Tag Archives: food memory

Drinks and Snacks for Your Super Bowl Party!

Cool Drinks and Great Snacks for Your #Superbowl – #SB51

I’ve tried all kinds of ways of hosting a Super Bowl party. You can go the route of a big meal – one or two big dishes. Another way is to line up some cool drinks and have lots of savory snacks on hand.

Mix up a batch of “Minty Moscow Mule Punch” for your Super Bow party. From Real Simple.

This approach gives everyone some variety and easy choices. They’re also good for the ‘quick snap’ as a friend of mine likes to describe it – one cup, one napkin, and you’re off and running back to the big screen.

It’s important to serve beverages that will go best with whatever menu you’ve planned.  If your crowd likes sodas and beer then set up a couple of ice filled coolers with bottled sodas (more fun than cans) and some interesting beers (perhaps a Belgian ale, a local craft beer and a lager).

If your crowd is more into a full bar, then set up / mix some batch cocktails that you can serve in a pitcher so you aren’t playing bartender all day.  Here’s a great drink recipe for a Minty Moscow Mule Punch that is very popular. Or what about White Negroni Punch (see featured photo above). Remember – make these well before your guests show up.

Don’t forget to have enough ice on hand.  Start making ice the day before and fill up gallon ziplock bags with ice cubes so you’ll have a head start. I use this party guideline: 2 pounds of ice per person for a party.

Even if I decide to bring in platters of sandwiches and salads I will always make some snacks to put my personal touch on the party.  Important rule for Super Bowl snacks – make more than enough. Nothing is worse than running out in the middle of halftime. I love these four recipes – they really hit the spot:

A plate of “Cacio e Pepe Chips” from Bon Appetit. Make a lot. They’re addicting!

Cacio e Pepe Chips – featuring kettle-cooked chips and grated percorino! Great with just about any beer.

Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts – this is an absolute winner. You can prepare this recipe 2 days ahead of your party.

Spiced Popcorn with Pecans and Raisins – a real head-turner at my parties. And, habit-forming. Plan on your guests eating two or three servings a piece so if you’re doing this one make sure you make a lot!

Buffalo Wing Popcorn – no kidding, what a combo. Another addicting dish.

I always recommend that you not use your regular dinnerware for these kinds of gatherings. But try (really try) to resist the urge to use paper plates. Not only are your average grocery store disposables kinda flimsy, they’re really ugly. I mean, seriously!  I get my disposables (plates, cutlery, and cups) from EMI Yoshi. They’re plastic, recyclable, AND they’re really cool looking.  Find them on Amazon.

Have a great time!

Champagne Is NOT Just for Holidays

photo-anthony-delanoix_champagne-1b

Spread the cheer any day – Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

New Year’s has come and gone. Time to pack up the champagne glasses for another year (or the next wedding)? Are you kidding me? I hope you are!

The party’s only just started!  What better way to celebrate all of those relationships you’ve gathered around the table than with a glass of bubbles.

A Schramsberg wine master explains the process of making sparkling wines during a session of Camp Schramsberg in the wine caves.

The fact is, sparkling wine or champagne can be enjoyed at ANY meal with ANY food even a big steak. You just have to have the right bottle! One that stands out for me is Schramsberg’s Crémant Demi-Sec.

First you need to know that only wines that come from the Champagne region of France can legally be called “champagne.” Schramsberg is from the Calistoga area of Napa Valley and the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard use the Methôde Champenoise (translation: the champagne method used in France) to create all of their sparkling wines.

Schramsberg has been producing their award winning sparkling wines since 1965 and has been honored to serve them in every White House administration since Richard Nixon. One of the really cool things about Schramsberg is that they offer a unique experience to learn all about their wines.

One of the perks of owning a restaurant is that you get invited to participate in some very special events. Camp Schramsberg is one of those that I’ll never forget. I had no clue it even existed. It’s a three-day experience they have twice a year (once in the Spring for “bud” or when the grapes are just beginning to grow and once in the Fall for harvest). Anyone can sign up for camp and attend-it is not restricted to only people in “the trade.”  When I went, almost half of the participants were just people who love wine.

What’s really fun about this experience is that they hold it in their winery caves, out in the vineyards and also at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort.  I learned about Schramsberg’s history, of course, but also about sparkling wines in general and how they are made, was given an opportunity to learn how to properly prune the vines (it’s harder than it looks), how to saber a bottle-cut off the top of the bottle with a saber (easier than you think), eat a lot of great food and drink their amazing wines (even with steak!).  It was at camp that my real love of sparkling wines blossomed and I learned some valuable lessons.

One of them is that you should never hold back for celebrations in your life. So, don’t hold back the champagne (or the sparkling wine) for the “big days.” Every day should be a celebration, and every day is an opportunity to show your appreciation to those people who you gather around your table.

So, don’t be stingy. Pop a cork and enjoy.

End of Another Year, Start of New Possibilities

Enjoy around the table

Time to bring your Friends and Family together around your table!

Wow!  How did it get to be January already?  I’m always surprised by how quickly the year flies by and yet they are moving quicker and quicker and here it is – the start of another year.  And, each year I’m also surprised by how much happens. This past one was absolutely no exception.  Right?  I’m not just thinking about stuff that happened in the news or around the world – although there was a lot of that.  I’m thinking about all of the new friends that I’ve made and relationships that I started last year.  I’m thinking about all of the people who have discovered the importance of being “around the table” with people who are closest to us, or maybe people we wish to bring closer.

We can all give lip service about how dear some people are to us, but the strongest way to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk” is to gather together for a meal, a snack or even just a cup of coffee.  It doesn’t have to be a big meal or even a big deal at all – what it is, is the time spent together sharing around the table (or even a park bench at lunch).  It’s how we draw together at meals.  When it becomes a regular thing so much changes.  Maybe someone will start making new recipes and others will want to be in the kitchen helping create for the shared experience.  The main point is getting people together to share what is, for many of us, something we do well and too often alone.

Eating should be about more than just getting nourishment – you know – getting the calories in so that we can move through our day.  It should be about feeding the soul with the very thing that makes us human and feel alive: connection to one another – love.

So… let’s toast to the new year, filled with health, happiness and blessings.  Whatever last year has meant to you, make this new year the one where you draw your friends and family close together around your table!

A Chinese Food Memory

Chinese Dinner

It’s amazing what will trigger a Food Memory.

I was speaking with a friend the other day about family dinners and we got to talking about our food memories growing up and what we’ve done with our own families to create food memories for our kids.  Each of us grew up in completely different environments with completely different backgrounds but had experienced a commonality in what happened for both of us around the table. The whole conversation brought back a favorite food memory for me and some serious insight as to why I do what I do with my family and friends – all around the table.

When I was in middle school my parents had some very good friends from mainland China that they would socialize with on a fairly regular basis.  My parents loved Chinese food and I have a very clear memory of a beautiful set of chopsticks that these friends had given to my mother for her birthday one year.  They brought them all the way from China – this was the 60’s and travel between the US and China was almost impossible at the time – people were escaping to come to the US.

I know that they had moved permanently to the US at the time and were never going back (at least that is my memory as a teenager) so anything they brought with them was very precious.  My mother was honored and humbled to have received this very special gift from them.  She would bring them with her whenever we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner.  The hard part was that they were very polished and extremely slippery so she would always have a difficult time eating dinner.  It never mattered to her – she loved them and the love and sacrifice that they represented to her friends – those dinners for her were more about using the beautiful gift than actually getting to eat a complete meal.

I also remember the one dinner (I may have been 5 or 6) when my father decided that I was old enough to learn how to properly use chopsticks.  When you go to an Asian restaurant you will usually see small children using chopsticks that are connected either using a rubber band or springing device to help them keep the pair together and allow the small children to eat by themselves.  At this particular dinner my dad decided it was time for me to switch from Western cutlery to real chopsticks!  I remember him telling me that I couldn’t use any fork or spoon (in fact he made sure there weren’t any on the table) and that if I was hungry I would learn how to coordinate the chopsticks to navigate food to my mouth….I learned quickly and to this day I can’t eat any Asian food without a pair of chopsticks – including rice and noodles!

We would go to their favorite Chinese restaurant and I can still see the “lazy susan” in the middle of the table that would be full of the many dishes my parents would order for us to eat.  There was always a lot of discussion about what was in a particular bowl.  One of us would taste it and inevitably they would say – “It’s so delicious you have to try it!”  With all of the tasting of the different flavors, the turning of the lazy susan toward whoever was trying something, the chatter about what we were eating or who got the last bite of something wonderful it was always a fun and crazy dinner.  I loved those meals with all of their silliness and laughter – not to mention the appreciation I learned for good Chinese food and of course my ability to use chopsticks properly!

I didn’t think about this food memory for years until the conversation with my friend brought it to light.  He was telling me that when his family (he’s Japanese) would have everyone over for a big meal, each person would bring something to contribute to the table – not a huge casserole or enormous bowl of salad – but a small bowl of something that they liked to eat so that everyone might have just a bite to experience the flavors in each dish.  He said that there was always so much laughter and sharing that it left lasting memories. It’s exactly how I like to eat to this day – talking, laughing, eating all with family, friends and those I love.  Each person sharing a special bite of something wonderful – around the table.

Crispy Chicken Cutlets with Cherry Tomato Panzanella

crispy-chicken-cutlets-cherry-tomato-panzanella

A Fond Food Memory in the Making with Panzanella

Chicken cutlets are great for a week night dinner as they cook quickly and with the colorful cherry tomato salad served on top you’re basically done with dinner preparation and you’ve easily created a wonderful food memory!  The recipe calls for “bone in” chicken breasts but I would buy boneless/skin on chicken breasts and eliminate the need to debone the chicken – way easier – just be sure to pound the breasts evenly so that they cook properly.  There were a few comments posted with this recipe where the writer used boneless/skinless chicken breasts and loved the recipe that way so if you don’t want skin it will definitely turn out well.  This was created by Alison Roman and was published in bon appétit July 2015. Serves 4 friends or family members.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup torn country-style bread, (from about 1/4 small loaf)
  • 2 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 3/4 cup parsley leaves with tender stems

Directions

  1. Combine onion and 2 tablespoons vinegar in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add bread; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing, until golden brown, 5–8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Wipe out skillet.
  3. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut bones and cartilage from chicken breasts. Pound chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to 1/4″ thick; season with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in skillet over medium-high. Cook 1 chicken breast, skin side down, until golden brown and nearly cooked through, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until cooked through, about 1 minute more; second side will not brown. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with remaining cutlet and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (no need to wipe out skillet).
  5. Cut half of tomatoes in half. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in same skillet over medium-high. Add whole tomatoes; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly blistered and starting to burst, about 5 minutes. Toss in sugar and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar. Transfer to bowl with croutons. Add pickled onion with pickling liquid, halved tomatoes, parsley, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss. Serve chicken with panzanella spooned over.

A Simple, Easy Treat: Great Golden Oven Fries

golden-oven-fries

Wanna Enjoy a Pan of Deep Golden Fries?

Did someone say you could get great French fries from the oven?  I’m in!  I am a serious potato lover in any form, it’s kind of pathetic- I can’t leave them alone – and if they’re fried then I’m completely gone.  Some of my favorite food memories are of eating crispy French fries with my friends at the local drive-in when I was in High School.  The secret to really great French fries, you know the ones that are very crispy outside and soft and wonderful inside, is to fry them twice.  Apparently there’s a very simple secret to get this wonderful result without, I repeat, without your fryer.  This recipe is from Deb Perelman on her website,  smittenkitchen.com , from October 28, 2015.  She said it was inspired by Michael Chiarello’s technique.  I’m trying it immediately! A treat for about 4 people.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium Yukon Gold or 3 smallish Russet potatoes (I find these to be equivalent in size, although the specific size isn’t terribly important)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Fine sea salt

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F
  • Peel your potatoes if you wish; scrub them well if you do not. Cut potatoes into just-shy-of 1/2-inch batons. Place in a large pot and cover with an inch or two of water. Set heat to high and set timer for 10 minutes. If potatoes come to a boil in this time (mine usually do not), reduce the heat to medium. Otherwise, when timer rings, whether or not the potatoes have boiled, test one. You’re looking for a very “al dente” potato — one that is too firm to eat enjoyable, but has no crunch left. A good sign that they’re not too cooked is when you roughly tumble them into a colander, only one or two break.
  • Meanwhile, coat a large baking sheet with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil and place it in the oven for a few minutes, so the oil gets very hot and rolls easily around the pan.
  • Drain your potatoes and immediately spread them on oiled baking sheet in one layer. Drizzle with last tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast for 20 minutes, until golden underneath. Toss potatoes around to encourage them to color evenly and return them to the oven for another 5 minutes. Repeat this 1 or 2 more times (for me, 30 minutes total roasting time is the sweet spot), until your “fries” are deeply golden, brown at the edges and impossible not to eat.
  • Season with more salt while they’re hot, pile them on a platter and dig in.

More than a Traditional Panzanella: With Beet and Rye

http://franberger.wpengine.com/beet-and-rye-panzanella-salad-recipe

Beet and Rye Panzanella Salad – a Recipe with a Dash of Tradition

I love a good traditional Panzanella Salad and will order it every time at my favorite Italian restaurants.  But, when I saw the picture of this recipe in the February 2016 edition of bon appétit for Beet and Rye Panzanella created by Claire Saffitz, I was blown away by the colors of the dish.  We all eat with our eyes and I absolutely had to see how this gorgeous salad was made-the photograph was that beautiful.  After seeing how truly simple this salad is I’m going to use it for my next get-together and make a perfect food memory from a perfect salad! Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1½ pounds small beets, any color, scrubbed (about 10)
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, plus more for serving
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ loaf rye bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large orange
  • 4 ounces ricotta salata (salted dried ricotta), crumbled
  • 1 cup torn fresh herbs (such as dill, parsley, tarragon, and mint)

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 425°. Place beets in a shallow 2-qt. baking dish and add water to come ½” up sides. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake beets until tender and a cake tester or paring knife easily slides through flesh, 45–60 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile, toss onion, 3 Tbsp. vinegar, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl to combine; set aside.
  • Toss torn bread and 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet to coat; season with salt and pepper. Bake, tossing once, until bread is golden brown and crisp around edges, 8–10 minutes; set aside.
  • Rub beets with paper towels to remove skins, then halve (or quarter if large) and place in a large bowl; add onion with liquid.
  • Using a small sharp knife, remove peel and white pith from orange. Working over bowl with beets, cut between membranes to release segments into bowl. Squeeze membranes to release juices; discard. Add reserved toasted bread and 2 Tbsp. oil and toss to combine. Let sit a few minutes for flavors to meld.
  • Just before serving, fold in ricotta salata and herbs, drizzle with more oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.

 

Thinking Big with Beer-Braised Carnitas

Beer Braised Carnitas

More than One Food Memory from Carnitas: Delicious Pulled Pork

I love Carnitas on anything – only one problem –  you can’t ever make a small amount of it.  But, the great thing about bulk recipes is that they can be used in multiple ways and you can make more than one food memory all from one pot!   This recipe for Beer-Braised Carnitas is one of those – you can use it for tacos, burritos, nachos, over a simple salad, added to eggs for a breakfast skillet with hash browns– and that’s just off the top of my head!  I found this on one of my favorite recipe sites- epicurious.  It was published in February 2013 by bon appétit and was created by Chris Morocco.  Please note: more than one reviewer suggested cutting the salt in half.

Ingredients

  • 2 dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles
  • 4 pounds skinless, boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), cut into 2″ pieces
  • 12 ounce lager (such as Modelo Especial or Budweiser)
  • 4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt

Preparation

  1. Toast chiles in a dry large heavy pot over medium heat until slightly puffed and lightly darkened on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove from pot; let cool. Stem chiles and halve lengthwise; discard seeds.
  2. Bring chiles, pork, beer, garlic, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in same pot. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pork is fork-tender, 60-80 minutes.
  3. Uncover pork; simmer until liquid evaporates and pork begins to brown, 20-25 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot, until pork is shredded and browned, 10-15 minutes.
  4. Add 1 cup water to pork; cook, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, for about 1 minute.
  5. DO AHEAD: Carnitas can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool. Cover and chill. Reheat with 1/2 cup water in a covered pot, adding more water if needed to keep pork moist.

Easy Recipe for Gnocchi Skillet with Sausage and Tomatoes

Gnocchi on your Favorite Skillet

Food Memory in the Making with Gnocchi, Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes and your Favorite Skillet

This recipe is so quick and easy to make and looks beautiful on the plate – color in the dish is always important as we eat with our eyes.  It reminds me of a favorite food memory – the first time I ever tasted Gnocchi – they were so soft and delicate.  I found it on a great website, thekitchn.com, in their 23 Romantic Recipes post this week.  One of the best things about this recipe is that you can use store-bought gnocchi and any type of Italian sausage you like. Spicy, anyone? They also suggest that if you want to finish the skillet with Parmesan that you can but that it’s not necessary if you’d rather not have cheese. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 9 ounces (about 3 links) cooked chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 to 2 ounces fresh basil, julienned (1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed)

Preparation

  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Heat a 10-inch or larger cast iron skillet over medium heat with a light drizzle of olive oil. Add the sausage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Push the sausage into a pile at the edge of the skillet and turn the heat up to high.
  3. When the skillet is quite hot, add the tomatoes, skin down, crowding them in if necessary. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are blistered, then stir in with the sausage. Cook for 2 more minutes, until both tomatoes and sausage are slightly browned. Stir in gnocchi and cook just until all is combined, but the tomatoes have not broken down into sauce.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cooking tip: a cast iron skillet is preferred only because it will give you the best color and sear to the sausage and tomatoes but any skillet will work as long as it does NOT have a non-stick coating.  That will interfere with the browning.

Light and Easy Recipe for Spaghetti al Limone

Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil

Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil

This recipe for a light citrusy spaghetti from Smitten Kitchen’s post from February 24, 2011. It looks wonderful and reminds me of a pasta I loved in Florence on my last trip there – a real food memory. In fact, I loved it so much that we ate at the restaurant twice in four days! This would be perfect for a last minute dinner with friends – just add a simple salad, some crusty bread and you’re done! The very short ingredient list and very simple directions are perfect and could be paired with a light white wine – perhaps a crisp Sauvignon Blanc?

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
  • Salt
  • 3 lemons
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil , plus additional for serving
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus additional for serving
  • Ground black pepper
  • Small handful fresh basil or arugula (what I used, deliciously, in a pinch) leaves, shredded

Preparation

Cook linguine or spaghetti in well-salted water to your al dente tastes in a large, wide-bottomed pot. You’ll have fewer dishes to wash if you use this pot to assemble the dish as well.

While pasta is cooking, zest lemons until you have a little shy of a tablespoon of zest.

Juice lemons — you’ll have anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 cup lemon juice.

Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water.

Dry out your pot, then boil the olive oil, cream, zest and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water together for two minutes over high heat.

Return pasta to pot and stir until coated.

Add the cheese and 1/4 cup lemon juice and toss, toss, toss everything together.

Add more pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, if you’d like your dish a little looser.

Quickly taste a strand of pasta and see if you want to add the remaining lemon juice (we did).

Stir in basil or arugula and season generously with salt and pepper. Then serve immediately, drizzling individual portions with a bit of extra olive oil and sprinkling with extra Parmesan cheese.

How a Foodie Eats the Perfect Meal

friends around a table having a great meal

I always find it funny when someone asks me if I’m a foodie.  I guess I am, I love eating both at home and out.  It doesn’t matter how close or far away, how casual or fancy the place is, food trucks are good too as far as I’m concerned.  The only criteria I insist on, no matter the price of the meal, is that the food has got to be good.

I do love McDonald’s French Fries, a double-double protein style from In-n-Out Burger all the way to my own personal must-have – my monthly visit to Maude in Beverly Hills for their phenomenal prix-fixe dinners. I will not however spend money, no matter how inexpensive or popular a place is, unless the food is good.

Having said all of that, except for the prix-fixe dinners, my friends always defer to me when we are ordering our meal. That is not to say that I do not ask everyone if there is a dish on the menu that looks good to them or, if they’ve been to the place before, if there’s something that they love in particular.

I absolutely do ask those questions.  You have to consider who is with you and what you know about their eating habits – you know – what they like to eat and if they’re willing to stretch their comfort zone a little.  I have my limits on the stretching – I’m all about the texture so I just can’t do some things – chicken wings for one as I don’t like what I refer to as “snappy” things.   I’ve acquired a taste for octopus but I’ve discovered it has to be grilled which dries it out a bit and not poached – slimey!

I’m completely out of the habit of ordering my own appetizer and entrée.  I just don’t do it anymore – it’s not fun!  We are always the group next to you that orders several dishes “for the table” and it looks like we have ordered way too much food (sometimes it’s true) but it’s really so that we can all share and taste multiple items from the chef.

My friends tell me that I’m the best at ordering a meal and I say that it’s a trick to know how to order around a menu.  I’ll let you in on my secret.

I find that the appetizers on a menu tend to be more interesting than the entrées so I will generally order a few of those, then at least one from the salad section (depending on the group size this may go to 2-3), at least one side vegetable and, again depending on the group size, a couple of entrées that we all share.  Try not to repeat items from the appetizers to the entrées – if the appetizer has crab then don’t order a crab entrée.

If you’ve done this correctly everyone has tasted multiple dishes, there’s not too much left on the table and everyone has room to share a couple of desserts.  I’m one of those that a spoonful or two of something sweet is enough for me.  Try it the next time you’re out, it works with just one friend too.  Just sayin’.

My favorite recipe for a Girls Night – YAH!

I’m often asked what my favorite “girls night” recipes are. dsc_4281

I like the ones that are good for catching up and remind us of old memories. Especially once the summer and the backyard cookouts are over, I’m also more interested in making things that require a little more attention to detail. That doesn’t have to mean they are more complicated, though. When I plan a “girls night” I’ve found that it’s always more fun to munch on finger food and drink a good glass of wine than eat a full meal. This allows everyone (including me) to gather around the table and catch up on life and not have to get up to serve.

Good friends are like a great meal – they should be savored.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Always serve a simple cheese plate with 2-3 different cheeses (pick a cow, goat and sheep perhaps, making sure there is one soft, one semi soft and one hard cheese), some loose nuts, dried fruit, fig spread (I use Dalmatia Dried Fig Spread) and of course some great crackers.
  • If you are a meat eater, be sure to do a simple charcuterie board, as well. Use 3 or 4 meats that are all different. Perhaps a peppery salami, a country pâté and a good prosciutto. All of these can be found in the refrigerated section of a good grocery store and don’t have to be expensive. Simply choose your favorites.
  • A small bowl of mixed olives are also a good thing to add to your table.
  • If you like vinegary things (I do), add a small bowl of cornichon pickles.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t put prosciutto on the charcuterie, but roll small asparagus spears (that you have blanched) in small pieces of prosciutto and cook them in a sauté pan until crisp. They look very fancy but are really easy to make.
  • Swedish meatballs are always a good go-to for me on a cool fall evening. Many delis have them premade or you can use this recipe that I like.
  • Last but not least – make sure you have several mini veggies on a plate with a simple sour cream dip.