You may have noticed that I don't throw too many cocktail parties. Which is weird, because I love cocktails and little finger foods. In theory. Making an entire meal of appetizers seems like a whole lot of work.
It all sounds like a nice idea at first, but then you get to work and suddenly your kitchen turns into a factory gone wrong, and you're up to your neck in gougères and there's bruschetta all over the floor. And then everyone eats everything so fast that you have to make even more tiny food, and by then all your pretty platters are dirty. Whew! I'd rather place a big bowl of steaming pasta or a platter of roasted chicken on the table and be done with it, you know?
But then again, there's something fun about letting everyone graze instead of having a sit-down meal. Who doesn't feel fantastic with a deviled egg in one hand and a glass of something bubbly in the other? Cocktail parties are cool in a throwback kind of way. And when thinking about what to make for a party we were throwing for our friend Vanessa (yes, the Vanessa who canceled on us last time) that's the direction my mind went for some reason. Maybe because she's also a deviled egg and champagne-loving kind of girl?
So I considered the cocktail party. Maybe I could do things more simply this time and actually enjoy myself? Orr...maybe I was functionally insane? I'd let this be a fun experiment.
Starting with the deviled egg, my favorite member of the canape family, I came up with a menu of retro-ish finger foods that wouldn't leave all five of us hungry. And wouldn't turn my kitchen into hors d'Ouevre hell.
Retro cocktail party
Green goddess dip with potato chips and crudite
Sausage rolls with mustard and pepper jelly
Blue cheese-stuffed peppers
Chocolate pudding pie
By 4:00 p.m., after I had filled 20 deviled eggs, stuffed a whole jar of tiny peppers with blue cheese, and made dozens of sausage-filled puff pastry rolls, I did feel the crazies coming on. I was jittery from not eating all afternoon even though I was surrounded by food. Can't eat! Too busy! Cooking! And I hadn't even tackled the mushrooms. I was like a machine, cranking out all of this food and there was still so much left to do. Small food is annoying! Why didn't I just make pasta?
But, as always, somehow everything gets done just in time. And by 9:00 p.m. I was mentally patting myself on the back for making appetizers. We had a really fun time. Maybe it was the Moscow mules I made or the sparkling wine Julie brought. Maybe it was the fact that we hadn't seen Vanessa in so long. Or maybe it was the menu.
Not having a three-course meal was kind of liberating. When one person came an hour early, there was food to eat, and when one person came an hour late there was food to eat--no worries either way. People moved around the room, even switching seats throughout the night. We drank a little more, relaxed a little more. And suddenly it was one in the morning and we were eating chocolate pie and still carrying on. Like I said, maybe it was the company, but I think the food had a little bit to do with it too.
A totally improvised recipe, based on the stuffed mushrooms I used to make all the time for parties in college. Yeah, I was a totally wild and crazy chick.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)
24 medium-sized baby portobello mushrooms (also called crimini mushrooms), wiped clean
1 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 stalks celery, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. dried sage
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup white wine, vermouth, chicken stock, or water
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus a little extra for garnishing
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the stems from the mushrooms by gently pulling them out with your fingers. Reserve the stems in a bowl. Place the mushrooms cap-side down on a baking sheet and drizzle with with about 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, rubbing it in with your fingers. Roast for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the caps are cooked through but still firm. A little liquid may collect in the caps. When the mushrooms are cool enough to handle, pour out the liquid in each one.
To make the stuffing, mince the mushroom stems. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Toss in the celery and onion and saute until soft. Add the garlic, mushroom stems, and spices, and saute for a minute more, sirring constantly. Turn the heat to low and add the liquid and the breadcrumbs. The liquid should make the mixture damp like stuffing but not mushy. Stir for a minute more, then remove from the heat and add in the cheese. Fill each mushroom cap with a spoonful of stuffing and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more (at 350 degrees) until the mushrooms are hot and the stuffing is slightly browned. Sprinkle with extra cheese before serving.