Easy Homemade Appetizers to Take to Any Gathering

I’m a big fan of making what I take to people’s gatherings but I follow a few simple rules: I must be able to make it ahead of time, serve it at room temperature and it must be a finger food of just a few bites-no plate required. Recently, baffled by what to bring to a friend’s annual lobster bake, I perused a collection of my family’s recipes and found two gems that fit all my requirements and would please all party-goers-  zucchini bars and pepperoni pizza bars.

Passed down from my great aunts, and compiled to a simple well-worn booklet by a distant cousin for a family reunion in 2008, I knew two things about what I was making to take one of my favorite annual events- both would be darn good and super easy.

Of all the excellent recipes in my family recipe collection, I chose these two because I thought the idea of dueling bars (one with and one without meat) would be ideal for noshing while sipping a summer cocktail and awaiting the main event.  These are not trendy recipes with lots of fancy ingredients, they are easy to follow, mix by hand treats the Italian women in my family served regularly, especially when having guests.

Recreate my family’s recipes to bring to your next gathering:

Aunt Louise’s Zucchini Appetizer

  • 3 cups of zucchini thinly sliced and quartered
  • 1 cup Bisquick
  • 1/2 cup onion
  • 1/2 cup parmesen cheese
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram (leaves or powder)
  • pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 clove of finely chopped garlic

Mix all ingredients together by hand. Transfer into a greased 13×9 pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Cool then cut into bars sized to your liking; serve; enjoy. Excellent served at room temperature; this appetizer satisfies as a side dish for dinner or even as a vegetarian main course.

Aunt Lorraine’s Pizza Appetizer

  • 1 & 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick of pepperoni, diced w/skin removed
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8oz muenster cheese, diced
  • Oregano or Italian seasoning mix

Mix eggs, milk and flour to remove any lumps. add remaining ingredients and combine well. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Cool then cut into bars sized to your liking; serve; enjoy. These can be served hot, or at room temperature. This appetizer look and tastes like a deep dish pepperoni pizza.

Serving suggestion: Be the best guest at the party and bring a plate or platter the hosts can keep. The kindness of your hosts should not end in a flurry of empty dish drop offs the following day. I keep a stock of cute plastic platters and bowls on hand (purchased for a little over a dollar at my local Christmas Tree Shop) so that even when an impromptu gathering pops up I am prepared to plate well.

-Simplifying your appetizers one bar at a time, Jess

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Oysters & White Wine – A Guide to the Perfect Pairing

Amazing Matriarch is here to help you host the perfect oyster & white wine paring be it for your next party, or a night in with your special someone.

The Oysters

The best way to pick oysters is to do a taste test; whether it be with a marked, mixed dozen at home or at a local raw bar (check out the 10best oyster bars in Boston or search 10best.com  for ideas in your city from other local experts) a sampling will hep you decide what you want to serve.

There’s been a battle between east and west coast oysters for years, personally I find oysters from each coast equally enjoyable, while my husband prefers the more mild flavors and smaller since of west coast oysters. The difference between oyster from each coast is that you’ll find large, firm, meaty morsels of high salinity in the shells of east coast oysters and a slightly sweet melon and cucumber flavor in the smaller, more delicate west coast oysters.

A mix of both is always nice, but  as an east coaster with easy access to briny delights from local waters year-round; who buy into the fresh is  best when it comes to food (especially raw seafood) movement, I recommend sourcing oysters from local farmers and seafood shacks.

Popular east coast oysters, that are easily accessible and worth shucking at home include:

Oysters on the half shell at home
Oysters on the half shell at home
  • Wellfleet – large, meaty, clean tasting with excellent salinity
  • PEI, Malpeque– tender, the brininess and sweetness are in balance
  • Island Creek– rich, fatty meat with a buttery finish in a deep cup
  • Blue Point– medium in size with a mild ocean flavor, meaty and from in texture

Popular west coast oysters worth seeking out include:

  • Kumamoto– cucumber flavor, deep cups, small in size
  • Fanny Bay– strong cucumber flavor, meaty and firm

Serve shucked on a platter of crushed ice or alongside shucking knives and gloves (oven mitts work well) for a more casual “shuck your own” event.

The Sauces

Meeting Chef Justin Shoults
Meeting Chef Justin Shoults

Whatever oysters you choose to serve and however you choose to serve them, be sure to have a sampling of sauces on hand:

  • Tabasco: the watery nature of tabasco allows for a hint of heat without too much bulk to overwhelm the oyster’s texture
  • Lemon wedges: technically not a sauce, just a squeeze of lemon over your oyster is all you need to counterbalance the salinity of what’s in the cups
  • Cocktail sauce: “beginners” eat oysters with cocktail sauce, but those who truly enjoy the oyster prefer to eat it without as the heft of the this sauce. It’s strong flavor and dense texture can overwhelm the oyster (do not even think of putting on west coast oysters) so use sparingly.
  • Mignonette– this vinegar based sauce is easy to prepare and can be altered using various add in (herbs, type of vinegar, & flavoring agents like ginger). My favoirte, simple mignonette to make is from Ina Garten and Food Network.
  • Herbed Creme Fraiche– This is delightful on both east and west coast oysters where the mild flavor enhances the oyster; a sorel laced version I tasted at a seminar presented by Brine’s Chef, Justin Shoults at the 2015 Nantucket Wine Festival was perfect, but other herbs can easily be subbed in, just be sure to puree the herbs as to avoid a chunky sauce.


The Wine

Sampling of whites with oysters
Sampling of whites with oysters

I typically pair my oysters with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Luckily, when participating in the Flight of the Oyster tasting at The Nantucket Wine Festival there was an expert (Philippe Newlin) on hand to create a perfect pairing with  dry to sweet Bordeaux; changing how I look at my at home raw bar drink selection forever.

Six that worked well:

  • Sirech Les Deux Terroirs Blanc 2013, Pessac-Leognan
  • Chateau Marjosse 2013, Entre-Deux-Mers
  • Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc 2013, Pessac-Leognan
  • Chateau Cos d’Estournel Blanc 2013, Medoc
  • Hauts de Smith Blanc 2012, Pessac-Leognan
  • Chateau Suduiraut 2007, Pessac-Leognan

Pour your sips and savor the oysters finding the combination that calls to you and filling that glass to the top.

-Helping you rock the raw bar, Jess

What’s your favorite oyster pairing? Tell us via Facebook: Amazing Matriarch, Instagram: amazingamtriarch or Twitter: @AMatriarch;  Tag us on social using#amazingmatriarch



An Unexpected Recipe: Use Your Scraps To Make a Great Stock

Amazing Matriarch’s Recipe for Using it All in Two Simple Stocks

Th last time I was taking the final bits of meat off of a store bought rotisserie chicken (one of my favorite dinner cheats since it can become so may wonderful things with so little effort), I created a savory stock that was easy to store and was ready to use:

  • toss the bones into a big pot


  • an unpeeled onion, chopped in half
  • 2 wilted ribs of celery
  • 2 unpeeled, limp carrots
  • a few cloves of smashed garlic
  • a bay leaf

Fill the pot with water and sprinkle in some salt and pepper (and any herbs of choice; I tied a bunch of thyme together because it was in need of use) then let it come to a boil.

Once it boils, reduce the heat to simmer, set a timer for an hour to 2 and walk away.

Letting the stock develop it’s flavor for the two hours I had at home while my 2 year old took a nap, the stock was ready before she woke.  I strained the mixture, saving only the stock, which I cooled that afternoon while at a playdate, poured into freezer containers upon our return, and put away until I was ready to use.

This simple stock was made from things I was ready to waste; it’s been used in an easy and excellent lentil soup:

  • Boil lentils in stock according to lentil package directions
  • Add a bit of spice with a pinch of red pepper flakes while boiling
  • Top with a dusting of grated parmesan cheese

And as the base of a sauce in a 20 minute, one pan, Pork Medallions with Grainy Mustard Sauce I found in the July, 2015  issue of Cooking Light that even my picky eater ate all up.

But the stock magic does not stop there as I found myself wondering if I could create a delicious vegetable stock from the stalks of broccoli, and cauliflower I was cutting, and use the entire vegetable rather than let it go to waste. This recipe tricked my carnivorous husband into thinking it was regular chicken stock in his favorite side dishes:

  • Put all your broccoli and cauliflower, or scraps from any vegetable of choice (leaves, stems, etc) into a large pot

Alter by adding any vegetables you have on hand; the broth’s flavor will alter based on what’s in it. I used:

  • A few ribs of celery (a great use for when it goes past its prime)
  • A few carrots (I like to use the ones that hid in the back of my produce drawer too long and go limp)
  • Several cloves of crushed, unpeeled garlic
  • One unpeeled onion chopped in half
  • One bay leaf
  • Salt and Pepper (and any fresh herbs you may have on hand)

Then I followed the same procedure as with the chicken stock and ended up with an equally as delicious, meat free broth at the ready. It’s been added to quinoa and couscous; filling my grains with flavor before adding any mix-ins.

This stock is ideal for #meatlessmonday or any day you want to be a vegetarian but don’t want to sacrifice flavor; or to get more nutrients into vegetable averse children or spouses.

Made in spare time; these stocks are an inexpensive and flavorful alternative to store bought that can be easily stored in your freezer, and quickly defrosted when you’re ready to use.

– Making it easy to make use of it all in the kitchen, Jess

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5 Minute Ice Cream Sandwiches- A Recipe

There’s one thing I dread about pot lucks-being assigned dessert. I’m a great cook, but I’ve never been much of a baker so I typically try to avoid bringing dessert to any soiree. That was until I started making ice-cream sandwiches using Dancing Deer’s creative cookies and fun flavors of various brands of high end ice-cream. Now, I look for excuses to share a dessert that I can say I (kinda) made, following a simple recipe.

No matter how kitchen illiterate  you may be, you can make these easy to assemble at home treats to take wherever you may go.

Here’s how:


Buy Dancing Deer (or your favorite pre-made cookie) and a pint of high end ice cream that pairs well, open both packages, place cookies on a plate, flat side facing up


Scoop ice cream onto cookies, cover



Clean edges with a butterknife

Wrap in max paper or plastic wrap

Store in Freezer

Serve & enjoy!

-Taking the stress out of what dessert to bring to your next potluck, Jess

Share your ice cream sandwich creations with us via Facebook: Amazing Matriarch, Instagram: amazingamtriarch or Twitter: @AMatriarch;  Tag us on social using#amazingmatriarch 

Snacks that Outshine the Lit at Book Club

Hosting book club always leads to a menu complete with snacks from Trader Joe’s, cheese, wine and recipes I’ve been dying to try. My May menu was inspired by spring, a longing for summer and a desire to try something different. Having actually finished the book, The Girl on the Train, I was not only ready to discuss the literature (total thriller, few clues, was never sure of the ending) but excited to sit, eat and drink with the ladies I’ve been sharing lit with since 2010.

Along with my requisite cheese plate and no-fuss heat and serve Trader Joe’ s Shrimp Gyoza, I added two healthy, homemade appetizers and a crock pot dessert that made the ladies in my book club happy.

A big fan of green peas, I’d been dying to try Cooking Light’s Sweet Pea Crostini with Ricotta from the April, 2015 magazine. Feeling a little lazy (and entertaining a 2 year old all day), I skipped the whole make your own ricotta from Greek yogurt thing, and simply bought a small container of fat free ricotta cheese at my local market. This saved me a bit of time and clean-up so I could move along to other recipes before straightening out the disaster area I call my downstairs (in all fairness lots of fun is had here by my kids, but I never can quite keep up with the cleaning).IMG_2112

Assembled beforehand, these look lovely, but I opted for a make your own serving style as to limit waste because this pea spread would be fabulous on We Are Not Martha’s, Lemon Parmesan Spring Flatbread with Ricotta and Peas.

Along with the homemade crostini, I whipped up an Eating Well bean salad. Anyone with a blender, knife and can opener can master this healthy salad. A mixture of pink beans, yellow peppers, and edamame is topped with an herb focused avocado dressing that whips up in the blender in under a minute.  Served cold or at room temperature this meat free, protein packed powerhouse of  salad was flavorful and filling.

To drink we enjoyed our white and red, but in I was inspired to mix us a little sip of summer. Using pre-made Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler I added a cup and 1/2 of silver tequila and a small bottle of champagne. Gently stirred, it was served in a glass over ice. This sipper was a star.

So much so that I made similar by the glass cocktails for a smaller crowd a few days later, altering the recipe to create something slightly different. Using the same Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler, I subbed in a shot of  Privateer Rum and a splash of club soda. This cocktail was another winner and has me thinking that I’ll be stocking up on Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler to use at all my summer gatherings.

A baker I am not; so when I found a crockpot rice pudding recipe in the June, 2015  issue of Cooking Light, I was determined to test it out, and book club gave me the perfect excuse.  This crockpot special features cardamom and vanilla beans and is topped with fresh seasonal fruit (peaches are suggested, I used nectarines).One of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made, all this recipe needed was a quick mix before I set it for 7 and 1/2 hours and forgot it for the day. The results were rich and creamy, with a sweetness that was not too strong and the essence of cardamom and vanilla. Comfort in a bowl that when served room temperature worked well for a cool spring evening.

This spread was as special as the ladies I was lucky enough to share it with.

-Finding excuses for good food and drinks on every occasion, Jess

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Kidgits is Calling All Young Foodies for 1st Annual Lil Chefs Event


The Simon Malls Kidgits Club is whipping up some creative cuisine and loads of fun with this first annual event for Lil Chefs. On Saturday, May 16th, 2015 from 12pm – 2pm, children will experience, hands-on, the endless possibilities of food pairing. At the end of the day you can expect a new generation foodies to emerge. Hosted in the Macy’s Center Court at the South Shore Plaza (250 Granite Street, Braintree, MA), there will be a variety of food focused activities including:

Never too young to learn to cook
Never too young to learn to cook
  • Healthy Snack Ideas
  • Decorating Desserts
  • Food Samples
  • Disney and Lego Activities
  • Design your own Chefs Hat Craft
  • Kidgits Club Members will receive a Free Chefs Hat & Apron

All Kidgits are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to the event to be donated to The Braintree Food Pantry to help those in need.

The Kidgits Club, which recently launced at the South Shore Plaza, is a fun and interactive program that focuses on health, wellness, education, safety and entertainment for children ages 3-8. For more information on how to become a member, visit www.simon.com/kidgets.

Saucy Secret Revealed: One Sauce, Several Uses

This sauce is must add to your regular rotation. It acts as a marinade for grilled meat (pork, beef, bone in chicken) or even vegetables. Then, instead of being discarded, it can be boiled down to use as a sauce to serve over the main course or incorporated into side dishes (I love it mixed into rice, quinoa, or bulgur w/ grilled vegetables, chopped scallions and a few toasted sesame seeds).

Developing an umami packed sweet flavor, this sauce is sure to be a hit with your family. It’s also elegant enough to serve at a dinner party.

Basic Recipe:

  • 1/4 cup Soy Sauce
  • 3 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 1 to 2 tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 head of smashed garlic
  • Salt and pepper

Additional Options:

  • 1 tbsp crushed ginger
  • 1 thinly sliced hot pepper (seeded for less heat) OR
  • 1tbsp Sambal olek OR
  • 1tbsp Sirarcha
  • 1 thinly sliced onion or shallots


  • Agave syrup in place of brown sugar
  • canola oil in place of sesame oil
  • eliminate the rice wine vinegar
Photo via Flciker, Courtesy of Steven Depolo
Photo via Flickr, Courtesy of Steven Depolo

Mix all ingredients in a sealable bag, add meat or vegetables, shake to coat and refrigerate at least 2 hours(the flavor intensifies the longer it sits).

While meat/vegetables grill (a grill pan works in place of an outdoor grill), pour remaining sauce into a pot, bring to a boil and reduce until you reach your desired thickness. Serve atop meat or vegetables or mix into your favorite side dish.

You can play with the quantities in a large bowl to reach the flavor you desire. Or transform this sauce into a salad dressing by mixing the same ingredients in the following quantities.

Salad Dressing Adaptation:

  • 1/4 cup oil (canola, vegetable, olive)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 to 2 tsp maple syrup or brown sugar (to taste)
  • Chopped scallions (optional)

If additional heat is desired add a pinch to 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or a squirt of Sirarcha. Use to top green salads, or as a dressing (increase recipe to accommodate amount) for coleslaw or mix with your favorite grain.

Now you have one sauce that will pass the kid test, impress your significant other and wow your friends.

-Sharing a saucy little secret weapon to transform you into a kitchen pro, Jess

Share your final product with us! Find Amazing Matriarch on Facebook: Amazing Matriarch, Instagram: amazingamtriarch or Twitter: @AMatriarch;  #amazingmatriarch. 

Valentine’s Day Blizzard Busts Up Big Plans in The Northeast: The at Home Date Idea That Will Save the Day

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I rarely go out on Valentine’s Day. All the hype never meets my expectations so when we moved to the burbs and had a baby, my husband started a tradition of putting the kids to bed, pouring me a glass of champagne and shucking some of my favorite east coast oysters. Together we assemble our own personal raw bar, often adding lobster tails, and we sit at our hightop bar by the wood stove laughing and relaxing.

With at least another foot of snow, and dangerous winds threatening to blanket the coastal northeast this weekend there’ll be a lot of disappointed diners skipping out on their special Valentine’s Day reservations. If you’re opting to hunker down instead of heading out, steal my go-to, stay home Valentine’s Day date.

Aphrodisiacs at home-Oysters and Champagne:

Treat your someone special to a bottle of champagne and a platter of raw oysters.  My $50 favorite is Vueve Clicquot, but if that’s a little too steep pick a Prosecco. The Italian version of this bubbly treat tends to be delicious for under $20 a bottle. A fan favorite is the Mionetto Prosecco Brut.

An at home oyster shucking party will give you a lot of giggles with great rewards. And believe it or not, oysters are quite easy to shuck-if you have the proper tools. A reinforced, washable oven mitt makes a great oyster shucking glove. But you should spring for a pair of oyster knives, for $8.99 each these can be found at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond.  

If you’re in the Boston area, where the restaurant industry is hurting from the snowfall, stop into one of Legal Sea Foods fish markets (Legal’s has postponed their Valentine’s Day menu until March 6-8 on account of the crazy snow already in the city) or call around and see if seafood specialists like Island Creek, or Row 34  have oysters you can buy. If you’d prefer to go to a fish market not affiliated with a restaurant, James Hook & Co. always has a stellar selection of seafood.

Mix up a variety of dips like cocktail sauce and mignonette, buy a bottle of tabasco and horseradish then slice up some lemons and arrange alongside your freshly shucked platter of oysters on ice.

-Busting this blizzard one home date idea at a time, XO Jess

Create a Kitchen Measurement Cheat Sheet in a Flash

I don’t know about you but whenever I cook a new recipe, I am constantly reaching for my smartphone to Google  measurement conversions.  No matter how often I cook, my mommy brain gets the best of me and I can’t remember common kitchen measurements.

The other day, when I was out for my bi-weekly trip to the craft store, I came across a display of chalkboard painted plaques.  I thought, this would be a perfect piece to create a kitchen measurement chart. What I didn’t realize was how quickly this draft would come together. In less than 20 minutes my measurement conversion chart was complete.

You too can create a sweet little chart of your own in under 20 minutes for $5.00 or less, here’s how…

List of items you will need:

  • Chalkboard painted plaque (or a wooden plaque, primer and chalkboard paint to create your own)
  • Chalk or a chalk marker (I chose the marker because it has a finer tip)
  • Ribbon of your choice
  • No Damage Hanging Strips (for pictures or frames)

Step 1:

If you are painting your own wooden plaque, paint it with one coat of primer and once dry apply the chalkboard paint.  I would do 2 coats waiting in between until fully dry (this adds to the overall competition time).

If you purchased the pre-painted version of a plaque, bypass this step.

Step 2: 

KC Chart with textFind a good conversion chart online and use your writing utensil to copy this onto your plaque.  If you mess up, no worries.  Take a wet paper towel or cloth and wipe it off (I had a bit of trouble once the chalkboard marker had dried but I grabbed a magic eraser, scrubbed really hard and that did the trick).



Step 3:

Adding RibbonTake your ribbon of choice and insert each end into the pre-drilled holes (back to front) of plaque.  Pull the ribbon through the holes and tie the ribbon into a bow.  I like to use wired ribbon because it is easier to arrange the bow in place.

If there are no pre-drilled holes in your plaque, you can either drill 2 holes yourself or you can make your bow first and then glue it on your plaque (glue dots also work great).

Step 4:

Command StripsRemove the wax paper backing and place 4 pieces of damage free hanging strips (adhesive side down) onto the back of the plaque.  Press the other 4 strips (adhesive side up) against the already situated ones and press down until you hear a snap.  Decide where you want to place your plaque.  I was going to put mine on the inside door of the cabinet where I prepare the meals; instead I chose the wall below my cabinet, it was too pretty to hide.





And there you have it.  A kitchen measurement cheat sheet in under 20 minutes!

final chart

Just one home cook helping to make your time more efficient in the kitchen, Thia

Chipotle Mac & Cheese, Yes Please!

Nothing says comfort food like a great mac and cheese!  A subtle kick of chipotle paired with the smoky flavor of bacon and cheddar cheese makes this creation A-MAZING!

In the dead of winter, when there is a blizzard warning flashing at least once a week across the screen of your television or smartphone and you want to savor a hearty meal by the fire (preferably in sweatpants), choose this recipe.

Gourmet chef or not (like me), follow these simple instructions to impress your family, friends or guests, and possibly receive an invite to every pot luck get together until the end of time.


This dish is extremely addictive and calorie laden; if you are currently on a diet; don’t make it.



Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot, bring 1 gallon of water to boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and pasta and cook for 8 – 9 minutes.  Drain pasta and cool under cold running water. Pasta should be slightly firm. Toss drained pasta in oil and reserve.

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove bacon; allow bacon to cool then crumble and set aside.

Chipolte CheeseMelt butter in a large sauce pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute for 4 – 5 minute.  Add flour and cook 1 – 2 minute but do not brown.  Add cream, half and half, kosher salt and white pepper.  Bring pot to a simmer. Cook until sauce is thick, about 5 – 6 minute Blend cheese into sauce and add cooked pasta.  Pour pasta and sauce into a 9 x 12″ baking dish. Reserve.

In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add oil and chipotle chili powder. Heat for 30 seconds, until pan starts to smoke. Remove from stove and stir in bread crumbs.  Sprinkle bread crumbs over the pasta and bake for 15 – 20 minute until golden. Cool slightly before serving.

**Kid friendly version**

If you want to serve this meal to your kids as well, but they haven’t yet acquired a taste for the chipotle spice,  melt 2 tbsp of butter in the microwave and add to the bread crumb mixture. Test the mixture, if it is still too spicy, add another tbsp of melted butter and this should dull down the kick of the dish.

I believe congratulations are now in order;  you successfully created and delivered a delicious meal to the ones you love!

– Just one lady rescuing you from the winter storms, Thia

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