Cocktail Party

Recently we had a cocktail party to celebrate a milestone for one of my colleagues.

Our work group holds a similar event every year, but we rotate hosting duties and the party style varies by the person we’re celebrating.

This year it was my turn, and the Person of the Hour has great taste and style, so I wanted the mood to appropriately reflect that.

My initial plan was to do a vodka and caviar theme, featuring a retro 1970s caviar pie.

Steelhead Diner

Photo from Cool Hunting

Doesn’t this look awesome?

Since I also recently got totally overwhelmed with life in general, I didn’t get my party preparations in high gear until a few days before the main event.

And then I promptly found out that there is not a single store that sells caviar in our city. 

My next step – ordering online – fell apart when the gourmet food site crashed right as I tried to confirm my order.

A panicked reworking of the menu, lots of back up help from my Mom and sister, and a scramble-to-the-last-second prep brought it together.

Here’s what we served:

  • Whipped feta dip (Always a hit. Ok to make 1-2 days ahead of time, then garnish with lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil)
  • Baked brie with fig jam (this baking dish is perfect)
  • A cheese board
  • Antipasto tray (prosciutto, soppressata and salami) with roasted cherry tomatoes
  • Chicken satay with mango salsa (Spouse came through and cooked these during the party)
  • Marcona almonds
  • Olives
  • Carrot hummus with pita
  • Terra chips
  • Dipping veggies
  • Baguette

I hired a knowledgeable salesperson from one of the local liquor stores to host a spirits tasting during the party.

He came through with three different vodkas – including a really good small-batch citrus one, an herbal gin, a cognac and an aged bourbon.

I wanted uniform glassware, so I ordered a few sets of small tasting glasses from CB2.

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After the tasting, he mixed cocktails for everyone.

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And then we had dessert.

CB2 also hit a home run here with these Oliver gummy bear plates.

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Aren’t these adorable?

My go-to dessert is always Real Simple’s Flourless Chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream. I doubled the recipe for party of this size. There wasn’t a crumb left. I hope it was good, since I didn’t get any!

The second dessert was phyllo cups with cheesecake filling, garnished with fresh berries and chocolate. These required last minute prep but weren’t too difficult. The shells needed to be baked in the oven, and I’d already made the cheesecake center. Once the shells were cooled, I filled and decorated them – but this was really at the last second.

The third and final dessert was gluten-free speedy biscotti, which was a recipe I modified from Real Simple. I’ll post about that tomorrow.

The best part of the party? Spouse stayed up extra late to get it all cleaned up. Waking up the next day – a work day, by the way – to a house full of clean dishes was absolutely wonderful. Thank you, Spouse!

A few lessons learned and tips for future parties:

  • Consider the person being feted as you plan the details. I think I got this right. Prior parties have featured a full Southern barbecue for a meat lover and a taco bar with a bounce house for a family man.
  • Source out hard to find ingredients ahead of time. Lesson learned here.
  • Invest in partyware. I know there are a lot of interesting paper products now, but I think it’s much nicer to elevate your party with real plates, napkins and glasses. CB2 has great prices on entertaining pieces.
  • Lists, lists, lists. I made menu and a separate timeline for when things needed to be done, which also included things like organizing platters, prepping the grill, etc.
  • Make a playlist to match the party’s mood. I like streaming Songza, too.
  • Hire help. We had our mixologist and also a babysitter to keep an eye on our two kids, even though we were there.
  • Organize your outfit ahead of time. I hadn’t given this any forethought and was scrambling to get dressed as guests arrived. You want guests to walk into the party and feel like all the prep was effortless and the night’s about to start. Instead, there I was, sweating away in a stained t shirt with a ponytail. Argh.
  • Buy more ice than you think you need. And you must buy ice. Your freezer’s version is not going to cut it.
  • Clean up right away. Waking up bleary eyed to a messy house is a huge bummer. Waking up bleary eyed to a clean house still means you’re waking up bleary eyed, but it feels significantly better.

A few resources:

 

 

 

 

Cocktail Menu

I rarely drink cocktails, but I’m intrigued by the whole artisanal cocktail culture.

Unfortunately, though, I often can’t think of a single thing to order if I’m somewhere cocktails are being served.

This is actually harder than it sounds, as your drink of choice says something about you, and I feel compelled to strike a balance between lame (Red Bull and vodka) and douche-y (ironically, also Red Bull and vodka, although small-batch vodka with hand carved ice).

Entertaining at home is also a stressor: what to serve? We don’t have any liquor at our house right now, so even setting up a basic bar would require an investment.

Yesterday I had a long wait by myself before lunch, and I snapped a few pics from the restaurant’s bar menu in case I ever felt inspired.

This banana martini is a liquid dessert. Yum.

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Here’s lunch when it finally came:

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NYE ’14

After years of staying home on New Year’s Eve, this year we got a great invitation from my friends J. and B.two sisters-in-law who are totally fun – to spend the evening with them and their respective spouses.

J. and B. have an in at a local restaurant and secured one of the hottest tables in town for an NYE blow out.

And they invited us to join them.

My initial reaction: Yes! Yes! Yes!

And then I remembered the children.

Miracle of miracles, we locked in a babysitter (I will pay her handsomely, I swear) and we’re planning to celebrate in style.

Even though this year is a departure from our usual pre-11 PM turn in, I loved these tips for hosting a New Year’s Eve party from Parade magazine.

  • Dress up! Even in your own home. Festive dress, is, well, festive. It sets the mood for a fun night.
  • Make champagne cocktails. How about a Kir Royale? Champagne plus creme de cassis is pretty delicious. A classic champagne cocktail is also delicious; add a bitters-dipped sugar cube to champagne for a cool effect. Big impact!
  • Serve impressive, retro appetizers. Shrimp cocktail. Crab dip. Caviar.
  • Stream Frank Sinatra.

And my favorite tip: send guests home with hangover kits containing ibuprofen, eye masks, coconut water and lip balm.

Personally, I would add Cheetos to that kit.

Or do what my parents always did when I was a kid: serve up a huge 3 AM breakfast feast for revelers still in play. 

Happy 2015!

 

 

 

 

What Do You Call a Group of Turkeys?

Nope, not your in-laws and their extended clan. Ba da bum!

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A few weeks ago, the coffee shop I regularly patronize made the Group of Turkeys question their Trivia of the Day, for which a correct answer garners 10 cents off a cup of joe.

For the record, a group of turkeys is a called either a rafter or a gang.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s some trivia for your holiday table tomorrow.

What do you call a group of …

  • Bears: A sleuth
  • Cats: A clowder (For kittens: a kindle)
  • Giraffes: A tower
  • Ferrets: A business
  • Hyenas: A cackle
  • Ponies: A string
  • Jays: A party
  • Owls: A parliament
  • Starlings: A murmuring
  • Storks: A mustering
  • Sharks: A shiver
  • Toads: A knot
  • Crows: A murder (Yikes!)

 

 

 

 

Self Service Wine Bar

Ok, I really want to try this.

Self service wine bars are popping up around the country.

Here’s the concept: you purchase a prepaid card and insert it into a wine dispenser, choosing whether you want a full glass or just a sample.

Most offer dozens of wines on tap, using technology that prevents the wines from becoming oxidized.

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What a great way to try new varietals. I so wish there was one of these near me!

 

 

Opening Bubbly

Our neighbors gave us a bottle of sparkling wine recently as a thank-you for the numerous times that Ever Patient Spouse helped them load and unload their kayak from the roof of their car.

Last Saturday night, it was a gorgeous summer evening that seemed perfect for sipping some bubbles.

Don’t be intimidated to open champagne or other sparkling wine.

The cork only flies off haphazardly in movies, not real life, nor does it spray wildly out of the bottle unless a pro athlete vigorously shakes it before it’s opened at the end of the Super Bowl.

To open:

  • Remove the foil.
  • Untwist the wire cage. Keep your thumb on top as a precaution while you untwist, but it’ll be fine.
  • Hold the bottle in its mid-section with your non-dominant hand.
  • Cover the cork with a towel and grasp the top with your dominant hand.
  • Turn the bottle, not the cork. It should release with 3-4 turns.
  • Pour, toast and enjoy!

Cheers!

For a really spectacular presentation, consider sabering the bottle. This isn’t as hard as it seems, and the WOW factor is extreme.

Here’s how to do it:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dizzy Water

Last weekend, my darling friend W. and I went out to dinner at this place, and yes, the cocktails were insane.

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Welcome, Dizzy Water.

Mix:

  • 1 part Limoncello
  • 2 parts ginger beer
  • Add ice

Garnish with this. 

Seriously, these Luxardo cherries are out of this world.

No more than that.

The bartender told me that the cherries are $100 wholesale in the size they order and they have to be hidden from staff.

Delish. 

P.S. Find them here.

 

 

 

Small Talk

Last fall I posted a piece about making small talk at cocktail parties, and specifically, how I hate the usual questions like “What do you do?”

I tend to hate talking about superficial things and really value Deep, Important Conversation, but let’s face it, you probably shouldn’t start expounding on your extreme political views while in line at the DMV.

That’s why I’m excited about this new book about making small talk:

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Here are the authors giving examples of what to talk about in different situations, like an elevator, cocktail party or on a plane.

My new favorite cocktail party question:

Would you rather give up caffeine or gluten for the rest of your life?

Want more? Here’s a great excerpt from the book.