Episode 5: “Holidazed and Confused”


Hi everyone, Chef John here!


On this episode of Cheap Date we are making some passed appetizers that are perfect for holiday parties: inexpensive to make, delicious, they look great, and are guaranteed to wow your guests!

These are some of my go-to passed appetizers I use with my catering company, Shaken & Stirred!

Now onto this week’s scenario!

The Scenario:

This time you didn’t do anything wrong!

On the contrary, you started your new job three months ago as the Office Manager for a Sports Licensing Company, and you’ve been crushing it! So much so, in fact, that any time you pass the boys from Accounts Receiving they do The Wave.


In your short time with the company you have already increased office organization, productivity, cleanliness, and according to your boss, thanks to your witty sports metaphors people are really enjoying being at work for the first time in years! Talk about a Grand Slam!

A few weeks ago, your boss Sandra asked you to decorate the office for the holidays. You recruited Chad the college intern to help and after a couple hours of work it all turned out awesome!


The decorations were all non-denominational and with emphatic use of your company’s new line of College Football and MLB-themed holiday wreaths and ornaments, all in team-appropriate colors. No one got offended except the Yankees and Red Sox Fans.

You are 4/4! If you were a baseball player you would be looking at a very lucrative off season!

(You fought the urge to slap Chad on the ass as an atta boy when you were finished decorating, remembering that what might be acceptable behavior between colleagues in a baseball dugout doesn’t necessarily translate to the office cubicle.)

But alas you are not a major league baseball player, but like one you do have a manager and following the success of your office decorating, she has decided that you should plan the company holiday party as well! And no, she doesn’t want you to use her corporate credit card to book out your local premier restaurant & bar.

“As you know we are trying to find new ways to cut unnecessary spending and maximize profits,” Sandra said to you. “Why don’t you employ the new slogan we rolled out at the staff meeting last Tuesday and Do More with Less!

You stand there with a kind of dumb look on your face until your boss finally breaks the silence saying “Host the party here in the office next Friday! You know, how they did in the old days, like on Mad Men or whatever.”

Now you are stuck in a tricky situation. Your team believes in you, they are expecting something as good as last year’s party at Olives and Oil in Downtown New Haven!

They are expecting passed appetizers, cocktails, a full-service experience, and based on the way they performed as a team this year they deserve the whole nine yards. Unfortunately, it seems like you are only equipped with about 2 or 3 yards at the best. You can’t let them down! You’re the heavy-hitting slugger charged with getting your team to the playoffs, you’re 4/4 and you need it to be 5/5! There is no glory quite like the post season!


There is, however, one problem:

You can’t cook yourself out of a paper bag and you’ve got the Uber Eats order history to prove it!

Not to worry, Chef John is here with four easy appetizer recipes that taste great, look better, and are easy enough you could teach your 10-year-old nephew, Jeffy, to make them!

We’ve even added a batched cocktail that’s just as easy to mix up and can be served in a punch bowl or beverage dispenser with a spigot for self-service! (You might not want to teach Jeffy how to make that until he’s at least 18.)

Have no fear … you’re going to the playoffs!

Things You Might Want to Need…


2 oz Mini Dessert Cups

Small Plastic Forks

Bamboo Skewers

6 - Pack Exquisite Plastic Clear Plate With Silver Edged Flower

Plastic Punch Bowl With Ladle

Bittermens Burlesque Bitters

100% CERTIFIED Organic Hibiscus Flowers Herbal Tea

Kikkoman Glaze, Teriyaki, 5 Pound



Caprese Bites



16 oz. baby tomatoes

¼ lb. fresh basil

1/4 bunch of fresh parsley

16 oz. ciliegine (small mozzarella balls)

1/4 cup olive oil

½ oz. crushed red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper to taste


1. Take your parsley, pick & mince. Mix with ciliegine, olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and set aside.


2. Pick your basil leaves and set aside. Cut your tomatoes in half horizontally and set aside.


3. Now take your tomato half, top with basil, then ciliegine and skewer through the top. You are ready to serve!


Chef’s Tip

It is important when cutting your tomatoes in half you cut them horizontally, otherwise it may be difficult to secure the fork through the mozzarella balls. Be gentle!

Farro Salad Cups



16 oz. farro

32 oz. water

1 ¼ cup olive oil

1 oz. minced garlic & shallots

16 oz. halved baby tomatoes

1 cup lemon juice

1 bunch picked/minced oregano

2 tbsp. honey

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup feta

1 cup halved red seedless grapes

1 head of romaine lettuce

salt & pepper to taste



1. Heat a medium sized pot to medium, add 1 tbsp. olive oil, garlic, shallots, brown, add farro, toast in pan then add water and let cook for 20 minutes or until farro is done. Once cooked remove from pot, place on sheet tray and let cool to room temperature.


2. While your farro is cooking whisk together lemon juice, honey, picked/minced oregano, mustard, salt and pepper and apple cider vinegar using a food processor. Once mixed slowly add olive oil to the mixture as the food processor runs to emulsify olive oil into your dressing. When finished, set aside in a bowl or squeeze bottle.

3. Half your tomatoes and grapes, crumble your feta cheese, chop your romaine and set aside. In a large mixing bowl add all remaining ingredients saving some feta for garnish and mix thoroughly.


4. Take your salad mixture, carefully spoon into serving cups, sprinkle feta as garnish, add the tiny disposable fork and you are ready to serve!


Chef’s Tip

Toasting the farro in the pan brings out nutty flavors that really make the dish pop! However, be sure to constantly stir the farro as you toast it to ensure you don’t toast it too far and burn your batch!

Thai Chicken Skewers



6 lb. chicken tenders

3 tbsp. sriracha

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

8 oz. peanut butter

16 oz. teriyaki glaze

1 bunch of scallions or chives

1 cup of sesame seeds

¼ lb. unsalted butter


1. Take your chicken tenders and clean off the tendons; it’s the small white stringy piece at the top of the cut. Once cleaned mix your chicken tenders in 2 tbsp. of sriracha, salt and pepper. Cube your butter and vacuum seal evenly spaced chicken tenders in vacuum seal bags with a tab of butter in each packet.

2. Once sealed set your sous vide for 140F, add the bags of prepped chicken and let cook for 4 hours.

3. While your chicken is cooking in the sous vide combine peanut butter, teriyaki glaze, and 1 tbsp. of sriracha in a bowl, whisk thoroughly and set aside for your sauce.


4. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from sous vide bath and submerge immediately in an ice bath to cool down. Once cooled, remove chicken from bag, cut lengthwise in half and impale on large disposable wooden serving skewers.


5. Fine chop your chives and set aside. Using a grill or cast-iron pan sear your chicken skewers until golden brown on each side.


6. Plate on a serving tray, drizzle some teriyaki glaze on top of chicken, garnish with chopped scallions, sesame seeds and serve with your peanut dipping sauce on the side!

Chef’s Tip

Be sure to cover your sous vide bath with plastic wrap or some type of cover to keep the temperature regulated correctly. Always be extra careful when handling raw chicken as not to cross contaminate any other food items.

Pimento Cheese Balls


1.5 lb. cream cheese

16 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup grated parmesan

1 cup minced pimentos

1 tbsp. onion powder

1 tbsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

1 tbsp. salt and pepper

32 oz. chopped candied pecans

4 cloves roasted garlic

1 tbsp. olive oil


1. Place your chopped pecans in the food processor, give them a couple of turns in the machine to crumble them further and set aside.


2. In a small sauté pan, add olive oil, garlic cloves, sauté until browned, remove from heat and blend in food processor.


3. In a large mixing bowl combine the remaining of ingredients minus the pecans and including the pureed roasted garlic and mix thoroughly. I suggest using a stand-up mixer like a kitchen aid with the paddle attachment or you can just do it by hand.


4. Once combined use a 1 oz. scoop to ball out the cheese blend, roll in crushed pecans and serve!


Chef’s Tip

Be sure to press your cheese balls into the nuts and reform. Sometimes you need a second round of dredging the cheeseballs in the nuts before they are finished

Plating and other Stuff…

I suggested some disposable options for plating these small bites at your holiday party above but if you already have some decorative serving trays, wooden cheeseboards or slates those work great as well. Focus on making each mini bite perfect and they will hold their own as far as presentation is concerned. Plus, your guests will love the mini forks…everyone does!


What to drink?

Pomegranate Punch


Daniel Rek, the creative mastermind behind the bar program at Elm City Social, has a delicious batched cocktail you can make ahead of time and serve in a punchbowl at your party! Your guests are going to love it!


1/2 cup granulated sugar

4   whole lemons

1   bottle Smirnoff pomegranate vodka

2   ½ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice

5   cups of hibiscus tea

6   oz. Bonal Gentiane

1 oz. burlesque bitters


1. Take 5 cups of water and combine with 4 hibiscus tea bags or 9 grams of loose tea. Steep for 10 minutes, strain, chill and set aside.

2. Peel your lemons, combine with sugar in a vacuum seal bag and set aside for 24-48 hours at room temperature. This will create your “oleo sacrum”, which is an old colonial punch ingredient that is going to elevate your punch to the next level!

3. Combine the remainder of ingredients, mix thoroughly, run through a strainer and you are ready to serve!

4. Pour your cocktail in a punch bowl, set a separate bowl of ice aside for your guests and let the party begin!

Chef’s Tip

Those lemons you peeled to make the oleo sacrum are still good for juicing! Cut them in half and use a hand juicer or spoon & squeeze to extract the juice. Fresh juice makes cocktails 1,000x better!

What to listen to?

It’s a Holiday Soul Party



This album by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings is well done, fun, funky and has a good mix of holiday music for everyone! The band was an important part of the revivalist movement of the 1960- mid 1970’s style of funk and soul music, so they have plenty of experience and the album sounds like it. This was the last album the band put out before Sharon Jones passed away in 2016 so it is extra heartfelt.

Chef’s Closing Notes:

Remember, the Holiday Season is supposed to be fun but can become stressful on the flip of a dime! I hope you enjoyed this episode of Cheap Date, get to spend time with your loved ones for the holidays and show off some of these easy to do recipes! On the other hand, if you just got stressed out reading this article…contact me at Shaken & Stirred Catered Events to set your mind at ease and make your party the talk of the town! www.shakenandstirredevents.com

Michael Sivak