Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Party Bites

Last month I co-hosted a cocktail party as a board member at Greenwich House in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  Greenwich House is a venerable institution that is so many things to so many of the city’s residents that it sometimes defies easy explanation. 

As a charitable foundation, this can be a development director’s nightmare but the excellent staff and volunteers are not daunted.  Rather, they are enthusiastic ambassadors of the diverse programs including mental health services to seniors, a Children’s Safety Program unique to the city, chemical dependency programs and HIV and AIDS services.  Greenwich House also provides a home to a nursery school, senior center, music school and the world famous Greenwich House Pottery (100 years old this year). 

At the party, we highlighted and celebrated just two programs as a simple way to introduce the wide-reaching charity to our guests.   We followed the same theme for the food by serving simple, pure bites with individual importance.

Here is a sampling of hors d’oeuvres from the night. Roasted grape tomato and goat cheese crostini, mushrooms duxelles, skewered baby potatoes and pulled pork quesadillas are all easy finger food.  They are simple to put together and delight guests because they present the essential flavor of each food.  This is nice anytime of year but particularly welcome in the middle of winter when fresh flavors can be more elusive. 

If you are contributing to a Super Bowl Party in the coming week or like us, working by day and entertaining by night, add these to your repertoire.  All can be prepared ahead and can be served either hot or at room temperature. (The pulled pork quesadillas are tastiest served hot.) These also travel well with little or no final assembly.

Roasted Tiny Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Crostini
There are lots of recipes online for roasting small tomatoes, each with a specific fresh herb.  Basil, thyme, chives or dill are all good choices.  Some use cherry tomatoes and some the diminutive grape tomato.  We were surprised when we tasted the sweetness of the grape tomatoes in stores last week and opted to go minimal, roasting the little rubies at a very high temperature (425˚F) with coated only olive, salt, pepper and 2 garlic cloves (for 4 pints of tomatoes).  No herbs were added this time.  When the tomatoes began to burst, (about 15 minutes) the result was a sweet concasse of summer tomato flavor supported but not overwhelmed by garlic.  We topped soft goat cheese on a crostini with a tablespoon of the roasted tomatoes and sent it out to mingle with some white wine. 

Mushroom-Mushroom Duxelles
Mushrooms chopped superfine and cooked down to a spreadable paste is also not new to drinks parties.   This was also served on crostini but our take left out the usual shallots, onions and garlic and let the mushroom flavor develop into its own in a skillet laced with only olive oil, salt and pepper and placed over medium heat.  We debated adding a shot of truffle oil, but this lily did not need gilding after we cooked the mushrooms down to their essence and even allowed bits to caramelize.  Red wine drinkers found a great match with this offering.

Boiled Baby Potatoes with Aioli Mayonnaise
If you can’t find really small potatoes, reasonably small ones cut into bite-sized halves will do the trick.  Boil small potatoes whole for about 15 minutes, until just tender.   For larger potatoes, boil 15 minutes then slice in half and roast on oiled baking sheets for 15 more minutes at 425˚ to seal the cut edge.  The potatoes can be served hot or room temperature.   To make your own aioli quickly and safely, take one cup of good quality store–bought mayonnaise and add a tablespoon of a very rich extra virgin olive oil (I like Goya for this) and a clove of crushed garlic.  Taste and add more garlic if desired.  Remember that the garlic flavor will intensify with time.  Serve the potatoes in a wide bowl with toothpicks and the aioli in a smaller bowl nestled in the center of the potatoes. 

Pulled Pork Quesadillas
A trimmed pork shoulder slow cooked for hours with your favorite salsa, smoked chipotle powder, oregano and cocoa powder is a simple weeknight dinner served with rice, sour cream and lime.  To make it party-ready we needed to provide single servings that held the sauce inside without any spills.  We sandwiched the chopped pulled pork between whole-wheat tortillas and used shredded cheese to make sure everything stuck together.  They were put together ahead of time and oven heated and sliced into wedges with a pizza cutter just before serving. Since the pork was cooked days ahead, this came together quickly and provided the protein anchor for the event.

Pulled Pork Quesadillas
Makes 60 wedges
3 pounds pork shoulder in large chunks
1 1/2 cups salsa
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons smoked chipotle powder
2 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 whole wheat tortillas
1 pound shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1 cup sour cream
Juice from one lime

Trim visible fat from the meat and set aside.  In a large bowl mix salsa, oregano, smoked chipotle powder, cocoa and salt together.  Add meat and mix to coat pork completely.  Transfer to a 4-6 quart slow cooker and cook on high for 4-5 hours, low for 6-8 hours.  Allow pulled pork to cool before assembling quesadillas. Once meat has cooled, shred pork into bite sized pieces.  Place a single tortilla on wax paper and cover sparingly with cheese.  Follow with a layer of pork.  Sprinkle some cilantro on pork and finish with another light layer of cheese.  Place a second tortilla on top and press down firmly to secure layers together.  Set quesadilla aside covered with another piece of wax paper or a tea towel to prevent the tortilla from becoming brittle. Use the same method to make 9 more quesadillas.  Stack quesadillas between wax paper.  At this stage you can place quesadillas in large re-sealable plastic bags (about five will fit in each bag) and refrigerate up to 2 days.  When you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400˚F and place quesadillas on cookie sheets in single layers.  Two cookie sheets with two or three quesadillas will heat up in about 8-10 minutes.  Slice cooked quesadillas into sixths and serve immediately.  These taste good plain or with a simple dip of lime-spiked sour cream (Squeeze some lime juice over the sour cream, that’s it.)
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Enjoy the game.

The 8th Annual A Taste of Greenwich House with samplings from New York's finest restaurants is on Monday evening, March 8th at the Altman Building, 135 West 18th Street in Manhattan.  Proceeds from the event benefit Greenwich House's 14 services for at-risk and abused children, seniors, and other New Yorkers in need.  Tickets are on sale now at www.greenwichhouse.org.