✂ Jack Tempest’s 30th Birthday Menu

For Jack’s 30th birthday, all he wanted was to have our favorite people over to the house. Easy enough on his end, but not so much on mine. Although we have an excellent caterer whom I adore, Jack really just wanted his favorite simple foods made by me. This is what we came up with, for 40 people, $172 and a day-and-a-half of shopping, prep, and cooking.

Preparation

So where do you draw the line between “dinner party” and “backyard BBQ?” Our party was being hosted in our parlor and screened-in porch, but we still wanted a casual feel.

We compromised by purchasing three dozen of Crate and Barrel’s Loop Appetizer plates instead of paper or plastic, and some extra clock cocktail napkins. For the serving dishes, we used a combination of our fancy china and our actual baking dishes, since a few things came straight out of the oven.

Don’t forget to pick up some mini appetizer forks and spoons!

Hors d’oeurve / appetizers

Because we wanted to encourage a steady flow of conversation as people came in and out, we wanted to make Jack’s menu appetizer-heavy so that people could easily walk around, eating as well as chatting.

Relish tray

Whereas I can definitely eat my weight in a cheese tray, I can almost eat my weight in a relish tray. When I was growing up, Mama called anything, from pickles to antipasto “a relish tray.” They’re loved by all, and easy to throw together.

For mine, I bought some miniature fresh mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes had been steeped in olive oil, and sliced them thinly with some shredded fresh basil from my kitchen window herb garden to make a bastardized version of Caprese salad that could easily be popped in the mouth with one hand.

I added feta-stuffed olives and fresh dill pickles to the tray as well, both also purchased from our local market.

Chicken wings

Jack’s a vegetarian, as are many of our friends, and figuring out meat for a cocktail crowd can often be tricky. I bite the bullet and ordered 30 wings from the local pizza joint, scheduled for delivery a half-hour before the party. It worked out brilliantly, and they were one of the first items snatched up by men and women alike.

Beer-battered fried okra

The two of us can eat a lot of fried okra, and we have yet to find a recipe as easy or as good as Paula Deen’s. Ours is from Paula Deen’s The Deen Family Cookbook, which you should definitely own, and recommends her easy-peasy-to-make fry mix and a cup of beer in addition to the recipe linked above.

Spring Rolls

My best lady friend lent me her Spring Roll recipe that she lifted from Roberto Martin on Ellen. These worked out great for the vegetarians and carnivores alike. The dipping sauce is delicious.

Fromage / cheese plate

A cheese plate is another of the easiest things you can do – I paired mine with blueberries, strawberries, and pears, with a honey dipping sauce and homemade crostini.

You can buy tiny crostini at the supermarket in the bread/cracker aisle, or make your own by leaving a loaf of cibatta or French baguette out overnight (so it can stale up a bit), slicing it thinly, smearing both sides with olive oil (one of those BBQ basting brushes works well), and toasting on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

As for cheese, we went with a sharp Cheddar (Cabot is delish), as well as Havarti dill (our old standby) and a block of Huntsman. If you don’t know what Huntsman is, it’s something special (Jack: “I…don’t even know what is happening in my mouth right now, but…it’s awesome”), and you can likely buy it right at your regular grocery.

Put this out with the aforementioned fresh fruit and honey dip (we simply throw together a cup vanilla yogurt and a 1/4 cup honey and call it good!)

Entree

Here’s another cut corner – sucking it up and spending $50 to order a variety of wraps (we chose Greek salad, chicken Caesar, and their addictive turkey-apple-brie) from the local Fresh Market. Jack picked them up on his way home from work, which is a good thing, as I was frantically trying to keep dogs away from iced cookies and trying to get into the shower.

I did, however, suck it up and make Kitchen Wench’s Mac “Heart Attack” and Cheese, which my congregation of hungry followers would have rioted about were it absent. (I use penne instead of macaroni, which works just fine, and also, don’t substitute for the Panko bread crumbs. Panko is a Japanese style of breadcrumb which is lighter and flakier than the bread crumbs you buy in the can or whip up yourself. Find them in the “foreign” foods aisle.)

Desserts

Lollipop sugar cookies were easily made with sugar cookie mix, a lollipop cookie cutter from Crate and Barrel, and Louise’s royal icing guidance from CakeJournal.

The only thing Lily Beth took a picture of, because she was BUSY, y'all!

Once again, Kitchen Wench saves the day with her tried-and-true Strawberry Chocolate Bread Pudding, which can be prepped up to a day in advance and popped in the over an hour before party time.

A bastardized recipe for mini-blueberry turnovers was culled from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics cookbook. I essentially just substituted her fresh blueberry sauce for filling in her apple turnovers recipe, ditched the nutmeg and cinnamon, cut smaller slices of puff pastry (think 3×3 instead of 4×4) and reduced the baking time a smidge.

Cocktails

When it comes to cocktails, I have a secret weapon: Hendrick’s recipe for Persephone’s Dram Punch. (The website is a flash-animated fuck-all that will take you 20 minutes to navigate without the speediest of computers, so I’ve attempted to link directly to the print page. If that doesn’t work out for you, just log onto http://www.hendricksgin.com normally and check out their “Treasury of Tipples.”)

I made the first batch with that fancy pomegranate soda that comes in bottles, but when that ran out in under an hour (people didn’t even touch the wine and beer, just headed straight for the punch and sangria, even the manliest of men!), I was lucky enough to still have a cup of the honey mixture left over, half a pitcher of chilled camomile tea, and an emergency bottle of blueberry and pomegranate club soda I’d picked up on a whim. The second batch worked out even better than the first!

Also – wondering how to make that ridiculously large ice cube the recipe calls for? Slice the top off a cardboard milk carton, rinse thoroughly, fill half-way with distilled water, and freeze overnight.

In addition, I threw together a bastardized sangria with some fresh blackberries, a blackberry wine from Main Street Winery in Charleston (we always have a case of their fruit wines on hand), and a bottle of champagne that one of our guests had brought. It went even faster than the punch.

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