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Help fluff up my menu, please

Informal. Outdoors if weather permits (which I think it will). About 12-ish people, depending on who reads their email (grrrr). All good friends, so no futziness.

The main course will be beef tenderloin, done whole on a gas grill, sliced and served with Italian salsa verde. Also POSSIBLY a smoked chicken, if I get ambitious. Baby potatoes from the farmers market. Big green salad from my garden. Maybe a plate of grilled vegetables, depending on what's ready in my garden and at the farmers market. Oh and I have a bag of cipollini onions - maybe grill them? And no end of fresh basil, parsley, Swiss chard, nice cheeses...etc.

Dessert will be the Creme Fraiche Cheesecake with Sour Cherries which was in the NY Times this week.

I need an appetizer or 3. Not too last minute preppy, but summery. Any other suggestions to fill the gaps?

Thanks all - I'm drawing a blank here.

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  1. I don't see any summer tomatoes or corn on your menu. Could you invent an app using both -- maybe a salsa? No melons either - prosciutto wrapped melon (made ahead)? Freshly made summer cheese w/ fresh herbs? Gazpacho shooters?

    Personally, I like to have a platter app ready & waiting in the fridge so there's no last minute business, especially when grilling for 12 guests.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sherri

      Yeah - no corn or tomatoes here in Ontario yet. And I won't buy imported corn (firm rule of mine). But I'm starting to think antipasto platter for a starter. I can get a bunch of things and make a bunch of things...could work.

      1. re: Nyleve

        Oops - I should have looked at your profile. Mea Culpa. I live in the US, in Arizona, and our tomatoes are almost finished because of the heat. That's my frame of reference and I should have done some research.

        Since it's not yet tomato/corn time, it may not be melon time either. How about asparagus wrapped in prosciutto instead?

        I'm all for combining your baby potatoes & cipollini onions into something wonderful. Grilling skewers of them w/ a fresh herb marinade? It would make sense to use the (already hot) grill in some way.

        1. re: Sherri

          OOh yes - potatoes and onions. Good idea. Grilled cipollini with steamed baby potatoes or possibly done in a foil packet on the grill.

          I know I know - we have good corn for a total of 15 minutes every summer. And tomatoes for, well, maybe a couple of months. Mine are still a good 3 or 4 weeks away from the first one ripening. We can get decent US melons now and I'll buy them if I must because our local melons are so fleeting they barely even exist. But I do have prosciutto - maybe will wrap something in prosciutto as part of an antipasto platter.

      2. re: Sherri

        Do you think your guests would enjoy deviled eggs? I usually make them for our get-togethers of 8-16 people. I change it up each time - the favorite so far has been with pickled veggies mixed into the yolks (carrots, sweet peppers, onions) and garnished with capers. Other variations have been topped with tobiko and wasabi and another time homemade smoked pork chunks mixed in. I boil eggs the night before and finish up the next morning.

      3. How about fruit kabobs with a nice yogurt honey dip or pineapple coconut dip?

        2 Replies
        1. re: FoodChic

          Do you have a recipe for the pineapple coconut dip? That sounds incredibly fun.

          1. re: Vetter


            2 cups low-fat sour cream
            8 tablespoons crushed pineapple (with a little of the juice) or half a pineapple lenght wise with the fruit removed (crush up to 8 tbs in blender)and save the half shell.
            8 tablespoons cream of coconut (lI use coco lopez)
            1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I usually add 1/4 cup and then add tsps to taste)
            1/4 bag of shredded coconut toasted

            Mix everything but the shredded coconut until the sugar disovles. Refrigerate at least two
            hours. Serve in the pineapple half and top with toasted coconut.

        2. Greek or Caprese salad kabobs
          Grilled artichokes
          Stuffed endive leaves

          1 Reply
          1. re: enbell

            + 1 for caprese on a stick

            Also, this Pea Dip with parmesan is always a hit, served with pita chips. I cut back on the mint or omit completely, just my preference.


          2. Grilled country bread with caramelized cippolini, basil and bleu cheese
            Grilled halloumi with mint, lemon and chilies
            Spicy pickled green beans and snap peas with pimento cheese
            Zucchini carpaccio with mint and parmesan
            A simply made compound butter with fresh herbs would also be fantastic as a starter with bread

            1. How about either duck, rabbit, or pork rilletes? It would definitely mix the menu up a little, possibly give guests something they haven't had before. AND they're one of those things that taste better when made a day ahead.

              1. I like topping vegetables like endive (if you can get endive right now), peppers, cucumbers, etc. I do a variety of things but like creme fraiche in the summer especially. I know you have it as part of dessert but this is in a small quantity, and it would tie in. I play it by ear on what I can find but things like:



                One good make ahead appetizer that's much better than the parts is Nigella's sundried tomatoes and pesto terrine:


                Your menu sounds awesome, btw.

                1. grilled polenta triangles with fresh basil bruschetta or
                  frying cheese with honey mustard sauce or
                  or just a nice brie with fresh fruits??

                  1. All great suggestions - thanks for kick starting my brain. Don't know what happens sometimes - it just stops working.

                    I'm leaning toward grilled bread with caramelized onions and something (maybe blue cheese, maybe not) as part of an antipasto platter. Maybe prosciutto with something also. I have a lot of chard so might top some of the grilled bread with garlicky sauteed chard. The rest will be things from jars and/or charcuterish stuff. I do have some scape butter in the freezer so might put that out with dinner. Trying to stay away from any other cheese in the menu because of the dessert. I find sometimes we really overdo the cheese business.

                    Off to make some creme fraiche! Thanks.

                    1. Little mini cups of melon salad to start??? Sweet and cute and fresh.

                      1. Mini pizzas w/ proscuitto, goat cheese, figs (or fig preserves, or both) Preped and par-baked in advance, but the proscuitto on right before warming up.

                        Puff pastry cheese twists. You can google for the recipes. I find this just a touch ...non-gourmet...shall we say, to make something from a packaged ingredient, but you can pre-prep a ton of them, freeze, and then bake off right before guests arrive, serve them vertically in a flower pot or some other cutesy container. My guests have never left one.

                        Black bean / mango salsa and really good chips (do you have a Whole Foods? I'm obsessed w/ the chips they have in the big brown bag...super thin and salty)

                        1. I think the menu could use something with an acidic note like pickled veggies. Or those cipollini could be stewed or roasted, then pickled in some balsamic or red wine vinegar.
                          Also, as an alternative (or an addition) to cheesecake, just some plain old fruit or sorbet would be good. I, for one, always appreciate a light dessert option.

                          1. Skip the smoked chicken and serve grilled chicken wings as an appetizer, with any sauce you think would suit the rest. Cheap, easy, and a treat for people who don't have a grill (and a revelation for people who have only had them fried).

                            1. I really enjoy bacon wrapped brussels sprouts (http://www.food.com/recipe/bacon-wrap... -- there are other versions out there that include stuffing the brussels sprout with bleu cheese that are good too). Very easy to fix; you can sub prosciutto as well.

                              These fritters from SmittenKitchen are always a big hit at our house, too: http://smittenkitchen.com/2006/11/she....

                              What about a couple of cracker/veggie dips too?

                              1. Can't go wrong with a nice silky vichysoisse . Or a cold spicy melon soup. Or gazpacho, as Sherri suggested.

                                Pea-Mint Pesto Crostini- very easy, and quite tasty. You can make the pesto ahead of time and assembly is simple.

                                Apricot halves filled with chutney. Easy, make ahead, always a hit.

                                Maybe fill some dates with bleu cheese or Gorgonzola and wrap them in that prosciutto. Different enough from your cheesecake, I think, that it wouldn't compete or detract.

                                I agree with JungMann about spicy dilly beans. Perfect for a summertime get-together.

                                1. Can you report back when you make this cheesecake? It sounds really interesting and I may have to bump it ahead in my must bake queue.

                                  1. You menu could be a little heavy so how about something light? A nice peppery watercress, baby spinach & rocket salad with fresh torn figs, good quality mozzarella ripped into shreds & parmesan shavings. Dress with a balsamic vinegarette. Nice & refreshing.

                                    1. Reporting. It turned out to be a super great dinner. The weather was perfect so we ate on the patio - beautiful night.

                                      I somehow got carried away with the antipasto. Slices of a couple of different Italian salamis and a bowl of nice olives. But then I added a bruschetta - grilled ciabatta topped with asiago cheese and sauteed swiss chard with garlic and bacon. Then I had picked up some fresh rainbow trout and decided to smoke them since the smoker was already going to be in use. I brined them for a few hours (simple salt water brine) and smoked for about an hour - skin and bones intact - served as-is at room temperature, but with a bowl of homemade tzatziki on the side. Everything was really really good. The trout were outstanding - I'll do that again for sure. And the chard bruschetta were delicious too. All good.

                                      For main, I did a smoked free-range chicken (perfect) and grilled beef tenderloin (coated in garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper). Both accompanied by Italian salsa verde (Marcella's recipe) which I loved - lots of parsley, anchovy and capers. I made a plate of mixed grilled cipollini onions (grilled whole), portobello mushrooms and zucchini, warm, dressed with o.oil, garlic, balsamic, salt and pepper. Baby potatoes roasted with thyme. And completely home-grown salad of arugula and all kinds of mixed lettuces, white balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

                                      Finally the cheesecake. It was fantastic. I ended up not being able to get fresh sour cherries that morning, so instead I made a coulis of red currants and blueberries to serve with the cheesecake and sprinkled each serving with fresh red and black raspberries. I look forward to trying it with cherries another time because I think the combination would be delicious. But the texture of the cheesecake itself was almost more like a mousse - very light and creamy. I couldn't really distinguish the flavour of the creme fraiche, but it lent the cheesecake a certain richness. And in case you're nervous of the goat cheese, I couldn't detect it but I suppose it would depend on how goaty a cheese you use. Mine was very mild. I'll make this cake again for sure.

                                      There were lots of leftovers, but it really wasn't a heavy meal at all. Most of the dishes were simply prepared, which I think makes a difference.

                                      I love summer.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Nyleve

                                        That's quite a menu--I'll bet your guests were pleased (and stuffed!).