I must confess, I absolutely had a blast this past Saturday with a cozy gathering of friends for small plates and wine tasting. I must further confess that I may have had an ulterior motive in planning this night in order to get my friend KB over to the house to give me a lesson in cooking lamb chops. It basically was all a ploy to expand my cooking repertoire. Can you tolerate one more confession? I also did a ‘test drive’ of some recipes I am hoping to make again on Christmas Eve for my family members in order to make sure the holiday meal will be a crowd pleaser. Phew! I feel better now that’s all off my chest. The evening was such a treat eating, drinking, and laughing with good friends. We also played “How to Host a Wine Tasting Party,” which is a great way to taste new wines without spending a ton of money and wasting wine if the bottle is not a keeper. Here’s how it all went down…
The snow started to fly this past weekend in Western New York and our house was no exception as the flurries came down.
This did not deter me for executing my plan to host a small plate small gathering. But after you read this article, you may argue with me in my choice of words for the amount of food I actually prepared. I began thinking about what dishes I wanted to serve and as I kept adding ideas to the menu small plates turned into larger plates. Having grown up in a large family causes me to constantly over estimate how much food to prepare. Being an Italian and Polish mom whose love language is food also causes some issues as far as cooking output is concerned. I settled on a menu of Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms and Eggplant Caviar with fresh veggies and pita chips and naan bread crisps for appetizers; Beef and Broccoli with brown rice, Cashew Chicken and Jasmine white rice, and Dijon Mustard Crusted Lamb Chops for the main entrees; with Mint Chocolate Grasshopper shooters for dessert. I also served Frozen Margaritas, beer, and some wine.
Let me digress here for a bit and tell you about the wine. Part of this incredibly fun evening was a ‘game’ that I bought for my husband this past year called “How to Host a Wine Tasting Party.” I found it on the Barnes and Noble bargain display and the entire box wasn’t a great purchase, but the wine tasting notepad used for the guests’ notes was worth the few dollars I paid. My friends each brought a mystery bottle of wine – one they have never tasted before but were curious to try. The bottle needed to arrive in an opaque bag to keep the name and vintage a secret until it was revealed after the tasting. The tasting was a great way to transition after the food.
Now back to the meal. I have a philosophy of entertaining that once guests arrive for any party that I try to enjoy their presence as much as possible without having to do too much cooking in their company. I prepare as much as I am able in advance, so that once the party starts I am able to have some fun too. I decidedly chose recipes that were able to be prepared ahead of time and it worked like a charm.
Out of the oven first – the Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms – taken from a healthy eating cookbook I recently purchased. They tasted just fine. With ingredients like almond butter and nutritional yeast I’m not sure I will serve them again, but they were not too bad. I guess I’m always hoping for a home run with recipes I select. However, the Eggplant Caviar with fresh cut veggies and pita/naan crisps stole the appetizer portion of the evening.
The Eggplant Caviar recipe is from a cookbook called Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. It was a bit labor intensive with roasting the eggplant, cooling it, peeling and chopping it, salting and draining it, all before I could add the other ingredients, but it was worth the effort as I think it was enjoyed by all. The pine nuts, fresh parsley, onions and garlic added a great deal to the overall complexity of the dish. This one will be a keeper for Christmas Eve appetizers.
The Beef and Broccoli recipe I found on Pinterest and is linked to this website. I am definitely making this as one of my main dishes this Christmas Eve, too. Brown rice was served on the side. It was easy to prepare ahead of time and kept warm in my crockpot for a long time. It was a flavorful main dish using soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar and beef broth that I am sure I will make again and again.
The Cashew Chicken was another fabulous recipe that I used from Wegman’s recipe file and can be found at this link. The fresh ginger root and garlic make it so fragrant. Jasmine white rice was served on the side – one of my favorite types of rice due to its light and soft texture. This recipe is also appearing on my Christmas Eve dinner menu.
But the big treat of the evening was the lamb! KB brought his cast iron fry pans and unleashed his culinary magic to produce the most amazing lamb chops this girl has ever tasted.
I was a few Margaritas into the evening as the tutorial of how to make these gems began, but I know that the ingredients included a few racks of lamb, salt & pepper, butter, olive oil, thyme, rosemary, dijon mustard, bread crumbs and garlic. We seasoned, oiled, and browned the meat before doing a butter bath in the pan. After a good sprinkle of plain bread crumbs, the racks went into the oven at 375 for ten minutes and rested for ten minutes. Slicing and serving came next followed by complete silence. Why? Everyone had a full mouth with the most amazing tasting lamb chops. It was a little bit of heaven. While I won’t be making these on Christmas Eve, I will be sure to keep these in mind for a special dinner with the hubster.
After the main dishes were served we had our mystery wine tasting, and as we went along I requested that each person write some ‘wine words’ to describe what was being tasted, you know, to give each bottle its own ‘personality.’ My favorite phrases of the evening were, “spunky and refreshing,” along with “deliciously dark and dangerous.” The choice wine of the night was a red called Dark House Double Down Red Blend, but props were given our friend who brought the ‘Love’ wine as it had a most excellent looking label.
To end the evening, I served some mini dessert shooters since I knew we’d all be filled up from the small plates. Something refreshing and light would be called for and the recipe can be found at this link.
The actual title of the dessert is Mint Chocolate No Bake Cheesecake, but I added a little flair by calling it Mint Chocolate Grasshopper Shooters. Instead of using shot glasses, as the recipe calls for, I found the cutest plastic cups and mini-dessert spoons at the Dollar Store near my house. This dessert is a winner! I put the crushed cookie crumbles in the bottom of the cup, followed by the filling and then I refrigerated them. I reserved some of the cookie crumbles to add to the top just prior to serving which added a nice crunch. These, too, will be seen on Christmas Eve which I think will be a sensation.
I am sure my waistline took a hit on Saturday, but it was worth it. The company of our friends and the laughter and fun we shared made it a night I won’t soon forget. I feel truly blessed to have such warm and caring people in our lives, and my husband and I were sad when one of our guests was unable to attend due to a last minute concern with her son. We will just have to host another evening again soon when we can all be together and enjoy one another’s company.
Have ever hosted a small plate night or a wine tasting party? What was it like?