The rule of halves. 1

I’m not much of a rule follower, but there are some basic rules that are helpful in planning a party.

How many hors d’oeuvres per person:

  • 3-4 for a 30-45 minute reception before dinner
  • 5-7 for up to 2 hours if you’re guests are likely to go have dinner elsewhere afterwards
  • 10-12 for a party lasting up to 4 hours if you are serving hors d’oeuvres in place of dinner

How many dishes? Offer 5 different options for a group up to 25 people. Add two dishes to the menu for each additional 25 people.

How many drinks? The general rule is 2-3 per hour, but you know your crowd and you can drink the leftovers.

The most important rule I’ve discovered is the rule of halves. Half of your menu should be served hot and half cold or at room temperature. Half the menu should be fully prepared before the party and half of the items can need some final cooking or assembly during the party.

Finally, half of the menu can be more complicated recipes and the other half simple or right out of the package, like nuts, olives or cheeses. This dish is in the first category. It’s got three components and takes a bit of work. While the beef isn’t complicated, you are doing a reverse sear which means 45 minutes in the oven, 15 minutes to cool, a quick sear in a pan and then an hour or more of chilling in the freezer before thinly slicing. None of these steps will take much active time, but you’ll definitely want to start this dish a day ahead. On the other hand, that jar of marinated artichoke hearts is a gift from God and can just be poured out into a nice bowl. Done! See, you got the time for this.

I’ve got one last rule: this is your party. Do what you want. Make everything complicated and expensive. Or buy 5 items that are prepare or ready to warm up in the oven. After all, the most important thing to plan for at your party is a big smile on your face.

Berbere Beef Crostini with Harissa Mayonnaise and Minted Pea Purée

Makes about 32 pieces

Berbere beef:

  • 2 pound sirloin steaks, about 1-1 ½” thick
  • 4 tbs Berbere seasoning*
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil

Minted pea purée:

  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 one-pound bag frozen peas
  • 1 cup homemade chicken stock
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh mint
  • 1-2 tbs Sherry vinegar

Harissa mayonnaise:

  • 2 egg yolks**
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1-2 tbs wasabi powder or wasabi paste


  • 1 baguette cut in 1/2″ slices
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

*Berbere is a complex spice blend unique to Ethiopian and Eritrean food. It’s got a lot of ingredients, but you can make a simple start with equal parts cumin, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cayenne and paprika. Harissa is a spicy roasted pepper paste. You can find it in the international aisle at your grocery store.

**The egg yolks in homemade mayonnaise are not cooked. There is some risk here, just like crossing the street or bungee jumping. Buy your eggs farm-fresh from someone you trust. If there are special health risks you are worried about, talk to your doctor or use store-bought mayo and mix in the Harissa.


  • Season and sear the beef: Preheat oven to 225.
  • Pat sirloin dry and season with salt, pepper and rub on all sides with Berbere. The Berbere will need to be a thick rub, because the flavor will only come from the outside of the thinly sliced steak. Place steak on a cooling rack set over a sheet pan. Place steak in oven until thermometer reads 120 F, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
  • Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbs vegetable oil to the pan. Heat to almost smoking and add the beef, searing on all sides for 1 minute each, until browned.
  • Remove beef to a plate and let cool to room temp. Place in freezer until firm, but not frozen. Using a sharp knife, cut beef into the thin slices, 1/4″ or less.
  • Make the pea puree: Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add minced shallot and sauté until softened. Add peas and cook 1-2 minutes. Add stock and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add mint, stir through and turn off heat.
  • Mash peas in a food mill or with a fork. You want a little texture to remain. Season to taste with vinegar, salt and pepper. The sweetness of the peas should be light, not cloying.
  • Make the Harissa mayonnaise: Whisk together egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and a pinch of salt, until yolks are thick and sticky, about 30-60 seconds. Whisk in oil, a couple drops at a time, until mayonnaise starts to form. Add remaining oil in a thin stream until incorporated. Mayonnaise can feel quite thick. Whisk in Harissa. Let rest in fridge. Before serving, season to taste with salt, pepper and additional lemon juice, if needed.
  • Make crostini: Place baguette slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees until lightly browned. Remove and let cool. (That was easy!)
  • Assemble: Spoon the mayonnaise into a ziplock bag or piping bag. Cut a tiny point off the corner of the bag. Top each crostini with a tbs or two of pea purée. Place a slice of beef over the peas. Pipe a thin stream of mayonnaise over the beef. Eat them all because they are so delicious. Make another batch for your guests. Or just bust out the Brie and crackers.

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