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Party planning inspiration – menus, recipes, invitations, and more

Crab-and-Potato-crusted Ono with Spinach and Bacon

Ono means delicious in Hawaiian, and it’s also the name of a kind of fish (commonly called wahoo on the mainland). This recipe comes straight out of Roy Yamaguchi’s fantastic cookbook, Roy’s Fish and Seafood. And yes, this ono is ono! Mahalo, Mr. Yamaguchi! Just reading the recipe seems a little daunting but most of it can be prepped ahead, so serving it to 24 guests is actually do-able. And ono.

For the fish:
½ c. warm mashed potatoes
½ c. fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shell
1 T. julienned fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (7-oz.) ono fillets
1 T. canola oil

For the Creamed Spinach and Bacon:
3 slices bacon
1 t. minced shallot
1 t. minced garlic
12 oz. spinach washed and steamed
1 c. heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced, and blanched
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

To prepare the ono, put the mashed potatoes in a bowl. Add the crabmeat, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. And stir to thoroughly combine. Spread the mixture on one side of each ono fillet to form a crust. Heat the oil in a heavy nonstick sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the ono, crust side down, and sauté for 3 mins. until the crust turns golden brown. Turn the fillet over and sauté for about 2 mins. longer, or until opaque throughout.

To prepare the spinach, heat a dry, heavy sauté pan or skillet over medium heat for 2 mins. Add the bacon and sauté for 4-5 mins, until crisp. Remove and mince the bacon; set aside. Drain off all but 1 T. of the bacon fat and increase the heat to medium –high. Add the shallot and garlic. Immediately add the spinach and cool until it begins to wilt. Transfer to a colander and press with the back of a wooden spoon to release excess moisture. Chop the spinach and set aside. Pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook to reduce the cream by about two-thirds or until thickened and paste-like. Add the spinach and cook for about 1 min. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep warm.

In the center of warmed serving plates, arrange the blanched carrots and top with creamed spinach. Place the crusted ono on top of the spinach. Garnish the ono with the bacon and basil.

(To thinly slice the carrots, I used a vegetable peeler and simply made ribbons; these blanched very quickly in boiling water.)

For non-fish-eating guests, I set aside some of the mashed potatoes and withheld adding the crabmeat. I used these crab-free mashed potatoes to top chicken breasts that I had pounded a bit to thin out; then I cooked them the same way as the ono fillets.

Cranberry Mold

Many years ago, at one of my earliest Christmas parties, a friend brought this dish. She also gave me the undated clipping with the recipe from the Long Beach Press-Telegram, so to be accurate I need to give credit where credit is due: Thank you, Colleen, for bringing this salad, and thank you, Evelyn Tietsort of Long Beach, who originally submitted the recipe. It’s really good, has unusual ingredients, and is a snap to make if you can use a food processor. Jello molds are ubiquitous with Southern dinners, so of course, I included this in my Southern-Thanksgiving-do.

1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 orange
1½ c. sugar
1 pkg. (3 oz.) lemon gelatin
1 pkg. (3 oz.) raspberry gelatin
1 tsp. grated ginger
2 c. boiling water
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 c. chopped celery

In a food processor, grind cranberries and orange (including peel). Add sugar to fruit and allow to stand overnight in refrigerator.
In a large bowl, combine gelatin with boiling water. Chill in freezer to consistency of egg white (40 mins. or less). Add pineapple, nuts, celery, and ginger, and stir gently. Pour into a 13”x9” pan or a 3-qt. mold. Chill thoroughly.
Makes 12 servings.

Flaky Angel Biscuits

This recipe is wonderful for parties, because the dough can be made and kept, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks before your guests walk in the door. I roll it out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, press out the shapes I want (at Thanksgiving, I usually use a 2½” acorn cookie cutter), pull away the scraps, and pop the cookie sheet straight into the oven. I re-roll the remaining scraps onto a second parchment-lined cookie sheet. It takes all of about 8 minutes to get these treats into the oven. And your kitchen smells divine as they bake! My sister-in-law found the recipe in the LA Times many years ago, and I have used it every year since.

5 c. flour, plus more for rolling (but only a little, if the dough is chilled)
8 t. baking powder
2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 T. sugar
¼ c. butter, chilled (I use unsalted)
½ c. shortening, chilled
5 t. dry yeast
½ c. warm water
1 ¾ – 2 c. buttermilk (warmed 1 min. in microwave)
¼ c. milk

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (except yeast) and mix well. Cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry blender until butter and shortening are the size of small peas. Dissolve yeast in the water (ideally warmed to about 105-115° F), stir and allow to swell (about 6 mins.). Add yeast and buttermilk to dry ingredients, and toss with fork to blend and moisten, creating a soft dough.
Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 8 hrs. or overnight; dough can be kept in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
To bake a few biscuits at a time, remove portion of dough. On lightly-floured surface, roll dough to thickness of 1”. Cut into similar-size rounds or wedges with knife or biscuit-cutter. Brush generously with milk.
Place on baking sheet. Bake at 425° F until lightly browned on top, 12 – 15 mins. (makes 24 – 2 ½ “ biscuits).

Buttermilk Peppercorn Dip

My sister-in-law paired this dip with homemade root chips once and I was hooked. Honestly, I don’t have her patience to make root chips, but I can do this dip! It’s really easy, especially paired with Trader Joe’s Vegetable Root Chips and simple crudités.  Thank you, Martha Stewart!

1 c. sour cream
2 T. nonfat buttermilk
1 t. coarsely ground mixed peppercorns (black, pink, green)
2 t. minced chives
1/2 t. finely chopped fresh thyme
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 t. salt

To make dip, combine sour cream, buttermilk, pepper, chives, thyme, shallot, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir well to combine. Set aside.

Hawaiian Dinner Party

Time flies – whether you’re having fun or not – so we might as well party! Ten years after I threw a luau to celebrate my husband’s 50th, it was time to celebrate another decade. What with kids and the economy, we haven’t gotten back to Paradise as often as we would like, so it seemed natural to try to rekindle some great memories right here at home. And so I planned another Hawaiian-themed party for my husband’s 60th; this time it was a smaller-scaled Hawaiian dinner party for just very close friends and family. But like the luau, it was delicious, and we all had a really lovely time.

My kids were too busy with school to help with invitations, and our guest list only required 14 invitations, so I did them myself:

Then I planned the menu, with a little (well, a lot of) inspiration from Roy Yamaguchi.  I used his book, Roy’s fish and seafood for the entree; and I used his Banana-Macadamia Nut Bread recipe for party favors, from Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii.   

A few days before the party day, I raided my old supplies of luau stuff to set up for the party. Beach sheets (subbed in for tablecloths), Hawaiian-inspired tumblers, umbrella picks, coconut candles, and of course, fresh tropical flowers from Island Florals, and we were ready.

E komo mai, aloha!

Hawaiian Dinner Party Menu

Mauna Kea Shrimp with Peanut Sauce
Buttermilk Peppercorn Dip with root chips and cruditées
Kalua Pork Sliders

Mesclun salad mix with macadamia-encrusted goat cheese, grilled skewered tropical fruits, and coconut balsamic vinaigrette, sprinkled with dried toasted coconut flakes

Crab and potato-crusted Ono with creamed spinach and carrot ribbons, and bacon
     (Potato-crusted chicken for non-fish eaters)
Taro bread

Carrot Cake
Coconut milk ice cream
Pineapple- and palm tree-shaped Shortbread Cookies

Pineapple Fizz Punch (with a pineapple juice ring)
Hawaiian Sun beverages
Iced tea
Tedeschi Vineyards wine
Kona coffee
Rejuvenation tea

Mauna Kea Shrimp with Peanut Sauce

Colorful, refreshing, and always a hit; this recipe comes from one of my stand-by Hawaiian cookbooks, Maui Cooks Again (by Gini Baldwin, Judy Bisgard, Judy Furtado, Zelie Harders, Carol Hartley, and Penny James).

1 lb. (about 20) medium shrimp, cleaned, deveined, and tail removed
1 t. salt
10 Chinese snow peas, blanched and split
1 small bunch mint
1 small bunch basil
1 small bunch cilantro
20 toothpicks

Cook shrimp in 1 qt. boiling water with 1 t. salt added until shrimp turn pink.
Immediately plunge shrimp into ice water. Drain and pat dry. On each shrimp, lay a mint leaf, cilantro sprig, and small basil leaf. Wrap each shrimp around the middle with a split snow pea pod and skewer with a toothpick. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with Peanut dip below.

Peanut Dip:
2 T. chunky peanut butter (use Jif or Skippy)
3 T. rice vinegar
¼ c. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. sugar
2 t. lime juice
Few drops Tabasco sauce, to taste
1 clove garlic, finely minced

Place all ingredients in a blender or processor, blend until smooth. Adjust flavors as you like.

Makes almost 1 c. dip; I usually double or triple the recipe.

Southern-style Thanksgiving menu

With thanks to Lee Bailey, and dedicated to my party-planning friend.

Hush Puppies with Tabasco Pepper Jelly
Relish and cruditee tray (pickled watermelon rind, cucumber spears, carrot sticks)
Pimento-cheese stuffed celery sticks

Shrimp Bisque

Roast Turkey
Cornbread Dressing
Scalloped Potatoes
Sweet Potato Medallions
Herbed Green Beans
Jellied Cranberry Mold
Flaky Angel Biscuits

Tossed Salad of butter lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and diced radishes, homemade Green Goddess Dressing

Pecan Praline Cake
Shortbread Cookies
Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Sweet Iced Tea
Red and White Wine
Coffee and Tea

Southern-style Thanksgiving

My son will be going away to college next year (if he gets his wish), so in bittersweet honor of his “last year at home,” I gave him the choice of “what kind of Thanksgiving should we have?” Did he want Napa-style? New England-style? Southern? Tex-Mex? Vegetarian? (That last suggestion was a kind-of joke; he’s a decided meat-eater.) Southern, he said. Really? Did he really know what Southern-style Thanksgiving meant? Turns out, he did, no, really. It’s all about the cornbread dressing, he said. And the biscuits. Needless to say, I was completely dumb-founded and impressed – and I will take his comments as compliments.He was right about the cornbread dressing, and the biscuits. But I have a few other Southern tricks in my apron pocket, thanks to Lee Bailey and my longtime partner-in-party-planning. Lee Bailey was a designer-writer-photographer-stylist, Louisiana-born and –bred, who wrote almost 20 fantastic cookbooks. Based on his recipes and comments, Mr. Bailey must have been a bonafide Southern gentleman, the epitome of Southern graciousness. Which reminds me of my party-planning-partner of arts-and-crafts fame – she is also Louisiana-born- and –bred, also knows her way around a Southern kitchen, and is bonafide Southern graciousness personified. So, planning a Southern-style Thanksgiving will make me bring out my favorite cookbooks and recipes for a gracious holiday that will hopefully inspire my teenage son to return home for holidays! (Phew!)

Uala Maoli Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

This recipe comes from an old standard, Roana and Gene Schindler’s Hawaiian Cookbook. Even though it was originally published in 1970, it still sells in Hawaii today. This recipe is a nice alternative to sweet-potatoes-and-marshmallows at Thanksgiving.

6 large sweet potatoes (2½ lbs.), parboiled and peeled
6 T. butter
2 t. salt
6 bananas, sliced
1 c. brown sugar mixed with 1 t. cinnamon
1 can (16 oz.) crushed pineapple, drained
1 c. pineapple juice mixed with 1 t. lemon juice and 1 t. chopped fresh ginger
2 T. honey

Slice sweet potatoes ½-inch thick. Grease a heatproof casserole dish with a little of the margarine. Arrange in alternate layers starting with the sweet potatoes dotted with margarine and salt, then the bananas sprinkled with brown sugar, and then the crushed pineapple. Combine the pineapple juice, lemon juice, ginger, and honey and pour over mixture. Bake in 350°F. preheated oven for 40 mins., or until browned on top. Serves 6-8.