Two years ago, I was on the brink of throwing our first annual holiday party for 100-plus and was scrambling for food ideas. Because I wanted to enjoy the festivities myself, I needed help but didn’t want the party to come off as corporate or blah. In came Erin Shallat, personal chef and caterer extraordinaire. With one conversation she had over a dozen creative, fun and delicious ideas—all within our budget. The party was a huge success and the food was talked about for the entire year. Since then, Erin has become my number one go-to for party food as well as simple dinner ideas. I thought it only fair to share some of her inspiration with you.
Do you have a favorite type of party to throw?
Dinner parties are my favorite type of party to throw. It's the best way for people to get to know one another on an intimate level. I like to have a food and beverage theme to provide continuity and flow to the evening. For example, for a Latin American theme, start with Mojitos and chorizo empanadas or some grilled Tiger Prawns then move on to Paella and a nice Argentinean wine. Done!
What are your biggest dos and don’ts when hosting a party?
As far as "dos and don'ts" when hosting a party, I really do try to stick with a food theme. For example, and this is a bit extreme, I would never serve foie gras and have guac and chips in the next room. I also really try to mix up the invite list. I know it's comfortable to invite the usual suspects, but branch out and invite a couple you just met at a ballgame or the kiddy park. Throw in a little spice.
Do you have a favorite ingredient?
I have so many favorite ingredients but one of the ingredients I use the most is seasoned rice vinegar. I use it in salad dressings, marinades, on rice and in soups. There are so many recipes that call for it. Get it in your pantry!
Is there a fast trendy appetizer that we could all make – if we could only think of it?
Gorgonzola with Honey on Crostini. The salty, creamy and sweet on the crunchy crostini is awesome! Trust me and try it. Cut a petite baguette into thin slices on the diagonal and arrange on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes to lightly toast. Spread the Gorgonzola on the crostini and put back into the oven for a few minutes to melt slightly. Place on a nice flat tray and drizzle with honey and serve. You can also use Stilton if you don't like Gorgonzola.
What are the staples everyone should have in their pantry should guests stop by unexpectedly?
Ah, the pantry will never be big enough! Just in case anyone should stop for a drink last minute, you will be prepared with this trusty little list: Assorted Olives, cornichons, caramelized fig spread (to put on top of cheese rounds), Major Grey mango chutney, garbanzo beans (for homemade hummus) Chipolte sauce, diced green chilies, black beans, canned white corn, Carr’s water crackers, blue corn tortilla chips, Herbs de Provence, Pine nuts, blanched almonds, dried Bing cherries, dried cranberries, Marcona almonds, pistachios and Ghirardelli double chocolate fudge brownie mix to serve with vanilla bean ice cream.
You cook for families every night, where do you come up with ideas?
I observe what kids eat when they are at restaurants and then I find a way to make it on the healthier side, for example, by using organic ingredients. I also hop onto epicurious.com from time to time, flip through Gourmet magazine, chat with other chefs, watch the food network and constantly get feedback from the families that I cook for.
Will you name a few kid friendly foods that adults will love too?
One meal that I have been finding kids and parents really like is the classic spaghetti and meatballs. Adults usually choose to just eat the turkey meatballs in the hearty tomato sauce and the kids love it with the spaghetti. I serve it with a garden or spinach salad for the adults and carrot sticks and baby cucumber rounds with the seeds scooped out for the kids. I always keep homemade Meyer lemon vinaigrette and low fat buttermilk ranch dressings in the refrigerator.
And finally, do you have a favorite dessert?
I love a good cobbler. Peach blueberry is one of my favorites. It's pretty hard to mess one up. Everyone should try making one.
We are in luck! Erin has agreed to give us her input periodically so stay tuned for more! In the meantime, Erin can be contacted to cater special events, cook for your family or deliver meals as a gift.