic talents flowing to create magnificent platters which will make your next function a resounding success.
Five Easy Recipes for “Make Your Own Dinner” Nights
We have all been there – you plan as well as you can, search for recipes, go grocery shopping, make dinner – and your child refuses to eat. You then have to make the decision whether to stand your ground and make him eat what you’ve made, or avoid the whining and make that box of macaroni and cheese.
Ideally, your child would realize that perfectly balanced recipe you’ve spent time preparing is both nutritious and delicious, but in the real world, this is rarely the case.
The five “Make Your Own Dinner” night recipes below are designed to let everyone make their meal how they like it best, without creating a separate menu for each person in your family. An added bonus to these recipes is that they allow children to take ownership of their nutrition and promote autonomy and independence in eating habits.
1. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
What you need:
Bread, butter, varied types of cheese (American, swiss, provolone, etc.);
Goldfish crackers, shredded cheese, croutons, crumbled bacon, chicken breast, sour cream – the possibilities are endless!
What you do:
Let each person pick out what type (or types) of cheese they want on their sandwich, heat up some tomato soup, and let your cooks get creative dressing up the soup and creating flavor combinations.
What you need:
Hard or soft taco shells;
Meat (ground beef, chicken, steak or pork);
Lettuce, tomato, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce, salsa, rice, beans, corn, onions, peppers, etc.
What you do:
Use a mild taco seasoning on the meat of your choice and let your family choose the spices, veggies, and sauces they like best. Cook the meat, cut the veggies you need, and put everything in bowls for your family to pick and choose from. If your kids are a little older, let them help dice the tomato or chop the onions.
What you need:
Traditional pizza crust, flatbread, or get creative with biscuits, bagels or even English muffins;
Sauces, which can be red (tomato) or white (usually alfredo sauce);
Any type of shredded cheese;
Toppings, toppings, toppings! Again, the possibilities are endless. Vegetables, meat, fruit, barbeque chicken. Your choices are only limited by your imagination.
What you do:
If necessary, bake the pizza crust according to directions. Set out the sauces and toppings and see who can make the most unique, tasty pizza!
4. Baked Potato Bar
What you need:
Shredded cheese and meats for protein, sour cream, ranch dressing, onions, chives, broccoli, etc.
What you do:
You can do so much with a simple baked potato. Have a Mexican baked potato by adding ground beef, taco sauce, lettuce and tomato. Make it more traditional by adding cheese and broccoli, or go all out with turkey, cheese, onion and bacon.
What you need:
Steak, chicken, cubed pork, or shrimp;
Assorted vegetables (peppers, zucchini, onions, etc.) and even fruit (pineapple and pork is a delicious combination!);
What you do:
Each person can stack their kabobs to their liking. Encourage your cooks to experiment with combinations or something they’ve never tried before. Maybe your son swears he hates shrimp, but may be surprised when he tries it grilled with tasty vegetables and seasoning.
Grill the kabobs (this doesn’t take long) and serve with rice or another side of your choosing.
Spend quality time with your family while making delicious, nutritious meals together. Do you have a favorite, go-to recipe you make often? Think about how you can turn it into a “Make Your Own” night! The five recipes above are just the beginning of inclusive family meals.
Not-Your-Mama’s Shepherd’s Pie Recipe
Here’s another awesome recipe from our resident cooking enthusiast, Emily Steadman. I’ve personally tasted this recipe… SO. GOOD. Enjoy! -KB
Ahh Spring… the flowers are blooming… the birds are singing…. my car is frozen shut—Wait.. What?! Oh that’s right, I live in New England… the arctic tundra that refuses to acknowledge the vernal equinox. It is April. And this week my daughter slipped and fell on a sheet of ice walking to the car… aforementioned car was frozen shut and I had to begrudgingly remove the ice scraper from the trunk (where I had ceremoniously placed it TWO WEEKS AGO, signifying it would no longer be needed and heralding the arrival of Spring) to crack the glistening sheet of suck that encased the entire car. Ok. Rant over.
Because the cold just refuses to go away, I think this is the perfect time to share one of my absolute favorite recipes. It is a staple in our house through the winter, and as I can’t seem to get warm right now, it’s all I can think about! Let me preface this with a warning that this recipe is not a quick, 5 ingredient fix. It takes a little time and a little love but the end result is so deliciously worth it – I promise! It’s a great weekend meal, and we usually make it on Saturdays or Sundays when my daughter and I can throw on our aprons and spend the day in the kitchen, listening to music and salivating over the smells coming from the stove.
Since I was a kid, the words “Shepherd’s Pie” would make me immediately lose my appetite. It was a frequent meal in our house and the idea of mixing ground beef with frozen veggies was just unpleasant. I used to make my mother separate all the ingredients because I refused to eat them all mashed up (I now realize that payback for this has come in the form of my own child being the world’s pickiest eater). So as an adult, I didn’t even consider Shepherd’s Pie as an option for meals I’d want to cook. But I found a few recipes on Pinterest that sparked my interest and decided to give it another try. This recipe from iowagirleats.com was the one that started my downward spiral into Shepherd’s Pie obsession. I made some changes to suit my tastes and ended up with what is now my family’s favorite recipe.
I should warn you that anyone you cook this meal for will most likely want to hug you after the first bite. It is that good.
- 2 lbs chuck roast (trim a little excess fat but not too much – it adds flavor!)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large carrot (peeled and chopped)
- 2 celery stalks (peeled and chopped)
- ½ yellow onion (diced)
- 1 cup portabella mushrooms (diced)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 small bunch of fresh Thyme (remove leaves from stems)
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch
- 3 cups red wine
- 1 cup beef broth
- 2 tbsp worstershire sauce
- 2-3 lbs potatoes (peeled and chopped)
- ½ stick of butter
- ¾ c milk or cream
- 1 ½ c shredded white cheddar
- Salt and pepper
Cut the chuck roast into large chunks and season liberally on all sides with coarse salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Sear the top and bottom of the chuck roast pieces for about 3-4 minutes per side. You should see a nice golden crust. Make sure to sear off any fat.
Remove chuck roast pieces from pot and place in separate bowl. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic to the pot. Saute for no more than 30 seconds before adding onion, carrot, celery and mushrooms. Cook for about 8 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add thyme leaves to pot.
Add the chuck roast pieces back into the pot and mix with the cooked vegetables. Sprinkle with cornstarch, stir and cook for 1 minute.
After 2 hours, remove the meat from the pot and shred. If the mixture is still not thickened after 2 hours, place over medium high heat and simmer until thickened before returning shredded beef to the pot.
30 minutes before the meat is finished braising, boil the diced potatoes until tender. Drain the water from the pot, mash the potatoes and add butter, milk (or cream) and 1 cup of shredded white cheddar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the meat and vegetable mixture from the pot to a casserole dish (make sure you put it on a baking sheet in case it bubbles over in the oven!). Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the meat mixture and sprinkle remaining shredded cheddar on top.
Bake in a 350° oven for 10 minutes, and then broil until a golden brown crust forms on top of the potatoes.
Serve and enjoy!
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Kid’s Culinary World Tour: Maine Clam Chowder and Whoopie Pies
OK, folks, I’m not even going to try to pretend I’m not slightly biased about the awesomeness of this next culinary adventure. Having lived in Maine through high school and college (go Black Bears!), I’ve developed a special fondness for Vacation Land. Anyone who’s lived in Maine at one time or another can attest to the motto being 100% true. It really IS “The Way Life Should Be!” It’s beautiful, the folks are as friendly as can be and holy crap the food is delicious! So I admit to nudging Madison towards “visiting” this state next on our Culinary World Tour because it’s summer and I was craving “Maine food” anyway! For this stamp in our Food Passport, we decided to make some good ol’ Maine clam chowder and whoopie pies! Now, there is some debate as to the origin of both those dishes, but having spent so much time in Maine, I can definitely verify that they are two staples of Maine cuisine. And they are made differently in Maine than in other places, so that’s good enough for me!
Now. I need to take a moment to talk about whoopie pies. Because, if you’ve never tried one before – and I’m really not familiar with places outside of Maine that make/sell them, so there may be many of you who haven’t tried them- you need to prepare yourself for the mouthful of awesome that you are about to experience. Seriously. I’m talking like… put on your stretchiest pants and sit your butt down in your favorite chair. Whoopie pies are a comfort food punch in the mouth in the best possible way. I honestly forgot how amazing they were since moving back to Connecticut but back in the day, they were sold in our cafeteria… at every Mom ‘n’ Pop store… gas station… bake sale… you name it. There is an entire bakery devoted to whoopie pies in Gardiner, ME (Wicked Whoopies. Go there. You will possibly die from pure sugary bliss but it will be worth it…. Or if you don’t like to travel for your sugar comas, THEY DELIVER. Did you read that correctly? Yes. Someone will put a real Maine whoopie pie in a box and ship it to your door.), and I’m fairly certain it is the official state treat.
So… is this a lot of hype? Yes. Will you ever regret making… buying… eating… a real whoopie pie? Absolutely not. Now there are a few debates on whoopie pie filling…some people use regular frosting… some use just marshmallow fluff… some use a cream cheese type concoction. While these are all delicious, I’m a whoopie pie purest and like to stick with the magical concoction included in this recipe. And this is a recipe from a couple of Maine grannies… so I’m pretty sure that makes it the best ever (visit the link to the original recipe to see pics of the adorable grannies making whoopie pies).
After we did our little bit of trivia searching – Madison learned that there is a county in Maine (Aroostock) that is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined (this of course blew her mind) – we set up our Pandora station to accompany our baking. This time around we went for a bluegrass station, as I have so many fond memories of summers in Maine with blueberry and bluegrass festivals, and it just seemed right. To my surprise, Madison loved the bluegrass (I swear, this kid is a “Mainah” at heart!). And onto the cooking!
MAINE WHOOPIE PIES
Ingredients for Cakes:
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 5 tablespoons of cocoa (rita uses 4)
- 2 cups sifted flour
- 1 teaspoon each: baking powder, baking soda, salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Cream sugar and shortening together.
- Add beaten egg yolks.
- Sift dry ingredients together.
- Add milk and vanilla alternatively with the dry ingredients into the wet mix.
- Drop the batter in equal spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving room to spread.
- Bake in a pre-heated 375 degrees oven for 7-10 minutes.
- Remove to wire racks to cool.
Ingredients for Filling:
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- 2 egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons Fluff
- Combine all ingredients and blend with an electric mixer.
- Spoon filling onto completely cooled cakes and top off like a sandwich.
(As you can see… we didn’t wait long enough to put the filling in the whoopies – it smelled too good to wait! They were still a little too warm so it got a little messy but it was still delish!)
This recipe was found on katyelliott.com
MAINE CLAM CHOWDER
The recipe is from the historic Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine and it pairs the briny clam broth with hickory smoked bacon. Maine clam chowder is not as thick as other New England chowders, but in my opinion it’s the best there is! Give it a try!
- 1 slice hickory-smoked bacon, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon butter
- 1 cup onion, minced
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon The Cliff House Spice Blend (see below)
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 can clams (6.5 ounces)
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 1-1/2 cups half and half
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
To create The Cliff House Spice Blend:
- 4 teaspoons oregano
- 4 teaspoons dried parsley
- 2 teaspoons marjoram
- 2 teaspoons dill
- 4 teaspoons thyme
- 4 teaspoons basil
- 1 teaspoon sage
- 4 teaspoons rosemary
- 2 teaspoons tarragon
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Blend all ingredients (crushing in a mortar if possible). Store in a resealable plastic bag to refrigerate.
- In a heavy-bottomed, 4-pint soup kettle, sauté bacon, butter, onion, garlic and The Cliff House Spice Blend over low heat. Do not allow to brown.
- Drain clams and set aside, reserving the juice.
- Slowly stir the flour and clam juices into the sauté mixture.
- Bring to a boil; reduce heat.
- Add half and half. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add white pepper, potatoes and clams.
- Heat to serving temperature. (Avoid boiling, as this can make the clams tough.)
- Serve immediately with crackers (and cornbread!)
This recipe was found on gonewengland.about.com
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