Hosting is often labeled an “art”, as in “the art of hosting” or “the art of entertaining.” I would argue that hosting is better described as a “practice”, much like either law or yoga, rather than an art. Practice, by the way, is defined as “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Dinner parties, brunches with friends, even happy hour on a Tuesday – I relish the opportunity to invite guests over for any occasion.
I started hosting elaborate, multi-course dinner parties in high school (thank you to my parents for cleaning and my guests for eating my barely edible food!) and I’ve refined my methods over the
many years since then. One of the lessons I learned early on was that I could prevent unnecessary stress by making sure that guests were never actually waiting on me to eat something. There’s nothing worse than being a mere fifteen minutes away from serving a dinner you know is going to be amazing and hearing your friends say that they’re “starving”. Pour that hungry guest a glass of wine (and pour yourself one while you’re at it), force a smile, and point them over to the “arrival appetizer,” as I like to call it, while you wrap up the meal you’ve worked so hard to prepare.
When we entertain, I love to have a couple of appetizers set out for everyone to snack on. I take a break from working on the main course about thirty minutes before guests are supposed to arrive (to account for the blessed early birds) to set up my “arrival appetizer”. Although it can be hard to tear yourself away when you feel like you’re running short on time, believe me that the effort is worthwhile.
Beyond lowering the host’s blood pressure, a plated snack welcomes guests to your home and communicates that you’re thrilled that they’re joining you for dinner, even if you’re cursing yourself for choosing a dish that requires you to pit a thousand cherries or sweating over a skillet. These dishes do not need to be anything elaborate – a couple types of cheeses, fruit, and sliced baguette is just fine. I prepared these grilled sweet potato rounds with an avocado-cilantro crema as my “arrival appetizer” when hosting a casual cookout-style dinner for our families and it went over well, so now I’m sharing it with the world.
Appetizers like this are ideal for the summer months, when you’re already firing up the grill and guests are mingling inside and outside. I think it would have been the perfect addition to our Fourth of July spread, except for the fact that my guilty pleasure is “red, white, and blue everything” on the Fourth. It’s the only holiday that I like to celebrate with color-themed food. I don’t do that with Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, or any other holiday with a convenient color theme. But when it’s July 4th, expect me to buy color-coordinated macarons:
And it’s not just food. I also invest in patriotic bandanas (Mops hasn’t forgiven me just yet):
Now, back to these off-theme sweet potatoes. I’ve been proclaiming the virtues of grilled sweet potatoes for quite some time on this little blog, so I won’t bore you with yet another ode to the slight crunch on the outside, the mellow, soft middle, and the earthy contrast of the skin (leave the skin on, people, just leave it on!). Instead, let’s talk about the crema.
The avocado-cilantro crema is a thick sauce with a foundation of Greek yogurt and sour cream. The Mexican-type flavor comes from a combination of ingredients used to make guacamole: avocado, cilantro, onions, jalapenos, lime juice, garlic, cumin, and cayenne. The creamy base tempers the heat and makes the dish taste deceptively indulgent, when it’s really nutrient-packed and healthy.
- Three medium-sized sweet potatoes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 ripe avocado, mashed
- 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh jalapeno, very finely chopped, seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons purple onions, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Heat a large pot of water to boil. Cook potatoes for five to eight minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from water and let cool, then cut into thick (about 1/2 an inch) round slices.
- Heat grill to medium-high. Drizzle sweet potato rounds with olive oil and grill on each side for two to four minutes, until grill marks appear.
- Add sour cream, Greek yogurt, chopped cilantro, mashed avocado, chopped jalapeno, chopped onions, garlic salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne (if using) and lime juice to a food processor and blend until smooth.
- Transfer crema to a plastic bag and chill until ready to use. When ready to serve, snip a corner out of the plastic bag and pipe onto grilled sweet potato rounds.
- Top sweet potatoes with extra cilantro as a garnish, if desired.