It seems people rarely get together at each other’s houses for a meal these days. People still love to eat and socialize they just seem to prefer to do it at a restaurant. And that’s a shame.
Don’t get me wrong, I love eating out (to the detriment of my waistline). But people tend to linger longer at home. Conversations are less guarded and often less PC. Loud laughter is not discouraged and wine flows more plentifully when you BYO (often across our tablecloth which is why I buy in threes).
So why aren’t people throwing more dinner parties? The common complaint I hear is the time involved and not knowing how to plan a meal. So I thought I would share one of my favorite easy dinner party menus. The theme is Cajun – perfect on a cold night and of course, for Mardi Gras celebrations. You can even make it a voodoo inspired Halloween party, which is what I did when the neighbors came over last weekend.
First things first, wine. I chose a McCrea Mouvedre to welcome my neighbors and sip with apps. For dinner I wanted something with a little spice and chose Dunham Cellars Trutina although a tempranillo would also work well. We also dipped into two more bottles the neighbors brought over because that’s how these nights go…
For appetizers I turned to a favorite cookbook – Kathy Casey’s Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers. Although not Cajun, I chose her simple and simply addictive Croque Monsieur Puffs (scroll down the link, recipe is toward the bottom).
My sister, a serious cheese addict, was visiting so we picked up a wedge of triple cream brie topped it with orange marmalade (apricot jam works well too) and chopped pecans and warmed it in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes (basically until the topping is gooey and running down the sides). We served it with sweet cranberry & pumpkin spice thins and savory pita crackers (both from Trader Joe’s but pretty much any kind of cracker would work well).
Since my sister was helping in the kitchen we added one more app – Kathy Casey’s Creole Crab Cupcakes. This meal has more than enough food without a third app (our guests were a little too full before the entree), but if you can get lump crab meat fairly easily (for those in Seattle, my husband picked up ours at Mutual Fish) it’s a delicious recipe that looks stunning and is fast and easy to make (FYI: you do need a mini muffin pan).
The star of the night, however, is Slow Cooker Jambalaya. You can save some time the day of by cutting up your ingredients the night before and buying peeled, deveined, cooked frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s or elsewhere. Toss your ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, set to low, and seven hours later your house will have a whiff of creole kitchen about it. (If you’re in a hurry, set to high and let cook for three hours). About half an hour before serving, throw some rice and chicken broth (or water) in rice cooker or pot (covered on stove). Put a little rice in each of your guest’s bowls – or do as I do and ask them to serve themselves – and top with the jambalaya.
The only side you need is a little cornbread. To save time use the Marie Calendar’s mix (just add water), which is pretty unbeatable. You can make squares or muffins. Squares are faster as you can bake an entire pan at once. If I have time, though I like the look of muffins. And no I don’t ever feel obligated to make cornbread from scratch, Marie has it down.
If you’re feeling like you need a little more, add some braised kale. I like this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. And no, you do not have to make you’re own chicken stock.
For dessert we went with a pumpkin spice cake which we ate too quickly to photograph. But I think red velvet cake (or cupcakes) would work especially well. If you are celebrating Mardi Gras, then a King Cake is the way to go.