Archive for the ‘Hors d’ oeuvres’ Category

We have reached another Friday! Gonna see a movie this weekend? We have some recommendations that pair well with food (of course)!

Our first film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Chow down on some garlic bread with these recipes while you watch.

Our second film: My Cousin Vinny. Streak your hair, get out your leather and go to Brooklyn for grits at Egg!

Our third film: If you fry it, they will come: Hot dogs and Field of Dreams. Magic in the Moonlight.

In other news, I’ll be traveling to South Beach today for my first Triathlon of the season. You can also get the recipe for my home made energy bars at that link. Tweeting will be light as I don’t want to take out my pre-race panic attacks on you lovely people.

Come Monday or Tuesday we might have some more BIG NEWS. So stay tuned. And we will also be continuing our Meals on Reels program. Don’t forget to send us your favorite movie/food scenes! Post ’em in the comments!

Have a great weekend!

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It’s no secret Elana and I love our movies. So, for the next week or so, we are going to be presenting some of our favorite movie scenes that have a focus on food, followed by a top 15 list. We will also be combining a feature with either a recipe or a restaurant review related to the food.

There is really only one qualification, but it’s an important one: the food needs to play an integral part in the movie scene.  It cannot just be lurking in the background, or part of a good scene at a dinner table or restaurant.

Take Heat for example. Trust me, I’ve been thinking of every way possible to work in the Pacino/Deniro diner scene from Heat into this list, but despite it taking place within the confines of an eating establishment, the scene really never defers to food at any point. The same goes for other close calls, like at Tommy’s mother’s house in Goodfellas; Food is there in full force, but it never quite becomes the focus.

In light of the foregoing, we now commence our random teaser list, followed ultimately by our final countdown. Elana will kick things off while I continue to kick it in Italy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Elana here! I am going to begin with a new-to-me film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There is an excellent scene in which Scott makes “dinner” for his new crush: a dinner comprised solely of garlic bread. I have to say, this is my kind of meal (CARBS!). It also happens to be Italian in nature and very easy to make.

First, you should watch the scene:

Bread makes you fat??!? I love that. Ok, So in true John and Elana style, I will offer you TWO recipes:

1. For Old-Original Scott Pilgrim Style Garlic Bread

2. For Elana’s Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia. Oh yeah.

Old Original Scott Pilgrim Style Garlic Bread

What You Need:
1 loaf of Italian bread (white)
2-3 cloves garlic, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
Butter, softened
Sea salt
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

What To Do:
Heat up the broiler portion of your oven.

Slice the baguette of Italian bread diagonally into 1 inch thick slices.

Take the garlic halves and run them along the surface of the bread (both sides!) – almost like you are buttering your bread with garlic.

Then actually butter the bread (both sides again!) with the softened butter! Place the buttered, garlicked bread slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle them with a little sea salt as well.

Toast just a few minutes on each side – remember to keep an eye on that broiler, it works quickly.

Once your toasts are toasty, take ’em out and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Serve to your new girlfriend with the seven evil exes. The garlic breath will probably help you defeat them.

Now, let’s jazz things up with Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia:

What You Need:
1 head of garlic, roasted (instructions below)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt – a pinch
Rosemary – a few sprigs
1 loaf of focaccia bread

What To Do:
For the roasted garlic:
Heat up the oven to 350 degrees.
Take a head of garlic and chop off the pointy part. Place it in a piece of foil and drizzle with olive oil, like so:

Then cover the garlic completely with the foil. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the garlic cloves are soft and easily pierced with a a knife. It will look sorta like this:

Squeeze out the garlic cloves from their papery skins and plop them into a food processor or blender. If you lack both of these implements, you can mash them up with a fork.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the pinch of salt and blend it all together.

Heat up the broiler of your oven.

Cut 1 inch slices of the focaccia bread. I used a Scratchbread focaccia that I purchased at the Brooklyn Flea over the weekend.

Using a knife, smear some roasted garlic paste onto your slices of bread. Drizzle with a little olive oil and pop them in the broiler to brown. Just a few minutes – remember how speedily-fast that broiler cooks!

Sprinkle with a few sprigs of rosemary and serve (with extra roasted garlic paste on the side, please!).

This one will DEFINITELY help you defeat evil exes. And everyone else too.

And finally, garlic that looks like this should not be used:

But feel free to plant it in your garden if you have one.

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We have a special treat for you today. My friend Erin teaches 7th grade at the Maywood Avenue School in Maywood, NJ. We organized a writing contest with her students. Each one had to write a food-related post on their blogs that they maintain for class. Erin sent us the submissions, and we chose three winners.

All the posts were truly outstanding – you have a talented class, Erin! Our first winner is Jessica. We have transcribed her post below, and added our own images:


Cream Cheese and Jelly by Jessica

How to make a jelly and cream cheese sandwich? Now I bet you’re wondering if that’s even a real, edible combination. Don’t worry, it’s tasty! I’ve eaten these sandwiches my whole life. I have no idea how I discovered this combo. My mom showed it to me. It’s really good for breakfast. Now, here’s what you need to make this random sandwich.

Bread (I like Wonder Bread because it just makes your sandwich even better.)

Jelly (I prefer Smucker’s Concord Grape Jelly, because I never tried any other jelly.)

Cream Cheese (Philadelphia Cream Cheese works well. :))

Two knives

Now once you have all those things, you’re ready to make an awesome snack!

Step One: Take two pieces of bread and toast them. But make sure you don’t make the bread too crunchy, unless you like crunchy bread.

Step Two: Carefully take out the two pieces of bread out of the toaster and put it on the plate. Also take out the cream cheese and jelly.

Step Three: Get the two knives and spread jelly on one piece of bread, and cream cheese on the other. Don’t put too much jelly or cream cheese. When you put too much jelly, the sandwich gets soggy. Then when you put too much cream cheese, you won’t be able to taste the jelly. So make sure they’re equal.

Step Four: Get the two pieces of bread and put it together. You can do this any way you want. You can smash it on, gently place it on, or just put them together like a normal person would.


Sadly, I don’t have a finishing product picture. That’s because it’s your job to see it yourself! Feel free to make this sandwich, and stab a little, cute umbrella into it. Mini umbrellas are cool!

*We added a finished photo for Jessica, complete with mini umbrellas….

I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step guide! I think this isn’t difficult to make, so you should really try it!


Thank you, Jessica! Personally, I forgot how much I liked Cream Cheese and Jelly sandwiches. I used to eat them all the time. I enjoyed the ones I made for these photos. And of course, in true John and Elana style, we had to trick out Jessica’s recipe just a bit. We cut little rounds out of the toasted bread with cookie cutters and used a few different kinds of jam to make tiny tea sandwiches:

I couldn’t resist those sparkly pom-poms…

You can read Jessica’s original post here.

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Does anyone have a count of how many times I have mentioned how much I love ricotta cheese? I think the obsession started when I visited Anfora Wine Bar for the first time and spread some of their signature perfectly whipped, salty-sweet version on a piece of airy toast. It was a testament to the benefits of homemade: so much more flavor! And so much room for innovation.

So I decided to make my own. Because my cholesterol was getting dangerously low, and I needed to have a steady stream of cheese-related fats in order to counteract that. I looked around and found a bunch of very helpful instructions on making ricotta cheese. I was assured it would be easy.

The first time I tried it, I failed miserably. I looked away for a second and the whole mixture on the stove top boiled over and made quite a mess. Which I should be used to by now. Take away lesson: Don’t boil your ricotta milk.

Anyway, I had MUCH success the second, third and fourth times. I have created a few different variations with instructions below. There is also a helpful video that shows the EXACT MOMENT of cheese formation. Are you all a-tingle? I bet you are.

Recipe 1: Ricotta Cheese whipped with Olive Oil and Truffle Salt

What You Need:
makes about 1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups whole milk (reduced fat just doesn’t work as well) + 2 Tbsp
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp white vinegar
Truffle salt to taste (you can use regular sea salt if you don’t have the fancy truffle variety)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Small pot
Candy thermometer (something that reads at least up to 180 degrees)
Slotted spoon

What To Do:
Cut enough cheesecloth to cover the bottom of your colander. 4-ply the cheesecloth to make sure no actual cheese escapes – just water!

Pour 2 cups of the whole milk, all of the buttermilk and all of the white vinegar into a small pot outfitted with a thermometer. Heat this over medium-low heat and babysit it. The babysitting involves you watching like a hawk and stirring occasionally so it doesn’t boil over.

The thermometer will start to creep toward 160 degrees. This is the action zone. Your milk/buttermilk will start to separate and curdle. This is one of those rare occasions when curdling is a good thing. Stop stirring and let the milk completely separate and curdle. Remove from the heat.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curdled portion (this is your ricotta!) and place it on the cheesecloth that is sitting in the colander. Let it drain for about 10 minutes.

After draining, I transfer it to a container (like a tupperware container, as you can keep your chemistry experiment in the fridge for up to a week). With a fork or a whisk, add in your 2 Tbsp of milk, the olive oil and the truffle salt. Give it a good whipping.

I add this last extra step as ricotta can get a little dry from the draining. Especially if you leave it in the colander and forget about and say…oh start vacuuming your apartment or something. This makes it moist and flavorful.

Recipe 2: Ricotta Cheese whipped with Milk, Honey and Sea Salt

What You Need:
makes about 2/3 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups whole milk (reduced fat just doesn’t work as well) + 2 Tbsp
Juice from 1/2 a lemon, squeezed directly into the milk
Honey – a tablespoon or two
Sea Salt
Note: For this version I didn’t use any buttermilk. Works just fine!

Small pot
Candy thermometer (something that reads at least up to 180 degrees)
Slotted spoon

What To Do:
Cut enough cheesecloth to cover the bottom of your colander. 4-ply the cheesecloth to make sure no actual cheese escapes – just water!

Pour 2 cups of the whole milk and lemon juice into a small pot outfitted with a thermometer. Heat this over medium-low heat and babysit it. The babysitting involves you watching like a hawk and stirring occasionally so it doesn’t boil over.

The thermometer will start to creep toward 160 degrees. This is the action zone. Your milk will start to separate and curdle. Stop stirring and let the milk completely separate and curdle. Remove from the heat.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curdled portion and place it on the cheesecloth that is sitting in the colander. Let it drain for about 10 minutes.

After draining, I transfer it to a container. With a fork or a whisk, add in your 2 Tbsp of milk, honey and sea salt. Give it a good whipping.

Here is a video that demonstrates the heating and curdling process:

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A colleague of mine told me a joke yesterday:

“How many Jets does it take to get to the Super Bowl?”

“How many?” I said.

“Two. One for the Packers and one for the Steelers!”  He roared with laughter.

“Funny,” I dryly responded.  In appreciation for the joke, I proceeded to fix him a cup of coffee.  Who’s smiling now, buddy?

Yes, I’m still bitter from the Pittsburgh loss.  Why were the Jets asleep at the wheel during the first half of an AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME?  Why did they have to lose to a group of degenerates who notoriously rack up fines and suspensions like Charlie Sheen trashes hotel rooms?  Why do I continue to support a franchise which, without fail, leaves me curled up in the fetal position on the morning after each season ending loss with a brutal hangover and an empty Kleenex box, surrounded by a litter of candy bar wrappers and uncapped magic markers?

Well, it’s hope I suppose.  Because regardless of how painful your team’s season ending loss was, there is always next year. And even sooner to the rescue, is the Super Bowl: an event so commercialized and familiar that even the most left out of football (or non-football) fans feel welcome to participate in. For many, it grants us one more opportunity to watch some quality football.  For everyone, it provides quality entertainment and food.  And what better idea for a Super Sunday snack than a mixture of American and Italian greatness?  Enter, the meatball slider – the perfect handful of a mouthful which teases your brain into thinking that three of these suckers is considerably less damaging than an entire meatball sub.  Well, actually, it is… provided you subscribe to the below mentioned, from-scratch recipe:

What You Need:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork of veal
3/4 cup breadcrumbs (seasoned)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ground pine nuts
1 egg
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped taragon
3/4 teaspoon salt
a couple shakes of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Fresh basil (about 12 large leaves)
Mini Parker Rolls (or Brioche rolls)

Tomato Sauce: You can use your own recipe, or the one I describe here.

What To Do:
Place your ground (defrosted if it was frozen) meat In a large mixing bowl and mix to combine well.

Add in your breadcrumbs, ground pine nuts (you can grind them in a food processor) and everything else. Mix very well to combine. You really can’t over-mix.

Make sure the “meat-dough” is holding together. To do this, grab some with your hands (come on, you can do it!) and form it into balls. Pretend you’re making snow balls. With meat. If it’s holding together, continue making balls and setting them aside on a platter. If it’s not holding together, you can add another egg.

Once you have formed all your meatballs, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Place your raw meatballs in the pan and fry ’em up!

You will need to rotate them a bit, so they brown evenly on all sides. Don’t do this with your bare hands. Use some tongs or a spatula at least. I’m begging you. Also the fat from the meat will combine with the oil of the pan and become VERY, VERY HOT. It may just splatter. Yet another use for those safety goggles I like so much.

This whole cooking process should take about 10 minutes. If you made giant meatballs, 15.

Open up your mini rolls like buns and place one meatball inside. Top with 1 large basil leaf. You can hold this whole contraption together with a toothpick if you like. Serve the tomato sauce on the side.

Note: You don’t have to use the pine nuts if you can’t find them or are allergic to nuts. They did give the meatballs a nice, nutty and slightly sweet flavor, which I liked very much.

Also – is this still not enough to feed your team?  Keep in mind our previous football related posts seen here, here and here.

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Each passing day on the ol’ blog is a learning experience.  Originally, Elana and I had intended to treat the blog as a smorgasbord for all things food related; reviewing restaurants, posting recipes, and starring in videos – with the only common denominators  being enthusiasm and honesty.  There was not necessarily a real theme or concentration as to what we would feature.  You were just to trust our homegrown taste buds on various food related topics.

Much to our surprise, a decent amount of people actually read this thing.  Well, thanks for peepin’ the posts, peeps (hehe).  And, in order to take this blog to the next level, we feel it is appropriate to narrow the focus a bit.  An Italian focus.  I mean, that is the type of food we were raised on, experiment with most frequently, and eat too much of.

So what does this mean?  Well, like many things we do here on the blog, the focus will be an experiment of indefinite duration and potential debate.  But generally it will mean this: most of the restaurants we will review will be Italian or Italian influenced.  Our recipes and videos, will predominantly forward Italian dishes and ideas.  In fact, even the blog, is going to be written in Italian.  Comprende, amigo?

But lovers of food we are above all.  So we will still make occasional room for posts that are outside the scope.  However, according to my father (“The Box”) all foods (and generally everything else) on this planet are a derivation of some sort of Italian influence.  So, technically, even if our posts do, in fact, stray from the Boot’s roots, perhaps we are not straying at all… naw mean?  No?  Care to debate the topic with this man?

We didn’t think so.

Elana here (that was John above, if you hadn’t guessed). In keeping with this new focus, we are starting off with a very basic, Italian 101 recipe: bruschetta. I’ve talked a lot about brushcettas, but I’ve never offered you the simplest, most basic and potentially most satisfying combination: Tomato and Basil Bruschetta. Here it is:

What You Need:

Tomatoes (4 nice plum ones, or a basket of the cherry variety)
Extra virgin olive oil (as much as you like, but you really only need a drizzle or three)
Sea salt (to taste)
Fresh basil (chopped)
Loaf of Italian bread cut into slices

What To Do:
First, fire up your broiler. Place your bread slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place the cookie sheet with bread in the broiler and toast for about 1-2 minutes on each side (don’t forget to flip!). Make sure you keep an eye on the toasting process, because that broiler heats things up mighty fast, and I have pulled too many charred bread remains from its fire-y depths because I can’t seem to remember that I put them in there in the first place. But you are waaaaaay smarter. Let’s hope.

Chop up your tomatoes and put them in a bowl. Drizzle with a healthy dollop of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt to taste, and decorate with chopped, fresh basil. It really must be fresh. I can’t stress that enough.

Once your toasts are toasted, line them up on a nice platter and using a spoon, heap generous amount of the tomato mixture on top of the toast. Serve immediately. Bene?

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Maybe you are throwing a New Year’s Eve party? Or are attending one and need to bring a little somethin’-somethin’? OR you want to add yet another appetizer recipe to your arsenal. If any or all of these are true, I’ve got just the thing: Arugula Walnut Pesto.

I love regular basil pesto, but I wanted to switch it up a bit and go for a different flavor. This  version is wonderful, spreadable deliciousness with a bite – courtesy of the arugula that is a touch on the bitter side.

Two warnings about this recipe:

1. I’m going to present you with indications rather than hard-and-fast instructions. You guys cool with that? I thought so.

2. The determine the amount of garlic you should use, please refer to this handy scale:

Use 1 clove: if you would still like to talk in close proximity to others after eating this stuff.

Use 2 cloves: if you would like to breathe a tiny bit of fire and your compatriots are garlic-understanding.

Use 3 cloves: if you would like to melt the paint off your walls.

Got it? Good. Here we go:

What You Need:
1 package arugula
2 cloves garlic (I only had Toby to entertain for the evening)
Extra Virgin olive oil – about a half a cup, but you might want to use more or less
Grated Parmesan cheese – about 3/4 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (you can always leave these out if you can’t eat or don’t want nuts)

What To Do:
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, chop up your walnuts. Remove the walnuts from the processor and place in the arugula, half the olive oil and garlic. Pulse to process finely. Check the consistency. You will most likely need to add a bit more oil (throw in the rest). You can also add the cheese, salt and pepper. Give it a few more twirls in the processor and check both the consistency and taste. Is it dry? If so, add more oil. You can also add more salt, pepper or cheese if you feel it’s necessary.

Once you have got it all worked out, put the walnuts back in and combine. Scoop the entire mixture into a bowl and drizzle a blanket of olive oil over the top. You can either serve immediately on some toasted bread or you can stick it in the fridge and save it for later.

Now go get those sparkly heels on, and get to the party. You too, John!

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I have two friends named Meg. We are collectively referred to as “Elana and the Megs.” The Megs (Meg L and Meg H) and we try and get together at my apartment for dinner whenever we can. This usually involves cooking experimentation supplemented by copious amounts of wine (and a viewing of Lost when it was still running).

The things we’ve consumed on these evenings are many and include (but are not limited to):

1. Pasta with pumpkin and fried sage in a light cream sauce (a favorite)

2. Lots and lots of salad (especially with figs during their season)

3. Pick and Mix (a term that I learned from a British friend and have adopted. In our case it refers to all manner of veggies, hummuses, spreads, cheeses, fruits, and crackers).

4. All varieties of homemade pizza (sometimes all at once).

5. Tiny pies (from the Small Pie Co.)

6. 18,591 baby carrots

7. Numerous bottles of wine (not an exhaustive list):

For this holiday season, we decided that instead of exchanging gifts, we would have a dinner of wine and cheese at my place. Each person would be charged with getting a bottle of wine and a cheese to go with it.

It broke down in the following way:

Meg L: Something bubbly and a cheese to go with it. Meg selected a Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco and paired it with a goat cheese and orange marmalade. I’m not very well-versed in describing wine (so bear with me), but this Prosecco was nice and light with a touch of sweetness to it. The bubbles and smooth, creamy goat cheese were a good match. And a nice tang from the orange marmalade gave it a little punch.

Elana: Something white and a cheese to go with it. I was on a mission – for truffle cheese (see first photo). I am mildly obsessed with foods flavored with truffles. It’s a problem. Anyway, I headed straight to Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker and said to the friendly cheesemonger who was helping me, “Give me all your truffle cheese.” And he said, “We have four different kinds.” Deciding that purchasing all four might be overkill, I opted for the Peccorino Tartufello, a variety that has a stronger truffle flavor. Then, I wandered into Sparrow Wine and Liquor in Hoboken, showed them my wedge of cheese and demanded a white wine to go with it. They laughed at me. I guess people don’t normally walk in there, brandishing a wedge of cheese and asking for wine recs. Why the heck not? I settled on a Domaine Léon Boesch Pinot Blanc from Alsace. I was told that this wine, as a Pinot Blanc, would be a bit earthier and match well with the truffle cheese. True dat.

Meg H: Something red and a cheese to go with it. Meg H selected the above Cotes du Rhone – a Domain Lafond 2009. I happen to love Cotes du Rhone, and this one was no exception. It was like drinking a bouquet of flowers. In a good way. The cheese she chose was a St. Nectaire, which none of us had ever heard of. It was semi-soft and rather mild in taste, but also rich and dense.

We also supplemented this heart-healthy display of fatty, delicious cheese with some other items: the raisin mostarda (which made its debut at my holiday party. Recipe here) with ricotta cheese and honey, baby carrots (the above count will now need updating) and yellow bell peppers, Trader Joe’s Three Layer Hummus (a fabulous combination of red pepper, original, and cilantro hummuses), and a variety of crackers and breads including these Stonewall Kitchen crackers, which I love.

A good time was had by all. The next morning, I wasn’t sure if I had a wine or a cheese hangover. So, if you’re looking to throw together a cheese plate for New Year’s Eve, or a cocktail party, you might want to consider these contenders. If you’re in Hoboken, definitely pay a visit to Sparrow Wine and Liquor. Javier is more than happy to make a recommendation (especially if you bring an actual wedge of cheese into the shop). And if you’re in New York City and haven’t gone to Murray’s Cheese yet, you might need your priorities re-arranged.

If you have a wine and cheese combo that you love, post it in the comments!

Also, if you happen to know the plural of “hummus” leave that in the comment section, too.

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What else did we eat at my recent holiday party? A lot more than I posted about on Monday. Actually, it’s impressive that people didn’t start rummaging through my fridge, but not because I didn’t have enough food. Here are a few more hors d’ oeuvres that made an appearance (and then subsequent disappearance) on Saturday night:

Roasted Pork Loin Crostini with Cranberry Relish
This recipe is really flavorful. The pork loin roasts up quite juicy and savory (with the herbs and salt). Topping it with cranberry relish gives it a nice sweet contrast. The added punch from the horseradish (in the cranberry sauce) brings the flavor over the top.

What You Need:

A pork tenderloin
1 semolina baguette, cut into thin slices
Sea salt with dried, chopped herbs (you can use rosemary, basil, thyme, sage…)
Olive oil – a drizzle
Stonewall Kitchen’s Cranberry Horseradish Sauce

What To Do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Place the pork tenderloin in a roasting pan and sprinkle with herbs and salt. Drizzle with olive oil.
Roast until done – about 45 minutes depending on the thickness of the tenderloin.

Remove from oven and let set for about 30 minutes.

Cut in thin slices and place on sliced bread. Top with Stonewall Kitchen’s cranberry horseradish sauce and serve!

On an adjacent platter were arranged the teeny-tiniest quiches. These can be made and frozen weeks in advance, which is quite handy for party planning. When I first made them for last year’s party, there was a wonderful cheesy/pastry smell coming from the oven mixing with the pine needle smell from the Christmas tree, and it all made me very happy. Bu that’s neither here nor there! When I asked my mom for the recipe to make them, I received the following via email:

Recipes seem to be collected quite randomly in Marmo’s kitchen.

Moving on! We also had the famous Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Pizza (recipe here), which disappeared in a snap. I got a little adventurous and concocted a Raisin Mostarda, which I have been obsessed with ever since I started frequenting Anfora Wine Bar and eating all their Ricotta cheese (which is served with a raisin mostarda).

Here is the recipe that I cobbled together for the Raisin Mostarda:

What You Need:
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
olive oil

What To Do:
Heat a little olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic and sauté until soft – about 5 minutes. Stir in the OJ and all the ingredients up to the cumin. Bring the whole concoction to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove it from the heat, let it chill for about 10 minutes. Then stir in the marmalade, mustard and salt. Give it a taste and see if it needs anything else. Then let it hang out in the fridge to chill until you need it (covered, of course).

It’s pretty good, though it’s not like Anfora’s. Honestly, next time I think I will leave out the curry. I liked the flavor, but I think it might be better without it. I served it with Ricotta crostini drizzled with honey.

Onto dessert! What kind of sweets do you offer a bunch of festive maniacs that have had A LOT of wine? And beer. Did I mention that John just HAD to buy PBR lights? Cuz he did. An entire case of them, in fact. Still not sure why. Anyway, I got cupcakes from Sweet in Hoboken. They have some amazing flavors, and I told them to give me a mix of their mini cupcakes.

* Picture from Sweet’s website.

The cake part of these cupcakes is really moist (impressive for the mini cupcakes) and their cream cheese frosting is award-worthy. Especially on the Red Velvet cupcake. My favorite is the Marshmallow, which is a chilled ganache cupcake topped with marshmallow meringue. Out of sight.

I supplemented the cupcakes with my Russian Tea Cakes (a Iaciofano Family Christmas special – recipe here).

Finally, it seems that my holiday parties always end up with a dance party in the kitchen. People love the kitchen. I can’t get ’em out of there. So what kind of music was on the playlist? I’ll give you the top 5:

1. Katy Perry’s Firework – John would NOT STOP playing this song.

2. Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You – I couldn’t help it.

3. Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison – You should see people get down to this song. Yeah, even me.

4. Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls – Gotta love that one.

5. B.O.B’s Magic – So John and I could relive our pizza glory days.

It was all worth it, as a good time was had by all. Even if this was what greeted me in the morning:

* I wasn’t kidding about the PBR Light!

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This week on the blog is dedicated to parties. We will be featuring all sorts of festive food inspiration for your holiday party needs. First up: a review of my holiday party in two parts (Part The Second to be featured later this week).

I never used to have parties. It seemed like a lot of stress to have to feed and water people at my place. And be in charge of them having a good time?? Yikes, waaaaay too much for me. And then one day I changed my mind. It happened last year at this time when I hosted my first holiday party. And it was GREAT fun. A dance party erupted in the kitchen (why do people ALWAYS congregate in that room above all others?) and lasted until 4:30 in the morning.

Based on this previous success, I decided to go for a repeat and this past Saturday was my second annual holiday party. My apartment is still recovering (as are my neighbors, most likely….sorry ’bout that…). I thought I would give you a run down – complete with recipes – of some of the edible highlights of the evening.

Since I was cooking for the occasion, all my guests were kind enough to bring the drinkables. We had some wonderful ones – not a dry glass in the place! Here a few highlights:

Hendricks Gin: My favorite. I really like gin. And this is the gin I like the bestest (many thanks to Dave for bringing this gem).

Hirsch 2008 Gruner Veltliner: I bought this one. Mostly because of the reindeer on the label. It was really light, crisp and clean.

Laird’s Applejack Rum: This was brought by Tim (hi, Tim– thanks!). This is the stuff that Van Leeuwen puts in their eggnog ice cream to give it a little punch.

New Castle Brown Ale Mini Keg: Everyone seemed to like this very much, but I have no idea what to do with the empty mini keg now. Do you throw that in recycling? Right now it’s on my kitchen floor, just hanging out.

Now onto the recipes! We begin with the Caramel Coated Brie:

What You Need:
1 wheel of Brie
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
a few pecans to make everything look pretty

What To Do:
Prepare an ice-water bath. Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling until sugar dissolves.

Cook, continuing to stir, until the mixture turns a dark amber color. Immediately dip the bottom of the pan in the ice-water bath to stop the cooking.

Place your Brie on a serving plate and pour the caramel sauce over the top. Place pecans decoratively around the edge. The caramel coating will get hard, like a candy shell.

Notes and Tips: When you are cooking the sugar and water, the mixture will get foamy. This completely freaked me out. Just keep stirring and acting like everything is normal, it will turn dark soon enough. Also, getting the pot clean after torturing it in this manner is quite an adventure. I added more water to the pot and heated it until the remains were all dissolved. Then I poured it out and immediately washed the pot.

* Recipe from Martha Stewart.

I think everyone’s favorite hors d’ oeuvre that I made was “Le Cake,” a recipe that I got from the book A Table in the Tarn, a French cookbook written by two British expats that live in the French countryside and run a boutique hotel. It’s a savory cake that I stuffed with Kalamata and green olives and Havarti cheese. I modified their version a bit, but it’s essentially the same. Here is how you make Le Cake (thereby becoming best friends with every one of your guests):

What You Need:
3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cubed Havarti cheese (or other semi-soft cheese)
2 tbsp freshly chopped herbs (I used thyme)
1 cup milk (Note: I actually ended up using a bit more because my dough was a bit dry)
3 1/2 tbsp melted butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup créme fraîche (try not to eat it all before you mix it into your dough)

What To Do:
Grease a baking pan (or several smaller baking pans) and sprinkle with half the grated Parm. Whisk the flour, baking powder and seasonings in a large bowl (this is easier than sifting). Mix in the cheese, herbs, and olives.

In a small bowl, whisk the melted (and cooled) butter, egg, milk, and créme fraîche. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just mixed – the dough will be thick and sticky – stop mixing when it is just combined.

Turn the mixture into your prepared baking pans and sprinkle with the rest of the grated Parm. Bake for 30 minutes (for small pans) and 45-50 minutes for large pans at 350 degrees until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Keep in mind, if you hit cheese when you skewer-test your cake, it will be sticky.

Blammo: amazingness! Added bonus: your apartment will smell so good, guests won’t know what to do with themselves.

Continuing on with olives, I would like to mention something I did NOT make (GASP!) but was brought over by my friends Stacey and Tony: Blue Cheese Stuffed Green Olives. I think I ate the whole bowl by myself. Just get some green olives, some blue cheese, and stuff the cavity of the olive with the cheese. Put them in a pretty bowl with some toothpicks on the side and watch them disappear. Most likely by me, if I’m at your party.

You can also throw these little guys in a Bloody Mary as a garnish. And as my friend Meg says, “Who doesn’t like a drink that comes with food?” I just don’t know.

Also featured were Avocado Bruschetta (recipe here) and Bacon Wrapped Prunes. If you like bacon (YES!) and you also like that salty-sweet food combination, you’ll love this. And it’s ridiculously easy. Here’s how it goes:

What You Need:
Some dried, pitted prunes (get some plump juicy ones)
Bacon – one slice per prune, please!
Toothpicks – to hold the whole delicious device together

What To Do:
Fry up the bacon. When you have achieved your desired level of bacon crispiness, wrap the the strip of  bacon around the prune and spear it on a toothpick so it doesn’t all fall apart.

I will continue the rest of the recipes later in the week, but I am leaving you with two images from the evening to gear up your holiday party excitement. First, is our friend Drew. Drew wanted to be on the blog. And since he won the award for “Most Festive Pants,” I really felt like he deserved to be on it.

Now, I don’t give out the Most Festive Pants Award to just anybody. But look at those – kudos to you, Drew!

Finally, here is my Christmas tree. For those of you that are crazy enough to follow us on Twitter, you may know that my Christmas tree and I have been fighting. It was threatening to fall over the other day, so there is currently a mini pumpkin and an old, empty tin of pepper shoved into the tree stand to help it remain upright. Why don’t they try that with the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

* The graphic at the very top is a postcard I designed back in my old stationery-designing days. © Rosebud Design Studio.

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