Monday, June 30, 2008

Party Food (and Planning)

After dreaming of making this for many years, I finally bought a copy of the Angelica Home Kitchen cookbook so I could make the famous Lentil-Walnut Pate I've enjoyed every time I've eaten at Angelica.

I only made two alterations to the recipe, but it tasted just as delicious as I've remembered. I omitted the mirin and used umeboshi vinegar instead of paste since the paste was SO expensive that I just couldn't justify buying a package for just one tablespoon. The vinegar, on the other hand, I could use in salad dressings and other dishes.

This pate could easily be dubbed a vegan chicken liver pate -- since just about all the non-vegetarian folks at my party on Saturday asked in disbelief if that's what it was. The cooking time of the recipe says "30 minutes," but it took a lot longer for my 3 cups of onions to carmelize just right. I recommend using vidalia onions so that you get the extra sweetness out of them.

The walnuts make the pate pretty solid at colder temperatures, so, if you make this, be sure to take it out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes prior to serving. In fact, you could serve it warm, and it would be very tasty.

In the photo above, I served the pate with Trader Joe's mini rice and sesame crackers. Since Angelica serves theirs with rice crackers, why tinker with what works?

Because I think you should definitely purchase this book (or at least go out when you're in NYC and try the Lentil-Walnut Pate at Angelica Kitchen), I won't publish the recipe here.

Instead, I'll move on and share with you a bit about what I served (sorry I neglected to take any other photos) and the planning that went into Saturday's gathering.

Like most of the things that inspire me, I was awoken by the idea for this little party about 3 weeks prior to the date. I sat up in bed, in the wee hours, with my good pad and pen at the ready while the ideas came.

On the first page, at the top, I left two blanks for the date and the time. Then I made a short list of what should be included in the invitations (suggested dishes to bring and a request for folding chairs, but only from a select few. We didn't end up needing them after all). Next, I made a few notes of what I'd need for the house set-up (a list of items to pick up from the storage facility, how I wanted the chairs and tables arranged, how I wanted the flow of food to go).

The biggest portion of the first page was the "Food" section. At the top, I listed the "fixins" (ketchup, mustard, salt, etc.), utensils, plates, and other needed items. The most useful item that I remembered to include was the electric cooler. It was truly handy in keeping the soft drinks and water cold without using ice.

I divided the Food section into 4 subsections: Apps, First Course, Second Course, and Desserts.


1. Walnut-Lentil Pate and rice crackers (a big hit)
2. Chips and salsa (which nearly no one ate)
3. Guacamole (none left after the party)
4. Hummus and whole wheat pita chips (not as much of a favorite as I'd expected)
5. Grilled polenta with sautéed mushrooms/spinach/sundried tomatoes and topped with a small dollop of ricotta cheese (a HUGE hit)
6. Homemade coleslaw (also a HUGE hit -- my grandmother would have been very proud of me. She used to make her own and store it in old Sanka jars.)
7. Organic greens in a light balsamic vinaigrette (competed with a lovely salad my friend Jeanette made with goat cheese. Regrettably, I didn't get to try any of hers.)

First course:

1. Grilled veggie kabobs (with eggplant, baby onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and peppers marinated in olive oil and Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute)
2. Grilled seasoned shrimp (These were very tasty and very popular -- I'd made my own Essence of Emeril for the dry rub and gently oiled them with grapeseed oil)
3. Grilled corn (I think we got a bad batch from Costco, so I'm going back to complain and get my money back)

Second course (most folks were so full, they didn't opt for this):

1. Turkey burgers and hot dogs
2. Beef hot dogs
3. Soy burgers, dogs and sausage

These items were grilled by my friend Chelsea's boyfriend Ray who is already a professional cook. He was very respectful of the veg/non-veg grilling areas.

1. Mango sorbet and coconut ice cream (I'd made these days earlier since they froze well and didn't take much time to make)
2. Miniature blueberry peach pies with tiny butterfly top crusts (they were a big hit)I had so much filling left over that I made another batch of pie crust for a separate pie I decorated with large and small butterfly cutouts. I'll be taking that to Mom's for dessert tonight.

On the second page of my party-planning guide, I wrote a list of invitees with columns for names, Yes or No RSVPs, and items they would be bringing. About RSVPs, I'm sure it's not just me, but more than half the folks didn't RSVP, which makes it difficult to plan. However, I wound up inviting a few other people along the way, so in the end, about half the number of people I originally planned to invite actually came (which is exactly what I estimated would happen in the first place).

On the third page, I divided the paper into two columns: Food Planning and House Planning. Then, I divided the columns into three sections: 2 days ahead, 1 day ahead, and the morning of. (In reality, there were several things that I did a few days earlier, but I just wanted to get it all down on paper so I wouldn't forget to prepare anything. I also added things to sections along the way as I remembered or John did. Finally, I had a section at the top for things that had to be done a week ahead, such as getting service ware from storage and confirming the guests.

That step of food and house planning was probably the most important. It kept me from being a crazy woman and gave me space to accomplish things in a practical, sensible way. It also allowed me to plan for a few things that I could give to John to do without overwhelming him with stuff. This page also allowed me to plan to give willing guests things to do (like Jeanette and Dave, who skewered the shrimp for me, then Jeanette grilled them).

On the final page, I made a shopping list. I also made a "things to get from storage" list on the back of the third page. Both were very helpful because I also designated where I would get which items. For example, I knew there were things I would buy from the Co-op. There also was a section of items that would be less expensive to buy at Trader Joe's. Finally, there were the Costco items like bottled water, shrimp, and corn.

It was important to space out some of the shopping trips so that I would be nearby the stores and not have to make an extra trip (gas is just too expensive to do otherwise!). So, there were items I picked up in advance and froze because it was convenient.

All said and done, the party was fun, the food was tasty (if I do say so myself), and folks enjoyed themselves. Best of all, I now have a customized party guide!


-Teresa- said...

Hi Deb! I'v been a long time silent reader. Found your site through Robin from long time ago :-) This post on party planning is great! I love the food your served. In fact, I am copying some items off your menu for a grill/barbeque party here in our house this Friday. The guests are meat eaters and me and hubby are vegetarians. I would love to get the recipe of the pate, if you don't mind sharing :-) I haven't been to Angelica but I will make sure to visit on my next trek to NYC. I would understand if you don't want to share it. After all, it cost you $30 to have it hehehe Anyway, may I please ask too for your recipe for the mango sorbet and coconut ice cream? You mentioned you made them a day ahead your party. I still have time to make it for this Friday's get-together. I have an electric ice cream maker and so I thought of asking for your recipe to try it out. Hope it's ok with you. Thanks and hope to hear from you! - Best regard, Teresa (Oakland, NJ)

Deb Schiff said...

Hi Teresa!
Thanks for coming out of your lurk. ;D

The recipe for the sorbet is at my other blog, Altered Plates, here.

Again, I encourage folks to buy the Angelica Home Kitchen book to get the pate as well as other fantastic recipes.

Good luck with your party!

-Teresa- said...

hi Deb! thanks for the link. I made the coconut ice cream and it was a hit during our 4th of July afternoon get-together! I already bought the mango chunks from Trader Joe's so I might make the Mango Sorbet soon. Hope yours was a good one! :-) Best regards.

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks, Teresa! So glad to hear yours was a hit!