I spent most of today helping my friend get ready for her holiday party, which is tomorrow evening. The party is an open house, so people will drop in and out throughout the evening. My friend is expecting 30 people, and will be serving…you guessed it, heavy hors d’oeuvres!
When I arrived to help this morning, I found my friend sitting at her kitchen table, sipping coffee. Cookbooks were earmarked, printed recipes were lined up, and a task sheet full of “to dos” lay in front of her on the table. Taking my advice, my friend had begun the party prep weeks ago, deciding on a menu, writing a list of things she would need to purchase from the grocery store, and then developed a timeline. She started her shopping for the party 2 weeks ago, purchasing wine, napkins, and as many non-perishable items as possible. Yesterday she shopped for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other last minute items, and organized them for today’s prep.
When I arrived this morning, I grabbed a list and got to work. We chopped, pureed, mixed, and most of all, laughed together. Having someone to cook with in the kitchen, whether it’s your friend, spouse, or child, is a great way to stay connected amidst the busy lives we all lead. The next time you plan a party, why not enlist a friend to help, or get a group of friends together and each bring an Hors d’oeuvre to share. The idea is to have fun, right? You want to arrive at the door to greet your guests feeling relaxed and ready to enjoy yourself.
Throwing a party of this size definitely requires a lot of organization and prep work on the front end, but if you plan it right, you will serve Hors d’oeuvres that require little, or no attention at all during the party.
The Hors d’oeuvres that I have included in this series, all have make-ahead components, and most are served at room temperature, or may be sitting in a chafing dish ready for self service. Today’s Hors d’oeuvre, Polenta Cups with Sweet Peppers, Manchego, and Almonds is no exception. You may make the polenta cups and the topping one day ahead (refrigerated separately). The only thing you will have left to do is spoon a bit of topping on each cup before your guests arrive (they will hold for about 3 hours). They offer a nice balance to some of the other heavier items you may be serving, and are a “one-bite” Hors d’oeuvre, ideal for a cocktail party.
Polenta Cups with Sweet Peppers, Manchego, and Almonds
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
3 roasted red bell peppers, peeled, seeded, chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped, drained capers
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10 small pitted green olives, chopped
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
1/4 pound Manchego cheese, grated
For polenta cups:
In a large heavy saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle boil; slowly whisk in cornmeal. Cook and stir with a wooden spoon for 15-20 minutes or until polenta is thickened and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat; stir in thyme and pepper. Spoon heaping tablespoonfuls into miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Using the back of a spoon, make an indentation in the center of each. Cover and chill until set.
In a medium skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Add the almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel to drain, then coarsely chop.
In a medium bowl, combine all topping ingredients; add toasted almonds, and adjust seasoning.
Unmold polenta cups and place on a platter. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of topping mixture onto each polenta cup. Garnish with sprinkles of Manchego cheese.
Tokyo Terrace has created an elegant cocktail to go with today’s Hors d’oeuvre. Have a look: