Fun & fashionable food for friends

I work with really amazing people - they are funny, kind, and unique. And not only do these friends brighten the workplace experience, they enhance the off-hours time as well. I'm quite normally somewhat of a loner, and these people are entirely responsible for my heightened social activity. We gab before and after school, hysterically laugh our way through staff meetings, take on team building activities like badminton tournaments and mall scavenger hunts with wholehearted, competitive enthusiasm, and gather monthly for the atypically
typical Friday Afternoon Club.

But above all, my favorite social events with these friends are the Project Runway/Top Chef nights. During new PR or TC seasons, we meet on a weeknight to nosh, slurp, and critique our way through the new episode. It's the greatest mid-week stress reliever - a chance to share opinions and recipes and wine. I love it because I get to entertain at home, test new dishes on my friends' palates, and above all, just laugh. Often.

I've realized in my experiences as a host that the best kind of food to make for nights like these is simple, elegant, and genuine. There have been nights when I've tried to go over the top and make a new gourmet recipe - and I just end up feeling stressed and worried (the very opposite of the night's purpose). So I've started to stick to the recipes I know work - the tried-and-true numbers, or the ones I throw together at the last minute just using my instincts as a guide.

This past week's menu included Nigella's brownies, guacamole with yam and multigrain chips, salami
bruschetta, chicken salad on Wasa crackers, and stuffed dates wrapped in pancetta. Most of these recipes were either created off the top of my head, or borrowed from an existing recipe and then tweaked here and there until they became my own.

The only one I haven't touched is the brownie recipe - it's perfect as it is. From my hero, Nigella Lawson, these brownies are mostly fudgy, super-chocolatey with a perfect, cracked top layer that melts when it touches the top of your lip. They are even better cold (try them straight out of the freezer!) and you can find the recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/triple-chocolate-brownies-recipe/index.html.

*FYI: I make mine with walnuts instead of white chocolate chips. Make immediately and arm yourself with a tall glass of milk!

Oh, and happy entertaining :)

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