Food from the Hart

Posts Tagged ‘easy entertaining’

Adventurous Entertaining: 10 Unique Foods to Try at Your Next Dinner Party

In Features on September 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Conventional wisdom says cook what you know when having a dinner party.  This certainly makes sense if you’re hosting the boss or the in-laws, however if it’s a casual evening with good friends, why not experiment? Here’s a list of easy-to-use and interesting ingredients that will add a little whimsy to the same old dinner party meal.

Bamboo Shoots

Bamboo shoots are cut as soon as they begin to emerge from the ground, yielding a tender, ivory colored vegetable. Fresh shoots can be found at some Asian markets and farmer’s markets in spring and summer. Canned shoots are available in gourmet grocery stores all year. To use, add to a classic stir-fry, asian inspired soup, or sautéed spinach. Bamboo Shoot Recipes


Cloudberries are most commonly found in the colder climates of New England, Canada and Scandinavia.  They resemble a raspberry with a distinct amber hue.  They’re too tart for eating out-of-hand, but make excellent jam or pie filling. Cloudberry Recipes


Part of the wheat family, Farro dates back 20,000 years ago.  Once the primary grain cultivated by Egyptians, the grain slowly lost popularity over time to higher yielding, easier to grow grains. Thanks to the efforts of some inventive Italian chefs, Farro is making a comeback.  Farro has a rich, nutty flavor and can be used in pasta, bread or as a healthy alternative to risotto. Farro Recipes


Native to Northern America, Hominy is dried white or yellow corn kernels from which the hull and germ have been removed. Hominy is sold canned, ready-to-eat or dried (which must be reconstituted before eating).  It’s commonly used in Southern and Latin American cuisine as a side dish or part of a casserole. Hominy Recipes

Jerusalem Artichokes

Also known as sunchokes, jerusalem artichokes are not artichokes at all.  Rather, this vegetable is variety of sunflower with a lumpy, brown-skinned exterior that resmebles gingeroot.  The white flesh is nutty, crunchy, sweet and best when purchased from October to March. They can be eaten raw in salads or cooked by boiling or steaming and served as a side dish.  Jerusalem Artichokes also make wonderful soup. Jerusalem Artichoke Recipes


Popular in Mexico, Nopales are oval-shaped leaves from the nopal cactus plant.  They range in color from light green to dark green and have a delicate, tart flavor, similar to green beans.  To prepare, use a vegetable peeler to remove the thorns, cut the flesh into thin strips and simmer in water until tender.  Nopales can be added to everything from salads to scrambled eggs. Nopales Recipes 


Also known as plumcots, pluots are a cross between a plum and an apricot.  Pluots taste more like and plum than an apricot, while plumcots have more apricot flavor than plum. They are most readily available from May to October and taste great when eaten alone or baked in pies or tarts. Pluot Recipes


Dating back some 4,000 years quince has only recently gained popularity in the United States.  The yellow hued fruit looks like a cross between an apple and pear.  Inside, the flesh is hard and white with a slightly astringent, tart flavor.  Quince is not suited for eating out-of-hand, but make delicious jams, jellies and preserves. They can also be poached or braised for wonderful results! Quince Recipes


Salsify is a long parsnip-shaped root vegetable with a taste that resembles artichoke hearts.  Although Salsify is more popular in Europe than the United States, it can be found in speciality grocery stores fall through spring. Salsify makes a wonderful side dish or used in savory pies and soups. Salsify Recipes


A staple of African cuisine and native to South America, Yuca has a tough brown exterior that when peeled reveals a white starchy flesh similar to a potato.  Yuca can be poisonous and must never be consumed raw.  Yuca is available year around and is best when boiled, roasted or cut into thin slices and fried.  Yuca Recipes 


Celebrate Mother Earth: Host a “Green” Earth Day Party

In Celebrations on April 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Global warming, deforestation, melting-glaciers, there are a million reasons to honor our earth everyday before it’s only a version of what we know. This April 22 will mark the 41st Earth Day celebration and a great time to think about all that mother earth provides.

As time has past, and environmental awareness is an increasingly publicized issue, organized public parties / events are promoted around the globe.  Join in the earth-loving fun and host one of your own and celebrate all that mother nature gives to us.

Getting the Word Out

  • Keep it “green” and send out an Evite or Paperless post to invite your guests.
  • Encourage your guests to be thoughtful in their mode of transportation to your party.  Offer suggestions for easy public transport or try to set up a carpool.  Walking or biking would be good to if it’s feasible.

Setting the Scene

  • There’s no need to go over board and “paint” the room green. But green, white, and brown are great colors to help you decorate your table.  These are earthy, clean colors that should reflect the different color elements of the earth. Aim for a simple white backdrop with a white table cloth and white napkins.
  • If you’re opting for disposable flatware and plates go for Bamboo.  It’s organic, biodegradable and actually looks great on a table. Check out this past post to find out where to purchase.
  • Use a variety of green and white flowers to decorate the center of the table.  Make an effort to check out your local farmers market for what is available locally.  Some of my favorites that are available this time of year are, white tulips, delphiniums and hyacinths.  You can always supplement the white with green leafy branches or leaves.
  • If you don’t have vases, try washing out old condiment jars, wrapping in brown or white paper.  It’s a great way to recycle and makes a great rustic tablescapes.
  • Ditch the bottled water, invest in a Brita if you don’t already have one. Break out the old wine bottles and fill with table water.
  • Candles are always a must, white tea candles down the center of the table gives a beautiful glow.


Just as the party is a celebration of taking care of the earth, the menu is full of healthy and sustainable food to take care of your body.  Check out farmers markets and purchase local and organic produce.  It does make a difference not only in taste but buying local reduces your carbon foot print.

Small Bites

Turnip Chips with Paprika and Lime

Popcorn with Mustard-Herb Butter

Roasted Chickpeas

Main Event 

English Pea Soup with Mint

Fettuccine with Peas, Asparagus, and Pancetta

Meringue Towers with Almond Whipped Cream and Seasonal Fruit


Cucumber Martini

Organic / Biodynamic Wine

  • Montinore Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Oregon, $19.99
  • Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010, New Zealand, $11.99

Organic Beer

  • Peak Organic Ale, Maine
  • Bison Brewing, California

Chef’s Night Off

In Tips on March 29, 2011 at 8:27 am

Up at 6am, to the office by 8am, home for 7pm, gym by 8pm…. we all know the drag of the daily grind.  With busy schedules like this unless you love standing over the stove it’s tough to find the motivation to cook for a party.  Don’t let that stop you from entertaining!  Hosting a party is ultimately about conversation and company not cooking.  So don’t be afraid to “call in” some help. Here are some suggestions to take the culinary crunch out of hosting an evening at home.  All you’ll need is a glass of wine, fun friends and good tunes.  Happy Partying!

Busy Folk’s Pot Luck

I think we all know what a pot luck dinner entails:  everyone brings a dish of their choice.  For stress-free option ask guests to bring their favorite take-out or prepared food.  You might end up with a little of everything from chinese to pizza, but that’s part of the fun!

Peruse the Grocery Store 

Check out the prepared food counter at your local grocery store or specialty market.  You’ll able to find everything from chicken to fish to pasta plus a colorful array of sides. If you’re feeling iffy about what you see behind the glass, give the freezer section a look.  No, I don’t mean buy guests their own TV dinner.  Look for things like lasagna or pizza – anything you can heat up in the oven. One note, make sure you reheat anything you buy to temperature and serve on plates or trays.  Presentation is everything!

There’s Always Take-Out

For urbanites there’s no shortage of delivery and take-out.  Take your pick!  Hosting a Mexican or Thai themed party can be as easy as ringing your local restaurant.  This isn’t cheating, but don’t forget the basics of entertaining, plate food and set the scene with a beautiful table, candles and music.  Don’t forget the cocktails!

Elevate the Evening

You can always hire a caterer.  Caterers’ services aren’t limited to just weddings and big events.  If you have the budget and want to put together a more upscale evening, there are several personal chefs and small catering companies that can accommodate small parties.

Hate Awkward Silences? Make the Most of Small Talk

In Tips on March 28, 2011 at 8:31 am

Entertaining guests in a small space can be fun and intimate, but there’s no avoiding the dreaded small talk! In larger venues it’s easier to navigate around the folks you don’t already know.  Not the case when you and your guests area all in one room.  Small talk can be uncomfortable especially if you don’t have much to go on besides the age-old topic of the weather.  Here are a few tips to help you rev up any conversation:

Know your Current Events

Keep up to date on whats happening on a local, state, national and international level.  This can be a simple as reading the front pages of your local paper and a national paper like New York Times.  The evening news will also do the trick.  While events and facts are good, try to avoid sticky topics like politics.  Stick to neutral issues. Nothing ends a conversation quicker than a divisive subject like politics or religion.

Know your Guests

Think about who you’ve invited.  Consider their jobs, hobbies, interests, and accomplishments.  This gives you an endless sea of things to talk about.  Ask questions and search for commonalities.  See if you can connect guests based on these things.  Trust me, your guests will be flattered by all the attention!

Questions, Questions, Questions

Everyone loves to give their opinion. Asking questions is the easiest way to get a conversation started. Bring up pop culture topics like celebrity gossip, sports, movies, etc and instead of giving your thoughts ask theirs. The flood gates will open and you’ll move from awkward small talk to full-fledged conversation.


Focus on the person you are talking to.  There’s nothing worse than chatting with someone who is looking around the room.  Give the occasional head nod, this lets people know you’re engaged and actively listening.  If you notice a situation that needs tending to, excuse yourself, but return and try to remember where you left off.  This will make guests feel you were truly interested in what they were saying (even if you weren’t).


While there are a number of great topics for small talk, these eight subjects should be avoided at all costs. If you find yourself in a situation where one of these comes up, gently steer the conversation in a different direction, or when in dire straights excuse yourself and go to the bathroom!

  1. Finance
  2. Politics
  3. Religion
  4. Death
  5. Age / Appearance
  6. Personal Gossip
  7. Offensive / Off Color Jokes
  8. Past Relationships

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