Ask Mom Mom: Book Club Food

Dear  Mom Mom,

It seems whenever I host book club or a similar event,  I tend to go way too far and put out enough food to feed the entire tri-county area.  Can you help me with finding a good balance of feeling like I’ve got enough food to satisfy without going overboard and feeling guilty for throwing out tons of food at the end of the night?  I would never want to be accused of not feeding my guests!

Signed,

Bookclub and Clueless…

Dear Most Considerate Hostess,

This is such a great question, as so many people struggle with this very dilemma. I won’t pretend to be the authority on this (okay, who am I kidding? I always pretend to be the authority), but I will tell you what I try to do in similar situations.

In a rational moment, preferably at least one week or more before your event, sit down and determine your categories of food. For example: something healthy like a crudités or salad, some sort of chip and dip, a cheese tray with nice crackers or bread, a hot appetizer, and a couple of sweet things. That’s six things, and I think that is plenty for the average sized book group. If you insist, you can have seven things, but I don’t advise it. Seven is a slippery slope to eight…

Next, depending on your level of ambition, map out your specifics. Your chip and dip category can literally be simple potato chips and onion dip, or it can be some groovy recipe you saw in Bon Appétit or Gourmet magazine last month served with high end organic chips and hard-to-find ingredients. Take it category by category, and DO NOT BE TEMPTED to add more categories. Stick to the plan! After all, this plan was hatched in a rational moment, not in a frenzy two days before your guests arrive — THAT’S when we get ourselves into trouble and overbuy.

I try to mix it up between easy and ambitious. Definitely browse my Appetizer and Dessert section here and see if anything appeals to you. Sometimes popcorn is every bit the hit as the gorgeous torte I labored over for hours (and probably spent $30 to make). Places like Costco and BJ’s have great ready-made appetizers and desserts, and while I would never advise a whole party full of them, they are decent fill-in items.

Now, I can hear you saying, “But Mom Mom, what if it’s not enough? What if I run out of food?” First, believe me, you will not. But if you are so worried about this unlikely event occurring, you can stock your pantry with a few emergency items only to be opened if nothing is left. Don’t laugh, but I suggest something really junky like Doritos and a giant bag of M&Ms. Middle aged women who are perpetually on diets go nuts over that stuff, especially after a few cocktails. Also, if you keep a box of frozen appetizers such as Cohen’s (cocktail franks and assorted puff pastry) in the freezer, within 20 minutes, you have more hot food. If your book club is anything like mine, by that point in the night, no one will notice or care. The main idea is that your “emergency food” is something that can keep in a sealed bag or frozen, and therefore will not go to waste.

Finally, remember that all of your guests are so happy to be at your house enjoying cocktails and friendship (oh, and sometimes even the book discussion), so try not to stress out too much over the food. I know that sounds silly, coming from me, but it’s true.

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Citrus Tapenade

This is my sixth recipe posted, the fifth of which contains garlic (the only exception being the chocolate chip cookies…and I’m pretty sure garlic will never find its way into the Dessert section). I’m not sure what that says about me, my cooking, or my breath. My immune system, however, is usually quite hearty.

This is possibly the easiest thing I make, yet it always elicits rave reviews from my olive loving friends.  Serve with a thinly sliced baguette and voila! Simple little addition to your appetizer offerings.

Citrus Tapenade

2 cups pitted Kalamata olives

Zest of 1 orange and/or 1 lemon

1 clove garlic

Handful of fresh rosemary and/or thyme

One hot pepper or a few sprinkles of cayenne pepper

1 cup Italian parsley

1 to 2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Pulse all ingredients except olive oil in food processor until well combined but still a bit chunky. With food processor running, slowly drizzle olive oil until desired consistency is achieved.

Dawn’s Famous Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Like many people, I have been making hummus for years, and I never put too much thought into the ingredients: chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, salt, garlic, etc. Hummus, like pizza, is hard to screw up. But also like pizza, there is good and then there is gooooood. I first discovered hummus in 1989 while in school outside of London. We had a large Middle Eastern population, so hummus was frequently part of our cafeteria’s offerings. It was love at first taste for me!

Years ago, I started serving this every Friday night with homemade bread. Then I gained 20 pounds and tried to lay off the bread a bit. My husband and I would open a nice bottle of wine, sit in the living room, and exhale after a long week.

I like my hummus with a bit of a kick. I have tweaked this recipe over the years, and not to brag, but I am kind of famous for my hummus. It is not difficult, but the devil is in the details, and that’s what makes this hummus great.

Dawn’s Famous Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

1 can chick peas, 15.5 oz.

1/2 teaspoon iodized salt (not sea salt, not kosher salt)

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ cup roasted red peppers (approximately two big pieces)

A few very generous sprinkles of cayenne pepper or one hot pepper of your choosing

Juice of one lemon

Two heaping tablespoons of tahini

Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine the first four ingredients for about one minute in food processor. Scrape sides, then slowly add lemon juice from top chute while food processor is running.

In a small cup or bowl, mix together tahini and olive oil until very well combined, about a minute. With food processor running, add the tahini mixture until incorporated, about 30 seconds.

Serve with bread, pita chips, or fresh vegetables if you want to be virtuous.