An hors d’oeuvres dinner

May 12, 2003

An hors d’oeuvres dinner

I love having people over for dinner. I like cooking for others and having them enjoy what I’ve made. The whole thing is a long process for me that I savor. We have friends who are vegetarians and some who need heaps of food, and some who want lots of protein and some who just will eat whatever. I believe that finding the right things to make for the guest shows that you care. To me, that’s a big part of the point of cooking for others. Of course we have people to our house also to enjoy their company, but it is just so much more pleasurable if we are all enjoying the food. I relish the entire experience: the menu planning, the prepping and of course, the eating!!

When we get together with friends, it is customary for the guests to bring something along to contribute to the dinner. Having been a sociology major, I am aware that the practice is foreign to my parents and their generation- I wonder if it is just my age group, or if it is a social circle thing or even a regional practice. In any case, the couple that we invited for the other night brought a fantastic “dip”.

The last time we had these particular friends to dinner, we were stuffed after hors d’oeuvres! But I had made some delicious things for the main course and of course we needed to eat the chocolate dessert since we are all chocoholics. We vowed that the next time we got together, we would just do hors d’oeuvres and dessert. Since those are my two favorite things to make, the idea seemed wonderful to me.

She is a vegetarian and her husband eats more than anyone I know since he burns a gazillion calories a day. He is a triathelete and definitely needs protein, as does my husband Adam. Planning for them needs a balance of veggie stuff, and protein, textures,colors and temperatures. I love the challenge. Sometimes we have done a main course of fondue, with some grilled meat on the side for “the boys”. But this time was different and I was free to make a plethora of starters to fill us all. I spent the week conjuring up ideas and hunting down recipes.

What we ended up with for a menu was as follows:
Sundried Tomato Dip -piped into endive leaves
Tuna Tartare -served on crackers
Batter-fried Zucchini Spears with Basil
—with parmesan aioli – and a spicy tomato aioli (for the spears I made without basil)
Sheila’s Goat cheese layer dip -with french bread
Artichoke squares

I made a Coconut Cake for dessert that was great for my needs. You need to make it 3 days ahead and let it sit in the fridge (just try not touching it!- good thing we have an extra fridge so I didn’t have to deal with the temptation!!) It was one of the best coconut cakes I’ve had, and it was truly easy.

One last catch…. Adam found out the day before, that we weren’t going to be having a main course- he was horrified! So we added steaks and grilled portabellos (marinated in a balsamic/dijon/olive oil/herb mixture). He agreed, after we were all through, that we didn’t need it. I guess the thought of no main course was just too hard for him to handle!

We all had plenty to eat and drink and did so for quite a few hours! It was a fun evening and fun to plan. Sitting around and munching hors d’oeuvres for an extended time was reminiscent of “smiles” (that will be a whole seperate column soon). The savoring of time and having a totally unhurried (even if only to another course) dining experience was blissfully relaxing. It was definitely one that I would like to repeat several times in the next few months.

Here are the recipes for the next time you want to make just starters and a dessert!

Batter-fried Zucchini Spears with Basil

These are excellent!! They are not greasy and heavy at all, but sooooo tasty! The parmesan aioli sauce below makes an excellent dip for these zucchini spears. I also made some without the basil- they were good too, and served those with a spicy tomato aioli.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup beer
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 medium zucchini (about 3/4 pound)
12 fresh basil leaves
about 3 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying
grated parmesan (I use the kind in a round shaker for pasta)

For parmesan aioli:
1 large garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a bowl whisk together flour, beer, and salt.

Halve zucchini crosswise. Cut each half into 6 spears and put, skin side down, on a cutting board. With a sharp thin knife cut a lengthwise slit about 1/2 inch deep along top edge of each spear. Halve basil leaves lengthwise and, using dull side of a small knife, push a half leaf into slit of each spear.

In an 8-inch heavy saucepan or deep skillet heat 1 inch oil over moderate heat until a deep-fat thermometer registers 375° F.
Working in batches of 6, coat spears in batter, letting excess drip off, and fry until deep golden, about 2 minutes, transferring with tongs to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle immediately with grated parmesan.
Can be kept warm briefly in the oven on low.

Serves 2 generously as an hors d’oeuvre or a side dish.

This recipe is from the Epicurious website. Gourmet, August 1997 (but I changed it a bit, and changed the dip they recommended to the parm. aioli).

Spicy Lemon and Paprika Aioli
From Bon Appetit- very good- nice change from the usual version…This is also excellent with fish, as an alternative to tartar sauce. (I only make a half batch- seems plenty)

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 hot smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera- available from
–or 1 1/4 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Allow at least an hour for flavors to blend a bit. Makes about 1 3/4 cup.

Sun-dried Tomato Dip

From the Barefoot Contessa. Excellent and easy! Takes about 10 minutes to whip up.
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Yield: 2 Cups

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped (8 tomatoes)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
10 dashes, hot red pepper sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
Puree the tomatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, red
pepper sauce, salt and pepper in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
Add the scallions and pulse twice. Serve at room temperature

Tuna Tartare
from the Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook. An expensive one to make, but very tasty- I would make about a half recipe next time.

3/4 pound very fresh tuna steak
4 Tablespoos olive oil
grated zest of 1 lime
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce (I found it needed quite a bit more though)
6 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 yeaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup minced scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalepeno pepper, seeds removed
1 ripe Haas avocado
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Cut the tuna into 1/4 inch dice and place it in a medium bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, wasabi, soy sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper.
Pour over the tuna, add the scallions and jalepeno and mix well.
Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed, and peel. Cut the avocado into 1/4 inch dice and carefully mix into the tuna mixture.
Add the toasted sesame seed if using, and season to taste.
Allow the mixture to sit in the fridge for at least an hour for the flavors to blend. Serve on crackers.
Sheila’s Goat Cheese Layer Dip with French Bread
this is easy and excellent!! Wonderful flavors for summer.

3 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
1 – 2 Tablespoons olive oil
8.5 ounce jar sundried tomatoes, chopped *(the kind in the jar in oil)
herbes de provence (about 1 Tablespoon)
fresh rosemary, pulled off of the stems
peppercorns- (not many)
2 -3 Tablespoons pignoli nuts (pine nuts)

On a 12″ platter (or something similar) pour about 1 – 2 Tbsps olive oil on the plate and smear around.
Spread goat cheese evenly over the plate.
Top with chopped sun-dried tomatoes.
Sprinkle the herbes de provence and the rosemary
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for an hour or so.
Serve at room temperature on freshly sliced french bread rounds.

Coconut Wait Cake
This cake must be made ahead, then sit in the fridge to “wait” for 3 days!! It must have time for all the frosting to sink into the layers.

This cake is excellent-worth the wait, and worth plannning ahead for. It is great for company, as you do it way ahead and it leaves you time to make other things for the dinner. Perfect if you love coconut! “From a Louisiana Kitchen” is the name of the cookbook it’s from.

1 butter cake mix
2 cups sugar
2 cups sour cream
1 package frozen coconut (I used shredded because that’s what I had)
1 1/2 cups whipped topping (ie: cool whip), thawed

Prepare cake mix according to directions on package, (baking in two or three layers) and allow to cool completely. If made in two layers- split each in half. (I like it in three layers.)
Mix together other ingredients.
Reserve 1 cup of the mixture to ensure enough for the top.
Spread the coconut mixture between the layers and on all sides and top of of the cake.
Cover well with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 3 days.
Take it out, eat and enjoy!!

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