What’s the difference between everyday dino-chow and special occasion dino-chow? The size, shape, and presentation of your food. Make your favorite foods in a tiny, individual serving or roll ‘em into a ball or impale ‘em on a stick or cut ‘em into a fun shape, and suddenly, it’s a party!
I’ve had this little hors d’oeuvre cookbook for ages, and flipping through it I realized there isn’t anything super special about the recipes – except everything is tiny and fussy.
Tiny + fussy = fun!
Dave and I have a long-standing tradition for staying home on New Year’s Eve, so I’m planning to wear an LBD – along with something sparkly and lots of eyeliner – and I’m whipping up some dino-chow that will be cut, rolled, speared, and presented in cocktail party style.
Just in case you’re celebrating at home, too, here are some of my recipes, along with ideas for how you can cocktail-ize them. The only rules: no forks, no poison. Happy 2011!
Every meatball recipe instantly becomes party food if you make the meatballs tiny – say, 1/2-inch in diameter – instead of normal sized. To preserve the spherical shape, and thus the fun, bake them instead of frying. Just make your favorite meatball recipe, roll them small, then place in a single layer on a baking sheet and throw ‘em in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Line the baking sheet with parchment or foil and save yourself clean-up time! I recommend: Moroccan Meatballs (bake the meatballs and serve the sauce on the side) or Czech Meatballs. Bonus points if you spear each meatball with a frilly toothpick.
Festive Slices with Dollops
A circle topped with something creamy screams ‘APPETIZER.’ Whip up a batch of homemade mayo, and go dollop crazy. An unassuming hard-boiled egg becomes magical when sliced and topped with a touch of mayo and a sprinkle of fresh chopped chives. Or add more protein by slicing Scotch Eggs into rounds, then topping with either mayo or a tiny dollop of mustard (or both!). You can also slice cucumbers into rounds, top with a little touch of mayo, then sprinkle with a tiny amount of chopped black olives and chives. Here’s a trick to improvise a pastry bag so you can pipe the mayo onto your hors d’oeuvre: place mayo in a small plastic baggie, snip off a corner of the bag, then slowly twist the bag to squeeze the mayo out the corner in a thin stream. Pretty little dollops, no fuss!
Chicken on a Stick
Meat on a stick is an instant party! Follow the instructions for The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat. Ever. but instead of grilling the chicken breasts whole, cut them into 1-inch cubes and grill on bamboo skewers. (Be sure to soak the skewers in water for 5 minutes before threading the meat onto them.) Serve with Moroccan Dipping Sauce or one of the other sauces below.
No forks = 100% fun. This Riceless, No-Soy Sushi is elegant and adds international flair to your spread. Set out tiny bowls of coconut aminos (available at Whole Foods) and wasabi for maximum yum factor.
Fancy Cocktail Staples
No self-respecting host/ess would neglect the two party standbys: nuts and olives. But don’t you deserve to make ‘em fancy? Of course you do! I recommend: Marinated Olives and Spiced Nuts. (Note: The spiced nuts include a little sugar. I am OK with that if you’re not in the midst of a strict Whole30. If you are eating 100% clean, skip the sugar in the recipe. If you’re a generally clean eater not in a no-cheat phase, the sugar is a very minimal amount.)
When I was a kid, we always had a giant bowl of Ruffles on our holiday buffet table. These days, I turn to kale chips. They’re salty, crispy, and a superfood. Win!
Crudite and Dip
Raw vegetables? Boring. Crudité? French and fantastic! With creative chopping and a little imagination (check out some of these fancy platters), you can elevate vegetables to new heights of glory. Include raw, grilled, and blanched veggies in your platter to vary the textures – and garnish with fresh sprigs of parsley, olives, artichoke hearts, or hearts of palm… all of which are delicious dipped in sauces like Tahini Dressing, Sunshine Sauce, Herbed Olive Oil, Baba Ghanoush, or Chimichurri.
Need ideas for the platter?
Raw veggies: carrots, cucumbers, red and green pepper, snap peas, jicama, celery
Grilled veggies: fennel, asparagus, red peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, mushrooms
Blanched veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, green beans (how-to for blanching here)
Here are some other nibbles that require no recipe and very little time – you just need some frilly toothpicks and, perhaps, the ability to cut stuff into cubes.
- Cut a cucumber into 1/2-inch cubes and a handful of olives in half. Thread half an olive on a toothpick, add a cucumber cube, then top with the other olive half.
- Arrange canned sardines and/or kipper snacks on a platter in a pleasing arrangement, then garnish with red pepper strips, cucumber rounds, and artichoke hearts. Squeeze a half lemon over the whole thing and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
- Cut grape tomatoes in half and place in a bowl. Mix with a little olive oil, a clove of crushed garlic, chopped fresh basil, salt, and pepper. Arrange on a platter with black olives and use toothpicks to spear and eat them. Remember: no forks!
- Mix one can of tuna with some chopped green onions, 1-2 tablespoons of homemade mayo, salt, pepper, and a 1/2 teaspoon of mustard. Cut a green or red pepper into 2-inch wide wedges. Pile a tablespoon or two of the tuna salad onto the end of the pepper wedges (so one end is a handle and one end is like a scoop) and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
- Grill your favorite high-quality sausage and let it cool. When it’s room temperature, cut it into 1/4-inch thick coins, spear the coins with a frilly toothpick, and arrange on a platter. Bonus points for adding mustard or dipping sauce. Double bonus points if you add a cube of raw apple or grilled pineapple to the skewer. (You can also do this with chicken chunks and mango; add a fresh mint leaf for zing. This is also perfect for dipping in Sunshine Sauce.)
I hope this has inspired you to ring in the new year with your favorite people and your favorite good-for-you foods. For maximum joy, be sure to listen to some appropriate music while preparing your snacks so the good vibes go into the food. Something like this, maybe…
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