Spicy Artichoke Dip
Crab-Caper Dip
Celery Stuffed with Gorgonzola
Mini Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Relish

DH tells me I am a glutton for punishment: Almost all my friends have food allergies or diet restrictions! Throwing a dinner party becomes a creative exercise when more than one guest has a restriction. My tapas party for 6 is being attended by a vegetarian with a tomato allergy and one guest with a possible gluten allergy. DH just laughs as I try to pick menu items that give everyone a selection of dishes to eat from. Dips are served with whole wheat pita chips and plain bagel chips, and carrots, celery, and broccoli for variety and as an option for the guest with the possible gluten allergy.

The recipes for the Spicy Artichoke Dip and Crab-Caper Dip both came from a potluck cookbook; the gorgonzola celery was from an Italian cuisine cookbook I’ve had for years; and the mini lamb burgers came from a recipe for lamb meatballs on Chow.com (just squish them a little and they’re mini burgers, not meatballs!). Everything else was bought from the store ready-made. Why drive myself batty doing everything from scratch, when a mix of a few homemade items and a few store-bought items will be just as delicious. If not more so — I tried to make tzatziki once and failed miserably.

The Spicy Artichoke Dip wasn’t quite as spicy as I had been expecting. Even though it had two tablespoons of canned diced green chilis and two teaspoons of chopped pickled jalapenos, the amount of heat in the fresh dip hot from the oven was not at all overwhelming — I don’t like spicy food and I thought it was great. I noticed that the small amount of leftover dip seemed to increase in heat after a day or two in the fridge, but still was not too hot. The recipe I have can serve 14 or, multiplied out, 40, and would make an excellent potluck party dip.

When the recipe calls for low-fat mayo or salad dressing and reduced-fat Swiss cheese, heed it. I had regular mayo already on hand and I couldn’t find reduced-fat shredded Swiss in the store, so I used regular versions of both. It prepped fine but during the baking process, I believe the fats in the mayo and cheese separated out and the result, while still incredibly tasty, was not as creamy as I think it could have been, and I had to whip it together a little to re-colloid it. In fact, it looked a little scary when it came out of the oven and I was afraid it was ruined. But it wasn’t, and it was fantastic. There wasn’t any left over, so I’m not sure how it would be after a day or two in the refrigerator. I still have all the ingredients in my fridge, so I am going to make a second batch just for me and DH to enjoy. He doesn’t like to eat and drink at the same time, so he actually got to enjoy very little of the food I prepared.

I get the Joseph’s brand cucumber & garlic tzatziki because it is the thickest store-bought version I have found, and runny tzatziki is not as satisfying on pita and would definitely not stand up to vegetable dippers. It did hold up well, was incredibly popular with my guests, and made a great condiment for the mini lamb burgers.

The cheese filling for these celery sticks is actually half gorgonzola, a blue cheese, and half cream cheese. I softened the cheeses up and blended this in advance, so at serving time all I needed was to fill the celery sticks. Apparently the combination of celery and cheese is a lot like cilantro — people either like it a lot, or don’t. I apparently am in the latter camp and all my guests seemed to be in the former. I wasn’t overwhelmed.

Store-bought frozen, baked up  browned and crispy with the perfect blend of filling. Some opened at one of the seams and became cornucopiae of spinach filling, but it was low-mess even then. Definitely a repeat frozen treat.

I made the lamb mini burgers up in advance the morning of, and refrigerated those until we were ready for the second course. They went literally like hot cakes; I baked up half, they disappeared, I baked the second half, and they disappeared. They were delicious — with cumin and cinnamon dominating the palate, without much flavor of the chopped fresh mint, which was a bit of a surprise. I would have expected really strong flavor from the mint. But they were DELICIOUS and the next time I make them I will make them standard-burger size, because they are fantastic. They shrank rather a lot from their raw size, and plenty of fat was left behind in the baking sheet, so the burgers themselves were actually quite firm. I spread dollops of tzatziki on mine and the tangy Greek yogurt was the perfect condiment for the sweet, earthy lamb.

I know you shouldn’t use your guests as guinea pigs; you should always test drive new recipes before a party so you know whether they work, what their quirks are, and how they should taste. I didn’t test drive any of these recipes, I just went for it and promised everyone that if it turned out awful, we’d order pizza. Happily everything turned out, and I had maybe a half cup of the Spicy Artichoke Dip left over, and nothing else — it all disappeared. One of my guests brought chocolate chip banana bread for dessert and I don’t know how she did it, for it was cohesive but fall-apart moist.

I was able to do a lot of the recipe prep in advance in spurts throughout the day, so I didn’t feel like I spent all day cooking and when it was time to throw the dips together and bake them, I didn’t have to start an extra half hour earlier and chop onions, artichoke hearts, and vegetables in order to get started. It worked out really well as my guests arrived a half hour early, so when they called to say they were leaving I was able to get everything together and in the oven well before they arrived without any panic.

Go ahead and throw a party! It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, even if there are a lot of different things on the menu, such as for this appetizer-oriented party. The fact that there were “courses” impressed and excited my guests and it was actually very little actual work for me — I just had to spend some energy preparing in advance, which was no big deal and I used cutting up celery and broccoli as a break from cleaning. More important than the ease or contents of the menu, we laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. There is very little better than to eat, drink, and be merry with good friends.