Party Ready Croquettes!

Party Ready Croquettes!

One of my favorite appys on the menu at my local Cuban restaurant is the lightly breaded, fried béchamel fritter platter; it’s studded with salty, smoked ham called Croquetas de jamón. Unlike their Southern cousin the hush puppy, these little delicacies are way too delicious to give to the dog. These croquettes are terrific with a glass of dry white wine or with a beer during the big game!

They are easier to make than you think and, better yet, you can prepare them all the way to the frying stage, then freeze them for later use. In my catering days, we used to have whole days dedicated to making ahead and freezable appys, so that we could “grab and go” on the way to client parties.

Start by making a rich white custardy béchamel sauce. Add some smoked ham, and then chill the mixture in the fridge. Mold the chilled mixture into small cylinders and then bread them. Before serving, heat up the oil and fry them to a golden brown. It only takes a minute or two. The crunchy outside leads to a melty inside. Add a spicy sauce, and you have an appy everyone will enjoy.


Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs...

Traditional fried croquette with glass of beer on a wooden table.

Croquetas de Jamón

Serves a crowd

45 Minute Cuisine plus chilling

If you are looking for a make-ahead appy that freezes well, you have come to the right place! These creamy croquettes are simple to make and delicious to eat.

8 ounces smoked ham

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground oregano

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons butter

½ small yellow onion, peeled and chopped

1 cup milk, room temperature

1 tablespoon dry sherry

4 ounces manchego cheese

Spicy aioli sauce

Place the ham in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to finely dice.

Whisk together the flour, parsley, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and nutmeg.

Cook the onion in the butter, in a deep saucepot over medium-high heat until soft, about 2 minutes. Whisk the flour into the butter and onions and cook until bubbly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk and sherry. Continue to whisk until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cheese until thoroughly melted. Stir in the diced ham. Pour this béchamel into a baking dish and chill for at least four hours.

To form the croquettes, use a 1-inch ice cream scoop to form a ball of béchamel. Form this ball into a small cylinder and place it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue until all the béchamel is used. Transfer the cylinders to the refrigerator. Make a dipping station by whisking together two large eggs in a shallow bowl. Pour bread crumbs into a second bowl. Use a spoon to gently roll 1 cylinder in the beaten egg. Then roll in bread crumbs and place them back onto the baking sheet. Chill (or freeze) until you are ready to fry the croquettes.

Heat vegetable oil in a fryer, or deep pot to 375°degrees. Make sure that you use only enough oil to come ⅓ up the side of the pot, as the oil will bubble up when you fry the croquettes. Place several croquettes into the hot oil. Use a slotted spoon to gently turn the croquettes in the oil. Cook until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the croquettes to a paper towel-lined baking dish. Serve with a spicy aioli sauce.

Cook’s Tip

You can make a spicy aioli sauce by combining mayonnaise with a drizzle of hot adobo sauce. Simpler still, try some of the new Marzetti Simply Dressed salad dressings in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Their Siracha Ranch is perfect for these croquettes.

Tapas Crawl Dinner Party!

Tapas Crawl Dinner Party!

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs...

close-up view of wide variety of Tapas in restaurant at spain

One of the coolest outings we arranged was on a family trip to Madrid; it was a tapas crawl! Our guide met us at our hotel and then took us on a walking tour of the local bars and pubs. We sampled small plates of paella, shellfish, specialty croquettes, and rich tomato soups, both hot and cold. We ended the evening at a coffee shop that served warmed churros directly from the fryer to the middle of your table, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and accompanied by a rich, deep chocolate sauce for dipping. To say the evening was yummy would be one of the biggest underestimates of the century!

For a recent dinner party, I decided to incorporate the tapas theme into the evening. My BIG plan is to think SMALL! Small plates that is. Rather than a soup to the nuts four-course menu, think small plates all the way through the meal.

I started the meal with an antipasti plate that included plums wrapped with prosciutto. The specialty drink was Sangria, which blended a bottle of dry red wine with brandy, triple sec, lemon and orange juices, and ginger ale.


The secret to a successful small plate dinner party, is to have the plates stacked for each item, and the food prepped and ready to go. The rest of the meal went like this: Croquets de Jamon, which is a fried ham and béchamel croquette, served with a dipping sauce of spicy aioli. Chilled gazpacho shooters served in juice glasses came next. A small dish of garlicky shrimp and shishito peppers followed the soup. In place of traditional paella, my Americanized version was made with shredded chili roasted short ribs, peas, and Portobello mushrooms. The final small plate presented warm churros with individual small bowls of chocolate sauce for dipping. Hungry yet?! If any of these tapas ring your bell, let me know. I have the recipes!


I canvassed my guests, and by far the favorite dish of the evening was the shrimp. It’s not only terrific as a small plate, but it’s also an easy, one-pan meal that is perfect for a busy weeknight dinner. Shishito peppers are only in season for a short time, so feel free to substitute with slices of poblano peppers, snow pea pods, green beans or asparagus. They all work well, with the garlicky olive oil and shrimp.

Garlicky Shrimp and Shishito Peppers

Serves 4 as main 6 to 8 as appy

30 Minute Cuisine

Slow cooking garlic in olive oil does double duty. The oil becomes fragrant, while the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Add the bite of whole shishito peppers and delicate shrimp, and you have a simple one-pan meal that come together in minutes!

1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced, about ½ cup

½ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon paprika

10 to 12 shishito peppers

1 bunch green onions, tops removed, halved, and cut into 3-inch pieces

1 pound fresh extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined, about 26 to 30

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and paprika and cook until soft, and just beginning to turn golden on the edges. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Add peppers, green onions, and shrimp to the pan. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Toss the veggies and shrimp in the garlicky oil, until the shrimp turn pink and are cooked for about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Host an Interactive Pot Luck for the Holidays

Host an Interactive Pot Luck for the Holidays

When Sous Chefs Crash Christmas

Tired of the same holiday party themes? If you are like me, you’ve done them all: the crazy Christmas sweater party; the winter white party (lots of cauliflower and mashed potatoes). Of course, there was the “everyone brings an ornament” for the tree party, and the ever-popular pirates Christmas party. (There was actually a scuffle during that one!) I have also themed my holiday parties around the Deep South, a cookie exchange, alfresco in December theme (that one was pretty chilly) and even a football tailgating Christmas! I was beginning to think I ran out of fresh ideas… until….. I came up with this one: The Interactive Holiday Party!

The new, hip trend in entertaining is to incorporate interactivity with your party theme. Ideas like painting parties, and guests getting involved with the more exciting aspects of hosting. Interactive food is a natural. Food stations evolve. The idea is to strike a balance between fussing over your guests, and letting them have fun cooking during the party. It’s kind of a new riff on the old-fashioned pot luck supper. Instead of your guests bringing a dish that they prepare at home, they come to YOU first, and help prepare your menu. An interactive pot luck supper invites your guests to double as “sous chefs”, which in French basically translates to the kitchen’s second in command.

Pulling this party off so everyone has a blast is all a matter of setting up the cooking stations in advance; the more organized the host, the more fun your guests have cooking up the meal. Here’s how you do it.

You, the hostess with the mostess, choose the menu.


Then you set up stations for each dish that includes all ingredients, cooking tools and serveware. Set up your dining table and invite your guests to have a seat. Take a couple friends at a time and start cooking. After each dish is prepared, return to the table, and savor the food together as a group. Then continue with more friends to create the next dish. Small plates are best for this idea, as the FUN and tasting go on…and on…and ON! Spread out the stations, so you don’t find yourself cleaning up one station to make room for another. If you have a small kitchen, you don’t have to do everything on your stovetop. Make use of plug-ins like slow cookers, panini makers, electric skillets, etc.

Le menu for your first Interactive Pot Luck

Get started using the following menu as a guideline for creating your interactive pot luck supper. I’m including the recipe for Grilled Guac. The others (and so many more) are available in my iBook Sunday Best Dishes. Did you know you can download the book onto your iPhone?  It is available through iTunes. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Download it today, and start your holiday cooking off right!

Small Plate 1 – Grilled Guac

Pre-Set: Cut up your vegetables, so they are prepared for either your outdoor grill or your indoor grill pan. Ask your guests to grill the veggies until just done. Cool a bit and then add everything to the serving bowl. Cool a bit and then add everything to the serving bowl. Take turns mashing and tasting. Have the basket of chips ready for scooping when you bring everything to the table.

Small Plate 2 – Warm Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad

Pre-Set: Buy pre-shaved Brussels sprouts in the bag and microwave to steam them until they are very soft. Cool to room temperature. Prepare a station with toasted bread crumbs (for the croutons), grated Parmesan cheese and Caesar salad dressing. Ask your guests to warm the sprouts in a sauté pan, and toss in the remaining salad ingredients. Serve on small plates with a garnish of cracked black pepper and a sliver of anchovy.

Small Plate 3 – Short Rib Panini Sandwiches

Pre-Set: Cook boneless short ribs in your slow cooker. Create a station with all the elements needed for super sandwiches: artisanal breads and cheeses and roasted tomatoes, flavored mustards and mayos, and crisp veggies like lettuce and cucumbers. Now ask your guests to assemble panini sandwiches “to order”, using a panini maker or good old fashioned waffle maker.

Small Plate 4 – Ice Cream Sundaes with Pizzelle Bowls

Pre-Set: Premix pizzelle batter. Create a station with all of the items needed for sugary ice cream sundaes: chopped candy and nuts, chocolate and caramel sauces, sprinkles, fruit and cookie crumbles. Invite guests to make the ice cream bowls by inverting warm pizzelle cookies over small cups or bowls, and then cooling to room temperature. Your pizzelle maker will be perfect for this. Spruce up the theme by topping with red and green sprinkles.

 ……. And to all a Good Party Night!!!!


Guac’n Around the Christmas Tree

Guac’n Around the Christmas Tree

Hi everyone! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and weekend. As we head back to work and school tomorrow, it’s nice to have snacks in mind for the next time we get to kick back — maybe as early as next Saturday night! I’m hoping snackage like this will get me in the Christmas spirit. I think it’s a way to add a little fire side to your holiday — that is…if you’re willing to go whole hog on the jalapenos. This muy caliente guacamole is special for a couple of reasons. For one, the ingredients are grilled, which gives it the most incredible smokey flavor and two…you can recruit party guests into helping you make it.

Whatever mashing tools you have on hand will do, but giving someone one of those stone crucibles to grind the avocado in, is pretty fun, and makes a cool stocking stuffer. You can glue my recipe to the side of the gift! Most big box stores carry the mortar and pestle pictured.

Macy Macy’s carries these for around $20. You’ll use it constantly!


But now, a little background on this dish. Tex-Mex food is a staple in the southwest, one of my FAVORITE places to travel. I’m a fan of “Keeping Austin (Texas) Weird”, loving every aspect of their guac prepared tableside. This recipe, however, blows the doors off any guac I’ve ever had. Make it just for FUN, or impress your guests by grilling all of the ingredients, and asking them to mash the guac for you. Serve on nachos, as a condiment on fish or chicken, or…how about frying a tortilla in oil for just a couple of secs. Break off pieces and dip into the grilled guac for a communal appy? It doesn’t get any better!! Spread this guac on toast, enjoy it with cocktail shrimp, slap it on a sandwich — heck, even leave it for Santa instead of cookies. Cheers!

Grilled Guac

Serves a crowd

20 Minute Cuisine (plus an hour for roasting garlic)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large avocados, halved and pitted

4 medium plum tomatoes, halved

½ large red onion, peeled and cut into ½-inch rounds

2 large jalapeno peppers, cut in half and seeded

2 limes, cut in half

6 cloves roasted garlic (see Cook’s Tip at bottom of recipe for roasting instructions)

1 teaspoon ground chili powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place the avocado, onion, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and limes onto the grill pan, cut side down. Cook until you see grill marks on all the food, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the veggies and limes and cook on the other side for about 2 to 3 minutes more. You want the onions to be fork tender, and the rest of the food firm, but not mushy.

Remove the food to your work surface, and let cool so that you can handle each item. Scoop the flesh from the avocado into a bowl. Chop the tomatoes, onion and jalapenos. Add them to the bowl. Squeeze the juice of one lime into the bowl. Add the roasted garlic. Season with chili powder, salt and pepper. Use a potato masher to mash all the ingredients to your desired consistency. Less mashing for chunky guac. More mashing for smoother guacamole. You can drizzle additional olive oil into the guac for added richness and more lime juice for extra smoothness.

Cook’s Tip

To roast garlic, cut the top third from the whole bulb. Place the bulbs (I do three or four at a time) onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Wrap the foil around the garlic leaving an opening at the top. Drizzle with salt and pepper and a bit of dried oregano leaves. Place the foil packet onto a rack in the oven. Roast in at 375° until the cloves are golden and are trying to escape their papery skin, about 1 hour. Remove the cloves by squeezing them away from the skin or by using a tiny fork to lift them free. You can refrigerate the cloves and use them in absolutely everything for up to one week…maybe more!