Archive for the ‘Party food’ Category


Pizza-making doesn’t have to mean mixing dough from scratch and tossing it out ala Luigi. Try a fresh, crusty French loaf for a twist! This is also an easy option for a fun, small dinner party with friends – people always go wild topping their own, which can be pretty entertaining.  I like to brush each half with a little olive oil and lightly toast it under the broiler before adding sauce, cheese and toppings. Then, load it up with whatever your heart desires, and after a few more minutes in the oven you’ll have a melted top, crunchy crust, and an explosion of awesome flavors.


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These are some of the best cupcakes I have ever tasted, hands down. The bakers at Magnolia, which first opened in New York’s West Village in 1996, have perfected their eggy cake batter and baking process to result in a treat that is not overly moist or oily and neither dry and crumbly. The buttercream frosting is to die for.

A year ago, the bakery opened a location at Columbus Ave and West 69th Street on the Upper West Side. There and in the West Village, lines of people run out the door as late as 11 or 12 on weekend nights. If you’re a Sex and the City fan, you may also remember the Magnolia cupcakes from their cameo in the show.


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One of the early staples in my cooking repertoire was the taco dinner: browned ground beef with an Old El Paso spice pack and all the prepacked fixings, from shredded Kraft cheese and chopped iceberg lettuce to flour tortillas and canned salsa. It was always an easy, tasty meal, but certainly not authentic, healthy or inventive. Oh how far I’ve come!

For a recent small fiesta with friends, I prepared two kinds of tacos and two homemade salsas for dipping and topping on the side.

I know “veggie” tacos may not sound the most enticing, but this recipe (Parade Magazine, Jan. 2008) is creative and surprisingly delicious. A medley of diced eggplant, red bell pepper, tomatoes and parsley is sauteed with onion, garlic and seasonings. Red kidney beans and chickpeas add substance and “meatiness” to the mix. Topped with grated cheese in a crunchy shell, these were a winner.

The slow-cooked beef tacos were even more of a hit among with my friends. Cubed boneless beef chuck is stewed for a couple hours in salsa, beef broth, garlic, brown sugar and soy sauce; cilantro and lime juice are added at the end for an extra kick. The meat emerges tender and flavorful, with a finger-licking-good sauce. Highly recommend this recipe (Bon Appetit, Nov. 1997).

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Chewy on the outside and fresh, crisp and crunchy on the inside. Fresh spring rolls are a light and refreshing appetizer packed with flavor.

Turns out, they’re pretty easy to make at home! Preparing the rolls’ numerous elements is the hardest part; wrapping and rolling is all the fun.

These shrimp spring rolls included cilantro, seeded cucumber, carrots, green onion, mint leaves, cellophane noodles, and chopped peanuts.  You could also swap in basil for the mint or add lettuce or spinach to the mix. Some people like fresh bean sprouts in there as well. It’s up to you.

Start the assembly process by soaking a sheet of rice paper in a bowl of water until it gets limp.  Then pull it out and lay it on a damp cloth. Starting with the mint leaves or lettuce, top the wrapper with all the ingredients. Then, roll it up tight like you would a burrito.

I recommend two dipping sauces to dunk your rolls into: a spicy peanut sauce and a sweet garlic chili sauce. Both can be prepared in advance, and leftovers can be kept and used as a marinade or condiment.

Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon each of minced garlic and ginger

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup crushed peanuts

1 tablespoon peanut butter

*Bring all of the above ingredients to simmer over low heat, whisking to combine the peanut butter. Let it cool before serving.

Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce

4 tablespoons fish sauce

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce, or to taste

*Combine at least one hour before serving.

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It was another busy weekend in the PeanutButterMilk kitchen. On Saturday night we hosted a sushi-making party for a few friends, and on Sunday we celebrated Nate’s birthday with a Southern cuisine feast.

Making sushi at home is a lot of fun. My stepsister, Michelle, gave us a sushi kit for Christmas, and it included all the essentials: chopsticks, soy sauce dishes, sake cups, sushi platter, bamboo rolling mat. This was the second time we tried it, and we were thrilled with how it all turned out.

Shrimp, avocado, cucumber and wasabi

Shrimp, avocado, cucumber and wasabi

The only tricky parts are buying the right amount of raw ingredients and preparing the special sushi rice. In this case, we had to guesstimate how much to buy for six people and ended up with quite a bit of leftovers.  I bought a pound and a half of sashimi-grade tuna, a pound of local shrimp, and a pound of pre-cooked snow crab legs. (We probably could have done fine with just under a pound of tuna and three-quarters of a pound of shrimp.  The rice is more filling than you think!)  I also picked up two avocados, green onions, and a cucumber – plus, a pack of ten nori seaweed wrappers.  Pickled ginger and wasabi are other important elements that we already had a home.

You want to make sure that the raw fish is incredibly fresh, and I always look for tuna labeled “sashimi-grade.” In most cases, the fillets are previously frozen, and that’s okay. Even though we live on the coast, I was apprehensive about buying and eating a raw local fish, like grouper, just because I don’t fully trust the grocery store handling practices.  So, while the tuna was the only raw fish we ate, the steamed local shrimp and snow crab were just as delicious.

Preparing the rice is the most involved part of making sushi yourself. I have to admit that the first time I made the rice, I was humbled by how much of an art this process is. First, you must be sure to use short or medium grain rice. Long grain is too dry and retains too much water. I used one pound of rice and it was just enough to feed six people with 8-10 maki rolls and a handful of nigiri. Here is the step-by-step:

(1) Using a strainer, wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain for 1 hour.

(2) Put the rice in a pot with tight-fitting lid and add 2.5 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

(3) Lower the heat further and steam for 12-15 minutes.  Then, remove from heat.

(4) Remove the lid and cover the pot with a tea towel. Let it stand for 15 minutes.

(5) While the rice is cooking, you prepare a vinegar mixture that will be added later to create the right level of sticky texture. For this you will need 5 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of mirin, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and one tablespoon of salt. Combine these in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar and salt dissolve.  The key here is stirring constantly.  Then, remove the mixture from the heat and cool.

(6) When the sauce and rice are finished, spread the rice evenly over the base of a shallow, ideally wooden, bowl. Then, you run a spatula through the rice to gently separate the grains – don’t mash or overly mix the rice. Continue cutting the spatula through the rice as you slowly add the vinegar mixture. You don’t need to stir or mix up the rice.

(7) Finally, fan the rice until it reaches room tempurature and then cover with a clean cloth until it’s time to start sushi-making.

Trust me, if you can make it though these steps, the rest of the process is a piece of cake. If however, the rice doesn’t turn out right, the sushi probably won’t hold together well and that can be frustrating.

Making a maki

Making a maki

Our friends had a ball enjoying — and making — a variety of maki rolls: tuna-avocado-scallion; snow crab-cucumber-wasabi; shrimp-avocado-cucumber… They all turned out very well. And the few pieces of tuna nigiri we made were also well received. On the side, we enjoyed Nate’s homemade fried rice, Maggie’s Asian salad, and several bottles of wine and sake.

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