book club munchies

A few months ago (5?) I was invited to join a newly formed book club, organized by my friend Diane. It's been great - we've read a few interesting books and I've had the opportunity to meet a few new people because Diane is the only one (of 5 of us) in our book club that I knew before starting it. And I really enjoy everyone and it's been a great opportunity to get to know some wonderful women... or start, anyway!

Books we've read so far include:
  • Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb
  • A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
  • Something Borrowed by Emily Griffin
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The way it works is that we each take a turn hosting, so noone is stuck having to do it each time, which is nice. Whoever is hosting chooses the book for that meeting (mine was Extremely Loud...) and they have a few appetizers/munchies, and usually have some wine, soda, water - or if people want something specific, it's BYOB. And this all works out pretty well! Whoever can come, does, and I think we've had 4 at each one. We eat, drink (non- or alcoholic), and we actually do talk about the book... although there isn't a strict rule that you need to finish it. :)  Sometimes you run out of time, or sometimes it's not catching your interest... but you're still welcome.

So, this past week was my turn to host. I'd been really busy at work last week and had been kind of stressing out about the food part. Although we don't get graded on creativity, taste, and presentation - the other girls have made some pretty darn good stuff. And I didn't want to feel like a big loser with some potato chips and dip with hostess cupcakes, or something. They wouldn't have minded, I don't think - and I wouldn't mind if they did it... but for me, I wanted to have something a little cooler than store bought stuff.

The stressful part wasn't making it though... it was choosing it. One would be easy, but getting stuff you think might go together was harder. But I ended up with a mix of store vs. made @ home. Here's what I ended up with:
  • mixed nuts (store) (salty)
  • Milano cookies (store) (sweet)
  • veggies & ranch dip (store) (mostly neutral)
  • spinach artichoke dip (home) (salty)
  • bacon-wrapped dates (home) (sweet & salty!)
The spinach artichoke dip was super tasty and pretty easy -- and it did taste quite a bit like what you get in a restaurant! I used this recipe from allrecipes.com and it went over very well.

My notes:
  • I didn't roast the garlic ahead of time - I just put it through the garlic press into the mix. 
  • I made it the night before and put it in the fridge overnight, and baked it right before the book clubbers came over. 
  • I only used half (there was only going to be 4 of us) and cooked it in a large ramekin.
  • Served with oven-toasted french bread. Would work well with tortilla chips, too.
  • Keith ate the leftovers without baking them - just microwaving - and they were good that way, too...

The other "made at home" item was bacon-wrapped dates. I had them at a tapas restaurant in Atlanta several years ago, but still remember them and have been meaning to try them. They are an excellent combination of sweet and salty. And, if you're thinking "ew, dates?!" - stop and try them, and then come and talk to me.

I found a recipe on epicurious.com for Parmesean-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon. I mostly followed that recipe, but .... my notes:
  • I used blue cheese (not parmesean) to stuff the pitted dates. I was conservative, though, due to flashbacks to a holiday blue-cheese/salad incident (not mine... but I was a witness). I was worried it would be strong if I used too much. However, I really didn't use enough because you couldn't really taste it. Will use more next time. 
  • I put the toothpicks in right before I served them... I didn't want them to start on fire in the oven. 
  • I made them AND baked them the night before. I baked according to the instructions on a slotted pan, so the grease would drain off into the bottom pan. But, they weren't very crispy, so I left them in the oven for another 2-3 minutes. They were crispier, but not too much that I couldn't reheat them. The slotted pan helped reduce the grease-factor.
  • Because the temp. is pretty high in the oven, my smoke alarm went off when I took them out. Don't be surprised. 
  • I stored them in the fridge overnight and then put them back on my slotted pan and baked them for a few minutes until they were hot and, in my opinion, the perfect amount of crispy.
  • We had a few leftover, heated in the microwave (about 15 seconds is good) and that was tasty, yet, as well!
  • Just as an aside - and not really from my notes, it may seem obvious, but if you bake these on a regular pan, make sure you use one that has sides. I read in the reviews that someone used a flat baking sheet for them and their stove started a grease fire. You may think "duh" -- but apparently someone did it. 
I was happy with how it turned out! Do you have favorite appetizers for book clubs or parties? Or book club recommendations?