When Entertaining with Small Plates, Less can be More

Another holiday season, a herd of family I can’t wait to see, all with their convoluted schedules, none of which coincide simultaneously. Therefore, I’ll be turning the holidays on and off several times in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be flexible. I’ll be creative. I’ll try to stay sober.

Entertaining Canapé Platter

Entertaining Canapé Platter

I’m thinking small plates and bite-sized packages by the fire will be appreciated. In a holiday stuffed with excess, less can often be more. Guests tend to eat slower, lingering over small plates. And in-between the plates, the conversation flows.

Freshly shucked oysters with a mignonette, followed by a couple of small pieces of buttery brioche topped with lemon creme fraiche and a smear of the most delicious roe your purse will allow. A sparkler, of course. Less is more, unarguably.

How about one perfectly seared scallop on a bed of wild mushroom risotto in a ramekin. Any protein and starch combination you particularly love can be scaled down; it will be savored all the more when downsized and served on a small plate. For dessert serve chocolate mousse and a dollop of Grand Marnier enhanced whipped cream in phyllo cups.


Meatballs may be made in advance and frozen for up to a couple of weeks.

My freezer is an ally. The lamb meatballs in the following recipe were divided into aluminum pans, and then frozen. I take out a tray and bake them as needed. A garlicky tart tzadziki would be the perfect accompaniment, but I chose to drizzle pomegranate syrup/molasses onto the plate, then top it with the lamb.

The lamb meatballs pair especially well with phyllo cups stuffed with mediterranean ingredients you’ll find in the recipe below. Here’s another recipe (Inside Karen’s Kitchen) that inspired mine; she bakes her phyllo cups and the ingredients include sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives. Most quality groceries stock phyllo cups next to the frozen phyllo sheets in their freezer sections. They thaw in 30 minutes, then I stuff them with a variety of ingredients through the holidays. Again, here’s the link to my collection of other stuffings for phyllo cups  made in the past.

Phyllo cups may be found in the frozen section of most grocery stores, saddled next to the phyllo sheets. So flexible and versatile, what’s not to like?

Good things come in small packages. Have a lovely holiday season!

Recipe: Savory Lamb Meatballs with Pomegranate Syrup


  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 Tablespoons currants
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom, optional
  • 1/2-1 cup chopped mint
  • 1 cup panko
  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 pound of ground beef (chuck makes the juiciest meatball)
  • Pomegranate syrup, as needed
  • Orange zest, optional garnish


  1. In a large bowl, whisk eggs together with garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, currants and cardamom (if using). Stir mint and panko into seasonings to combine.
  2. Gently knead the lamb and beef into the mixture. (Cook a small bit of the batch, taste, and adjust seasonings to palate.) Divide and form into apx. 32 meatballs, shaped a tad larger than a golf ball. (They may be frozen for up to 2 weeks, at this point.)
  3. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. On middle rack of oven, bake (thawed) lamb 15 minutes. Serve with pomegranate syrup garnished with orange zest, if using.

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Number of servings (yield): apx. 34 meatballs (a bit larger than) golf-ball sized 

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

Recipe: Mediterranean Salad in Phyllo Cups


  • 15 mini phyllo shells* (1 box), defrosted
  • 1/3 cup your favorite hummus or baba ganoush
  • 1/4  cup diced English cucumber
  • 3 tablespoons diced roasted red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil or mint


  1. Divide hummus or baba ganoush between phyllo shells.
  2. Combine  cucumber, roasted red pepper, feta cheese and basil or mint; add freshly ground pepper to taste. Evenly between the shells and serve.

*I used the Athens Mini Fillo Shells brand, found in the freezer sections of most groceries.

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 15 stuffed cups

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

Tagged: , , , , ,
separator image

A Million Recipes and Nothing To Cook.

Savory Baked Quince stuffed with Lamb

Savory Baked Quince stuffed with Lamb

Planning a dinner party menu, for me, is like figuring out an outfit to wear for a special occasion; so many choices but nothing comes together. The (such-a-deal) taupe sheath with a metallic band is very cool but none of my shoes are right. And accessories? Don’t even go there. The Baked Quince stuffed with Ground Lamb and Currants is festive but I’m stumped about a side dish. And dessert? Forget about it.

Maybe you have similar issues, especially when you’re busier than ever stuffing goodwill towards all into a few short weeks. I’ve perused my Holiday Cookbook and have pieced together some soup-to-nuts festive dinners, including cocktails, that may ease some of your strain. (I do believe in potlucks. I do, I do, I do….)

Proposal #1: Super-Easy & Festive Menu

Appetizer: Gorgonzola Pear Dip  Notes: Stupid simple, but oh so good. Can be assembled in 5 minutes and made the night before; all but the addition of pears, which should be stirred in a couple of hours before serving. Serve with a sliced baguette or Rosemary-Raisin Crisps (or something similar) I’ve enjoyed from Trader Joe’s.

Roast Pork with Rosemary and Garlic

Roast Pork with Rosemary and Garlic

Main Course: Roast Pork with Rosemary and Garlic Notes: How can something so easy taste so heavenly? Five minutes to prep the roast and about 45 minutes to roast. Don’t overcook!

Pick your Side(s): Maple-Glazed Butternut Squash Notes: The only thing time-consuming is attacking the butternut squash. I prefer the slices but you could save time and use the pre-cut cubes.

Baked Apples stuffed with Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes

Baked Apples stuffed with Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes

Balsamic Red Cabbage Notes: Buying a bag of sliced red cabbage makes this recipe a cinch.

Baked Apple stuffed with Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes Notes: OK. A tiny bit more involved, but they can be made well in advance to baking, and they are  nirvana with pork.

Sauteéd Chard and Currants: No recipe for this, it’s so easy. Simply remove greens from stems and sauté chopped stems in butter or olive oil with currants until almost tender. Stir in chopped leaves and season with salt and pepper. Using chard with red stems looks quite festive on the plate and the sweet currants are delish with the pork.

Yogurt and Fig Cake

Yogurt and Fig Cake

Dessert: Yogurt and Fig Cake Notes:  I love this cake and it’s the simplest scratch-made cake I’ve ever made. It may be made a couple of days in advance and freezes well. Substitute frozen or dried figs if you can’t find fresh. I’d go the distance and serve this topped with whipped cream infused with Grand Marnier.

Cocktail: Lucy’s Pig Punch Notes: This is a yummy whiskey and apple potent. But to keep thing really simple, serve a creamy Chardonnay with fruity notes, particularly apple, before and throughout the meal.

Proposal #2: A bit more involved, a bit more classy-sassy, but most of the prep work may (and should for survival) be done well in advance.

Sherried Shrimp Bisque

Sherried Shrimp Bisque

Appetizer: Sherried Shrimp Bisque Notes: I love serving appetizers in shot glasses! The bisque be made a couple of days in advance; it ages well.

Main Course: Flank Steak Florentine (header photo) Notes: Pretty  on a plate and may be rolled and prepped the evening prior to  cooking and serving. If you prefer your beef cooked medium or well-done, make this Standing Rib Roast instead. The sides listed below are compatible for both. Flank steak toughens the longer it cooks.

Pick your Side(s): Roasted Garlic Mashed Potato and Mushroom-Leek Casserole  Notes:  Can be made a day in advance. Fabulous with beef.

Portobella Mushrooms Caps stuffed with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes Notes: Can be made 3-4 hours in advance. Tidy little package.

Pasta with Roasted Chestnuts, Bacon and Sage

Pasta with Roasted Chestnuts, Bacon and Sage

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chanterelles and Bacon Notes: Omit the Chanterelle and Bacon Sauce if you’d prefer the dish less rich.

Pasta with Roasted Chestnuts, Bacon and Fried Sage Leaves Notes: Save time by purchasing roasted and peeled chestnuts.

Chocolate-Rum Mousse with Whipped Cream and Raspberries

Chocolate-Rum Mousse with Whipped Cream and Raspberries

Dessert: Chocolate-Rum Mousse with Whipped Cream and Raspberries or Ginger Molasses Bundt Cake with Lemon Curd Notes: The mousse can be made 24 hours in advance; the cake several days in advance.

Cocktail: I’d serve a classic Manhattan made with American rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and orange bitters–grated fresh nutmeg would lend a holiday note; and a solid Cabernet with dinner. 




Tagged: , , , ,
separator image

Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Mulled Wine Poached Pears: Thanksgiving Day Warm-Up

Today’s Wednesday–8 days before Thanksgiving; 4 days before my kids, et al, come  to celebrate our early-bird feast. There’s several inches of white stuff on the ground, school’s out and some neighborhood kids just made a snowman. It’s leering at me from across the street. Wipe that silly grin off your face before I knock it off.

Pears beginning to poach in a fruity mulled wine.

Pears beginning to poach in a fruity mulled wine.

Oopsie! Debby Downer’s come to visit. Normally I’m delighted with the first stuff of the season. But memories of last winter…today’s temps below freezing …two feasts to prepare…a book demanding its 20 millionth proof…a house that needs cleaning…no assistant to assist…Really, Frosty, really? Can’t you wait until December?

My family assumes my spatula is a magic wand, perhaps yours’ does too; no short-cuts for this gal. Grinning mightily, I’m supposed to cherish this holiday; be an enthusiastic spoke on the wheel with the other smily-faced Thanksgiving Day guru bloggers, communally slavering over saucepan, over pen, over this one holiday that devotes itself to food. That should be me. But, yet, it’s not. This year I’m saying’– make it go away, please?

Today’s Friday--I’m better. The snow is glistening under Frosty’s affable smile. I’m excited the kids are coming over tomorrow. We feast, they leave, and then I regroup for Thanksgiving verité. Yesterday I cleaned the house, set the table, arranged flowers, did most of the shopping, trying to get as much done in advance as possible. I just made two of their favorite sides: Wild Rice, Sausage, Fennel Stuffing and the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potato-Shiitake Mushroom Casserole (tap the Holiday Ball icon for my Holiday Cookbook).

It’s essential making dishes 24 hours in advance as, folks, I’m in survival mode, and the savory panna cotta (not sweet, per typical panna cotta) dealie I’m launching to conclude tomorrow’s meal is a piece of work. I’ll make the Goat Cheese Panna Cotta and Poached Pears portion of the recipe tonight, the entirety to be completed an hour before dinner’s served. Salad and cheese courses are often served after the main, and this recipe takes care of that, plus the poached pear adds an element of sweet.


Peel pears, leaving skin enact.


Remove seeds and fibers with a melon baller.


Poach pears in seasoned wine under parchment.


With a neutrally flavored oil, oil ramekins.


Add goat cheese to just hot milk and cream.


Whisk goat cheese until incorporated into sauce and smooth.


Place pan in ice bath then whisk in gelatin (read notes on blooming gelatin). Whisk until completely incorporated and mixture is not gritty.


Pour mixture into oiled ramekins and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 24.


Make bacon-maple syrup and strain out bacon.


Panna Cotta perfection! Just the right amount of jiggle and creaminess while maintaining its shape.

IMG_5113 thumbnailIMG_5118 thumbnailIMG_5121 thumbnailIMG_5122 thumbnailIMG_5123_1024 thumbnailIMG_5124 thumbnail
IMG_5126 thumbnailIMG_5127 thumbnailIMG_5131_1024 thumbnailIMG_5137 thumbnail

Today’s Saturday: When you read the following recipe (I dare you), you’re right to conclude that I’m a whacked-out masochist since I’ve kvetched ad nauseam about my work load. (I get it; nice problems and all that.) If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’re feeling my pain because holidays knock you broadside, too. This year my novel-to-be takes the rap.

Recipes are included in Simmer and Smoke; A Culinary Tale, and the following is a recipe I’ve made only once, and it will appear in the book. It needed a microscopic proof and that’s what I gave it. I’ll serve it tonight, but made a sample to photograph and taste.  The layers of texture and flavor incorporate into a shimmering, creamy, bacolicious dish; a real show-stopper and, in retrospect, worth the effort.

One last thing. Forget deep breathing mantras. Here’s my strategy for Thanksgiving Day Survival: Lucy’s Pig Punch. Yeowza!

Recipe: Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Pears and Maple-Bacon Dressing


  • 4 firm-ripe Bosc pears
  • 4 cups fruity red wine*
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cloves
  • Parchment paper to cover pear while poaching
  • 3 cups heavy cream (avoid ultra-pasterurized, if possible)
  • 1 cup goat milk
  • 8 ounces soft goat cheese, room temperature, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dry tarragon
  • Two pinches of cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin, bloomed** in 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 8 (1/2-3/4 cup)ramekins (molds), lightly oiled
  • 1 packed cup of 1/4-inch diced uncooked bacon
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • Arugula, as needed, stems trimmed, washed and dried
  • Optional garnishes: Finely chopped parsley (for garnishing panna cotta) and raspberries.


  1. Peel pears with a vegetable peeler or paring knife and cut them, lengthwise, in half. Use a melon baller or spoon to dig out the core, and a small paring knife to remove the fibrous part of the core that extends to the stem, leaving the stem intact.
  2. Combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and cloves in your largest, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a low simmer while stirring to dissolve sugar.
  3. Add pears to the saucepan. Cut a piece of parchment paper into a circle that will fit over the pears in the pan. Place the parchment round directly on the surface of the liquid and pears. This will keep the pears submerged in the liquid.
  4. Over low heat, poach pears for 20 to 30 minutes or until a knife is easily inserted into a pear. Turn pears over in the middle of simmer time to insure even poaching. Remove the pears from the heat and allow them to cool to room temperature in their liquid. Chill in the cooking liquid until cold, turning occasionally, at least 8 hours and up to 24.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, half-fill  an ice bath large enough to house the saucepan in which the panna cotta will simmer. Reserve.
  6. Gently heat the cream and goat milk in  saucepan. When just hot but not boiling, stir in the goat cheese and whisk until the mixture is smooth; stir in tarragon, cayenne and salt. Remove from heat and continue whisking in ice bath; whisking in the bloomed gelatin (see notes below) and continue whisking until completely incorporated.
  7. Pour into oiled molds. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.
  8. Fry the bacon in a skillet until crisp; deglaze pan with 2 cups of water and the maple syrup and reduce until 1 cup, or so, remains; about 15 minutes. Strain out bacon (reserve for another use), return the syrup to a small saucepan and whisk over high heat for 3-4 minutes, until the syrup thickens. Allow to cool, whisking occasionally to make sure the fat does not separate. (If refrigerated at this point, the syrup will thicken further; bring to room temperature before using.)
  9. Unmold the panna cottas by running a knife along the edges of the ramekins and tapping onto 8 plates garnished with arugula. (If they don’t slide out of the mold, place briefly in a small hot water bath and try again.) Slice the pears and arrange around the panna cotta. Drizzle with the bacon syrup, garnish, if desired, and serve.

*A typical, 750mL bottle of wine is 3 cups; add an additional cup of water, if you don’t want to open another bottle. That’s what I did. A bit less of an intense red color, but lovely.

**Blooming gelatin is an important step to ensure a smooth texture. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin into water and stir to dissolve. Let sit for 3 to 5 minutes until congealed, then heat in the microwave about 45 seconds until liquified.

Time to make poached pears and panna cotta (advance prep required): 75 minutes

Time to make dressing and finish plates: 40 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 8

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.


Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,
separator image