I love cocktail parties! Right now, all of the leaves are beginning to turn to glorious shades of gold and red and before the first snow falls be sure to get back outside and play with others! So I thought 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 to not enjoy the lovely Indian summer with your friends!
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 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!) Manhattan or sidecar , 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, white grape juice and a bottle of apple pucker. Put the ingredients into the bowl, add some cinnamon schnapps to taste and stir. Now for the pretty part. Take an old fashioned ring jello mold and fill it with a little bit of branch water and add all kinds of berries, fruits 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 autumn party are very simple to make because the season is so pretty! 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! Yummy warm and gooey gruyere and cumin gougere are delicious and oh so very easy to learn to make. This time of year fresh butternut squash is in season and I love to dice them into large cubes, wrap them with fresh rosemary ham or prosciutto and drizzle them with maple syrup, herbed olive oil and and some shredded gruyere. 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. Old fashioned broiled bacon wrapped scallops are perfect and right now you can still 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 lobster or crabmeat bisque, clam chowder or curried pumpkin 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 patio table on a pretty autumn tablecloth and 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. Copper and pewter pieces also look wonderful at this time of year! Choose your favorite fall colors and work with several different flowers in the same color family. Mums, sunflowers and wine colored roses are perfect if you can find them and so are St. Johns Wort and 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 star of your show! 45 minutes before everyone arrives , light the candles, arrange the food on the table, light an outdoor firepit or chiminea if you've got one 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!
Now for fun! The English lavender cocktail syrup that I've referenced above is made by Cleveland's own Lounging Gourmet. Her syrups are my new favorite mixers 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! If you're in Cleveland you can purchase them as well as all of the delicious wine, champagne and luscious cheeses that you'll need for your party at Pat O'Briens Fine Wines in Pepper Pike , Ohio. Just call 216-831-8680 and ask for Brett who will be happy to sell them to you!
The Lounging Gourmet website is http://thelounginggourmet.com/
Image of Melamine Plates courtesy of http://www.laplates.com/