Entertaining Calisthenics

I cooked for 30 on Friday night. It was a hired gig - a holiday party in the neighborhood. The hosts wanted an upscale but informal lineup, buffet style.

Here's what I put together:
For spreading or dipping onto crackers or bread-like items, smoked trout rillettes and a white bean-red pepper puree, flavored with rosemary and garlic; homemade cheddar-pepper crackers; tenderloin of beef marinated in a hoisin/black bean/garlic/curry paste marinade; Szechuan-style green beans, plus baguette-topped apple salsa and brie. For dessert, there was upside-down pear-gingerbread cake and chocolate bark, with dried cherries, walnuts and crystallized ginger.

With the exception of two dishes, I had experience preparing the menu, which made life manageable and kept Kim's hair looking good. To keep costs down, I bought all the produce at Han ah Reum, the mega Korean grocery store in Merrifield, Va. Sweets were made on Thursday night, plus the meat went into its marinade. The remainder was on my to-do list all day Friday, for about six hours.

The two first-timers, the apple salsa-baguette number and the green beans, were delightful surprises - not only because they were so darn tasty but they worked beautifully in a heavy hors d'oeuvres scenario.

They also were easy to assemble, with little cooking and brain power - definite keepers! Have a look at the details below. Both come from "Vegetarian Appetizers" by Paulette Mitchell.

Apple Salsa and Brie Crostini

2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste
1 tart apple, peeled, cored and fined diced (about 2 cups)
1/2 finedly chopped red bell pepper
1/2 red onion or shallot, finely chopped
small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
12 baguette slices
1/2 pound brie cheese, rind removed

If you prefer toasted baguette slices, do this first, at about 400 degreees, for about 2 minutes.

Make salsa: Stir together vinegar, oil and honey, season with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, add apple, bell pepper, onion and cilantro and toss to combine. Add dressing and stir to coat.

Assemble crostini:
Mound a heaping teaspoon of salsa onto each baguette slice. Top with about 2 teaspoons cheese. Arrange on baking sheet and bake at 350, about 1 minute, until cheese melts. Serve immediately.

For more than 2 dozen toasts, double recipe.

Crunchy Szechuan Green Beans

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound green beans, trimmed
1/3 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon water, or as needed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh, peeled ginger, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or 2 teaspoons Chinese chili paste with garlic
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Heat canola oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add beans and onion; cook, stirring occasionally until beans are crisp-tneder and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes. (Note: I found the onions too burned and bitter to add to dish, so I discarded them after cooking)

Pour beans into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients, except the sesame seeds. Sauce should have a cake-batter consistency; add water as needed. Pour sauce over cooked beans and stir to combine. Add sesame seeds for garnish. May be served warm or at room temperature.

Makes enough for 10 buffet-style servings. Can be easily doubled.

By kimodo |  December 12, 2005; 12:35 PM ET  | Category:  Entertaining
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Hi Kim,

Your spread sounds wonderful! Could you post your recipe for the bark too - it sounds divine!


Posted by: Lisa | December 12, 2005 01:48 PM

Hey Lisa: Head over to the chocolate section of the blog to get choco-bark details. I did a video a while back on the rillettes -- coming up in a jiff...

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 13, 2005 08:05 AM

Kim--please PLEASE post the pear-gingerbread upside down cake recipe! It sounds so yummy and spicy- a good chocolate alternative. Thanks!!

Posted by: Olney, MD | December 13, 2005 09:07 AM

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