Thursday, October 15, 2015

10 Halloween Party Food Ideas!

How exciting... it's time for Halloween! It's so much fun making spooky decorations, dressing in clever costumes and really...are you ever too old to trick or treat? NEVER! (tricksters are ageless). For a creative food enthusiasts like me, the opportunity to theme food for parties is limitless!
Here are a few ideas that you can try to make your table "spooktacular."

 #ONE: Jalapeno Cheese Spread Skull
Mold a soft spread in a plastic mask or other party theme shape. Lined with plastic wrap, your spread will turn out easy after it's chilled. I used the Jalapeno Cheese Spread from my book... click here for the step by step "Jalapeno Cheese Skull," blog post... then garnish with olives to make it scary!

#TWO: Watermelon Brain
Carve rind from a small seedless melon and chisel grooves to mimic a brain shape. Perfect for the center of a fruit tray.

#THREE: Bat Wings
Straighten whole chicken wings and thread a bamboo skewer to hold shape and roast or grill. I used the Chili Lime Chicken wing recipe in "Cook like a Caterer" but you can choose any recipe or sauce.

#FOUR: Medusa Head
Cheese filled tortellini that is marinated and skewered for a tasty cool appetizer. Skewers are pushed into the cabbage head to serve.
(Yep, recipe in "Cook like a Caterer, under tortellini skewers.)

#FIVE: Meat-Eyeballs
Roll a tablespoon of seasoned ground turkey in to a sphere. Press in a stuffed green olive and bake until cooked through. Serve your "eyes" on top of a zesty tomato sauce for a tricky treat that's "easy on the eyes."

#SIX: Skeleton Salad
The Cauliflower Olive Salad in Cook like a Caterer, makes a delicious dish that will inspire guests to think your serving something scary! Leave some pieces of cauliflower larger and place on the side to look like bones.

#SEVEN: Finger Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese with an almond "nail" makes everyone laugh. Attach the almond with cheese spread and display it in a mini cup of V8 juice for tray passing. Pumpkin colored and shaped bell peppers make great dip holders for smaller platters.

#EIGHT: Spooky Ice Bowl
Place a smaller bowl inside a larger one and fill with water in between. Weigh down the smaller bowl with some ice cubes to keep it from floating. Add some small skeleton, bats or spider toys also in between for a creepy look. Freeze until solid then remove the 2 bowls and you have a "cool" serving vessel! Note: Place a platter under to catch drips.

#NINE: Ghost Squash
Turn a ghostly shaped vegetable into a cute centerpiece in just a couple of minutes.

#TEN: Handy Ice Pack
Freeze water in a clean food service glove (remove glove before serving) for a spooky frozen hand ice sculpture. Float a few in a punch bowl for a fright!

Chef Renee Weir -Fontes at the Yorba Linda Public Library Cooking Class October 2015

Hope you are inspired to create your own tricks and treats... Have a happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Playful Office Baby Shower

I found these amusing baby shower pictures from an office party Richard and I catered last October. The hostess, Sheri, has a delightful sense of humor which made it fun to create a "tongue in cheek" menu for the party.

To create a menu that is fun and entertaining, start with a list of dishes that will appeal to a variety of appetites. 

Here are some suggestions for success;
Be sure you consider "good taste," especially in an office setting. Re-naming dishes and select clever serving pieces to reinforce the theme, both are an easy way to have fun with the menu and guests love it.

 is the menu for Sheri's event if you can use to add some whimsy to your own baby shower!

Playful Office Baby Shower
Menu for 25 guests

creamy spinach lasagna with a plump belly

Brats in a Blanket
sausages wrapped in pastry served with grainy mustard

Baby Greens Salad with Baby Bottle Dressing
candied pecans, raspberries and Mandarin oranges

Conception Eggs with "Swimmer" Garnish
black olives top stuffed eggs 

Savory "Lollipops"
deli meats and cheeses in a wrap, sliced and skewered

Watermelon Baby Carriage
Fruit Salad

Fruit salad in a watermelon baby carriage

"Swimmers" decorated stuffed eggs

Lollipop Pinwheel Deli Skewers

 "Brats in a Blanket", brat sausages wrapped in pastry

 Raspberry Vinaigrette served in a baby bottle
I didn't find the picture of the "Lamazegna" I used the Spinach Lasagne from my recipe in Cook like a Caterer. I added some extra filling in the middle to make it look like it had a "baby bump" giving it a theme name (a play on Lamaze) is fun too. The stuffed eggs recipe, the quantity of fruits needed for the fruit salad and the raspberry vinaigrette are also in the cook book at

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fall Soups and Stews- Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Beautiful fall colors from our apple picking adventure last year
It's hard to decide what season is my favorite to cook in. Winter begs for baking, spring calls for salads and summer barbecue is a must. In Fall making comforting soups and thick hearty stews is what I most look forward to. The desire to whip up a soup must be instinctual because the weather has not actually suggested soup as yet. However with autumns calendar arriving it's good to be prepared.

At the recent cooking class for the nice folks at the Santa Fe Springs Public Library, time allowed for me to teach only three recipes. Narrowing it down was difficult, there are more great choices then cool days to enjoy them in the weeks ahead!

In the end I chose a Mexican Albondigas Soup, small seasoned meatballs in a light broth that can host additional vegetables and even a bit of rice to be a little more filling. Tuscan Chicken White Bean Stew, a delicious thick and healthy crock pot meal that can be made with simple pantry items. Finally Curry Butternut Squash Soup that is creamy rich, velvet smooth and is everything from color to flavor intensely fall.

Creamy, smooth Curry Butternut Squash Soup served in hollowed mini pumpkin.
Today lets explore my favorite Curry Butternut Squash Soup. Why, yes! The recipe serves 32, a "party sized recipe" from my book Cook like a Caterer. It makes a huge pot perfect for entertaining and to fill up the freezer for the cool months ahead. Cutting the recipe in half makes a generous amount, but don't shy away from making it... soup is for sharing!

Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Many first time tasters are surprised that the curry in this recipe is not overwhelming and the color is as delicious as the soup. Curry butternut squash soup is especially nice for a Fall party and is charming served from a mini hallowed pumpkin.
Serves 32

8 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups onions chopped
6 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 quarts butternut squash cubed
3½ quarts chicken broth
3 cups heavy cream

  1. Heat oil in large pot, add onions. Cover and cook over medium heat until soft, stirring often (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add curry powder, ground ginger and ½ teaspoon of cayenne, stir 30 seconds. Add squash and broth, bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until squash is very tender (about 30 minutes).
  3. Puree soup in batches, in blender, until smooth.
  4. Return to same pot. Stir in cream and add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.


  • Vent blender when pureeing soup to keep steam from building up.
  • The soup can be made in advance up to where the cream is added and will freeze well. 
  • You can decrease the curry for a milder flavor or substitute pumpkin pie spice if you like.
  • Serving in hallowed out mini pumpkins is great for a plated single serving... a larger pumpkin is great on a buffet.

Darling mini pumpkins and gourds make great vessels for soup and to add to your fall decor!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Catering 100th Birthday Party

I look forward to catering birthday parties. I know when I do, it will be fun occasion filled with family and friends reminissing and enjoying a meal together. A landmark birthday is even more cause to celebrate... but when someone turns 100 its time to it's time to do something extra special. 
At Elmers 100th birthday party he was the center of attention for an afternoon lunch and festivities to honor a remarkable man.

A menu of salads and sandwiches is appealing to any age group. At Elmers 100th birthday party the guests ranged in age between less then 1 to 100! Elmer requested German potato salad loaded with bacon and my favorite, Cheddar Macaroni Salad. Recipe can be found on the blog;

 Menu for Elmer's 100th Birthday
100 guests

Croissant Sandwiches
Turkey, Ham, Roast Beef, Tomato and Fresh Cheese

Paradise Fruit Salad
German Potato Salad
Cheddar Macaroni Salad
Vegetable Tray with Buttermilk Ranch Dip

Tres Leches Cake

A simple self service coffee, iced tea and water bar is a easy way to offer drinks to guests.

Guest of honor Elmer, loves yellow. His favorite flower is carnations which I used in the cheerful centerpieces.  Happy Birthday Elmer!!! And many more!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simple Is Big

Pie? Nope, I love Pumpkin Cheesecake
Squeezed between Halloween and Christmas is a beautiful holiday called Thanksgiving. Most of us grew up with an idyllic idea of what Thanksgiving should look like and taste like. A cozy house of friends and family who are hungry and gracious, sitting before a feast as seen on the cover of Bon Appetite. We imagine an effortless holiday, from a stunning centerpiece to lump-less gravy. In our efforts to achieve such lofty goals we often miss the opportunity to actually enjoy it.

If Thanksgiving is at your house this year and your vision for its success is the magazine quality spread with a  family bonding experience, you might consider a more simple approach. What's not to love about a simple well prepared meal, affordable decor and easy execution? I realize that simplifying a holiday that is the super bowl of meals seems odd but give it a try! Long after the leftovers a stress free holiday gathering will be your reward.

Artichoke, Leek and Spinach Gratin

Here is 10 suggestions from the kitchen to the table that will help make your Thanksgiving easy as pie.

Guests- Review your intended guest list. Consider how far they will be traveling, age group, dietary concerns before you fix the time and set a menu. Time the day by considering if your out of town guests will have to leave at the crack of dawn or drive home late. Consider if you have guests with food allergies or if they are vegetarian. Older guests may not enjoy spicy foods or avoid sugar. The children may do better with a hearty side dish, like macaroni and cheese.

Menu- Start with a simple plan of soup or a salad, main dish, one to two starches, vegetable, bread and dessert. Add additional dishes after carefully considering your time and cooking space available. Let guests who offer bring support dishes bring them. Use quality purchased items to help with filling out the menu without making your job harder. Don't feel like you have to serve traditional dishes, try to include dishes unique to your family.

Planning- Build a time line that lists all activities from housekeeping to guest depart time. Be accurate to make sure you to schedule the time item needed to go in or out of the oven. Check to make sure you haven't planned anything needing the same cooking appliance. This will slow your march to the finish line. Lay out all your platters, serving tools and dish-ware ahead of time so they are in reach when needed.

Shopping- Once you set a menu, divide it into two trips. One to buy all the shelf stable items and those that can stay frozen until prep time. Trip two should be for produce and perishables. Do not shop without a list and make sure you checked off everything you already have at home. Check expiration dates on items you don't use often to make sure they are fresh. Allow 4 to 5 days in a refrigerator for a turkey to thaw.

Housekeeping- Ideally all deep cleaning projects should be finished week ahead and only tidy up needed (we all know how that goes!) Plan B is to stash clutter and stick to cleaning main traffic areas and the restroom. Prepare the kitchen for work by freeing the counters of excess appliances and collectibles. Clear out the fridge and freezer to store only the foods you need. Condiments and bottled drinks can be stored temporarily in an ice chest to gain more space.

Prepping- Chefs call it mise en place... "everything in it's place" meaning get it ready to roll! Don't under estimate how long it takes to get the basics done. Cut up vegetables and wash greens ahead and wrap in clean towels. It's okay to peel potatoes a day ahead and keep in the fridge in water with a few drops of lemon. You can measure seasoning and dry ingredients out for your recipes even a week before, just label, bag and set aside.

Decorating- Use seasonal fruits, nuts, squash, gourds and pumpkins to decorate. Fall colored leaves found on a walk can add a splash of color to your home. To keep as much room as possible on the table, centerpieces should be simple and low. Gather some small vases, arrange candles and fill with fall colored branches.

Seating- If space allows, try to fit guests at one table with at least 18 inches between settings. If one table is not possible, go with smaller intimate groupings and serve from a buffet so guests can mingle.
Avoid sticking the children at a "kids" table. Sitting together is an opportunity to reinforce good table manners and sharing a meal together creates wonderful memories.

Clearing- Ask ahead for an older child or close family member or two to help with clearing away the dishes. When the time comes it will be smoother to have designated help to move on to each course. For safety reasons put food away quickly, more then two hours in an unsafe range can make leftovers dangerous.

Grace- Remember the spirit of the holiday. Give a prayer or a toast, read a poem or elect a family member to do so. It doesn't need to be fancy or rehearsed, a simple statement of gratitude is what Thanksgiving is all about.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Menu Items!
From Cook like a Caterer Recipes

Rosemary Roast Turkey 
Sage and Thyme Dressing
Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic
Porcini Mushroom Gravy
Whipped Yams with Pecans and Cinnamon Streusel
Artichoke, Leek and Spinach Gratin
Vinters Salad with Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
Cranberry, Apple and Walnut Salad
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Vinters Salad with Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette