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If you’re anything like me, your first thought when invited to a party is “wonder what the food will be?”.  I love a good party; putting on the little black dress, mingling with new people, seeing friends I might not have seen in awhile.  But to me, the food is always the glue that holds the whole evening together. If the hors d’oeuvres are bad, I will undoubtedly be disappointed.  If they’re good, I’ll tell everyone how fabulous the party was.

Truth is, there’s a lot of bad party food out there. When you’re in your twenties, it’s acceptable to put out a couple of bowls of chips and pretzels and a plate of sausage rolls.  When you’re in your late thirties, plus … not so much. I know, I know.  My food snobbery is showing.  Or maybe it’s the way I was raised by my European parents. They had their share of parties and when they did they went all out. They prepared for days. My father prepared plate after plate of charcuterie, my mother baked tortes and spent hours hunched over her recipe box, looking at appetizer recipes. BYOB was considered the biggest insult.

A few years ago, when I had a housewarming party at my new condo, I was surprised at how quickly the food was gobbled up.  The guests descended on the food like a flock of hungry eagles. Everyone told me how good it was, but to my mind it was nothing special. With a new mortgage to pay, my budget was tight, and the offerings at my table were not what I would have wanted them to be.  Even so, it seemed I knocked it out of the park that night.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a party. The spread consisted of a large platter of fruit, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and slabs of cheese served up with herbed flatbreads.  It couldn’t have been more simple or more delicious. I went away with the menu for my next party.

Feeding guests at a party doesn’t have to be intimidating. You don’t need to spend hours rifling through Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook or serve mahi mahi.  All it takes is a little creativity and attention to detail. For me, my little mini muffin tins are a boon. The possibilities are endless. You can make miniature polenta cakes, phyllo purses, or–one of my favorites–mini crab cakes.

The recipe here is for shrimp cakes. They’re lovely with either shrimp or crab. Since shrimp is what I usually have on hand, it’s what I ended up using the last time I made these. This recipe is adapted from the April 2009 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.


Mini Shrimp Cakes

Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009


8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, divided

1 large egg

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided

1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

6 ounces fresh shrimp, chopped

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup (1/2 sick) unsalted butter, melted



1) Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer in a medium bowl until smooth. Beat in 1/4 cup parmesan and egg. Add sour cream, lemon peel, 1 1/2 tablespoons chives, and salt. Fold in shrimp.

2) Preheat oven to 350F. Generously grease 2 mini muffin tins or spray with cooking spray. Toss panko, 1/2 cup parmesan, and the rest of the chives in a small bowl. Drizzle with 1/4 cup melted butter and toss with fork until evenly moistened.

3) Press 1 rounded tablespoon panko mixture into bottom of each muffin cup to form a crust. Spoon 1 generous tablespoon shrimp mixture into each cup. Sprinkle rounded teaspoon of panko mixture over each.

4) Bake cakes until golden on top, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans for 5 minutes. Run knife carefully around each cake and lift out of pan. Let cool to room temperature.


These cakes can be made 2 hours ahead. Rewarm at 350F for 6-8 minutes. Arrange shrimp cakes on a serving platter and garnish with a sprinkling of chopped chives or parsley.


So tell me … what do you like to make for a party?

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"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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