October 13, 2017
Food Front: The dinner party, solved
By Joanne Sasvari
If there’s one thing Caren McSherry has learned after 39 years of teaching cooking classes, it’s that every host struggles for ideas for starters and sides. So it only made sense for that to be the subject of her new cookbook, Starters, Salads, and Sexy Sides (Appetite by Random House).
“It directly answers the call that gives most home cooks the biggest headache—what to serve with the main,” she says. The book is loaded with easy but impressive ideas to keep you cooking through all the months of dinner parties, cocktail soirées and holiday gatherings that lie ahead.
Many of her recipes rely on tasty things you can purchase and dress up with just a little effort, which only makes sense since McSherry is also the owner of Gourmet Warehouse, a one-stop shop for everything you need to throw a delicious do. Her top party-ready picks? Pesto sauce, truffle purée, tomato sauce, balsamic pearls, lemon olive oil and chili paste.
“Time is the most important factor for most cooks and this book relates to that,” she says. It also relates to one of the biggest trends she’s seeing right now: the demand for easy-to-make snacks, more often than not plant-based, like her charred eggplant and za’atar dip or the hummus with crispy chickpeas.
“The cheese-and-pepper-stuffed dates are awesome, too, as are the marinated olives, which can be made a week ahead,” she says. “The prosciutto-wrapped pears with balsamic pearls wow everyone for the simplicity of preparation and the dynamic and impactful taste. And I love the truffle pizza. It takes literally minutes to put together and the accolades last for weeks!”
If you’re planning to entertain this fall and winter, she has plenty of tips for you. Basically, it’s all about the prep. She advises working backwards with your shopping and other tasks. For instance: Buy your wines a week ahead of time, set the table three days before, do your mise en place (chopping, measuring, dressings, shredding and sauces) two days ahead. And follow the 3, 2, 1 approach to shopping: buy your non-perishables ahead of time and the most easily spoiled items, like bread and fish, last.
“It is important to be organized with your menu and task list,” she says. “Whatever can be done ahead and frozen will ease your stress.”
Could anything be easier or more impressive than this easy appie to serve with drinks? As Caren McSherry says: “Effort required: little. Accolades: many. Make lots; they disappear fast!” From Starters, Salads, and Sexy Sides by Caren McSherry, copyright Appetite by Random House.
Makes four pizzas, serving eight to 16 as an appetizer.
- Four 8-inch (20 cm) thin pre-made pizza crusts (available at fine gourmet stores)
- 2 cups (500 mL) mascarpone cheese (or full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese)
- 1 jar (5.6 oz) black truffle spread (preferably La Madia La Tartufata Black Truffle Spread & Topping)
- 1 cup (250 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).
Lay the pizza crusts on the counter and spread the mascarpone cheese evenly to the edges. Top with a thin layer of the truffle spread, about two to three tablespoons (30 to 45 mL) per pizza. Finish with a light sprinkle of Parmesan.
Note: If you are making these ahead of time, place a sheet of parchment between each pizza and stack them to save counter space. They can also be placed in a freezer bag this way and frozen for four to six weeks.
When ready to bake, transfer to two rimless cookie sheets. Bake for five to eight minutes. Watch carefully, as they cook quickly. To get a super-crisp pizza-oven crust, slide the pizzas off the cookie sheet and let them rest directly on the oven rack for the last minute of baking. Remove, cut into wedges, and serve immediately.