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Small Parties, Small Plates (June 7, 2011)

Your best friend is getting married again... this time to the right person; Mom has a major birthday coming up but doesn't want a splash; you owe some invites, or are just in the mood to entertain a few friends or business associates. A small-plate dinner party is the answer! A variety of elegant, appetizer sized dishes matched with perfect wines, all spread out over an evening make for an easy, relaxed and successful party. You'll find you won't want to entertain any other way!

We got the idea in a new cookbook, 100 Perfect Pairings by Jill Silverman Hough, who matched 100 appetizer-sized dishes to enjoy with twelve popular varietals. What do with the case of Chardonnay from Christmas, or all those Zins that you had to have? Those bottles of Gewütraminer are still in the fridge, and everyone loves the idea of rosé but what's the best match? The list doesn't stop there; Silverman goes on to give us recipes that perfectly match Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

She also gives readers excellent information such as "fine-tuning tips" with the recipes such as adding more or less salt and acid, or sweet and savoury elements in the food, what rich and creamy will do with a wine, and how to choose perfect dishes with the wines you have.

We also love her recipe choices. A cold peach and mango soup shooter perfectly matches the Gewürztraminer, marinated olives with citrus and garlic paired with a Chardonnay; there are wine-soused sausages, onion and pepper with mint which she suggests are perfect with a Syrah, while that beautiful heirloom tomato, mozzarella and basil salad meets its mate in a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Of course there's a wide range of wines in each of these categories, and Silverman covers that nicely explaining the nuances in the five major factors in wine: sweetness, acidity, tannins, weight and intensity in matching wines with different recipes.

The general information in 100 Perfect Pairings is excellent: concise and easy to understand. Silverman's book is a must-have for all of us!

Still a favourite "what to make" cookbook is Marguerite Marceau Henderson's Small Parties. We pull it off the shelf for great seasonal party menus; it's divided into more than 20 entertaining ideas, from an Afternoon Tea to French Après-Ski, Summer Concert Picnic, Weekend at the Cottage, and celebrations for the bride, graduate and Mother! Holidays are covered in delicious detail and there's lots of good advice on giving the perfect small party.

Both these books are a must have for anyone who loves to entertain, or just simply loves food and wine.

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (135 KB)



Cold Peach and Mango Soup Shooters

This dish is so pretty, tasty and easy to make. What better? It's a great way to begin a small party, and can be enjoyed standing or relaxing under a potted palm on the patio. For best results, use fresh fruit, but in a pinch frozen works; just make sure to buy the unsweetened version. From 100 Perfect Pairings.

Makes 12 ¼-cup shooters, or 6 ½-cup servings. Or double the recipe and make a batch!

  • 2 limes
  • 1 ripe freestone yellow peach, pitted and cut into chunks
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt, or more to taste
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 12 fresh cilantro leaves

Zest the limes; set zest aside. Juice the limes to yield 3 Tbsp of juice. In a blender or food processor, combine the lime juice, peach, mango, buttermilk, orange juice, salt and cayenne and process until very smooth, scraping down the jar or bowl as necessary (you may have to do this in batches). Transfer the soup to a container and chill for at least 2 hours. (You can prepare the soup up to 3 days in advance, storing it covered in the refrigerator.)

Taste, ideally with your wine and add more lime juice and/or salt if you like. Serve the soup chilled, each serving garnished with a cilantro leaf and some of the lime zest.

Silverman Hough suggests a Gewürztraminer and goes on to say "If your fruit is particularly sweet, you might notice that the soup makes your wine seem a little sour. To fix this, just add more lime juice, a teaspoon or two at a time, until the soup and the wine nice complement each other."



Five-Spice Crab Salad Cocktails

If you're looking for something elegant, look no further. This cocktail-sized appetizer is super simple to make, but because it features an indulgent ingredient, crab, it feels sophisticated and special-occasion. Ideally, use fresh crab from a good fishmonger, but canned crab will work as well.

This dish is great on its own, but with the wine, it's a knockout... one of those delicious situations where the whole is greater than the sum of its delicious parts! From 100 Perfect Pairings.

Serves 4

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder, plus more for garnish
  • 12 ounces cooked crabmeat, picket over
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus leaves for garnish
  • 2 Tbsp minced shallot

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and five spice powder. Set aside. (You can prepare the mayonnaise mixture up to 3 days in advance, storing it covered in the refrigerator.)

In a medium bowl, combine the crab, chopped parsley, and shallot. Add about 2 Tbsp of the mayonnaise mixture, gently tossing to combine. Taste, ideally with your wine, and add more lemon juice if you like.

Spoon the crab mixture into decorative glasses. Top with the remaining mayonnaise mixture, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle with a dash of five-spice powder, garnish with the parsley leaves, and serve.

Silverman Hough suggests a Viognier and goes on to say, "With a teaspoon of lemon zest instead of the five-spice powder, this dish is great with Chardonnay."



Smoked Trout Salad with Pumpernickel Toasts

Jill Silverman Hough comments that the hardest thing about making this dish is finding smoked trout, which should be pretty easy at a decent grocery or specialty store. She also says that smoked salmon can be substituted, as the smoke is the complement to the wine, as is the slightly spicy watercress. Oh Yum! From 100 Perfect Pairings.

Makes 16 toasts

  • 1½ cups loosely packed watercress leaves (about 1 ounce)
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 ounces smoked trout, skin removed, flaked
  • One 3-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 16 small, thin slices pumpernickel or dark rye bread, toasted

Chop about half of the watercress and place in a medium bowl. Set the remaining whole leaves aside.

Finely grate the zest from the lemon to yield 1 tsp packed. Juice the lemon to yield 2 Tbsp of juice. Add the zest and juice to the bowl with the watercress, along with the trout, cream cheese, horseradish, and pepper, stirring to make a spreadable paste. (You can prepare the trout salad up to 4 hours in advance, storing it covered in the refrigerator.)

Taste, ideally with your wine, and add more lemon juice and/or pepper if you like. Spread about 1 Tbsp of the trout mixture on each of the toasts. Garnish with the reserved watercress and serve.

Silverman Hough comments: "Lighter smoky foods-like veggies or fish-go particularly well with Fumé Blanc, a kind of Sauvignon Blanc that often has a little oak ageing, giving it a similarly woody, smoky quality."



Heirloom Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad

We all love such salads: fresh, bursting with flavours, and who among us even thought that we could match a wine with such a dish? You do have to be careful; Silverman Hough reminds us that tomatoes, especially heirlooms, can vary wildly in both sweetness and acidity; if too sweet they can make the wine taste sour. Look for red and green heirlooms, which have the highest acidity, just enough to balance the sweetness, while yellow tomatoes will have the least. From 100 Perfect Pairings.

Serves 4

  • 16 fresh basil leaves
  • 4 large heirloom tomatoes (about 2 pounds) cored and cut into ½ inch slices
  • Coarse kosher salt, to taste
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
  • 2 Tbsp white or golden balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp minced red onion

Cut 12 of the basil leaves into thin slices or tear them into small pieces. Set the remaining 4 leaves aside.

Arrange the tomato slices on a platter or on individual plates, stacking them or fanning them out. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a few pieces of the sliced or torn basil and a slice of cheese between every one or two tomato slices.

Drizzle the vinegar and olive oil over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the onion, garnish with the reserved whole basil leaves and serve.

Silverman Hough comments: (Start with a Pinot Grigio, and) as is the case with many recipes (in this chapter), this one would also pair well with Sauvignon Blanc.



Mini Pesto Burgers

Sliders! All the rage and why not? Delicious tiny hamburgers, just the right size to eat one or more... Perfect for an appetizer party! Oh, here comes another tray, "Why yes, thank you!" From 100 Perfect Pairings.

Serves 6

  • 3/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 1½ ounces)
  • 2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tsp coarse kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound 85% lean ground beef
  • 6 slices provolone cheese
  • 1 tomato cut into 6 slices
  • 6 whole wheat dinner rolls, split horizontally

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, 1/2 tsp of the salt, and 1/4 tsp of the pepper and pulse to finely chop, scraping down the bowl as necessary. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Set the pesto aside. (You can prepare the pesto in advance, string it covered in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for several months. Thaw in to refrigerator before proceeding.)

Shape the beef into 6 patties, about 3 inches in diameter and 1/2 an inch thick. Cut the provolone cheese slices so that they're 2½ inches in diameter. (You can shape the patties and cut the cheese up to 2 days in advance, storing them covered in the refrigerator.)

Prepare the grill to medium-high heat and lightly oil the grate. Sprinkle both sides of the patties with the remaining 1½ tsps of salt and ½ tsp of pepper.

Grill the patties to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium. During the last minute, place a slice of provolone cheese on top of each patty and place the rolls cut side down on the grill, to melt the cheese and lightly toast the buns.

Place the tomato slices on the bottom halves of the rolls. Top with the patties, pesto, and the top halves of the rolls and serve.

Silverman Hough comments: (Start with a rosé, and) these burgers are also great with Pinot Noir and with Zinfandel.



Orange Cream Cheese Stuffed Dates

What exquisite little sweets to finish off the meal. Rich and creamy with a crunch of sweet pecans, this perfect finger food dessert melds plump dates with orange, a match made in heaven. Best, it couldn't be easier! From Marguerite Marceau Henderson's Small Parties cookbook.

Makes 20 to 24

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped pecans
  • 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 20 to 24 large Medjool dates, pits removed, slit open
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped pecans

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, orange zest and juice, pecans and powdered sugar. With a pastry bag or with a small spoon, fill each date with about 1 tsp orange cream cheese filling. Place on serving platter and chill until ready to serve. This can be made several hours ahead. Sprinkle with grated zest and chopped pecans.

Watch disappear...



Coconut Dusted White Chocolate Strawberries

Another great finger food dessert; this time with large, ripe red strawberries clad in oh so chic white! It's fast, easy and beautiful, really the perfect end to a perfect party.

Thank you again, Marguerite Marceau Henderson and your Small Parties cookbook.

Makes 16 berries

  • 16 large strawberries
  • 8 ounces white chocolate morsels
  • 2 cups shredded sweetened coconut flakes

Clean berries and pat dry. If berries have stems, leave them on. Place the chocolate in a glass or stainless-steel bowl over simmering water in a small saucepan; do not let the bowl touch the water. Stir chocolate with a wooded spoon until it is completely melted. Remove bowl of melted chocolate from "double boiler." Place the coconut flakes in a separate shallow bowl.

Dip each strawberry to the melted chocolate and them roll in coconut flakes. Place strawberries on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill berries until ready to serve. These can be made up to 4 hours ahead.

Note: Use large blackberries, fresh whole figs, or pitted cherries along with the strawberries, if in season. Use a small wooded skewer to dip the fruit in the white chocolate and coconut for easy in handling.



We wish to thank the following for permission to publish material and photographs:

John Wiley and Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, for 100 Perfect Pairings by Jill Silverman Hough. © 2010 by Jill Silverman Hough.


Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah, and Raincoast Publishing, Vancouver, for Small Parties by Marguerite Marceau Henderson. Text © 2008 Marguerite Marceau Henderson. Photographs © 2008 Kirsten Shultz.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (135 KB)




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