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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Foodie Sunday: Hosting a springtime cocktail party and a fabulous giveaway!

By Beth

I love cocktail parties and springtime parties are so much fun! Right now, everything’s beginning to bloom and it’s a perfect excuse to get outside and play with others! So I thought that for today’s Foodie Sunday that I’d love to give you a few suggestions for making your next cocktail party easy and fun so you’ll have no excuse not to do some of your own frolicking come the merry month of May!

In helping so many plan events over the years I’ve learned that hosting an incredible dinner party is something that we really WANT to do, but the prospect of which can fill you with total dread! The secret to delicious success is to be well prepared and completely committed to your own pleasure! After all, you want to have fun too, because sharing a meal together is still the best way that I know to really enjoy my friends and catch up with our crazy lives and if and when you’re entertaining someone unfamiliar it’s always easier to break the ice between strangers in the comfort of your home!

My mother was the master of the sophisticated cocktail soiree and over many years I watched and marveled at the way that she ran a business, raised the three of us and gave incredible parties without ever really breaking a sweat! She taught me that really good planning and preparation are essential to creating a wonderful and stress free evening, leaving you firmly in control to really enjoy your guests! I learned many useful things from her, like to never ever be without porcelain canapé plates and several tins of smoked oysters, canned stuffed grape leaves and eggplant appetizer!

I never saw her bar without several bottles of good champagne and a few after dinner liqueurs for coffee! She always had a loaf of party sized bread in her freezer, 8 chicken breasts and spinach for dip, and she could throw a party for ten with about 65 seconds notice; I saw her do it a million times Her secret weapon for stress free entertaining was a well stocked pantry and simple food, beautifully presented with a lot of laughter. Over the years, I’ve learned from her methods, and I make it a habit every time that I go shopping to add something to the cache that I keep for expected and surprise guests. Remember that rule number one is to relax!

The success to throwing a fabulous cocktail party is to keep it simple! You don't need a full bar, really all that you need is one signature drink like a simple martini (keep it savory, nothing too sweet!) , an herbaceous aperitif like Herbsaint or Pastis to mix with a bit of soda and sweet lavender scented syrup, a red wine , a white wine and a champagne cocktail! If you’ve got a punch bowl (or even a large pretty bowl) I've found that there's nothing prettier than creating a luscious champagne punch and it’s very simple to do! Just chill several bottles of nice champagne and a bottle of peach nectar. Put the ingredients into the bowl, add clear peach schnapps and violet scented Parfait d’ Amour to taste and stir. Now for the pretty part. Take an old fashioned ring jello mold and fill it with a little bit of spring water and add all kinds of berries and herbs.

Put the filled ring mold into the freezer and let it set until partially frozen. At this time add more berries, fruits and herbs and more water to the top. Freeze completely. I tend to really load up on the fruit because as it melts it's so pretty! When it’s time to serve, put the mold in a bit of hot water to loosen it and put the ice ring in the punch bowl. My mother taught me to do this when I was first married, broke and throwing my first parties because it’s really a great way to serve a lot of people inexpensively yet elegantly! The champagne that you choose doesn’t have to be expensive or even French! All it has to be is bubbly and not too sweet and there are plenty of domestics to choose from , for this recipe my choice is usually Freixenet.

Hors d oeuvres for a springtime party are very simple to make because the season is so fresh! Bruschetta is a delicious Italian treat with fresh pesto and tomato on lightly grilled or toasted bread that's been brushed with a touch of olive oil. You can use many different toppings for bruschetta, fig and gorgonzola with honey is delicious or for a vegan option there’s tapenade and roasted red peppers! This time of year fresh asparagus is in season and I love to steam the spears, wrap them with fresh rosemary ham or prosciutto and drizzle them with lemony infused olive oil and some fresh parmesan. Another appetizer that is easy to make are steamed baby redskins sliced in half with each half topped with a bit of smoked trout or salmon, fresh dill and crème fraiche. Right now you can get baby heirloom tomatoes of all varieties at many local stores. Simply cut the tops off, scoop them out and fill them with the salad of your choice. Mine is hard boiled egg, mustard, curry and currants with a bit of mayonnaise and topped with slivered toasted almonds , yours might be filled with chicken or ham salad. Use all three if you wish ,arrange everything on a lovely tray, pass them and listen for the compliments! Take your grandmothers lovely demitasse cups (you know the little ones that you’re not sure what to do with!) and fill them with a light bisque or tomato based cream soup. Simple, pretty and perfect!

The only other things that you’ll need are a simple charcuterie platter with fresh cheeses, grapes, salamis and some slices of a crusty baguette. Don't forget to have a gluten free alternative such as a rice cracker for those who can't eat wheat! I usually make one larger thing, like a roasted pork or beef tenderloin to slice and serve alongside of the cheese platter for simple sandwiches. Simply place a pork tenderloin in a roasting dish and cover it with salt , pepper, diced onions, aromatic rosemary spears and a jar of sliced peaches in syrup. Roast the pork according to your butchers directions, let cool and then slice thinly. Arrange the tenderloin on a platter of fresh arugula and rosemary and serve with a side sauce of honey mustard mixed with a bit of mayonnaise and bourbon.

Make sure that you have enough cocktail napkins for everyone , this is usually the one time that I break down and buy really pretty paper ones. Pretty melamine plates are easy to find this time of year and although expensive they are worth the initial investment and will serve you well for many years. I've suggested food here that really needs no cutlery but you should have some available just in case. Set everything up on a pretty patio table on a pretty spring tablecloth, hire a high school kid to dress in black and pass the finger foods for a special touch. Make sure that your Ipod is dancemix ready and plugged into the speakers that you've strategically placed outside!

You’ll want flowers and candles but keep them simple. A monochromatic arrangement in the French style is very pretty for this sort of party and very easy to create. Choose a favorite color and work with several different flowers in the same color family. Peonies are perfect if you can find them and so are roses or gerbera daisies. Keep the arrangements simple , compact and sophisticated and perhaps tie the bouquets with beautiful cloth ribbon before you put them in the vase. You could also arrange your flowers in a pretty basket or pitcher but either way they should accentuate and not dominate, leaving the food that you've so lovingly prepared to be the star of the show!

Now that you have everything set and ready to go, it’s time to draw a bath with something yummy ( I love Jo Malones French Lime Blossom, so sweet! ) and relax with a glass of wine. Because you’ve planned so well you’ll have plenty of time to prepare to be the belle of your ball! 45 minutes before everyone arrives , light the candles, arrange the food on the table and get ready to enjoy yourself. It's all done and the clean up is easy because of the large Tupperware container filled with soapy water that you’ve placed close by but out of sight! Just have a container nearby to scrape the platters into and put the dirty dishes into the water to wait until later making the whole thing super easy! The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and your guests and to help you do just that I’ve got a fabulous giveaway so be sure to share a favorite appetizer recipe with me in your comments and I’ll enter you in the drawing for a wonderful bottle of a Lavender scented cocktail elixer made locally here in Cleveland by the Lovely Lounging Gourmet! These are my favorite cocktail syrups and they come in the most divinely lickable flavors like Andean Fire Orchid , Antillean Hibiscus, Damascus Rose and my very favorite which is of course English Lavender! I use them to infuse sparkling water, champagne, fresh juice and lemonade and you will love them!

The Lounging Gourmet website is thelounginggourmet.com.

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27 Comments:

Blogger Janet said...

I want to come to your parties! You make it sound so easy and relaxed. Lovely.

My favorite party food is easy: Puff pastry rolled out and covered with pesto, spinach, and shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese. Roll up, paint with an egg wash. Slice into rounds and bake until golden brown. Great warm or cold!

1:46 PM EDT  
Blogger rosarita said...

I want to come to your parties, too! I am one of the people that panics at the thought of entertaining. Chili and board games on winter evenings are my usuals....

In the summer, we love a basic midwest taco dip. In a clear shallow dish, layer refried beans, sour cream mixed w/taco sauce to taste, avocado or guacamole, shredded cheese, chopped green onions, black olives, diced tomatoes, lots of varieties of fresh chopped peppers. Serve w/tortilla chips & homemade salsa.

Thanks for the draw, sounds delightful!

2:35 PM EDT  
Blogger Maggie O'Boyle said...

One of my easy favorites: a pound of good feta cheese in a large microwave-safe bowl. Add a quarter cup of good olive oil, 1-3 tsp of red pepper flakes (adjust for the heat level you like; I usually use 2)and a teaspoon of fresh chopped herbs (basil or thyme recommended; use 1/4-1/2 tsp if you use dried).

Microwave for 30-45 seconds at a time and begin stirring when it softens enough. Stir until soft and fluffy, turn into a pretty bowl, serve with crackers, carrots, celery, olives, bread, etc. If it doesn't get eaten quickly you may need to rewarm at some point. Excellent with martinis or retsina.

3:11 PM EDT  
Blogger Isa said...

Ok! I'm coming to your party too!
And I'll bring a Spanish appetizer. An appetizer from Murcia, to be precise.

It's called "marinera" and it's really easy:
Prepare a Russian salad with canned tuna (better in olive oil), mayo, potatoes and hard boiled egg.
The Russian salad, when is cold, is served on a Spanish bread stick called "rosquilla", just on the hole which is in the middle of the bread stick (it has the shape of an elongated O). And on the Russian salad, put a red anchovy.

It's delicious with a fresh glass of beer or a Coke.


That's all!

Thanks for the draw :)

5:45 PM EDT  
Anonymous sybil said...

Whew, I should just hire you! It sounds like you know how (and love!) to throw a party.
Please enter me in your drawing.

6:11 PM EDT  
Anonymous sybil said...

Oh, party food...forgot that. I like hummus, homemade, with a good spoonful of smoked paprika blended in. That and fresh baby vegetables, you're good to go...or a chickpea flour omelet, heavy on the freshly ground black pepper with yogurt sauce.

6:13 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Wow! You guys are making me hungry!

6:26 PM EDT  
Blogger Emily said...

Oh, YUM. To the cocktail syrups AND the recipes.

It's hard to pick just ONE favorite appetizer, but I'm going to go with cheesy olive bread: butter, mayo, jack cheese, Spanish olives and green onions. Spread thick over french bread (sliced in half horizontally). Bake at 325 for half an hour or so, or until brown and bubbly. DELISH. And not very low fat.

OR, there's always the Emily Standby of asparagus wrapped in bacon and broiled.

Mmm. Bacon.

8:34 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lavanya said...

I'd love to be entered in the draw!

One of my favorite party favorites (atleast in theory..:)) is puff pastry squares/rectangles stuffed with curried grated paneer (an Indian cheese- I usually cook in for a few minutes in an browned onion and tomato paste)- baked in the oven till golden brown.

8:59 PM EDT  
OpenID Bethane47 said...

B.,
Your herbed fruit mold is the crowning centerpiece of your delightful parties!
For practically any occasion, my Mother was remembered for serving rumaki so I adopted it, with my own spin. I prefer it prepared simply with water chestnuts wrapped in bacon but marinated in "Wizard's" veg Worcester sauce, a Tbsp. of pure maple syrup (of course), a splash of quality small batch bourbon and fresh ginger. For color, I present on a bed of wilted spinach, which also serves as a satisfactory alternative to the bacon when necessary.
As always, thank you for your continued inspiration.

9:04 PM EDT  
Blogger ~elise said...

Yay! I'm a clevelander! gonna look these up!

My fav. app is rather simple...either smoked salmon on a cute, cut bread with capers or grandma's sweet vinegar cuke salad recipe...just make sure the presentation is creative!

9:31 PM EDT  
Blogger Undina said...

Beth,
It sounds like a great party. I tend to over-plan mine and stress out a lot because I want them to be perfect.

One of my guests' favorites are cheese balls: soft goat cheese rolled into small balls (0.6 inch diameter) with a piece of a date inside and crushed pistachios on the outside which makes it a perfect finger food.

10:36 PM EDT  
Anonymous gautami said...

This post is full of wonderful ideas!!
My two cents: I add roasted eggplant and parsley to hummus.
I would love to be entered in a draw and ofcourse come to your parties.

12:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love salmon in all variations plus tons of veggies and salads. Thanks for entering me in the drawing. Alica - alica@cleis.net

1:03 AM EDT  
Anonymous dinazad said...

I make sure I always have enough sweet and spicy nuts - if there are any left over, guests are usually more than happy to take them home! You need an ample amount of nut-and-raisin mix (make sure to have raisins or cranberries in there, they soak up the spices better than nuts on their own do). Melt a bit of butter in a pan (butter, not oil - the cooling butter clings to the nuts), add a handful of sugar and let it caramelize slightly. Add the nuts and raisins and any spice or herb you fancy (rosemary or thyme are great). Stir well until nuts are coated. Adjust spicing: the nut mix should be both sweet and spicy.

5:24 AM EDT  
Blogger Proximity said...

OK, here's an absolute favorite, and it's actually flexible. To have as a light main course, you make each person a full serving (aka they get a whole egg and 2 Parma ham slices). To have as an appetizer you can just make it smaller for each person, and it's still just as easy and delicious!

***Fennel, Pea and Broad Bean Salad***
(source: Gordon Ramsay – Healthy Appetite )
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 medium fennel bulbs
4 large eggs, at room temperature 250g podded broad beans, thawed if frozen
250g podded peas, thawed if frozen olive oil, to drizzle
8 Parma ham slices

Dressing:
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely crushed
1 tsp caster sugar, or to taste
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil handful of dill, roughly chopped sea salt and black pepper

Trim the fennel, cutting off the base and removing the coarse outer layer of leaves. Cut each bulb in half lengthways, then slice as thinly as possible, using a mandolin or a sharp knife. Place in a large bowl of iced water and leave to soak for about 10-15 minutes to crisp up.

Meanwhile, add the eggs (in their shells) to a pan of simmering water and simmer for 9 minutes (the yolks should be set but still quite soft). Immediately drain, then refresh in a pan of cold water.

Bring another pan of water to the boil. Add the broad beans and blanch for 1 minute, then add the peas and return to the boil. Blanch for another 3 minutes until the peas and broad beans are tender. Drain and refresh in a bowl of iced water. (You can spend a while taking the broad beans out of their pods if you want, but it's not necessary. If you've got a helper, this is great job for them, along with peeling eggs, later.)

For the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the drained broad beans and peas to the drained fennel. Pour over the dressing and toss well. Shell the eggs, then cut into quarters, lengthways.
When ready to serve, heat a tiny drizzle of olive oil in a non-stick pan and fry the Parma ham slices until golden brown and crisp, turning once. Divide the Salad and eggs between serving plates. Break the crispy Parma ham into smaller pieces and scatter over the salads. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and serve.



This is one of those recipes that's greater than the sum of its parts - somehow these fairly simple ingredients come together to make something truly special!

5:51 AM EDT  
Blogger JAntoinette said...

I’m jotting down all the great ideas above! My super fast go to appetizer recipe is parmesan stuffed mushroom caps. Remove the stems from well scrubbed white button or baby bello mushrooms. Finely chop the stems and in a bowl mix stems with Dijon mustard, finely grated parmigiano reggiano, fine breadcrumbs and a turn or two of fresh ground pepper – taste and readjust if necessary. Fill caps with the mixture and top with a dusting of the breadcrumbs and a couple of fresh rosemary leaves (no stems), then place on a baking tray and pop in the oven (at about 350-ish degrees) for 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a pretty tray and let cool a bit before serving. Yum.

5:56 AM EDT  
Blogger Prettywitty504 said...

Rosemary and lemon meatballs
Serves 4 as an entrée or double the recipe and make tiny meatballs as an appetizer
•8 ounces ground beef chuck
•8 ounces ground pork or veal, or combination. I have even used ground turkey.
•1 1/2 cups shredded fresh bread, or bread crumbs
•1 large egg, lightly beaten
•1 garlic clove, minced
•1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried, plus more for garnish (optional)
•1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
•Coarse salt and ground pepper
•1 tablespoon olive oil
•4 cups homemade or store-bought tomato sauce
Directions
1.In a large bowl, combine ground meat,bread or bread crumbs, egg, garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix just until combined (do not overmix). Using a level 1/4-cup measure for each, form mixture into 12 meatballs, if making an entrée. If making an appetizer, use a teaspoon and make bite-sized meatballs. Note: Use a 1/4-cup measure/1 teaspoon per meatball to ensure uniform size. For easy cleanup, place on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper.
2.Heat oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium-high. Add meatballs; cook, turning occasionally, until browned, 10 to 12 minutes, or less if making bite-sized meatballs.
3.Tilt skillet away from you, drain out all but 1 Tablespoon of the oil, and pour in tomato sauce. Bring sauce to a boil over medium-high; reduce heat to medium. Cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve meatballs and sauce, garnished with more rosemary, if desired.

8:12 AM EDT  
Blogger Prettywitty504 said...

Forgot to say that the lavender syrup would be divine on a hot day with club soda and a sprig of mint! Thanks!

8:15 AM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:57 AM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

Hmm.. I should always "preview" :)

Great ideas, here! I think I'll throw little cocktail party.

Another easy recipe: Thoroughly blend a good quality smoked salmon with some cream cheese or neufchatel (chevre might work but I haven't tried it). Separate a number of endive leaves and arrange on a platter. Use your pastry bag and a large fluted decorating tip to pipe the mix onto the leaves. A dash of lemon juice will make the mixture a little softer if needed. Garnish if you wish, with chopped chives or parsley.

A different take on martinis: You can make a syrup (ahead of time, of course) with water, sugar and Thai basil. Strain, cool & bottle--keeps in the 'fridge for a few weeks. I like to add the tiniest drop of green food coloring. To your cocktail shaker, add ice, vodka or gin and a spoonful or two of Thai basil syrup. Yes, it is a little bit sweet, but very spicy & fragrant.

9:03 AM EDT  
Blogger Alice said...

Invite me next time! I would bring a cheese spread: Mix together 2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese, about 3/4 cup of slivered almonds, 3-4 sliced crumbled bacon, 3-4 sliced green onions, a few shakes of garlic powder and enough mayo to bind it. Chill overnight (several hours will do). Serve with crackers.

9:05 AM EDT  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Not only do I want to come to one of your parties, but I fancy one of those Jo Malone baths too! I used to have the Dark Amber & Ginger Lily bath oil, but the French Lime Blossom also sounds lovely. Its soapy character would be just the ticket.

7:55 PM EDT  
Blogger samberg said...

I'm not a chef, so my best appetizer is a no-cook dealio. I cut and mash several avocados with a dash of lemon, two or three garlic cloves, and (my secret ingredient) a container of small curd cottage cheese. Creamiest avocado dip evah.

A local eatery makes lavender and gin cocktails that are both fragrant and delicious, so I'm stoked on the idea of a lavender syrup of my very own.

9:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Oh my god you guys! These recipes are fabulous!

9:03 PM EDT  
Blogger Katherine said...

I have made (and enjoyed) many unusual appetizers over the years, but there's one perennial favorite that gets eaten before anything else on just about any buffet table: the humble deviled egg. I pipe in the filling with a star tip and paprika the heck out of it.

I am crazy about lavender products, please enter me. -Katherine B.

2:27 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Beth, I swear I am coming to live at your house one of these days, get the spare room ready, LOL!

My quick & easy appetizer is really simple - I buy some great brown & serve Focaccia made by a local bakery, heat it up in the oven and then split it and spread my home made basil pesto on it, then cut in strips or wedges. You can also use a good quality pita or other flatbread, but I like the thicker substance of the focaccia. I have pesto in the freezer year round, but in summer this would be accompanied by sliced Brandywine or other large heirloom tomatoes.

10:59 PM EDT  

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