Host a dinner party like a pro

Mindy KorbinDo you panic at the idea of hosting a sit-down dinner at home? You are not alone. That is why we asked life style expert Mindy Kobrin for her tips on how to entertain like a pro.
 
Mindy Kobrin is a cooking, lifestyle, and entertaining expert. As the Development Director of Fundraising for the Princess Grace Foundation and HSH Prince Albert of Monaco II and The Princely Family, she planned hundreds of events and galas for distinguished international guests. But at home, her philosophy is simple and delicious: “Don’t Worry, Eat Happy.”  
 
Here is Mindy’s interview, full of easy entertaining tips:
 
DD: Can anyone throw a good dinner party, or do you need to hire a chef or caterer and have big apartment?
MK:
Yes, anyone can host a good dinner party with the right guide, planning tools, and positive attitude. Beforeinvitations go out, determine what type of gathering you want – formal or more casual.  Once decided, I suggest sending invitations three or four weeks in advance.

DD: What is the secret to good dinner party seating? How do you plan the guest lists?
MK: The most successful dinner parties encourage guests to mix and mingle with people they don't know well.  If possible, split couples up; seat opposite sexes next to each other; and seat guests of similar interests together to cultivate conversations.  I also like to place travel books or trivia coasters on the tables to stimulate early conversation between guests.  Music also plays a big role in creating ambiance and mood.  Have fun creating a playlist that best fits your party and menu.
DD: What is the optimal length of time for drinks before dinner? And what do you serve?
MK: To maximize budget and whet the appetite, serve cocktails for 30 to 45minutes before the meal.  Keep it to one themed signature cocktail plus wine and non-alcoholic options.  Set up a separate bar station with plenty of ice, cocktail napkins, and appropriate stemware.
DD: How do you handle tipsy guests?
MK: Make sure to have a car service, taxi, or designated driver available, and always serve coffee, tea, or sparkling water toward the end of a dinner party.
DD: With so many different diet restrictions these days from vegans to allergies, do have any favourite go-to dinner party recipes that everyone can eat?
MK:
With gluten-sensitivities and food allergies so widespread nowadays, offer options, or simply ask guests to make you aware of allergies on their RSVP.  I always include a seasonal salad and often a protein side dish, just in case. Quinoa is a great ingredient for either of those courses.
DD: Do you always serve a first course when you entertain? If so, what is it?
MK:
Depending on the dinner party theme, a starter is not necessary.  For example, an informal party of winter stew with Mesclun greens on the side and warm, crusty bread is perfect just the way it is – with a nice bottle of wine!
DD: What are your favourite desserts for entertaining?
MK: I like chocolate fondue with fresh fruit skewers, sautéed strawberries with mint, cake, or seasonal pies.
 
DD: What do you do when guests bring food or wine and expect it to be served?
MK: After many thanks for bringing foodie gifts, I love to pay it forward and express to that guest we'll be sure to use it at the next gathering!
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Easy, spicy low-calorie hummus

We get a lot of requests for this classic easy-to-make recipe. 
Hummus may seem old hat, but make it yourself in minutes, and you will be surprised how fresh and tasty it is. Store-bought hummus, even organic, can be full of extra fat, salt, and calories. 
 
Hummus is a perfect quick appetizer. My guests always love it, even the ones who do
not love hummus. Use any leftovers in sandwiches or for a healthful snack.
It’s low-calorie, only 50 calories for a generous 2 tbsp. serving, so enjoy!
 
This lighter recipe that includes a bit of chicken stock to reduce the amount
of oil needed.
 
Add to a food processor, blender, or container for a stick blender:
 
1 can well-rinsed garbanzo beans or chick peas – preferably organic
1 tbsp. Kadoya Hot Sesame Oil (with chili or cayenne, or use regular plus ½ tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste)
1½ tbsp. plain sesame oil
2 tbsp. plain chicken stock
1½ tsp. salt
1-2 cloves of crushed garlic to taste (must be crushed or minced)
Juice of two lemons (squeeze over a sieve to avoid seeds in hummus)
1 handful of washed flat parsley leaves, about 2 tbsp.
Puree until smooth or slightly chunk as you prefer
 
You may have to stop and stir or shake the container. Chick beans are thick. Taste as you go. You may wish to adjust the lemon or the salt, but do not over-salt.
 
Serve with raw vegetables such as sliced cucumbers. I like to add addictive Lebanese pickled turnips from the Middle Eastern shop. Serve lightly-toasted warm mini pitas cut in half with small individual knives and plates. No one nice dips these days.
 
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Mezze party platter

Put this tasty Middle Eastern platter together in minutesHaving people over for drinks doesn’t have to be an onerous project. Serving Middle Eastern appetizers called Mezze can be an easy and delicious solution for last-minute entertaining. Many of the tasty ingredients can be kept in your pantry or freezer for spontaneous, stress-free entertaining. You can buy stuffed grape leaves, bright pink pickled turnips (they are delicious), olives, and even canned hummus and baba ghanousch at many good groceries or a Middle Eastern market. You can keep mini pita in your freezer to add to the plate. I added feta cheese, but no one would miss it if you didn’t.

 
I recommend draining the oil from the grape leaves and then covering them with a bit of fresh lemon. Fresh lemon perks up many canned or pre-made things from the shops and makes them “your own”. Remember darlings, so few people entertain any more, so making an effort these days is always appreciated. Get some wine, beer and bar basics. Don’t forget lots of cocktail napkins. Get good ones, they are everywhere these days. Coloured cocktail picks or fancy bamboo picks are good too, if you aren’t using forks. And if you don’t have a good ice bucket, get one – and plenty of ice. Handsome buckets in aluminum cost a song at a big box store or online. And you’ll want some non-alcoholic mixers too! Have fun – it’s a party! And don’t forget some snazzy music on your iPod or CD player. Keep it soft and sexy!
 
I like to make my own hummus. It takes only minutes and tastes fresh. It is easy with cans of organic chick peas kept in the pantry. Most people love it.
 
Hummus
 
In a food processor or blender, add:
1 or 2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 can of can of rinsed organic chick peas
Juice of two lemons
½ cup sesame oil
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp chicken stock, preferably organic. Add it slowly to thin the hummus to your taste. It lightens it and does not add calories.
1 tsp salt – or to taste
½ tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional)
 
Blend until smooth
 
Taste and correct seasoning
Decorate the top of the hummus with a little paprika or some olives.
 
 
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Tapas under the stars

I’m not surprised that Tapas bars are getting more and more popular. The concept is so appealing; tasty little plates of food to be washed down with glasses of dry sherry, cold wine, or beer. What’s not to like? And it is usually billed as economical. That’s where you lose me! Darlings, even pre-recession, I found that ordering with some of my more voracious friends in Tapas bar could easily cost more than, or as much as, dinner in a very good bistro. Worse, the little plates were too often disappointing affairs of soggy reheated frozen stuffed pastries, bad olives, and other messes.

 
Don’t get me wrong. Fresh tasty Tapas dishes are fabulous! And with a friend of a similar appetite, small plates are my preferred way to dine. My friends and I often share several appetizers for lunch or even diner. We find them the tastiest things on many menus.
 
A Tapas party under the summer stars can be a wonderful way to entertain. It’s quick and easy, and doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re single, throw one with a friend or two. This is the perfect type of party for a couple to host, as all that’s required is a little teamwork at the beginning. You can then relax and enjoy.
 
The Barcelona Cookbook by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer with Mary Goodbody is a veritable how-to guide to Tapas.
 
The books have fabulous recipes for both hot and cold Tapas. They include tips on how to shop for ingredients in North America. They explain how to choose Spanish wines and sherries. After reading this book you will be able to make some impressive cocktails by the pitcher or glass, as well as several types of Sangria. Sangria is a delicious and budget-friendly way to entertain.
 
From how to lay out a buffet to how to make the most elegant of Tapas, it is all in the book. I had to go out and eat clams after reading their recipe for Almejas con Chorizo or clams with spicy Spanish sausage.
 
Alas my darlings, the recession is with us still, so let’s live well as we celebrate the recessionista-gourmet. Ole! 

Tapas under the stars

 

I’m not surprised that Tapas bars are getting more and more popular. The concept is so appealing; tasty little plates of food to be washed down with glasses of dry sherry, cold wine, or beer. What’s not to like? And it is usually billed as economical. That’s where you lose me! Darlings, even pre-recession, I found that ordering with some of my more voracious friends in Tapas bar could easily cost more than, or as much as, dinner in a very good bistro.  Worse, the little plates were too often disappointing affairs of soggy reheated frozen stuffed pastries, bad olives, and other messes.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  Fresh tasty Tapas dishes are fabulous! And with a friend of a similar appetite, small plates are my preferred way to dine.  My friends and I often share several appetizers for lunch or even diner. We find them the tastiest things on many menus.

 

A Tapas party under the summer stars can be a wonderful way to entertain. It’s quick and easy, and doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re single, throw one with a friend or two. This is the perfect type of party for a couple to host, as all that’s required is a little teamwork at the beginning.  You can then relax and enjoy.

 

The Barcelona Cookbook, a Celebration of Food, Wine , and Life by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer is a veritable how-to guide to Tapas.

 

The books have fabulous recipes for both hot and cold Tapas. They include tips on how to shop for ingredients in North America. They explain how to choose Spanish wines and sherries. After reading this book you will be able to make some impressive cocktails by the pitcher or glass, as well as several types of Sangria. Sangria is a delicious and budget-friendly way to entertain.

 

From how to lay out a buffet to how to make the most elegant of Tapas, it is all in the book. I had to go out and eat clams after reading their recipe for Almejas con Chorizo or clams with spicy Spanish sausage.

 

Alas my darlings, the recession is with us still, so let’s live well as we celebrate the recessionista-gourmet. Ole!   www.barcelonacookbook.com

 

 

 

 
 
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Baba Ghanoush – Easy Middle Eastern Eggplant Dip

Baba Ghanoush is a snap to make I adore mezze or Middle Eastern appetizers. I delight in the bright flavours full of lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs. If you live in most big cities you can usually pick up the makings of a mezze platter at a Middle Eastern deli or café easily and economically. You serve a whole platter full of Middle Eastern food, even if the meal to follow is French, Italian, or anything but Asian. It is especially good with barbecue.
 
Sometimes in the summer, if I know there are no really big eaters at my table, I serve lots of mezze and dessert. Everyone is happy!
 
When there is time I like to make some my own dishes fresh. There are many quick and easy recipes in our archives for dishes like humus.
 
This is a delicious recipe for Baba Ghanoush, a spicy, smoky eggplant dip. It uses long thin oriental eggplants, which cook quickly. I also use sesame oil — not Tahini or sesame paste; I find the texture lighter and nicer. I always have sesame oil in the house, as do many people. Tahini goes rancid quickly, even in the refrigerator. So if you do not eat it regularly, it is wasteful and pricey.
 
I like to use cayenne sesame oil, but you can use any good flavorful sesame oil and add cayenne to taste or not. I like a kick, so I add it.
 
5 oriental eggplants
Sesame oil, with or without cayenne
2 lemons
Good olive oil
Parsley/fresh herbs – garnish
Black olives — garnish
 
The skin will turn brownRoast your eggplants on a rack 20 minutes or until soft at 350F/180C. The skin will turn brown.
Roll in foil or place in a paper bag for 10-12 minutes
Slice down middle – watch out for the steam
Scoop flesh into a processor or a bowl, if you’re using a stick blender
Puree the flesh
Add 2-3 tbsp sesame oil (1 tbsp. with cayenne if you like things spicy)
Start to add lemon one lemon at time and taste – the amount of juice you will get from lemons varies widely. I like things very lemony and always use two lemons. You may want less, so taste as you go. You Slit open with a knife --watch out for the steammay also adjust the amount of sesame oil to make the paste creamier or less creamy – as all eggplants are different. It will be a small adjustment.
 
Add salt to taste.
 
Place your Baba Ghanoush in a shallow bowl or on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish. I like to add herbs and olives. I serve this with toasted mini-pitas or toasted breads. I have even used Indian Nan.
 
Have a snazzy cocktail party for $30
 
Baba GhanoushPlanning a cocktail parry for 10 can be snap on a budget. A bottle of good vodka can cost as little as $12 to 14 and make several pitchers of Lemon Drop cocktails. Two dozen deviled eggs, humus, and baba ghanoush, served with olives and mini-pitas are a snappy buffet of after-work noshes. Do not forget lots of ice. This will give you a chic and fabulous $30 cocktail party for 10 with just an hour’s work the night before.
 
Older, more-established hostesses may want to get a bit more splooshy and add a few more items to the bar or table. But if you are in your 20s or even early 30s, you can be the hostess with the mostest with this simple but chic menu. 
 
 
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Put the devil in your eggs – reviving a classic

Classic deviled eggs, a perfect  lunch  Sometimes the simplest things are the best. I have been serving stuffed or deviled eggs since high school. They are always a hit. Posh caterers and food snobs may sneer, but empty platters speak volumes. They key to simple food is perfection. Make them carefully. Use the best mayo, season well, and garnish with gusto. Make sure they have taste and they will be gobbled.

 
They are also perfect for lunch with a salad – fast and fabulous!
 
Classic deviled eggs
 
Place your eggs in cold water, add salt. Some people add 1 tsp of white vinegar. I do it too, if the eggs are fresh. Bring the water to a rolling boil for 30 seconds, turn off the heat and let the eggs set 20 minutes for 6 or more eggs, seven minutes for 1-5 eggs.
 
Remove the eggs gently into a colander and run cold water over them. Place in bowl of cold water. Crack eggs on hard surface and peel in cold water. Cold water helps the egg to peel easily as does shocking the hot egg in cold water.
 
Slice eggs in half the long way. Place the yolks in bowl. Arrange the whites on a platter with lettuce or small grape tomatoes.
 
6 eggs
2 tbsp. good mayonnaise
salt and pepper taste
1 tsp Dijon or ½ tsp dry English mustard
paprika
 
Mash the ingredients together, except for the paprika and the white halves. Fill the whites with yolk mixture. You can spoon it or pipe it in. A piping bag can be made by snipping a small hole in the corner of a plastic food bag.
 
Sprinkle the top of the egg with paprika for colour. I like to use smoked paprika for an earthy kick.
 
Variations on these basic eggs are endless. Add 1-2 tablespoons of any of the following ingredients, alone or mixed in combinations — as long as they are chopped finely.
 
Capers, chives, parsley, basil, dill, cooked small shrimp, crab, smoked salmon, dill or sweet pickled, sundried tomatoes, pesto, jalapeños, or crispy bacon. You can also try chutney and 1 tsp. of cumin or curry.
 
You can also top each egg with a small shrimp or salmon rosette.
 
Place the eggs on beautifully-garnished platters.
 
You may get only 4 finished deviled eggs from 6 cooked ones if you liked them overstuffed as I do, I just salt the white and eat them, with a little leftover filling, if I am making them for drinks or a party. If they are for lunch, I don’t overfill them. If you mess them up by slicing them wrong or breaking the whites, just make egg salad for breakfast or lunch – what a treat!
 
All foods made with mayonnaise must be refrigerated to avoid serious food poising. If you picnic you need to use a cooler with cool packs.
 
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Recessionista entertaining made easy

Easy Brownie treatsOur newest contributor Ailey Pacione has a sweet tooth and so do her friends. This week she shares her tips for recessionista entertaining and gift giving:

The ultimate chocolate lovers’ fix for a diva on a budget …
 
I admit that with Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter, I’m almost choco-ed out. However, as every DolceDolce diva knows, when a chocolate craving hits, we are at the mercy of the nearest chocolate fix. Two-bite brownies — while superbly delicious — can certainly run up your food bill. They are sold at high-end grocery stores, but are not as easy on the wallet as they are on the palate.
 
Here’s my advice: Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge Brownies are just as good at more than half the price.
 
What makes them even more fantastic is that you can add to the basic recipe. Toss in nuts, chocolate chips, or Smarties — or get even more creative and add icing and decorate them! Then, buy a funky tin can or a cheap, vintage tray, and wrap them up as a gift for any occasion.
 
Ailey Pacione -" I'm no Betty Crocker..."Everybody loves brownies and baking them at home and is a perfect way to be thrifty and creative. Even if they were wrapped in plain tin foil, they would still be well-received — they are that good! The instructions are easy to follow — and I mean easy. I’m no Betty Crocker and my batch turned out great. That makes it fun for everyone to try. It’s so low stress!
 
P.S. The best part about baking brownies at home is you can lick the bowl!
 
Editor’s Note: Ailey added Smarties to her brownies. She shopped for the vintage tray, too. She also had to bake additional batches of brownies for the photos, as her first batch disappeared very quickly. Her friends and family are amazed her baking talent — and want more!
 
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