Shrimp and Tomato Kebabs: The Easiest Thing to Serve at Your Late Summer Soirée

I had been working in catering for a whole two weeks when the request came in: a client wanted a specific menu for her late summer party, one that boasted seasonal flavors and colors and lean protein. It also had to be served hot to those who arrived early, but should be equally appetizing if eaten at room temperature later in the evening.

She also asked me to avoid gluten, and to keep the vegetarians in mind, and if possible, to serve something that wouldn’t require a fork and knife as she felt finger foods were more appropriate for her planned gathering. I felt the panic building inside me with each request, which I noted in chicken scratch on a loose sheet of paper. What could I possibly suggest to meet all of her criteria?

After poring over my page for almost an hour, I took a deep breath and told my boss that I was stumped on a menu and had no idea what to suggest.  She let her eyes quickly scan the list of requirements, and before she reached the last of them she told me “shrimp or fish kebabs will work well for this.”

Shrimp & Tomato Kebabs 1

At the time it pained me to admit that I didn’t know fish or shrimp could be served that way, but I sure was glad to learn because it’s saved me more times that I care to count when it comes to hosting my own summer soirées.

I love that most kebabs can be cooked in advance and reheated, served at room temperature, or dished up hot from the grill on the day of a party.

[Read more…]

The most versatile sauce you’ll make this summer (recipe for chimichurri)

When it comes to grilling, my modus operandi is simple: use good quality products – of which there are many hanging out around the markets these days – and coat them liberally with a persuasive sauce, marinade, or condiment.

Are you familiar with chimichurri? This Argentinian dressing is one of my favorites, and boasts the freshest of flavors thanks to the marriage of simple garden herbs (parsley and oregano) garlic, jalapeño, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.

Vibrant and fragrant, this sauce is my go-to summer seasoning and makes a frequent appearance at my dinner table in the warm-weather months.

[Read more…]

My favourite appetizer for easy warm-weather entertaining (Sweet Pea and Parmesan Tartines)

Part of my warm-weather entertaining manifesto is to keep my gatherings as simple as possible. This encompasses everything from table décor to beverages, and most importantly, food. We host several dinners and social soirées in the spring and summer months, and I’m always on the look out for easy-to-execute lip-smacking appetizers that deliver impressive tastes to my guests. Luckily, these tartines fit the bill perfectly.

While the name sounds highly impressive, tartines (or crostinis) are really nothing more than slices of toasted/grilled bread topped with a little something. It can be as simple as store-bought jam and a slice of aged cheddar, assorted spreads, cured meats, or fresh produce that’s paired with fragrant herbs and oils.

I typically opt for the latter, and they are almost always the highlight of the meal. Lightly buttered bread is usually grilled, rubbed with garlic and then covered with a variety of toppings. For spring, I’m smitten with the combination of sweet peas, Parmesan and mint, but you can use pretty much anything that’s in season.

[Read more…]

Celebrating My Irish Heritage Through Food (Cheesy Irish Soda Scones)

Cheesy Irish Soda Scones

Written by Jan of Family Bites.

In all the years I worked in catering, coordinating menus and planning parties, I was never once asked to create an Irish-inspired fête. There were the Scottish celebrations in honor of Robbie Burns Day, the English tea parties that commemorated the marriage of Prince William and Kate, and the almost weekly Italian/French/Mexican-inspired menus designed for lively weekend gatherings. Sadly, the Irish never got their “fare” share from our tiny commercial kitchen.

I’m on a mission to change that this March, and have grand plans to host an Irish-themed Sunday dinner later in the month. My husband’s grandparents were born in Ireland, as were my own great-grandparents, and I’ve been increasingly interested in learning more about the booming food culture of the Emerald Isle, specifically the regions that were home to our ancestors.

While we all know that potatoes are a staple in the Irish kitchen, I’m not sure it’s common knowledge that the country exports their prized dairy all over the world. The top-quality grass-fed milk produced by thousands of the nations farmers is pure liquid gold, and artisans are bringing the ancient methods of cheese and yogurt making to modern day Ireland.

Or how about the fact that the Connemara fields, in the Connacht region of the county, raise some of the most sought-after lamb in all of Europe? Nestled close to the waters of the Atlantic, the ocean spray enhances the growth of the wild grasses the lambs eat, infusing their meat with a naturally salty flavour.

Those food facts alone make the Irish worth celebrating, don’t you think?

[Read more…]

My secret for easy entertaining during the cold weather months

Chicken with 40 Cloves Garlic

Written by contributor Jan of Family Bites.

Sixteen years ago this week I moved to the South of France. I was 21 years old, and with the exception of a week-long vacation to Florida during the early Spring of Grade 13, my travel had been limited to a few touristy destinations across Canada.

I arrived in Nice on a crisp January morning. As I walked through the small airport looking for the man with the Chihuahua tucked into his front pocket – the only identifying trait I had for the person who was going to employ me for the next year – I had a mini panic attack as I waited in the sun soaked baggage claim.

It turns out the dashing man arrived two minutes after I did, and I spent a large part of the next year taking care of his two young sons, befriending his lovely in-laws who didn’t speak a word of English – but taught me to drive stick shift none-the-less – going to parties with some of the world’s biggest celebrities (I have a picture of Michael Jackson!), and learning how to entertain with efficiency and simplicity from the man’s wife, a cool-tempered lady who would play tennis with members of the royal family, and then come home to cook dinner for her husband and eight of his business associates.

Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, the family I was living with made their home in Monte Carlo, Monaco, a small principality best known for glitzy casinos and Grace Kelly. But to me, it was the place I learned the most about shopping from a market, making soup from scratch, and in-home entertaining.

There were so many things I learned while living abroad, and I’m sure I could fill the pages of a book with the culinary stories and secrets I have from my time there, but the one thing that sticks in my memory the most is this: when the lady of the house entertained she never made her main course the same day she planned on serving it. [Read more…]