Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day.  Is this the holiday you love to hate, or is that just me?  I mean, while I do swoon a bit over the concept of heart-shaped everything, my enthusiasm wanes somewhat with the over-commercialization of the whole thing.  There is so much pressure to pack all of our collective love and romance into one day.  THE day of love and romance.  Like the other 364 days of the year can just forget about seeing anything slightly romantic when it’s their turn.

Happy Valentine's Day

Did you know that the exact origin of Valentine’s Day is not entirely clear?  I know, because I googled it.  One theory is that it is actually a celebration of a Roman fertility festival.  What??  This crashes headfirst with my very fond memory of painstakingly addressing 23 small Valentines so that I could distribute one to each of my classmate’s via their handmade mailboxes.  I don’t recall Mom ever mentioning that the history of my little ritual may actually be based in s-e-x.

Don’t get me wrong.  I really do like it all in theory.  But, like so many holidays, the true meaning of it all gets a bit diluted by the over-commercialization of it.  Not only are there red hearts everywhere, there are also not-so-subtle reminders that if I avoid those heart-ridden aisles, I may in fact be the the biggest love loser of all time.

While writing this, I came to the conclusion that I’m going to embrace this whole thing.  In my own way.  It’s a good time to remember that romantic love is only one kind of love.  And that on Valentine’s Day we could show a little love to some of those around us. So, on this Valentine’s Day, I’m going to give the gift of an unexpected smile or compliment to someone I don’t know.  For someone special in my life, I’m not only going to tell them I love them but also why.  And, this one will be the most challenging for me, I’m going to give the gift of my patience if (when?) I encounter someone doing something stupid.  This means a free hall pass for all of you drivers that cannot get it through your heads that the left lane is not the “drive at your own pace lane” or for that person in front of me at Safeway for not only wanting to pay for your groceries with a check, but also for when you fail to realize that you can actually start looking for your pen before your groceries are completely checked and bagged.

Who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy it all so much I’ll repeat it all again on the 15th.

So, maybe those advertisements are right.  Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be hard.

(If you have an inclination to bake a sweet for your Sweetie, you can’t go wrong with these sugar cookies.  Click here for the recipe.)

Happy love to you all.

Heart Cookie Cutter

Cookie Sprinkles

Valentine's Day Cookies

Pink Sugar Cookies

French 75 Punch, Perfect For Your Holiday Party

While Jon and I are all about entertaining, admittedly we tend to enjoy hosting small, intimate gatherings over large, standing-room-only type of affairs.  No doubt this is due in part by the size of our house (or lack thereof), but it’s also just a general preference of these two extroverted introverts to be in a room where we know everyone and have the time and space to actually talk to each guest.

Bartender and HostessHowever, this last year, we found ourselves hosting several (much larger) events.  While large soirees are a teensy bit out of our norm, we found that by making slight adjustments to our “make-a-plan/work-the-plan” entertaining mantra, we’ve been able to use many of our basic entertaining principles, whether our guest list is 12 or 112.

This has been especially true for Jon.  For those of you who follow this blog regularly, you know that Jon is known for his bartending skills.  Not only does he serve a lot of cocktails to guests (and often takes over the bartending at friends’ homes), he also serves a quality cocktail.  (Okay, let’s just say, a damn fine cocktail.)  We have found that, even for a crowd of 12, the first 30 minutes of a party go much more smoothly if we stick to a single signature cocktail, rather than trying to accommodate 12 individually crafted drinks.  And now, by using the basic principle of scaling, we have successfully achieved the ability to serve a good, balanced and well-crafted cocktail for 100.  This is also commonly referred to as a “punch.”

For aThe Bartender recent Christmas party, we served a French 75 cocktail (featured on our blog here), from a punch bowl.  In this case, “punch” is a very appropriate name.  It’s not the watered down version of the punches from the 50’s, although we did put my mother’s vintage punch bowl to good use.  But don’t be fooled; this drink is the same strength as when it’s served in a martini glass.  We refilled the punch bowl 4 times in 45 minutes.  And let’s just say there were a lot of very happy people in the room.

We premixed the lemon juice, gin, and everything else except the Champagne, and then determined how many ounces of the base mix to add with each bottle of Champagne.  This allowed us to quickly and easily top up the punch bowl whenever it started getting low, without having to open the Champagne ahead of time.  An ice ring kept it cold (and actually outlasted the punch).

Given the beautiful color of this punch, it would be perfect to serve at your New Year’s Eve party.


Ice Ring   Punch Bowl

French 75 Punch

Click here to get recipe

Martini On The Rocks

It seems I have become infatuated with frozen water.

Honestly, my love affair with ice is not a new thing.  I’m the one that, at those self-fill soda machines, gets the largest cup available and fills it to the brim with ice.  Then I add a little soda.  Soda is good but a lot of ice is what it’s all about.  Then came those fabulous ice molds, and freezing water became my favorite sport.  After making the decorated ice rings (over and over again), I didn’t think freezing water could get any more fun.  And then.  I found a new twist on ice cubes.  Move over ice molds.  There’s a new kid in town.

Big Ice Cube Mold

Typically, it’s miniature versions of anything that I’m drawn to.  Seriously, aren’t mini quiches so much more, well I don’t know, fun than a standard one that serves 10?  And who can resist a bite-sized cookie or mini marshmallow?  But, in this case, it’s the grande version of an ice cube that is capturing my fascination.

Big Cocktail Cubes

Here’s the appeal of these things.  Because of their (large) size, they don’t melt as quickly as their smaller counterparts.  Which makes them the perfect solution for summertime (or any warm weather) cocktails.  They provide the desired cold while avoiding the dread of a watered-down cocktail.

We first got to experience these wondrous lumps of cold while visiting friends in Florida.  (If ever there was an environment for testing the longevity of an ice cube, Florida is it.)  Based on what she had learned with her mold, when I went shopping for ours, I looked for one that also came with a tray and cover.  While silicon is great for freezing water, it’s not equally great for sitting (or freezing) flat unless it has something sturdy underneath.  There are many similar ones to choose from but it was the tray and cover that sold me on this one (click here to see it on Amazon).  The compact size is also great.

We normally serve our grapefruit martinis straight up, in a martini glass.  However, lately as the temps have been rising, we’ve switched to serving these cocktails over ice (literally used in the single tense here, as in one large ice cube).  A grapefruit martini on the rocks is the perfect summer cocktail.

Grapefruit Martini

Please be forewarned that looks can be deceiving and don’t be fooled by the pretty and innocent appearance of this drink.  These are martini-strength cocktails that just happen to be served cold over ice.  Dang if this doesn’t make one good adult beverage.

Happy Entertaining!

Grapefruit Martini On The Rocks  Grapefruit Martini With Shaker


Eliza’s Cinnamon Buns



book club

A code women use to get together and drink large amounts of alcohol, especially margaritas.  It makes their husbands, boyfriends, and other friends think they are doing something smart.

Girl 1:  I’m so glad we have book club tonight. I’ve had a crappy-ass day.

Girl 2:  Yep, me too. I’ll meet you at the bar at 6.

(From UrbanDictionary.com)

This description from UrbanDictionary.com made me chuckle.  Although I have only been in one book club (my current one) and have not been a member for that long, I have to admit I found the description somewhat accurate.

Though our book club is small in number, it looms large in personality.  And talent.  One of our own, Ashley Sweeney, is about to have her first book published.

Ashley SweeneyIn our book club, Ashley is one of those members who is actually as avid a reader as she is a wine drinker.  (And, let’s be honest, you cannot say that about all book club members.)  While my tenure as a book club member is short, I have witnessed (and participated in) many club gatherings where books were barely discussed but good food and lots of wine were shared.  Purpose, in this case reading, gives the monthly meetings a reason but not necessarily an agenda.

I must say, having a bona fide author as one of our own has escalated our club’s purpose and credibility.  We all received an advanced copy of Eliza Waite: A Novel, which arrived hand-delivered to our doorsteps tied with a ribbon, that we read and reviewed as a club.  If you ever get a chance to do a book review, WITH THE AUTHOR, do it.  What a thrill it was to be taken behind the scenes of how the story came together, the years of research Ashley did to ensure its authenticity, and the highs and lows of finding a publisher.

Baking was Eliza’s passion, and Ashley weaves Eliza’s recipes throughout the story.  Ashley found the majority of the 33 recipes in an old newspaper file from the 1880’s.  Prior to the book even going to publication Ashley called on us, and several other friends, to test all of the recipes in the book.  We were asked to follow the recipes as they were provided, which is as they would have been made in the 1880’s.  Translation:  No KitchenAid mixers allowed.  (We were permitted to use our ovens or stoves.)

I volunteered to test Eliza’s Cinnamon Buns.  While several testers did things like foregoing the use of oven mitts or rubber spatulas, my commitment to authenticity was simply to use a teacup for measuring, as the recipe called for.  With Ashley’s permission, the recipe is provided below.

Teacup of Flour  Cinnamon Bun

And, now, the excitement around here is building as the book is about to hit the stores.  And I can tell you our little club has been waiting for this day like a flock of hens waiting for the new chick to be born.

It seems like a perfect expansion of the book club “read and share” principle would be to not only read Eliza Waite: A Novel as a club, but to also choose recipes from the book to make and enjoy/review as a group.  Then all you’ll need to add is the wine.

To read a full synopsis of Eliza Waite, or to order, please click here.

Happy Entertaining!


(Recipe used with permission.)

Dissolve three tablespoonfuls yeast and one teaspoonful sugar in one teacup of lukewarm tap water.

Let mixture sit in a warm place until it bubbles up.

In very large mixing bowl, beat two eggs well, then stir in one teacup sugar, pinch of salt, one generous teacup shortening, and three teacups warm water, then mix well and set aside.

Measure twelve teacups flour by lightly spooning into the teacup and leveling off with a knife.

Add yeast mixture to the egg/shortening mixture and mix well.

Add ten teacups flour one teacup at a time mixing with a large wooden spoon until dough is no longer sticky. Add up to two more teacups of flour if the dough seems too sticky.

Cover bowl with damp kitchen towel, let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down, then transfer to floured surface and knead lightly.

Wipe out the large bowl and grease it with butter, then form dough into a ball and put into greased bowl and turn dough over once.

Cover bowl loosely and let rise again.

On a floured surface, roll dough out in the shape of a rectangle approximately ten inches by fourteen inches, and one-quarter inch thick.

Brush melted butter evenly over the surface of dough.

Sprinkle a generous amount of sugar over the melted butter, then sprinkle a generous amount of ground cinnamon in an even layer over the sugar.

Starting with one of the long sides of the rectangles, tightly roll dough up jelly-roll fashion to form a long “snake.” Cut roll crosswise into one-inch pieces.

Place the pieces cut side up very close together in four buttered baking pans. Cover loosely with a damp kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Bake until golden brown.

Makes sixty buns. A half recipe yields thirty buns, and halving does not compromise the recipe.

Prepare icing by mixing confectioners sugar with melted butter, cream, and vanilla until smooth. Top buns with icing and serve warm. 

Rolled-up Dough  Cinnamon Buns Ready For Baking

Cinnamon Buns  Pan of Cinnamon Buns


Christmas Brunch

When we started this blog, I had a vision (albeit somewhat blurred) and goal to share all aspects of life as an entertaining couple.  The good, the bad and the ugly would all share equal space.  But, I’ll be honest.  It’s often more fun, and less ego-deflating, to just share the good and sweep the bad/ugly under the rug (sometimes literally).

Which brings me to today’s post.  Where I will share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good.  Once a year, a group of friends from high school gets together for one afternoon to celebrate the holidays and decades of friendship.  Hosting duties, or privileges (depending on your perspective) rotate, and this year it was my turn to do the honors.

Our house, with its compact size, is perfect in just about every way.  If it has any shortcomings, it’s that it isn’t really set up for entertaining large groups of people, at least if the entertaining requires the guests to sit down and eat.  So, as the RSVP’s came in (and eventually reached 11 people), I had to get creative.  The solution was to let our living room double as a dining room for a day.

We (and by “we” I mean “Jon”) temporarily relocated our living room furniture into the garage.  In its place we set up two folding tables.  I rented chairs (a very affordable way to solve the seating problem, by the way).  And then we hung paper snowflakes to serve as a makeshift chandelier.  I was very pleased with how it all came together and will definitely go this route again when our guest list exceeds our 6-person table.

I set the table the day before.  I got all of the grocery shopping done.  I made the quiche crusts.  I put together the favors that would be at each place setting.  And my ice mold was ready to go. By the looks of things, I was ready.

The Bad.  Because this group lives a couple hours apart, there is a bit of a drive required for many (or most) of us.  So, our get-togethers are midday affairs.  Which means brunch or lunch.  I had decided that I would make quiche and scones, and then serve fruit salad and some store-bought pastries.  Even with what seemed like a fairly simple menu, I completely underestimated my ability to get it all together by noon.  Especially after I overslept (by about an hour) and the first group arrived about 30 minutes early.

So, there I was, scrambling to get everything ready.  I was so happy that I had followed my own rule of allotting some personal time to get myself ready and I was at least showered and dressed when the first guests arrived.  Thankfully, Jon was helping.  A lot.  But he was preoccupied with getting the music started.  And dealing with the smoke alarm.

The Ugly.  I’m still not sure what caused it, but while baking the quiches, the oven filled up with smoke.  Which I didn’t realize until I opened the oven door to check on the quiches.  The smoke came billowing out, and within minutes the smoke alarm was screeching.  Which was moments before the first guests knocked on the door.  We welcomed our first guests into a smoke-filled kitchen to the background noise of a deafening, insistent alarm.  Jon was trying to get the alarm stopped while I was busy opening doors and windows trying to get the smoke out.

I was afraid to open the oven door again, so I just turned off the heat.  That temporarily solved the smoke problem but caused the quiches to get overdone.

When I opened the oven door a second time, to save my quiches, more smoke spilled into the kitchen.  Just as the other guests arrived.  We repeated the scene now with a kitchen full of guests, Jon trying to get the dang alarm shut off again and me practically screaming as I offered juice and Prosceco to my friends.  If I hadn’t been such a huge mess of nerves, I would’ve thought all of this was quite amusing.

Back to the Good.  From the chaos came one of my fondest memories of the day.  As the alarm howled and the smoke drifted, reunited friends casually stood around, drinking mimosas and chatting, seemingly oblivious to the frenzied bedlam that raged around them.  At that moment, I was grateful for this room full of women and our enduring friendships.

And, now, a couple of weeks later, I find the whole thing very funny.  As they say, no good stories come from boring moments.

Happy Entertaining!


Holly and Poinsettias

Snowflake Chandelier  Table Setting

Party Favors

Fruit Salad in Martini Glass  Cranberry Orange Scones

High School Friends

Life Happens

Life happens.

That’s the only reason I have for explaining our absence over the last couple of weeks.  With an uncharacteristically string of warm, summer-like days here in the Pacific Northwest, the place has just sort of come alive.  This happens every year when we get a break from the grey and rain, and my sister-in-law always describes it like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Glenda (the Good Witch) tells all of the Munchkins to come out of hiding.  The sunshine is like our magic wand that encourages us out of our winter hiding places into the daylight.  We blink, like moles do when they see sunlight.  And then we start to party.

The resulting atmosphere is everything that I want this blog to be about.  Impromptu gatherings.  Happy hours.  Dinner parties.  We had a friend show up one afternoon with a bottle of champagne and about 3 pounds of fresh shrimp, ready to peel and eat.  This came about from a text I sent him to say “Hi.”  We spent one evening celebrating a 50th birthday and another celebrating a 75th birthday.  One was fairly well planned and the other slightly spontaneous but both wonderfully convivial.  We’ve had friends to dinner several times.  We hosted a happy hour on our new boat.  And this was all just in the last two weeks.

As I write this, we’re cruising home on our boat.  What started as a quick trip (where we were going to meet several other boaters to celebrate that 75th birthday I mentioned) turned into a weeklong adventure with barely a plan and no checklist to speak of.  Quite a feat for a planner like me.  What I got in exchange for my spontaneity was day after day of adventure and discovery and friendship with the friends we followed throughout the San Juan Islands.  We provisioned as we went.  Without any plan, each night dinner consisted of what we had on hand and brought to the table to be shared.  In practice and in experience, it was an adventure that unfolded in front of me.

Easy Summer Meal

Playing Hooky

Each day (as I neglected all of my responsibilities back home, like this blog, the quickly spreading weeds in the yard and a mailbox full of mail) I pushed away the feelings of guilt and negligence and thought, “Life Happens.”  And, what a wonderful reward it can be when I just sit back and let it.

While this menu may be a little late (we had planned to post this before Memorial Day), it provides a good, easy summer meal.  Whatever your backyard looks like, I hope this encourages you to fire up the grill, invite some friends or neighbors over, and let the wonder of community unfold.  (We’ve found that a good cocktail, or three, helps things along if needed.)

This easy summer menu is a good example of how, if you have a few good and simple recipes at your disposal, you can be ready to entertain, or participate in a gathering, with very little notice.  This salad is new to my recipe file.  After a friend brought it to that 50th birthday party I mentioned, she graciously shared the recipe with me.  It’s a keeper.  You can make it ahead of time and just toss it right before serving.  The recipe was originally from Sunset Magazine, was slightly adjusted by my friend and then barely tweaked when I made it.

Summer Menu

Watermelon Martini

Bourbon-Marinated Flank Steak

Orzo and Vegetable Salad

Lemon Tart

Happy Entertaining!

Watermelon Martini

Summer Table Setting  Flank Steak

Orzo and Vegetable Salad

Lemon Tart

Mother’s Day Brunch

Here’s what is going down this week.  It’s Mother’s Day.  You volunteered to host the family for brunch.  You haven’t even bought a card, much less started to plan the brunch.  And, you’ve started to panic.

Don’t worry.  You’ve got this.

Mother’s Day Brunch Menu


French Toast

Bacon or sausage patties

Layered Fruit Salad

Shortbread Cookies

Here’s how to make it all happen.

Two days before:

  • Make a shopping list and do your grocery shopping (don’t forget that card!).  When you get home, leave the bread for the French toast sitting out.  Day old bread works best for the recipe.
  • Make the ice ring.
  • Make the topping for the layered fruit salad.
  • Chill the champagne.
  • Make the shortbread cookie dough.

The day before:

  • Roll out and bake the cookies.
  • Prepare and slice the fruit.  (If you’re using bananas, don’t slice them until you prepare the salad.)  Alternatively, give yourself a real break and buy the ready-to-go fruit at the grocery store.
  • Cut or buy the flowers you want to use on your table.  Arrange them in the vase.  Or, here’s another idea.  Just call a florist and have flowers delivered.  You can use them on your table and then give them to your mom.
  • Set the table.
  • Vacuum the pet hair off the furniture.
  • Prepare the French toast.  Cover and let it sit overnight in your refrigerator.

The day of:

  • Frost the cookies with the chocolate and refrigerate until the chocolate is set.
  • Assemble the fruit salad.
  • Cook the bacon/sausage and place in the oven to keep warm.
  • Cook the French toast.
  • Warm the syrup.

This will surely remind Mom why you’re her favorite.

Happy Mother’s Day, and Happy Entertaining!

Mother's Day Placesetting

Family Photo  Placesetting

Lilac Bouquet

French Toast

Layered Fruit Salad

Ice Ring Bottle Mold  Tea and Shortbread Cookie

Shortbread Cookies


The Magic of Frozen Water

My sister-in-law, Lisa, showed up the other day with a present for me.  It may be one of the best gifts of all time.  It’s a mold for making ice rings.  All I can say is this girl has a new toy and all she wants to do is play with it.

I have seen lots of pictures of ice rings on Pinterest and in magazines, and they usually came with DIY instructions on how to make an ice ring that involves using an large, empty plastic water or milk container and some duct tape.  While it’s always looked pretty doable, I just never got the energy (or the right size container) to actually try making one.

Fun Gift  Ice Cooler Ice Mold

Ice Ring Mold and Stand

My new mold makes making an ice ring very simple.  You just place whatever you want in the ice ring inside the mold, add water and freeze.  (Best of all, no duct tape required.)

Since I had some recent experience making ice molds for a punch bowl, I used the same layering technique with this mold.  By freezing the water in layers, it solves the problem of the fruit or leaves all floating to the top (which then becomes the bottom of the ring).

I think the best part of this ice mold is it comes with a stand that catches all the water as the ring melts.  Genius.

Never mind the fact that I now want to serve white wine with every meal simply so I can use can my new ice ring mold.  I just keep thinking of different and fun ways to decorate water and I want to try every one of them.

Happy Entertaining!

Fruit and Leaves for Ice Ring  Ice Ring with Wine Bottle

Ice Cooler Ice Mold

Cinco de Mayo Party

One doesn’t need to be fluent in Spanish to know what Cinco de Mayo means.  Although, truthfully, I wonder how many people actually know what we’re celebrating on the 5th of May.  (Here’s your quick history lesson for the day.  Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.)

What I find interesting, though, is that Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico.  Americans, on the other hand, have embraced this holiday and, thanks to their good friend Jose Cuervo, occasionally wake up on Seis de Mayo with a bit of a hangover.

Cinco de Mayo Buffet

It’s safe to say that Jon and I are big fans of all things Mexican, including Cinco de Mayo.  (As a nod to our affection for it all, we named our cat Maggie Rita.  We thought Margarita was just a little too obvious and flagrant of a banner for a little animal to bear.)  But the food.  The decorations.  The tequila.  What’s not to like?  And, because so many of our friends are always game for a margarita and a fiesta, this is just one of those holidays that gives us a good reason to have a party.

Here’s what we served:

Cinco de Mayo Party Menu

Top Shelf Margaritas

Tangerine Margaritas

Homemade Guacamole and Chips

7 – Layer Dip

Jalapeño Popcorn

Beef Taquitos

Frosted Sugar Cookies

Margarita Cookies

Some of our party notables for any Cinco de Mayo host or hostess:

  • Everything was set up ahead of time on the buffet, which allowed us to relax and enjoy the party.
  • The margaritas were mixed ahead of time and served in pitchers, so all of the food and beverages were self-serve.
  • I didn’t want to bother with plates or forks, so we prepared the guacamole and 7-layer dip in self-serve cups.  Plenty of chips were provided for scooping the dips out of the cups.  (And no need to be concerned about that nasty “double-dipping” issue!)
  • The beef taquitos turned out to be great for dredging the last bites of bean dip from the bottoms of the 7-layer dip cups.
  • Mexican sodas were provided as a non-alcholic option.
  • Beer was iced in a bucket and provided for anyone who didn’t want to drink margaritas.
  • While both kinds of cookies we served were sugar cookies, the margarita cookie has lime zest in it, is rolled in a sugar and salt mixture, and then frosted with a tequila glaze (these recipes from Smitten Kitchen and McCormick were my inspiration).
  • An empty salsa can made for a perfect vase for the flowers.

We used our tried and true guacamole and margarita recipes.  But I don’t think I had made 7 – Layer Dip since the early post-college years.  I consulted Google and liked The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for the bean layer.  Ironically, many of the recipes I found actually had 8 or 9 layers, so I just decided what I wanted for the layers and went from there.  (Click here for the recipe and how-to.)

Musica del Sol - Williams-SonomaFor music, we kicked off the party with our Musica del Sol CD that we picked up at Williams-Sonoma many years ago.  It’s a high-energy compilation of a dozen latino-inspired tunes that never fails to kick things off and set the mood for a margarita-themed happy hour. Then we turned music duty over to Pandora’s Tropical 2015 Radio, a station Jon found while browsing their latino genres.  Viva la musica!

Need some more ideas for your own Cinco de Mayo party?  Check out our board on Pinterest.

Happy (Cinco de Mayo) Entertaining!

Cinco de Mayo Decorations

Flowers in Salsa Can  Margaritas

Guacamole in Martini Glass

7 Layer Dip

Jalpeno Popcorn  Jarritos

Beef Taquitos

Cinco de Mayo Appetizers

Cinco de Mayo Cookies

Beer on Ice  Chili Pepper Cookies

Margaritas Are Served  Cinco de Mayo Snacks

It’s Time To Face The Music

By now, hopefully you’ve figured out that we’re more than just a food blog.  Our goal is to be your one-stop source for all the information you need to entertain guests in your home:  The eating, the drinking, and the preparation for your entertainment events, whether they be big and boisterous or small and intimate. A really, really important part of in-home entertaining is music. But if you’ve ever clicked into the Good Music category in our Tips For Entertaining, you’ve noticed that we haven’t spent much time sharing tips to help you select music for your party.  Actually, to date, that would be “no time at all.”  Until today.

Old Radio

To kick things off, here’s a super-easy suggestion on how to make a playlist.  For the past couple years, I’ve been relying heavily on Pandora.  Yeah, I know there are online music services that some people like better, and I’ll be writing about some of those in the near future.  But first, here’s a little background on why I like Pandora.

I was that guy who loved making “mix tapes” in college.  I’d select 15-18 songs per playlist and carefully arrange them to kick off the party and keep the energy going.  As I matured (and music technology went digital) my mixes grew into playlists of 150-200 songs, enough music to begin in the afternoon and still be playing all the way through after-dinner drinks, and well past midnight if necessary.  A long playlist is great because it allows you to focus on entertaining your guests without putting energy into managing the music.

Playlist - iTunes

But there’s a downside to hand-crafted playlists.  Once you’ve used the same playlist more than a few times, it can start sounding stale and repetitive.  Not to mention that a good playlist takes a lot of time and energy to create.  That’s where Pandora comes in.  I’ve found Pandora to be a quick and easy way to create a music Why I Like Pandoramix that’s dynamic (the mix is different every time) while still feeling like the songs are hand-picked.  It’s kind of like outsourcing my “mix tapes” to a buddy who shares my taste in music but has a WAY bigger music collection than I do (and also way more free time on his hands).

Here’s how I’ve made Pandora work for me:

Pandora has dozens of pre-made “Genre Stations” with different music styles to choose from.  There’s even a genre called “Dinner/Cooking” with some great options for different types of dinner parties.  These stations (basically, collections of hundreds of songs that play in random order) are constantly being updated by their team of “curators”.  A while back I found a station called Laid Back Beach Music  that has been one of my go-to “party on the patio” mixes ever since.

But Pandora also gives me the option to create my own stations, which is what I really like.  This is a super-flexible, easy-to-use way to custom-tailor the music that Pandora will play.  I can create a list of several artists; Pandora then uses my list to find music from similar artists and creates a custom station for me.  Elizabethtown Vol 1Better still, Pandora will accept specific tracks as input for creating a station, giving you even more control.  For example, we have a CD (a movie soundtrack, Elizabethtown, Vol. 1) that’s always been a perfect mix for that late-morning/early-afternoon in-between time when you want something that strikes a balance between calm and upbeat.  I entered every track from that CD into Pandora and created a station I named “Elizabethtown-ish”.  When I select that station, Pandora streams an endless playlist of similar-sounding songs that would be right at home on the CD (even including, occasionally, the actual songs that I entered).  Perfect.  And, when an occasional “clunker” slips into the mix (and, honestly, what radio station doesn’t play one of those now and then?) I can click the “thumbs down” icon and block that track from my station forever.  Nice.  (On the flipside, I can also click “thumbs up” when I hear a song I really like to tell Pandora, “Play more songs like this one, please.”)  Plus, I can add additional tracks or artists to any existing station at any time to fine-tune what gets played.

The end result?  Never ending, never stale playlists, for any occasion, and all based on my musical preferences without having to spend hours or days hand-selecting each song.  Perfect.

One last thing.  While Pandora’s basic service is free, they also have a subscription option (that we use).   By paying a monthly subscription fee, we get their “Pandora One” service, where they don’t interrupt the tunes with the occasional commercials heard on the free version.  The subscription also provides a higher-quality music feed and gives me plenty of “thumbs-down” track skips (the free version limits those to a few per day).

(Note:  We’re not compensated by Pandora or any other music service.  I just really like their service and know several people who like it as well.)

So there’s my first Music tip.  It’s one that works well for us.  Give it a try and see how it works for you — enter the tracks from your favorite playlist or movie soundtrack and see what comes out.  And please drop us a comment telling us what you do for your party music.  We’re always looking for new ideas.

Up next:  How we find good music for entertaining.

Cheers, and happy listening!

Some Of My Favorite Entertaining Tips

Once again (and back by popular demand), here is a list of entertaining tips from House Beautiful magazine.  The magazine solicits suggestions from their “experts” and favorite designers, event planners, and bloggers for advice about how to host a successful soiree.  I, in turn, am here to share my favorites with you.  My editorial comments are added, at no extra charge.

If you want to see my last list of favorites, click here to see my post from a few months back.

Happy Entertaining!

Classic Gin MartiniGet the Party Started

Start with a cocktail.  “Any occasion becomes special when you offer a house cocktail.” – House Beautiful

“Serve appetizers family style.” – Lidia Bastianich, TV host, chef/cookbook author.

Bring on the Grub

“Don’t wait for late guests.  People resent being hungry.”  – Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer

Which was followed by this message to guests:

“Don’t be late.”  – David Serrano, co-owner Downtown and Outside Downtown

Don’t Cancel

“Don’t cancel a dinner invitation the day of the dinner unless you are on an IV drip in a hospital.”  –  Harry Slatkin, fragrance guru

Be Wary of the Buzz Kill

“Don’t tidy up the table too soon.  Once the plates are cleared away, often so is the mood.”  – Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, abloomsbuylife.blogspot.com

But it’s a good trick if you’re trying to get your guests to go home.

Music, Man

“Music should be just loud enough so that people have to talk above it slightly.”  – Alexa Hampton, designer

I could see that this could get interesting if any guests are hard of hearing.

Place CardSeat Guests Wisely

“People with big personalities are best in the center of the table.  They can help carry the conversation from that place.”  –  Michael S. Smith, designer

This really works. I don’t want to mention him by name, but our good friend (whose name starts with a P and rhymes with eater) is the big personality guy that we put in the middle of it all.

Mix and Mingle

“If you’re throwing a cocktail party, have a few less chairs than people.  This will force your guests to circulate and mingle the good old-fashioned way.”  –  Brad Ford, designer

As kids, we called this game musical chairs.

Check In With Guests

“Ask people ahead of time for their food preferences:  Do they eat meat?  Do they drink?  Do they have any food allergies?  It sounds stupid but believe me, nowadays these can ruin a dinner party.”  –  Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, designer

Anything Goes

“Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Anything goes these days with your table decor and menu, so have fun.”  –  Tobi Fairley, designer

I think I could be friends with Tobi.

Be Ready When Guests Arrive

“Plan ahead!  There’s nothing worse than greeting your guests while you’re still trying to light the candles, turn on the music, and get dressed.”  – Todd Alexander Romano, designer

No one needs to see you in your bathrobe before dinner.

Seat Couples Separately

“Separate couples when seating a dinner.”  – Monique Lhuiller, fashion designer

My guess is that it doesn’t take much for Monique to tire of her husband.

Freeze Your Candles

“Stick your candles in the freezer for a couple of days prior to using them.  The freezing will eliminate most of the messy dripped wax all over your furniture.”  – David Stark, event producer and designer

Have Drinks Prepared

“Nothing is worse than a long wait for a drink.  Drinks should be plentiful and easily accessible, with a couple of good seasonal options.”  –  Barry Dixon, designer

Plentiful and easily accessible cocktails.  Amen.

Keep It Casual

“Don’t ever make it feel formal — it’s such a snooze.”  – Jonathan Adler, designer 

I can hear the Brits scoffing from here.

 Patio Party

Happy Entertaining!

Risotto With Friends

When we first started this blog, one of the first posts we shared listed 10 reasons why you all should love making risotto (which were basically 10 reasons I love making risotto).  Since then, my love of making risotto, and the reasons I love making it, have not changed.  But, my technique has changed slightly, so I’m back with an update for you.


This all started when we attended a cooking demonstration a while back.  And when I say “cooking demonstration” what I really mean is that one of our fellow yacht club members was “hired” to entertain a room full boaters for an hour.  These were the same boaters who, for the previous hour or so before the presentation, had been entertained with a generous happy hour.  So, perhaps not the most attentive audience a presenter could hope for.  Even so, Bob had credentials (he is half Italian) and was willing, and people were hungry, so it was a sell-out crowd.

As Bob was going through his demonstration, I sat there mentally checking off the steps that I do when making risotto.  There wasn’t much difference between his process and mine.  However, I also learned a few new things.  Perhaps one key thing is, rice matters.  Up until that point, I had always used Arborio rice (because it was what I could find at Safeway).  After Bob’s demonstration, I was compelled to try Carnaroli.  I couldn’t find it at any of our local grocery stores, so I ordered it from Amazon.  And, Bob was right. Rice does matter.  I’m now a convert and will always use Carnaroli rice in the future.

While the first few steps of my and Bob’s processes were very similar, his last few steps were different.  That’s when I was introduced to the concept of mantecato, an Italian word meaning whipped or whisked.  Basically, after all the chicken stock has been incorporated into the rice, you cover the risotto and let it sit for about 5 minutes.  Then, you add some cold butter and “whip or whisk” vigorously.  The results?  Super creamy, ridiculously delicious risotto.  One cook described it as “practically melting.”  I’ve updated my risotto recipe with these new steps and instructions.

If you’re not yet convinced that you need to go make a pan of risotto, read 10 Reasons to Love Making Risotto.

We recently participated in a dinner party that was simply and unquestionably delightful.  It was similar in concept to a potluck in that all the attendees were responsible for providing part of the meal.  However, while in a traditional potluck everyone prepares food ahead of time in their own kitchens, this potluck was different because a lot of the food was prepared at the party.  Which was the point.  The idea for this party was born after several glasses of wine when we were talking about our shared love of cooking and entertaining.  The conversation shifted to making risotto.  Ken, who was eager to learn how to make risotto, suggested having a party where I could make it while others watched (and learned).  This curiosity, along with the fact that he claimed to make a mean osso buco (braised veal shanks), lead to him hosting the party.

Lillet CocktailSo, one fine afternoon we all descended upon Ken and Susan’s house.  Ken had started preparing his osso buco a couple of hours earlier.  The hosts provided us a Lillet cocktail to start and Jon served a round of Negronis.  Vanessa provided the caprese-in-a-glass starter.  (Check out the presentation of the salad in a martini glass.)  The osso bucco would be the main dish and would be accompanied by my risotto and Susan’s glazed carrots.  We finished the meal with poached and glazed pears ala Greg.

Caprese Salad in Martini Glass

I’m happy to report that we didn’t destroy our friends’ kitchen.  And, while any evening with these people is a fun one, I especially enjoyed the communal, all-people-gathered-around-one-stove effort for the purpose of preparing a joint meal.  It was such a good time that I *may* even consider offering up my kitchen for a similar dinner party sometime.  That is, unless I can once again get enough wine into Ken that he repeats his offer to host another party at his house.

Happy Entertaining!

Italian Rice for Risotto  Rice in Butter

Here's How We Make Risotto

Adding the Wine

Cooking With Friends

Three Pans, Three Cooks  Good Friends and Laughter

Plating - Osso Buco, Risotto, Glazed Carrots

Dinner is Served

Friends Around the Dinner Table

Click here to get recipe

Easter Brunch Menu

Here comes Peter Cottontail…

While I know the the true meaning of Easter isn’t the egg hunts or the candy-filled baskets, I have to admit I find all the cute bunny stuff a little hard to resist.

Easter MorningEaster is such a happy holiday.  And a perfect time to get together with family and friends to celebrate.  And, as much as I enjoy the holiday as an adult, I have to admit I miss the days when Easter was also the holiday when I got a brand new pair of patent leather shoes and a new hat.  Now that was reason to celebrate!

If you’re hosting the celebration this year, here is a great Easter brunch menu.  There are several things you can do a day or two ahead of time to make Easter morning more relaxed (and give you time to go look for some of those colored eggs left behind by the Easter bunny).

A day or two before Easter:

  • Do all of your grocery shopping, including buying any flowers you want to use on your table.
  • Prepare the crust for the quiche and keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make the quiche.
  • Make the topping for the layered fruit salad.
  • Prepare and slice the fruit. (If you’re using bananas, don’t slice them until you prepare the salad.)  Alternatively, give yourself a real break and buy the ready-to-go fruit at the grocery store.
  • Set the table.
  • Chill the champagne.
  • You can even make the scones the day before. They’ll keep well in an airtight container.
  • Listen to your mother’s voice in your head and clean your guest bathroom.

Easter Brunch Menu


Layered Fruit Salad

Glazed Scones

Fresh Orange Juice

Champagne (to make mimosas)

For our table, at each place setting I used Grandma’s teacups.  These teacups have a very special history in the family.  Every year, Grandma and a group of her friends would get together to celebrate each other’s birthdays.  For their birthday each year, they would receive a teacup from the group.  I’m not sure how many teacups Grandma accumulated, but I’m guessing she had over 30 of them.  We now are the proud owners of several of them, as are other grandchildren.  I was so happy to find a way to celebrate spring and honor Grandma on our Easter table.

Happy Entertaining!

Easter Teacups

Quiche  Layered Fruit Salad

Scones  Easter Place Setting

Chocolate Chick in Teacup

Easter Table Setting

What’s New?

The Hostess and I are pretty excited to introduce what’s new here at our humble blog:  We’ve been accepted by the Yummly Publisher Network!

Certified Yummly Recipes on Yummly.com

You’re thinking, “Um, I thought this post was going to be about a cocktail recipe.  What gives?”  Well…read on!

Basically, file this under the “it’s good for you, it’s good for us” category.  Yummly is a new service that’s been described as “Google for food.”  They’re developing a massive database of curated recipes (reviewed to ensure quality) along with a search engine that lets you specify ingredients, flavor preferences, type of dish (appetizer, main course, etc.), diet and allergy restrictions, and much more.  We’ve tried their service out and we think it’s pretty cool.  It’s very likely the “next big thing” in the realm of online food networks — so we’re jumping on board their bandwagon.  Also, if you create a recipe box at Yummly, you can save recipes there that you find online for easy retrieval when it comes time to actually make them (and with their mobile apps you can take your recipes along to the grocery store).  So, we think this is all good for you.

In addition to our usual day-by-day activities of developing and testing food and drink recipes, taking pictures, and sharing our experiences and entertainment tips with you, we’re always looking for ways to broaden our audience and help more and more people find their way to EntertainingCouple.com.  We think Yummly will help us do that.  So, we’re hoping it’s good for us.

We’d like to encourage you to check out the details of how Yummly works here, and to follow along as we build out a collection of recipes on our own Yummly publisher page.

What does this all mean for our website?  The changes are actually fairly subtle:  On each of our recipe pages, yum-to-savenear the top in the “Share this” section, I’ve added a new “Yum” button that you can click on to save our recipe to your personal recipe box on Yummly.  Think of this as creating your own customized cookbook, online — and you’re adding one of our recipes to the cookbook.   The more times our recipes get added to people’s boxes (it’s called “getting yums”), the more new people will find out about our blog.  It’s similar to liking a post on Facebook or pinning something onto a Pinterest board, but Yummly is less about social networking and more about eating and drinking. Hmmm, that kind of sounds like what EntertainingCouple.com is all about, doesn’t it?

Cheers…and thank you for being a part of our virtual community.

What’s For Dinner: Comfort Food

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a gazillion times.  There’s a reason that they call it comfort food.

But comfort food gets a bad rap.  You’re supposed to avoid it if you’re on a diet.  It’s “simple” and therefore somehow unsophisticated or uncivilized and as such should only be part of private meals with trusted loved ones, not shared at a dinner party.  And it seems to always be the food of shame, that which you consume in mass quantities in a dark kitchen when your life has gone to s**t.

Really?  How on earth did something as wonderful as macaroni and cheese end up with a reputation like that?  And when did the concept of Sunday chicken dinners get lost?  Why can’t comfort, and the related happiness that comes from it, be the right thing always?

In one of our earliest blogs, I wrote, “Your party is your gift to your guests.”  And I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with a big ol’ gift of comfort, all wrapped up and served from the heart.

Casual Table SettingSo now that we’ve all agreed it’s completely acceptable to serve comfort food at a dinner party, you need to decide about the table where all of this comfort will be shared.  Unless you plan to eat on folding trays in front of the TV (perhaps a little too comfortable?), a nicely laid table is part of this.  I think this is one of those areas where people feel the pressure to be perfect.  And, I’ll admit, when it comes to table settings, sometimes I want to make a big fuss.  Go all out.  Set the kind of table you’d see in a magazine or on Pinterest.  As I say, sometimes, as in not very often.  More often, I just want my table to look inviting.  And like I gave it at least a moment’s thought, so my guests know I care.  I want the table to be comfortable and casual and say, “Sit here. Linger awhile.  At least I cared enough to put napkins on the table.”

I have an assortment of dishes and glasses that I’ve managed to accumulate.  With the exception of our wedding china, none of it is very expensive.  Perhaps my favorite dishes are the collection of restaurant ware plates that were purchased, one-by-one, over several years.  This all means that a lot of my dishes and glassware don’t match.  If you, too, have collections of dishes that don’t are mis-matched, here’s the rule for creating a well-designed table:  Something has to match.  If you are using a collection of mismatched glassware (a look I love), then your plates should match.  If your plates aren’t all the same, then make sure your flatware and linens match.  Your mismatched items should be the shining exception.  If nothing matches, it may just come off as a jumbled, hodgepodge of a mess.  And where’s the comfort in that?

Place Card  Casual Tableware

What’s For Dinner: Comfort Food


Manhattan Cocktail

Roasted Chicken

Mashed Potatoes


Lemon Tart

Serve with a nice light red wine, like a Pinot Noir, or a crisp white wine like a Viognier.

Manhattan  Roasted Chicken

Really Good Mashed Potatoes

Casual Placesetting

Lemon Tart

Happy Entertaining!

Crock-Pot Meatballs

According to my good buddy Brian Williams, the Crock-pot just turned 75 last week.  Ours isn’t 75 years old, but it looks like it’s at least 50.  I was going to throw my Crock-pot a birthday party, but I am all out of Crock-pot birthday candles.  So, instead, I decided to honor it with this post.

Classic Crock-Pot

There was a time when it was all the rage to cook in a Crock-pot.  Of course, this was also the time when it was fashionable to wear Daisy Duke shorts and Doritos were actually a novelty.  Then, like so many great trends, the Crock-pot sort of lost its cool.  Even though many of us continued to use our Crock-pots (The Underground Society of Uncool People), B-Dub said that the Crock-pot is now making a resurgence in popularity.  When we were visiting our twenty-somethings son and daughter-in-law last fall, they used their Crock-pot (that was a wedding present) to make these meatballs for us.  If it’s cool with them, I’m thinking it’s cool everywhere.

These Crock-pot meatballs are a great appetizer/snack for a party (say, for instance, when a large crowd gathers in your living room to watch the Super Bowl).

You can make a large quantity and then serve them right from the Crock-pot to keep them warm throughout the party.  (A cooker, and a server!)  These are so simple to make, it doesn’t even warrant a recipe.  Buy frozen meatballs (there are even good vegetarian meatball options out there).  Add the sauce of your choice.  That’s one of the things I really like about this “recipe.”  You determine the flavor based on what sauce you choose.  We’ve used a roasted pineapple and habanero sauce (from Trader Joe’s) for a meatball with a little “sweet + heat.”  Honey barbecue sauce will give you a, well, barbecue flavor while a teriyaki sauce will give you a sweeter meatball.  Today I used Yoshida’s Marinade and Cooking Sauce.  If you have some spare time on your hands, and feel the need to ditch the bottled stuff, you can make a barbecue sauce from scratch, like this Bourbon Whiskey Meatballs recipe  or the classic Grape Jelly and Chili Sauce Meatballs.

Meatball Ingredients

Basically, to make meatballs in a Crock-pot, you:

  • Add the meatballs and enough sauce to cover.  Maybe even give them a stir to coat everything well.
  • Turn the Crock-pot on high for about an hour.  Then turn it down to low.
  • Heat the meatballs for about 3 hours.  Maybe give them a stir while they cook.  Or maybe not.
  • Add toothpicks and serve.

It’s just hard to imagine it could get much simpler.

Happy Entertaining!

Crock Pot Meatballs

A Simple Party For The Reluctant Entertainer

My sister-in-law is what you might call a “reluctant entertainer.”  Which is a little funny to me.  Ironic funny, not ha-ha funny.  It’s ironic and funny to me because she is wonderfully warm and gracious, and their home is inviting and welcoming — just the kind of place you want to be invited into and asked to sit-a-spell in.  She just lacks a little confidence when it comes to pulling together things like dinner parties.  She is my muse when it comes to this blog because she has the desire to bring people together and loves the communal-ness of it all.  It’s just at times she needs the slightest nudge of encouragement.

Which is why, when I got a series of texts from her a couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled.  She and my brother had hosted a rather spontaneous dinner party for 6.  She said she had followed our suggestions on how to be ready for an impromptu party, so they already had some things on hand, including wine, nuts and cocktail napkins.  The food was great (“everyone ate heartily,” she wrote) yet easy.  But the part that made me so happy was when she said, “I’m actually basking in the glow despite my hangover.”  For me, this is what it’s all about.  The warm and fill-you-up feelings that come from time spent around a table with good friends, eating, laughing and just being connected.

Around the first of the year, I made a proclamation that I was simplifying things.  I still am.  I know it will wear off soon, and I’ll be up to my elbows in pots and pans, the mixer will be going and flour will be flying everywhere.  But right now, I’m honestly embracing the simple path to entertaining.  For those of you who are also kicking back a bit, and for any reluctant entertainers out there, here is a super easy appetizer/snack idea.  Just in case you’re planning on having a couch-full of guests this weekend to watch one of the football games.

Rolled Tortilla ChipsShort of opening a box of crackers, this is probably easiest snack tray you’ll ever prepare.  Black bean dip with tortilla chips and cheese dip with pretzel rods.  This is a great example of where a little presentation goes a long way.

This idea all started when I found these tortilla chips at the grocery store.  I’m always about if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it, so if they had asked me if there was some huge void in the tortilla chip universe because there weren’t any rolled-up ones, I probably would’ve said “nuh-uh.”  But, when I saw these, I actually thought they were kind of genius.  Especially for dip in a cup.

Rolled Tortilla Chips and Bean Dip

I found the little cups on Amazon.  At 2 ounces, there are a perfect single-serving size.

I used my handy ice cream scoop to get the dip into the cups.  And it’s a little funny that I refer to it as my ice cream scoop because, while I use it a lot, I’ve never actually used it to serve ice cream.

I just put everything out on a tray and I was party-ready in about 15 minutes.

Happy Entertaining!

Cheese Dip and Bean Dip  Black Bean Dip

Bean Dip Cups  Cheese Dip with Pretzel Rods

Easy Snacks for Simple Entertaining

Finally. The Best Bloody Mary.

I love a good Bloody Mary.  There’s just nothing like a frosty pint glass full of spicy tomato-y goodness overflowing with a salad bar of garnishes.  A well-made (and well-dressed) Bloody Mary is a thing of beauty.  But I have a confession to make:  I can’t make a good one to save my life.

Until now.

Bloody MaryAs much as I enjoy Bloody Marys, making a decent one myself has always been a kind of unachievable “holy grail.”  And maybe a bit of an embarrassing shortcoming as an amateur mixologist.  A big part of this is because Bloody Marys are traditionally enjoyed in the morning (often well before noon) and that’s just not the time of day when I do much experimenting with cocktail recipes.  No judgment here…but for me, I kind of feel like I’ve committed myself to an unproductive day if the vodka comes out while the coffee is still brewing.  So my efforts at perfecting a Bloody Mary recipe have been somewhat limited.

One of our friends makes an outstanding Bloody Mary.  A LOT of ingredients go into his creations; he looks like a mad scientist hunched over the bar as he measures and tweaks and fiddles to get everything just right.  It’s an intimidating process!  So, while it seems like something I should know how to make, whenever one of our guests suggests a round of Bloodys to kick off the day, I defer and ask if they have a favorite recipe and, if so, if they’d like to stand in as guest bartender.  Or we go out for brunch and leave the mixing to the professionals.

Not that I haven’t made a few attempts.  The fundamental ingredients are pretty well-known:  Vodka, tomato juice (or V8, which most enthusiasts seem to prefer), Worchestershire sauce, horseradish, various salts (garlic, celery, seasoned) and peppers, a dash of Tabasco, a squeeze of lime, and a nice, leafy stalk of celery.  Additional garnishes can vary widely, and this is a cocktail that benefits from a “more is better” attitude.  Green and black olives, dill pickles, peperoncinis, cherry tomatoes, jalapeño slices, spiced green beans, pickled asparagus spears, shrimp, oysters, bacon, the list goes on.  No wonder the term breakfast in a glass is so fitting.

Bloody Mary Garnishes

So how could it have been so hard for me to make a reasonably good Bloody Mary?  Mine always ended up tasting like something was missing (how is that possible when I already threw in everything but the kitchen sink?).  I still have detailed notes from several attempts going back more than 3 years.  I tried Chipotle-infused vodka.  I tried wasabi and Sriracha.  I tried more of this and less of that, but with so many ingredients it was impossible to figure out which ones were out of balance.  Frustrating.

Demitri's Bloody Mary SeasoningSo what, finally, was the answer in my search for the best Bloody Mary?  I’ve simplified.  Thanks to a tip from a local bartender (whose recipe is one of the best I’ve ever had), I’m using an amazing off-the-shelf seasoning mix!  A little part of me feels like this is cheating.  And maybe it is.  But the whole concept of our blog is how to make entertaining easy and fun.  So, by that definition, my Bloody Mary recipe is a complete success — because it’s easy, fun to make, and pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself.  In fact, it’s so easy and fun that, for those days when a Bloody sounds just right, we’ll be setting up a “do it yourself” (or DIY, for those of you not spending all your time on Pinterest) Bloody Mary station at our bar.  Try this yourself:  Set out the ingredients, garnishes, and a bucket of ice, provide the basic mixing instructions, and let your guests channel their own inner mad scientist.  No fuss, no intimidation, just perfectly-customized cocktails.  All before lunch.  Hmmm, that suddenly sounds like a pretty productive day after all…


Bloody Mary Bar

Do It Yourself Bloodys

Best Bloody Mary

Click here to get recipe

Time to Simplify

Some people start the new year like a runner leaving the start line of a big race.  A little start pistol seems to go off in their head and they are off and running, chasing resolutions and ambitions, intent on making it to the finish line before they lose their resolve.  Me?  Not so much.  I find that after the bustle of the holidays, I’m more inclined to mosey into the new year.  All I really want to do is declutter my house, take a deep breath, and get back to my normal, comfortable routine.

The holidays leave me with a bit of a hangover, both physically and emotionally, so I need a little detoxing.  Hopefully a little less wine, more quiet time, and real meals that don’t include appetizer buffets. So, if I find that we are entertaining during the first weeks of the new year, like we’ve done this season, a bright neon sign flashes in my head saying, “Simplify.”  So, simplify I did.  We served some of our good, basic meals (like chicken pot pies and pasta with vodka sauce) because I was craving a little comfort…and there is a lot of comfort in good comfort food.

Simple Dessert IdeaIf you are having people to dinner and you need a simple dessert idea, here’s what I do.  Serve some good chocolates with a good aperitif.  My favorite combination is dark chocolate (See’s lemon and pineapple truffles are absolutely decadent) and Limoncello.  Sometimes I even take the chocolates out of the box and serve them from a fancy candy dish.  But not always.  We keep the Limoncello (and the glasses) in the freezer so we can serve it ice cold.  (Lukewarm Limoncello could be considered barbaric, so don’t do it.)  And, speaking from experience, I can tell you this: You shouldn’t be surprised if you and your guests finish the bottle.

Happy Entertaining!

Chocolates and Limoncello

New Year’s Eve Dinner Party

“Here’s to the bright New Year and a fond farewell to the old; Here’s to the things that are yet to come and to the memories that we hold.”  ~ Unknown

Christmas and New Year’s are joined together, simply by proximity to each other on the calendar.  But, every year, I can’t help but feel when all of the anticipation and preparation associated with Christmas is behind us, it’s time to just let our collective hair down and celebrate.  While Christmas feels a little like a holiday for the kids, New Year’s Eve is time to say, “Move over kids.  The grown-ups have a little partying to do.”

Holiday Champagne

I’m a fan of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  If you’ve had a really bad year, this is the opportunity to say good riddance to it all and hope and plan for a better year ahead.  But, if you’ve had a really good year, then you can raise your glass and say, “Let’s do it all again!”  New Year’s Eve is teeming with blank optimism, unwritten possibilities and untold stories still to be written.  We are, simply, sitting on the edge of new.

There are many ways to celebrate the ringing in of The New.  For me, as with most celebrations, I prefer to do my celebrating at home.  While the fantasy person in me dreams of wearing something fabulously glitzy to an all-out glamorous gala event, in reality I prefer to do my ringing-in wearing comfortable, nonjudgmental pants and my worn-in slippers.

We’ll be having a small dinner party with some of our friends.  This year, I have an urge to participate in the over-commercialization of New Year’s Eve.  The cheap crap from China is calling to me.  But I want tiara-style crowns, horns, and those cracker/popper things that you pull apart to find worthless surprises inside.   Forgive me.  At the moment, they are screaming “festive” to me and I’m in the mood for festive.

And, we’ll be serving Champagne.  Because if there’s ever a time to pop a bottle of the bubbly, it’s on New Year’s Eve.  Here’s what we’ll be serving for New Year’s Eve dinner:


Tangerine Martinis

Standing Prime Rib Roast with
Creamy Horseradish Sauce

Mashed Potatoes

Green Bean Casserole

White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries

New Years Eve Placesetting

Table Setting  Silverware

New Years Eve Centerpiece  Cheers

New Years Eve Table Setting

Happy Entertaining!

When Girls Do Lunch

Things have been a little quiet around the blog the last couple of weeks.  Our energy and our focus have been on making our annual transition and migration from Washington state to Colorado, where we spend our winters.  We make this move every year, so you’d think we’d not only be accustomed to it but also could make it without much effort.  But I find, at least for me, it’s a taxing exercise, both emotionally and physically.  I always find myself a bit untethered as I let go of one place and before I settle into the other, which seems to always cause my energy and creativity to wane a bit.

Now, surrounded by snow and cold temperatures, there is no denying we are firmly planted smack in the middle of winter.  With each passing day, I’m a bit more settled into our routine here, and I feel my energy rebounding little by little.

Before we left,  I attended a lovely luncheon that was hosted by a dear friend of mine.  This is an annual affair with a group of women that I went to high school with.  It was another good reminder that when I walk away from the virtual entertaining world, and step back into the real world, wonderful things happen.

Over the years, the size of the group has morphed slightly.  People on the attendee list have dropped out, and at times rejoined.  Each year, people attend based on schedules and life commitments.  But, always in attendance is a core group who never miss it.  We used to exchange Christmas ornaments but now bring something to donate to the hostess’s charity of choice.  This year we donated children’s pajamas and slippers to a charity that supplies to those in need.  If you want to see a group of women get all soft and sentimental, just ask them to bring something warm and snuggly for a baby or a toddler.  There was a whole lot of cooing and oohing going on in that room.

We all graduated from high school at the same time, so we all are basically the same age.   Over the years, our lives have followed different paths through marriages and kids and careers, crisscrossing and intersecting as we stumbled along.  Decades later,  we were all once again gathered around the same table with so much in common.

The Hostess and Friends

Everything about the luncheon was perfect.  Mimosas to start.  (The champagne and pomegranate juice proved to be a popular choice.)  Quiche, salads and pastries for lunch.  Cookies and chocolates for dessert.  And, I loved that my friend so unapologetically explained that a lot of the food was purchased rather than homemade.  And you know what?  No one cared!  Everyone ate heartily, thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were thankful for a place to gather.  Hostess applause for keeping the focus where it should be, which is to entertain, in your style, while remembering the real reason for a party is to bring people together.

One of the challenges of this blogging gig is that I can no longer attend a party without noticing details and thinking how I want to share them on this blog.  But I do warn all of my friends that this may happen.  Here is one of the noteworthy details from the day that any host or hostess can do to help dress up a table.  My friend set a beautiful table.  She used a plain, white table cloth and then used gold wrapping paper as the runner.  She even laced coordinating ribbon down the center.  While simple and affordable, the result was perfect!  I’m already imagining different types of wrapping paper that could be used for various tables.

Girls Luncheon Placesetting

Sorry about the less than blog-worthy photo.  It’s the best I could do with my phone and without keeping everyone waiting.  This was, after all, a luncheon — not a photo shoot.

Happy Entertaining!

Expert Holiday Entertaining Tips

Every year for the past few years, House Beautiful magazine has published a list of top holiday entertaining tips.  From the experts.  Self-proclaimed or otherwise.

Between now and New Year’s Day, there will be more parties thrown, more soirees hosted, and more families gathered with great expectations of being entertained than during any other 6-week period throughout the year.  Strap on those aprons and chill the champagne.  This, my friends, is the Season of Entertaining Champions.

For your convenience, from the magazine’s somewhat extensive list, I’ve culled some of my favorite tips and suggestions, with a few of my comments thrown in for good measure.

Happy Entertaining!

Create a Playlist

“Create a music playlist that’s ready to begin as soon as the doorbell rings and doesn’t end until the last guest departs.” – Colin Cowie, event planner


Stream Music

“If you don’t have time to create your own playlist, log on to pandora.com.” – Erin Olson, houseofturquoise.com

Either way, background music is critical at a party.

Set the Mood

“The host’s mood sets the tone.” – Emily

Clearly Emily has enough street cred to warrant not having a last name.  But she knows how critical it is for the host to be in a good mood.

Make Room for More

“Do always include the single friend or extra surprise guest, even if it’s 13 at your table. You can always make room, slice the roast a little thinner.” – Kelli Ford & Kirsten Fitzgibbons, designers

Learn the Art of Conversation

“Don’t be a bore.  Don’t monopolize the conversation.” – Eric Cohler, designer

I think this should be advice for people in general.

Loosen Up

“Have a stiff drink before anyone arrives.  If you are having fun, everyone will have fun.” – Miles Redd, designer


Serve Food at Proper Temperatures

“Warm plates before serving hot food on them.” – Susan Spungen, cookbook author/food stylist

Remember to Iron

“Crispy ironed linens!  There is nothing so luxurious as to sit at a table with a lovely ironed tablecloth and spread an ironed napkin over your lap.” – Barbara Barry, Designer

Unless, of course, you’re going for a more casual get-together.

Don’t Recipe Search on Party Day

“Don’t try a new recipe at a party.” – Tricia Foley, designer/author

I completely understand why this is a good rule.  I just happen to break this rule on a pretty routine basis.

Use Your China

“Don’t use plastic.” – Jennifer Rubell, artist/writer

Guess Jennifer isn’t a fan of red solo cups.

Host an Intimate Dinner

“The perfect number for a dinner party is six to eight. You want festive conversation, but not so many people that the conversations are always split up.” – Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, The Kitchn by Apartment Therapy

Set Up a DIY Cocktail Bar

“Let guests make their own cocktails.  I have a few favorite recipes on cards, and all the ingredients on hand.  People mix and shake and think it’s super-fun.” – Paul Lowe, food/prop stylist

Set Up Your Bar Anywhere

Here are our tips for setting up the perfect bar at home.

Follow the One-Bite Rule

“Keep hors d’oeuvres to one bite.  No one wants to talk or kiss with a mouthful.” – Larry Laslo, designer

This is really good advice.

Add a Light

“We all look better with light on our faces.  Put lamps on your buffet or server.” – Jan Showers, designer

Don’t Serve Only White Liquors

“Don’t serve only white liquors because you’re afraid of spills. – Richard Mishaan, designer

Or, because having a choice is a nice thing.

Do Serve Only White Liquors

“My grandmother, who did an awful lot of entertaining, said: ‘Serve only white-colored liquors and wines so they don’t stain.’ ” – Robert Couturier, architect/designer

Make More Than Enough Ice

“Never, never, never run out of ice.” – Bryan Batt, actor/shop owner

Words to live by.

Set the Table Properly

Don’t face the knife blade out.  Rules are made to be broken, but that’s not one of them. – Eddie Ross, eddieross.com

Table Setting

Here’s our post on how to set a perfect table.

Dress Up Catered Food

“Serve takeout on your finest china.” – Kelly Wearstler, designer

Create Ambience

“I cannot tell you how many parties with great food have been ruined by operating-room lighting.  Atmosphere is half the battle. A low-lit atmosphere with candles can even give pizza old-movie glamour.” – Mary McDonald, designer

Make Clean-Up Simpler

“Always start with an empty dishwasher.” – Chesie Breen, founder, clovermag.com

Entertain on Any Budget

“Don’t be afraid to throw a party because you think it will cost too much.  You can have a good time for $10 with a bottle of wine and a bag of nuts.” – Thomas Jayne, designer

Keep Flowers Low

“Don’t create such impressive centerpieces that the guests can’t see each other across the table.” – Sue Fisher King, shop owner

This tip alone could put Pinterest out of business.  There are thousands of Pinterest boards showcasing elaborate centerpieces that would never actually work on most dinner tables.

Stick with Simple Food

“Make a home-cooked meal, even if it’s just a bowl of chili and a salad with garlic bread.  There’s nothing better than simple and delicious.” – Lisa Fine, textile designer

Use Place Cards

“Don’t expect guests to seat themselves — it’s your dining room, not Southwest Airlines.  Placement is key to great conversations and something you don’t leave to chance.” – Madeline Stuart, designer

Have Drinks Ready

“Have beverages visible from the moment guests step in the door.” – Matt and Ted Lee, chefs/cookbook authors

Use Crystal Dishes

“When I was in Italy one summer, our hosts served cashews and potato chips in crystal bowls while we sipped Prosecco.  It was a revelation: right-out-of-the-bag snacks become sophisticated when they’re served in a gorgeous dish.” – Stephanie Ballard, covetliving.com

If they do it in Italy, it’s good enough for me.

Stock Up on Essentials

“Have enough of everything on hand.  Nothing worse than running out of anything, whether Perrier or loo paper.” – Kathryn M. Ireland, designer

Balance Hors d’Oeuvres

“If you are having an elaborate dinner, then keep your hors d’oeuvres simple.  And if you are planning an easy dinner, make your hors d’oeuvres a little fancier.” – Madeline Weinrib, textile designer

The concept of appetizer is to wake up your appetite, not kill it before dinner is served.

Stock the Bar

“Don’t run low on the hooch!” – David Jimenez, Designer

This one gets included because he used the word hooch.

Dress Up Your Punch Bowl With An Ice Ring

Punch for parties.  Talk about something that has been around forever.  A quick search on the internet told me that the concept of punch originated in India (originally called “paantsch”) and was brought to England by sailors.  The word meant “five” in Hindi and described the 5 ingredients found in the punch.  Several hundred years later, and by the time I got to college, the concept of punch had slightly morphed into something we all called “Spodie Odie” which was a mixture of several kinds of alcohol, fruit juice, and cut up pieces of fruit.  There seemed to be no concern as to what kinds of alcohol were used.  Nor did anyone seem to care that the punch bowl was actually a large garbage can.  It wasn’t until years later that I found myself hoping that someone had actually washed the garbage cans before they were used for our punch.

Mom's Punch BowlAfter college, my mom gave me her punch bowl.  A pretty glass bowl and stand with matching cups.  It was already fairly well used by that point, having served duty at various parties over the years.  Every year at Christmas, Mom made her homemade eggnog in it.  After it was bequeathed to me, for the next 20 or so years that punch bowl continued to get a lot of use, both at parties I hosted as well as the many times I loaned it to friends.  Nowadays, it isn’t used as frequently but still finds a purpose at an occasional party.

I love this quote from 1832:  “The punch-bowl was an indispensable vessel in every house above the humblest class.  And there were many kindly recollections connected with it, it being very frequently given as a present.  No young married couple ever thought of buying a punch-bowl; it was always presented to them by a near-relative.”

Along with the punch bowl, I acquired the art of making an ice ring.  I’m pretty sure the English in the 1700’s did not make ice rings for their punch.  But it’s not a new concept for me.  I’m not even sure how or where I learned to make one.  It’s just something that I know how to do.  And, since it seems like something a good host or hostess should have in their entertaining bag of tricks, I’m sharing the how-to with you.  Ridiculously simple to do yet something that always gets remarks at a party.  (“How did you make that???”  It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit all I did was freeze water.  It makes me wish it really was a little more difficult to do.)  But, most importantly, it solves the problem of keeping a punch cold without using ice cubes, which melt more quickly than an ice ring and dilute your punch somewhat.

When I make an ice ring, I most frequently use my Bundt pan.  But any mold, preferably with a hole in the middle, will work.  I start by putting just a little water in the bottom of the pan and then lining the ring with whatever fruit or garnish I’m using.  You can use anything for the garnish keeping in mind that, as the ice melts, the garnish may/will end up floating in your punch.  Also, make sure that the garnish freezes well and won’t turn brown when wet or frozen.  I have used all different kinds of sliced citrus, berries and even holly.

Put the pan in the freezer until the water freezes.  Then add another layer of cold water, keeping in mind that the fuller the pan, the larger the ice ring will be.  Return the pan to the freezer and freeze until solid, several hours or overnight.  There is a reason for doing this in layers.  Because the fruit/garnish floats, by freezing it first in a shallow layer, it will remain on top of the ice ring, instead of floating to the what will become the bottom of the ice ring in your punch bowl.

To remove the ice ring from the pan, simply run warm water over the bottom of the pan until the ice ring releases.

Berries on First Layer of Ice

After the first layer (with garnish) is frozen, add more water and freeze again.

Releasing the Ice Ring from the Bundt Pan

After the second layer is completely frozen, run warm water on the bottom of the pan to release the ice ring.

Removing Ice Ring from Pan

Remove the ice ring from the pan and float, garnished-side up, in your punch bowl.

Punch with Ice Ring

Happy Entertaining!

Holiday Punch – Champagne, Cranberries, and Spiced Simple Syrup

Last night the Hostess and I made another appearance as guest bartenders at Salon Rouge, one of our favorite local businesses, for their annual Holiday Open House.  It was our third year consecutive year, so I guess it’s now officially become a holiday tradition for us. While the mission of our blog is to teach our tips and tricks to others, we also know that it’s good experience for us to occasionally “walk the talk” and see how well our advice works outside the comfort of our own home.  Plus, we’re both regular customers of the salon so we’re happy that they give us this opportunity to help them out.

Each year Rachel and Karin, the owners, ask us to come up with a “signature cocktail” for the event.  As in past years, we needed something red (partly to be in the spirit of the holiday season, but mainly because of the “Rouge” in the salon’s name).  The past two years we’d served drinks (Pomegranate Martinis and Cosmopolitans) that were already in regular rotation at our home bar, but this year we decided to come up with something new.  The Hostess took to the interwebs and found several ideas to run past me.  Since we’d played with infused simple syrups last summer, I really liked one recipe that featured a simple syrup infused with cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Plus, two of the key ingredients were cranberry juice and champagne.  Red and festive?  Check!

We experimented and made some adjustments to scale things up to “punch bowl size” in order to easily serve a large group.  When serving cocktails from a punch bowl you need to consider a few things. First, you need to be prepared to replenish the punch from time to time so that the bowl stays close to full (there’s nothing sadder than a nearly-empty punch bowl crying “The fun is about to end”!).  Second, you want the punch well-chilled without having to add a ton of ice, since melting ice will quickly water down the top couple inches of your punch.  And third, in the case of a champagne punch, it’s best served “up” — you don’t want to ladle chunks of ice into your guests’ glasses.  Debbie solved the ice challenges with a spectacular cranberry “ice ring” that she made in a Bundt pan, and we pre-chilled all of the ingredients so that the punch was cold to begin with.  An ice ring is perfect for a punch bowl cocktail as it melts much more slowly than crushed ice. Debbie’s cranberry ice ring added a festive flair as, over the course of the evening, it slowly gave up its cranberries and they ended up floating on the surface of the punch.

Everything in the punch bowl was alcohol-free so it was easy to serve virgin cocktails to kids and non-imbibers:  We simply filled their glass halfway from the punch bowl and topped with sparkling cider.  And the rest of the crowd loved watching how we’d start by putting a dash of Grand Marnier into their glasses (“What’s THAT??“) followed by the punch and champagne.  Adding the bubbly to the glasses at the last minute, instead of directly into the punch bowl, made sure that everyone’s drink was fresh and sparkly.

Straining the Simple Syrup  Juices for Punch

Cranberry Ice Ring

Holiday Punch Bowl  Pouring Grand Marnier

Holiday Champagne Punch

So enough about the process.  Can I just say how incredibly GOOD this punch is?  Tart and tangy cranberry and light, refreshing champagne, layered over warm spices and rich-orange Grand Marnier.  I mean, seriously.  I’ll probably never again smell potpourri without craving a champagne flute full of our holiday punch.  Keep the ingredients for this recipe on hand from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and you’re good to go for all your holiday entertaining.


Holiday Champagne Punch

Click here to get recipe

Halloween Dinner Party

It’s true.  I’ve been known to get just a little carried away during the holidays.  I’m not biased.  I treat all holidays the same when I consider the opportunities.  While I’m really not the person that goes overboard with decorating, I do get a little “enthusiastic” when it comes to the parties and entertaining.  And, since I love to throw a dinner party, when I get to throw a party during a holiday, I’m one happy hostess.

Thanks to a little shopping last month on eBay, I was able to find some fun, vintage Halloween decorations.  I also had several things on hand, like silver candlesticks (some that belonged to my mom, others we got as wedding presents) and old, peanut butter glasses that my mother-in-law gave me.  The collection of newly purchased (even if vintage) and already-owned came together for this dinner party table.

I wanted a splash of color in the table setting but didn’t want to buy salad plates just for this party.  So, I layered paper plates between the dinner plates and soup bowls.  The spider web place mats were an inexpensive splurge to add just a hint of “spooky” to the whole affair.

Here’s the simple menu that we served:


Tangerine Martinis

Minestrone Soup

Romaine, Pear and Pecan Salad

Toasted Baguettes

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

When considering which cocktail we should serve, I had two objectives.  First, I wanted it to look like it should be served at a Halloween dinner party.  In other words, it had to be the right color.  (Sorry all you red cocktails.  Your turn will come.)  Second, I wanted to serve it out of our antique beaker.  The beaker is one of our most treasured possessions.  It originally belonged to Jon’s grandfather, who owned a pharmacy in Seattle.  I was very committed (a delicate way of saying I was slightly obsessed) with giving the beaker a new purpose as a cocktail server.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I also really wanted to use dry ice in the cocktail to give it an appearance of a potion.

The whole thing was a smashing success.  Our amazingly talented bartender was able to make the cocktails ahead of time by mixing two batches in a shaker as he normally would, and then straining them into a plastic container and putting them in the refrigerator.  When it was time to serve the cocktails, he simply poured them into the beaker and added 3-4 small chunks of dry ice*.  And the unexpected icing on the cake cocktail was that the carbonation from the dry ice provided some effervescence to the drink.

Happy Entertaining!

Halloween Table Decorations

Tangerine Martinis in Beaker

Halloween Table Setting

Halloween Soup Bowl on Plate

Halloween Napkin  Halloween Placesetting

Minestrone Soup

Halloween Cupcakes

*Bartender’s Note:  Here are a few key things you should know about using dry ice.  If possible, buy it the day you’ll be using it as it doesn’t keep long.  If you need to buy it the day before your event, get 4-5 pounds or more as at least half will evaporate overnight. Store it tightly wrapped in a thick towel, packed into a well-sealed ice chest; the less airspace the better.  Don’t store dry ice in your freezer (it can damage your thermostat).  When it’s time to serve your drinks, chip off a few small pieces from the block of dry ice with a hammer and chisel (or big screwdriver). Don’t touch the dry ice with bare hands (it’s so cold it will burn your skin).  Carefully drop the pieces into your pitcher; they’ll sink to the bottom where they’ll bubble for 10 minutes or so.  You can serve the cocktail while the dry ice is still bubbling; pour carefully so that a piece doesn’t end up in someone’s glass.

Pumpkin Carving Party

You know how irritating it can be when some people sit around and talk about how different things used to be, back in “their” day?  Well, I think today I’m one of those people.  I’ve spent the last few days thinking about Halloween, and I keep reminiscing about how simple it used to be.

Take costumes, for example.  When I was really young, Mom would buy one of those cheap but readily available masks, which was always the core of my costume.  You know which ones I mean.  Those molded plastic ones that looked harmless enough until I actually put it on.  That’s when I would realize that the one piece of innocent looking elastic that held it in place was ridiculously tight.   The mask would fit so snuggly against my face that I could barely breath or see.  That was until one end of the elastic came loose, rendering the whole thing useless.  The masks always came with some simple, cheap costume, which made the whole process of dressing up a cinch.  As I got older, I was able to be a little more creative and design my own costumes.  I would like to formally apologize for the year I went as a hobo.  I meant no disrespect to any class of people.  I was 8.  I thought it was fun to wear a collection of old clothes and carry a little handkerchief tied to the end of stick.  But today, in these “politically correct” times, kids have to worry about things like that.

Halloween Costumes

Perhaps the thing I miss the most is the innocence of trick-or-treating.  I, along with my brother or a group of friends, would strategically wander through nearby neighborhoods, amassing our candy booty as we went.  Given that, on a good night, we probably hit  over 50 houses, there is no way my parents knew all the people we collected candy from.  They didn’t have to.  Those weren’t the things that parents had to be worried about back then.

Carving PumpkinsAnd then there’s the whole pumpkin carving thing.  Remember when carving pumpkins meant you just grabbed one of your mom’s kitchen knives and hacked away at it until you had a jagged, 3-toothed grinning Jack-o-lantern?  Now with the pumpkin carving tools and patterns that are available, one feels a little old-school if armed only with a knife and an imagination.   But, I’ll admit it.  In this case, I’ve fallen prey to the hype.

Our friends hosted their annual pumpkin carving party this week. The invitation said to bring a cleaned-out pumpkin ready to carve. They created workspaces by covering several tables with inexpensive plastic tablecloths.  There were several obligatory (and sharp) kitchen knives being brandished about, usually by someone with a cocktail in their other hand.  (Thankfully, and surprisingly, no one lost a finger.)  But, also on hand were an arsenal of official pumpkin-carving tools, including these little battery-operated saws.  Which, quite frankly, didn’t work very well.  We broke two of them before we figured out how useless they were.  But we hacked and carved to our heart’s content, and the end result was equal parts fun,  gratifying and impressive.

Jack O' Lantern Collection

Yard Full of Jack O' Lanterns

Scary Jack O' Lanterns

While all things Halloween may have been simpler when I was a kid, the party was a great example of how this holiday hasn’t outgrown its ability to be simply fun.

Guests brought appetizers.  The hosts provided homemade chili (here’s a link to our own chili recipe).  And I provided the dessert buffet, including butter cookies with vanilla frosting, homemade caramel corn, and orange creamsicle cupcakes.

Halloween Table

Halloween Goodies  Caramel Corn

Halloween Cupcakes and Cookies  Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

Halloween Treats  Mummy Cookies

Need more ideas for your Halloween party?  Check out our Halloween board on Pinterest.

Happy Entertaining!

She Walked.

And she walked.

She walked 60 miles over three days.  She walked over 1500 miles during the months leading up to the 3-day walk to prepare herself, mentally and physically, for the 60 miles.

She walked for her daughter-in-law who last year lost her battle with breast cancer after battling it most of her adult life.  Anne also walked for her son, and for her grandsons who now live life without their mom.

She didn’t walk as part of a team, yet she wasn’t alone.  There were thousands, equally committed and determined walkers, who walked beside her.  I wonder if that’s how someone diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease feels.  That they are alone, dependent on their own body and mind to get them through it, yet are so very much surrounded by others who walk their journey with them.

There were many, many friends and neighbors who supported her along the way, and many gave very generously to help Anne be one of the top three fundraisers in this walk.  But, still, it was Anne who walked.

I now understand how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary feats.  Or feets, as the case may be.  And, quite honestly, I am humbled by her.  I know thousands walk and raise money every year for this very worthy cause.  But Anne is my neighbor and friend, so it is her dedication and tenacity that I have witnessed firsthand.  It’s Anne that I admire.

Hope for the Cure CupcakesAfter the walk, the neighbors did what they do.  They threw a party for one of our own, to help celebrate her achievement and to honor Anne and her walk.  Jon and I drove to the party, which was less than 2 blocks away.  That tells you something about me versus Anne.  I could defend myself and say that I was carrying 2 dozen cupcakes to the party, and it was raining, so we couldn’t walk.  But believe me, the irony of the fact that we drove to a party honoring those who walked isn’t lost on me.

Through this blog, we encourage others to celebrate the small moments and the big moments and any moments in-between that deserve a celebration.  I can’t think of a better reason to celebrate than Anne and those like her who walk to find a cure.

Happy Celebrating!


(We wanted the focus of this post to be on Anne and the Walk for the Cure.  If you’d like the recipe for these cupcakes, click here.)

Impromptu Entertaining

Impromptu.  What a great word.  Fun to say and perfect in some situations.  Just another good example of something we can thank France for.

Mr. Webster will tell you that it means:

1. made or done without previous preparation:

An impromptu address to the unexpected crowds.

2. suddenly or hastily prepared, made, etc.:

An impromptu dinner.

3. improvised; having the character of an improvisation.

But I will tell you it perfectly describes our dinner party last Saturday night.

We had no plans until about 10:30 that morning.  After a quick phone call with our friends, we had decided that yes, we definitely should get together, and no, we shouldn’t plan to eat out because the guys wanted to watch the football game.  So, game on, as they say.

On our blog, we talk a lot about how to successfully throw a party, and that success is based on having a plan and working the plan.  But, sometimes, circumstances call for a little spontaneity.  In one of our early posts, we talked about what to have on hand when planning isn’t really an option.  We also have talked about the importance of maintaining a well-stocked home bar (and how to easily do it) especially for situations just like this one.  But this weekend we were reminded of another entertaining philosophy that we use which allows us to have an impromptu dinner party with no stress or panic.  Basically, it boils down to having at least one drink and one dish that you’re comfortable pulling together without much thought or planning.

The Bartender has mastered having a wide assortment of cocktails and usually has all the necessary supplies and parts on hand.  On Saturday, an assortment actually got served, including gin and tonics, a couple of old fashioneds, and one round of lavender martinis.

For the food, we relied on a couple of our tried and true recipes: We served our homemade pizza for dinner (our guests brought a salad) and for dessert I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  While at one point it was starting to resemble a school lunch, we were able to pull it back onto the adult track when we opened a great bottle of red wine.

Honestly, we didn’t do much to prep the house.  Since during the day we tend to use the kitchen counter as our office, I did move my pile of folders and papers.  I hadn’t dusted the house in a couple, okay several, weeks, so I took my little duster thingy and sort of danced through the living room, giving the furniture a quick once-over to remove the obvious layer of dust.  I had cleaned the bathrooms last week when my sister came to visit, so I didn’t even bother with those.  And Jon ran the portable vacuum around to just tame the fluffs of cat fur rolling around.  That all took us about 15 minutes.

We had planned to eat off our laps in front of the TV and watch the game.  And this is the part of the evening that perhaps required the greatest improvisation.  Turns out the game was on some premier cable channel that is not included in the 300 channels we already pay for.  After a few minutes of scrambling to see if we could somehow stream the broadcast (we couldn’t), we resorted to listening to the game on an old-school transistor radio.  We built a fire in the fire pit, propped the radio up nearby, and ate our pizza under the stars.  Not exactly the night we had anticipated but it will definitely be one of those entertaining moments that I’ll cherish for a long time.  It was, in a word, perfect.

Happy Entertaining!

Gin and Tonic

Roasted Tomato Pizza

Transistor Radio  Candles

Chocolate Chip Cookie Nibbles

Goodbye, Summer

As if right on cue, the temperatures have dropped about 20 degrees today and the skies are gray.  I guess Mother Nature got the memo that this is the start of Labor Day Weekend and the unofficial end of summer.

Frankly, I don’t mind the cooler days.  Especially days like today that are cool but dry, and gray but bright.  And, these kinds of days are easier to take after we’ve had a long, wonderful stretch of real summer days.  You know I’m a big fan of summer, with her warmth and sunshine and constant urging to take a few days off and enjoy it all.  But it seems that summer, too, has gotten the memo that her annual visit is coming to an end.  We know she’ll be back, but for now it’s time for her to pack her bags and move on.  Maybe we should all throw her a going away party and have one last simple soiree in her honor.

Here is a great menu for this time of year.  It takes advantage of two of my personal favorites from the late season harvest, corn and blackberries.  We are suggesting two different dishes, each using one of them.  (Even with my fondness for corn and blackberries I wouldn’t combine them in a single dish.  Wink and smiley face.)


Shades of Taos Margaritas

Hickory Smoked Chicken

Creamed Corn Casserole

Steamed Fresh Green Beans

Blackberry Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

Happy Entertaining, and goodbye summer!

Flower Arrangement

Shades of Taos Margarita

Smoking Grill

Chicken on Grill Corn on the Cob

Creamed Corn Casserole

Fresh Green Beans  Blackberry Cobbler



Summer’s Last Hurrah

I know.  Seasons change.  Four seasons and all of that.  And, I’m actually okay with living in a four-seasons world.  I’m a fan of each season and all that comes with it.  In the Pacific Northwest, summer doesn’t really get started until the first part of July.  So, I’m just fighting the wind-down of summer this year because we’ve only been at this business of sunny, warm days now for a little over a month.

I’m not being defiant.  I promise to let go when it’s time and not wear white shoes after Labor Day.  But, for now, just one last summer hurrah before we start focusing on football and pumpkins.  By my calculations, I have just a few more weeks of this summer, so I’m going to do my best to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it before it slips away for another year.

As this season starts to wane, I think one last summer dinner party is in order.  Who’s with me on this?  Nature is still providing wonderful, seasonal food that we can serve.  I personally think blackberry cobbler is reason enough to have a party.  We’ll eat on the patio, and take advantage of a sunny afternoon.  Then we’ll light a fire in the fire pit to ward off the inevitable chill that sets in just about sunset.

Here’s one of our favorite summer dinner party menus:


Beer and wine

Barbecued Salmon

Wild Rice

Corn, Tomato, and Avocado Salad

Blackberry Cobbler

None of these dishes are complicated, and most of the prep can be done ahead of time so you can actually leave the kitchen and be a part of your party.  Recipes for each dish are provided, with the exception of the wild rice.  Although I’ve made wild rice from scratch, frankly, I now just use Rice-a-Roni.  I normally try to avoid packaged foods, but in this case I find it’s good and simple and not overly artificial like some food from boxes can be.  Just right for a summer dinner.

Start with a toast to the change of seasons, and thank nature for yet another reason to celebrate.

Happy Entertaining!

Mason Jar Candleholders  Flowers for the Table

Placesetting  Setting a Summer Table

Summer Tabletop  Beer on Ice

Summer Dinner Party  Pouring the Wine

Just Do It

Not like I need any reminders of why I love summer.  But this was a perfect summer evening, and we were gathered at a friend’s house to celebrate the birthdays of 4 of our fellow neighbors.  This is a fun, lively and well-acquainted crowd, and an evening spent with them is always a good time.

After a leisurely cocktail hour, we sat down for dinner.  I had been immersed in the kind of conversation that you have when you’re at a large dinner party.  Chatting equally with the people on either side of you and also the person across from the guy next to you until someone at the other end of the table says something that brings you into that conversation.  Then I found myself sitting back, letting go of the conversation, just looking around and taking it all in.  And that’s when I had this wonderful realization.  With 20 of us crowded around 2 tables, laughing, talking and just being together, I realized that this is what it’s all about.  This is why we started Entertaining Couple and why we keep it going.  Here we all were, neighbors who all live in the same neighborhood.  We wave at each other as we pass.  We stop on our walks and chat.  But it takes a dinner party for us to really sit and talk.  To build the relationships that make me feel connected to something.

Patio Dinner Party

Thanks to the wonderful, and wonderfully talented, Tia Gavin for taking this photo.

My purpose, passion and mission became even clearer at that moment.  On the one hand, our blog can seem like just an assortment of cocktail and dessert recipes.  But, for us, it’s so much more than that.  The recipes and ideas are simply a means to an end, which is to have people gather around a table and connect with each other.  To salvage a sense of friendship, kinship and belonging that gets lost in this virtual world of ours.  I long for that sense of community and connection.  I don’t entertain to impress people.  What I value is the opportunity for people to gather. Through our blog, we hope to inspire others who share that desire.

The house where we gathered that night has seen its share of parties.  The host and hostess open up their home often.  She is one of the most gracious and generous hostesses you could ever have the privilege of knowing.  One of the things that makes her this way is her willingness to let others share in the preparation of the meal — which is a challenge for me.  Not sure why I feel the need to control it all.  Maybe it’s that I can’t quite let go of the concept of a potluck where that nasty green Jell-o salad with white lumps inevitably makes an appearance.  Or, that I really do enjoy the preparation of it all.  And then there’s the issue where part of me just has a hard time accepting help from others.  So, I tend to do everything myself.  But these friends have inspired me to look differently at the role of hostess.  I now realize that a gathering where people bring a dish to share is a very different experience.  The hosts provided the main course and an appetizer.  Guests brought appetizers and side dishes and dessert (that was my contribution).  The food was all excellent and the concept of community was carried out as everyone shared their food.  The point is, if you are hesitant to invite people to your table because the thought of entertaining is simply overwhelming , or it’s too much work, or is too much of a budget-breaker, go ahead and extend the invitations and simply ask everyone to bring something to contribute to the meal.

I recently got connected with the talented woman behind The Yellow Table blog and cookbook project.  In order to raise money for her self-published cookbook, she took off across America, holding dinner parties in 7 different cities.  The project is inspiring, but so is her mission.  I love her message of “Life around a table is life at its best.”  For me, I love the possibilities of what can happen around a dinner table.

I understand that not everyone has a desire to sit and share a meal with friends or neighbors or acquaintances or strangers.  But, if you do, may I offer up the following challenge?  Just do it.  Prepare a meal.  Or, order pizza and serve it up.  Or, throw a potluck and let everyone bring something.  Forget about the perfection that the world of Pinterest and blogs drop at our feet on a daily basis.  Let the pictures and words inspire, not intimidate.  Friendships and connections don’t require perfection.  They simply require a space to gather and share.  Invite someone to join you at your table.  And let the possibilities unfold.

Happy Entertaining!

Happy Birthday America!

Everyone loves a birthday party, it seems.  And when it’s the good ol’ US of A that’s having the birthday, we just can’t help but put on our party hats.


Think about how different our annual celebration would be if the forefathers had signed the Declaration of Independence in, say, January.  Besides the fact that we wouldn’t know it as the Fourth of July (instead we would be painting banners that read something like “Happy Sixteenth of January!”, which clearly does not roll off the tongue quite like the Fourth of July does), we wouldn’t associate it with barbecues, lemonade, or strawberry desserts.  It’s hard to even fathom.  The only saving grace would be that, since the days are short in January, we’d be able to watch fireworks while we eat dinner.

So, as we near the Fourth of July and all the celebration that comes with it, I’m grateful for our forefathers’ forethought and consideration for getting down to the business of independence in the summer rather than the winter.

Here’s what’s on our Fourth of July menu this year:


Watermelon Martinis

Barbecued Pork Baby Back Ribs

Red Potato Salad

Baked Beans

Corn on the Cob

Strawberry/Blueberry Napolean

Watermelon Martini

Pork Baby Back Ribs  Red Potato Salad

Baked Beans  Corn on the Cob

Strawberry Napolean with Blueberries  Fourth of July Placesetting

I’ve tried cooking corn on the cob many different ways.  But this is the method that I like the best.

When it comes to preparing baked beans, I start with a good brand of canned beans (I like Bush’s, even if their commercials with the talking dog are kind of sophomoric).  I just dump the can into an oven-proof dish, cover with foil, and bake for about an hour.  I remove the foil and cook for about another 15 minutes.  I remove them from the oven and let them sit and cool slightly before serving.  Someday I’m going to make them from scratch, but right now I’m glad to have a side dish that I can serve that doesn’t take a lot of time or energy.

Need more inspiration for all things red, white and blue?  Check out our 4th of July board on Pinterest.

Happy Entertaining!

Brunch – A Good Reason to Rise and Shine

I’m not what you’d call a morning person.  And by that I mean that not by any stretch of the imagination, nor by what anyone who knows me well would say, would I be considered anything remotely close to a morning person.  I find very few things as luxurious and decadent as a slow-paced morning.  Which may be the reason I don’t often host a brunch at the house.

But I gladly got out of bed and did just that last weekend.  My oldest sister and brother-in-law came up for the day, and to allow for their drive home (a few hours), a midday meal was the most accommodating.  And I may not be a morning person but I can be rather accommodating when I try.  My youngest brother and sister-in-law came, too, and it was simply a splendid reason to get up early.

Doing a little prep the day before allowed me to sleep in an extra few minutes.  (Yea!)  I made the crust for the quiche (and refrigerated it overnight) and set the table.  Jon cut the flowers and I got them arranged in a vase.

Brunch Table Setting  Lilacs and Iris

By the time I rolled out of bed Sunday morning, my to-do list was pretty manageable.  Besides making the quiche (which is my old, stand-by recipe), and washing/cutting the romaine (which we served with a lemon dressing), my morning priority was making the scones.  And I should note that, prior to Sunday morning, I had never actually made scones from scratch before.  I was a little nervous about the whole thing, especially since I didn’t have a “Plan B” if the scones were a flop.  I did my best to carefully follow the recipe and am so happy to report that the scones turned out perfectly.

Scones on Tray

When any of the siblings are together, inevitably the conversation comes around to Mom.  She passed away many years ago, but we all still miss her every day.  So it was nice to be together, using her good silver and the antique butter pats that she gave me one year for my birthday, and remembering our mom.


And then our brunch became a tribute to all moms and the upcoming day that honors them.  Biological moms, adoptive moms, mother-in-laws, step-mothers, grandmothers, women who nurture and are motherly by nature, and those who are moms of our furry friends.  We know our world is better because of you.  To all of these moms, we wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

Brunch Menu


Orange Scones

Romaine With Lemon Dressing

Quiche  Orange Scones

Happy Entertaining!

Chalk: It’s Not Just For Kids Any More

We have a pretty fabulous group of friends that are all part of our entertaining community.  Our “village,” if you will.  And, it does take a village.

Just because we’re the ones with the blog doesn’t mean we’re the ones with all the ideas.  Quite the contrary.  I am inspired by our friends’ ideas, recipes and styles on an almost daily basis.  I like nothing more than going to a friend’s house and seeing how they entertain.  Believe me when I say I have a lot to learn from these people.

So was the case with our dear friends Ken and Lisa.  They have spent a good deal of time and sweat remodeling their basement into an entertainer’s paradise.  While the entire space — a cozy area featuring a very cool copper bar — is inviting and wonderful, what I couldn’t quit admiring was their door.

I’ve seen many examples where people use blackboard paint on an old, silver tray, but this closet door next to the bar takes the whole chalkboard paint concept to a new level.  The door, apparently, was old and “ugly.” Rather than taking on the expense of installing a new door, they re-purposed the existing one.  They painted it with chalkboard paint and Ken applied his artistic abilities, which converted the ugly door into a piece of art.

All I can say is I want one in my house!

Happy Entertaining!

Chalkboard Paint Door Art

Gettin’ Social

Hey there — Jon here, with a post that’s slightly off-topic from our usual fare.  Sometimes I do a little moonlighting from my normal duties as the Bartender (which, technically, is also a moonlighting gig) and serve as our website’s information technology support person (aka “The IT Guy”).  Our regular readers may have noticed some changes to the look and feel of our blog over the past couple months.  We run our website with a custom WordPress theme that was designed for us by Watered Roots Design, and over the 18 months that we’ve been up and running, as we’ve learned what works for us and what we want to function differently, we’ve gradually incorporated some tweaks and fiddles to the site to get to where it is today.  We hope the changes look good and work well for you, and we really appreciate your continued visits and comments!

One of the areas that we’re trying to get more adept with is social media.  Debbie (the Hostess) has done a fantastic job with our Facebook page since practically Day One, and over the last three or so months she’s learned a ton about Pinterest and has set up a great Pinterest board.  And our FoodGawker gallery continues to help hundreds of new visitors find our blog.  But one area where we’ve struggled is Twitter.  I really, really hate to admit this, but I think maybe I’m becoming a bit of an old codger.  (The fact that I use the word codger likely confirms this.)  Whatever the reason, I’ve shied away from adopting Twitter because I just didn’t get what value it could bring to our blog.  That is, until our son Jared and daughter-in-law Laura came to visit this week.

Director of Social Media

Engineering our Twitter launch!

Within an hour of arriving, Jared asked why we didn’t have a presence on Twitter, and while I was still mumbling something about newfangled-this-or-that, he was already pulling pictures off our server, building our Twitter profile page, and sending out our first tweets. Holy cow. So now we’re pleased to introduce our newly-recruited Director of Social Media, whose first challenge is something along the lines of “teaching old dogs new tricks.”  (Jeez, am I the master of the codgerly cliche or what?)

So keep following us as we continue blogging, and check out our social networking sites, too — there’s much more to come.


Entertaining Couple Staff Meeting

“Staff meeting”

Dinner Party 101

As far as parties go, I’m a dinner party kind of gal.  I mean, as opposed to a cocktail party kind of gal.  Whether it’s hosting or attending, I always prefer a small intimate dinner party over a large, loud, walk-around cocktail party.  Although I seem to have this illusion of attending some swank soiree, wearing the perfect LBD and 4″ heels, and not caring that I have nothing to say to the other guests because I look oh-so-fabulous.  Right.  Like I would ever be caught dead wearing 4″ heels.  And let’s be honest.  When I throw a dinner party, I’m usually wearing slippers.

I think I have issues with cocktail parties because I’m not a very accomplished mingler.  Small talk tires me.  I much prefer sitting around a table, with a group of close friends or people I want to be close to, and talking.  Really talking.  And telling stories.  Even the same story told over and over, which seems to happen with our circle of friends, is preferable to me over idle chit chat.

So, when we entertain, we throw a dinner party.  Sometimes they are big and fancy affairs (in which case I wear shoes rather than slippers).  But most of the time they are low-key, with the focus on the guests and the food rather than the brouhaha of a larger crowd.

If you want to throw a dinner party, here are some of our lessons learned over the years.

A Good Plan is Half Your Success.  Even if the plan is to order pizza, it’s good to have a plan.  Have a plan and then work the plan.  Figure out the menu and then figure out how and when you’ll get everything done.  Then, come dinner time, you’ll have your wits, and your sense of humor, still with you.  And this will make you the perfect host/hostess.

Size Matters.  In my opinion, 6 – 8 guests is perfect for a dinner party.  10 – 12 can work, too.  More than that, and it quickly loses the intimacy and you might as well go back to a walk-around and mingle kind of party.

Plates and CandlesServe Within Your Comfort Zone.  If a less than perfect dish is your idea of a complete disaster, then don’t attempt to make something you’ve never made before.  Stick to what you know.  Or at least practice beforehand.

Don’t Stress the Small Stuff. Something doesn’t have to be elaborate to be lovely.  Sometimes I use a tablecloth (which may or may not be ironed depending on my mood) and sometimes we just use place mats.  Sometimes there is a nice, floral centerpiece and sometimes there is just a candle or 2.  We attended a nice dinner party one time where the hostess used a sheet to cover the table.  And one of the best desserts I ever served came from a local bakery.  If you’re thinking you can’t host a dinner party because you don’t have time or budget for fancy, then rethink it.

Leave Procrastination for Another Day.  Do what you can ahead of time.  Like setting the table.  Or cleaning the bathroom.  And definitely do the shopping ahead of time.  Leaving everything to the last minute will just make you stressed and cranky.  Or at least that’s what it does to me.

Start the Party at the Door.  From the moment guests walk through the door, let your home say “welcome.”  Get that music playlist started and candles lit before guests arrive.  (I always like to have a candle or small light in the bathroom so when guests need to use the loo they aren’t fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch.)  Drinks should be ready to serve and, if you’re serving an appetizer, it should be ready to go as well.

You’re the Cruise Director.  You don’t need a whistle and clipboard, but just remember that people expect to follow your lead.  You need to get them to the table when it’s time to eat.  Pour the wine, or direct someone else to do so, when it’s time for wine.  Clear the plates when people are done eating and bring in the dessert when you want them to eat it.  And, if you want the party to end, stand-up, stretch and start doing the dishes.  Your guests will get the hint.  We’ve entertained some very successful and high-ranking business people that, at the office, are always the ones taking charge.  Yet, at a dinner party, these people will sit, as if unsure of their next move, until someone says, “It’s time for dessert!”  It’s your party.  You get to be the one that calls the shots for once.

Happy Entertaining!

Centerpiece  Candleholders


Pizza Night

I love pizza nights!  Well, more specifically, pizza nights when we make homemade pizza for dinner.  Okay, actually what I really mean is I love pizza nights when the Bartender makes homemade pizza for dinner.  In our house, Jon (aka the Bartender) is the pizza maker.

Pizza Fresh Out of the Oven

Normally, when we’re entertaining, I have kitchen duty while Jon tends to the bar.  And the music.  And anything that might have broken that needs fixing.  But last week, even with a house full of guests, I got to take the dinner shift off because pizzas were on the menu.  (And, how clever of me to plan the menu in this way.)  So, while I sat, drinking a glass of wine and chatting with our friends, Jon feverishly worked in the kitchen making 3 batches of pizza dough (enough to feed a group of six).  It’s not that making the dough is hard.  It’s just that it takes some time to let it mix, rest and rise.  He started the first 2 batches before we left for an afternoon of snowshoeing and then got the third batch going when we got back to the house.  While I was enjoying my time of leisure with nary a care, I must admit I felt a little guilty when our friends started making noises about needing cocktails (which, as I said, is also Jon’s jurisdiction) at about the same time that he was elbow-deep in shaping the pizza dough.  But Jon impressed me when he actually delegated the bar tending responsibilities to one of our guests.  Turns out he’s accomplished at both pizza making AND delegating.

Pizza Crust with Olive Oil  Sauce with Fresh Basil

Pizza Toppings

Pepperoni PizzaIn the past, we have always just made Margherita-style pizza with its three simple toppings (tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella).  But this night, to appeal to the tastes of a broader audience, we provided a big selection of toppings and let everyone make half a pizza to their liking.  I have to say, I thought the pizzas were perfect.  The dough worked equally as well with simple toppings as it did piled high with a little bit of everything. All I can say is look out Papa John’s…there’s a new pizza daddy in town.

Pizza with The Works

Homemade Pizza

And it was an easy dinner to make for six people.   Oh, wait, I guess by that I mean that it was easy for me.  But, for the record, I did set the table.

Happy Entertaining!

Pizza Night

A Toast to Winter’s End

Depending on where you live, throughout much of the United States this has been a winter for the modern-day record books.  One that most people are looking forward to saying “goodbye and good riddance” to.  I have to admit that I’m the lone exception.  In the Colorado mountains where the Hostess and I spend our winters, the higher angle of the sun and above-freezing temperatures ushered in by the month of March bring about (in me, and a handful of like-minded ski bums) feelings of melancholy.  I’ve always been one for whom changing seasons trigger emotions: Excitement for what’s coming, and a bit of remorse for what’s passing.  And March’s arrival and the snow’s accelerating departure mean that the season of skiing that I so look forward to every year is entering its final few weeks. So even though it’s almost time to put away the snow shovels and break out the golf clubs, this time of year always leaves my heart feeling a little heavy.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can be just as excited as the next person about the coming of spring (see this post from last year).  And as an amateur bartender, I love that the change of seasons also means a change of cocktails.  Just as the Hostess always tells me that people shouldn’t wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day, there are cocktail aficionados who believe that certain drinks are best reserved for the long, dark months of winter, while others go better with warm weather.  So I do get excited that it’ll soon be time to break out some warm weather cocktail recipes and shuffle some bottles from the back of the bar to the front.  Kind of like spring cleaning…but way more fun.

But let’s not rush these things along just yet.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the Old Fashioned is a perfect mid-winter’s cocktail.  And before this winter completely slips away, it’s only fair that another one of my whiskey-based favorites — the Rye and VermouthManhattan — gets some headlining space on our blog.  I do like cocktails that have stood the test of time, and the Manhattan dates back to the late 1800s.  It has an air of class and sophistication, yet it’s quite easy to make.  Once you’ve selected your favorite rye or bourbon and the appropriate martini-style glass, it’s simply a matter of measuring out the right proportions and mixing up your cocktail.  The one trick I’ve learned is that, as much as I like using my shaker, the Manhattan is best when stirred, not shaken. Otherwise you end up with a frothy, foamy drink that’s not visually appealing (someone once said the receding foam reminded them of “pond scum”).  Personally, I like to make the Manhattan in a Boston-style cocktail shaker; I mix and chill the ingredients by slowly pouring them back and forth a few times between the two shaker halves before straining into a chilled glass. The result is a clear, crisp frosty-cold cocktail that’s hard to resist.


I must admit that, after a winter spent sampling various bourbons and ryes while perfecting my Old Fashioned recipe, I’ve really come to like and appreciate these darker spirits.  And this March it feels as though, as I prepare to say goodbye (for a few months, anyway) to my seasonal ski-bum lifestyle, I’m also saying farewell to some new friends like Mr. Woodford and Mr. Templeton.  So time’s a-wasting. Stir up a Manhattan and join me in a toast to the end of winter before the last of the snow is gone!


Click here to get recipe

Hosting Après-Ski

a·près-ski [ah-prey-skee, ap-rey-]
the period of relaxation that follows skiing: menus suitable for après-ski.
pertaining to or suitable for such a time: après-ski clothes; an après-ski party.
1950–55;  < French, equivalent to après after + ski, skiing

On the Mountain

If I’m being completely accurate, at least according to Mr. Webster, any time after we ski could be considered après-ski.  But, for the purpose of this blog, I’m just referring to those times when we have friends in town, we’ve spent the day on the mountain, and we’ve arrived back at the house sort of in après-Après Ski Beer and Wineski-party mode.  Because, let’s be honest.  When it’s just the two of us, the pomp portion of our after-ski activities looks a lot like pouring a glass of wine or opening a beer.

When we have a house full of guests, who have spent the day outside in the snow, the mood for après-ski just happens.  Amazing how much fun snow can be when there’s no hazardous driving or power outages involved.  People come here for the snow.  And to play in it.  Or to relax inside and look out and appreciate the beauty of it from their perch next to the fireplace.

If you’re looking to create your own après-ski party, here are a few simple ideas:

A collection of blankets that anyone can cozy up with.

Lots of candles.  Nothing quite sets the “retreat” mood like an abundance of candlelight.

Après Ski Wine and YahtzeeA fun music playlist.

Jigsaw puzzles.  If you ask anyone if they want to do a puzzle, you may get a lackadaisical response.  But, have a puzzle just sitting there, pieces scattered about, and people can’t seem to resist putting it together.

Games.  You might be surprised how popular games like Uno, Yahtzee and Jenga can be.  And Scrabble is always a draw.  (This year we’ve started playing Cards Against Humanity and I think everyone is slightly embarrassed to admit how much fun that game is.)

Smores at the Fire PitA real, honest to goodness campfire.  We have a fire pit in the backyard.  Not one of those big, fancy stone fireplaces that is only a reality in my dreams.  But our large, copper pit does the job well for providing a fire to sit around and roasting marshmallows for s’mores.  We even have a supply of old, woolen blankets, collected at various antique shows over the years, that people can use outside by the fire.

When we’re in après-ski mode, it’s all about the beverages and the food.  When you have good friends seated around a table, and you add plenty of booze and a pile of comfort food, the fun is pretty much guaranteed.

About the food.  We serve home-cooked meals with the goal of ensuring contented and full bellies.  Or, as my brother says, ample sufficiency.  When it’s cold outside, people just seem to appreciate warm comfort food.  One thing to plan for?  Everyone is always hungry, teetering on the edge of ravenous (oh, wait, that’s just me), when they get back after a day of skiing.  No one will ask for snacks, but have something as simple as a bowl of popcorn on the table and everyone will eat it.  Caramel corn (which I make ahead of time) is always a big hit, too.

Après Ski Chili

Although I am always experimenting with some new recipe, I tend to most often rely on my stash of my never-fail recipes.   Here are just a couple of well-tested dinner menus:

And, now, about the beverages.  Clearly this list isn’t in order of importance.  Because in this house the Après Ski Drinks in the Snowbeverages don’t come last.  They are usually the first thing people ask for when they walk in the door.  I’m not sure what it says about all of us that we refer to the sound the cocktail shaker makes as the “happy sound.”  (We even had a friend once record it and she used it as the ringtone on her phone.)  We frequently have a signature cocktail that we serve, something that we’ve planned to go along with the dinner menu.  But we also have plenty of wine and beer available.  Some favorite cocktails from this year are:

And hot chocolate is a great beverage for kids of all ages.  (Adult kids may like a shot of Peppermint Schnapps in theirs.)

Après Ski Hot Chocolate

Après Ski Wine  Après Ski Sled and Fireplace

Après Ski Beer and Cocktail

Après Ski Fireplace

According to the description (see the top of this post), the term après-ski originated in the early 1950’s. And I can attest to the fact that it’s been a popular activity for many, many years. But, I’m feeling particularly in-fashion since Pottery Barn featured an après-ski spread in a recent catalog. I mean, does it get much more en vogue than that? (I used some French here to give a nod to the country that supposedly coined the term “après-ski.”)  Ya gotta love a trend.

Happy Entertaining!

Craft Beer Confessions

I have a confession to make.  Although I’ve presented myself as the cocktail guy on our blog these past 18 months, I’ve been hiding a dark secret:  Four times out of five, when happy hour is drawing near, you won’t find me reaching for my cocktail shaker and jigger. I’ll instead be crouched in front of my beer fridge, selecting the perfect bottle or can of craft beer from an extensive selection of my favorite breweries, which I’ll then pour into a glass (from an equally extensive beer glass collection) that’s just right for the style of beer I’ve chosen.  “Hello, my name is Jon, and I’m a craft beer junkie.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I positively love being the person who knows how to serve a wide range of cocktails, and who, through educated guesses, can even occasionally create something new.  And I have many more cocktail recipes to write about on this blog in the coming months.  But I do like my beer.  Especially the big, bold, hoppy styles from craft breweries in California, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.  So, contrary to my blog persona as “The Bartender”, sometimes my bartending tool of choice is nothing more than a bottle opener.

I never thought I’d be confessing my love of craft beer on our blog. We aren’t running a “beer blog” here…there are plenty of those already. And I really don’t think any of you want to be bored with minutiae such as when an IPA crosses over to being an Imperial IPA, or why I get excited when reviewing the brewer’s list of hop varietals that were used during dry-hopping.  But the other day a friend of ours (who shares my craft-beer obsession) showed up with a really cool surprise, and I can’t keep my enthusiasm for craft beer bottled up (sorry) and off the blog any longer:

Oskar Blues Crowler - Front

“It’s a can…it’s a growler…”

Oskar Blues Crowler - Back

“No…it’s the Crowler!”

Seriously, what’s not to love about this.  Let me explain what you’re seeing here.  This brewer (Oskar Blues, one of my faves) has taken the “growler” concept to new heights.  A growler is a refillable glass container that allows you to get beer “to go” from your favorite taproom, fresh out of the keg.  It’s a great way to enjoy beers at home that otherwise might not be available through conventional stores.  Oskar Blues is a leader in the revolution to put craft beer in cans instead of bottles, and they’re now filling and capping these giant 32 ounce cans at their brewery while you wait (hence, the can-growler, or “crowler”).  For size comparison, the green can to the right is a normal-sized 12 ounces.  The brew in this particular example is a special, tap-only version of Oskar’s “Mama’s Little Yella Pils” (a light, pilsner-style craft beer) that’s been aged in a tequila barrel.  Wow.  The innovation in today’s craft beer industry blows me away.  I’m getting thirsty just writing about it.

Phew…it feels good to get that secret off my chest and out in the open!  Thanks for listening.  I’ll be back behind the bar shortly…but in the meantime drop me a comment and let me know if you share my obsession!


Hosting a Ski Weekend

Oh, sure.  Our friends tell us that we’re the reason they come to visit.  But we have a sneaking suspicion that  the ski resort is really the main attraction and that our presence is sort of inconsequential to the skiing.

We love ski weekends.  Friends arrive in their big ol’ SUV’s, laden down with enough gear to make us wonder if they are staying for a month.  They move in, get settled, and we get down to the serious business of slumber partying.  These weekends give us extended time with our friends with a nice balance of go-time and down-time. 

Ski Signs

Over the years, we’ve learned a couple of things about coming home after a day on the slopes.  One, everyone is usually in need of a snack.  And a beverage.  Pronto.  So, have those things at the ready to keep everyone from gnawing at the woodwork while the real food is prepared.  Nuts, veggies and dip, or cheese and crackers are great, easy snacks.  And, two, we’ve learned that everyone appreciates a good, home-cooked meal.  Hearty meals and comfort food are always popular, even with those that are pretty rigid about their diets on most days.  I guess what my dad used to say is true.  After a day of fresh air and playing outdoors, kids aren’t nearly as picky about what they eat. 

Here’s a first night menu from a recent weekend.  Because the pot pies and biscuits take a little prep time, I served them on the first night since I had time to prepare them during the day.  For the salad, one of my favorites is to chop up romaine, add a pear or two (that you’ve cut into chunks), dried cranberries, and pecan pieces (Fresh Gourmet has some Honey Roasted Pecan Pieces that are great in this salad).  My favorite dressing for this salad is the Lighthouse Pear Gorgonzola. Simple and a great side to this meal.

Since I had a bag of Meyer lemons in the refrigerator, and I knew one of our guests was a fan of all things lemon, I tweaked the tangerine mousse recipe slightly and made lemon mousse.  We served with a piece (or two) of dark chocolate, and everyone loved it.

We always have beer in the fridge, since many of our friends prefer beer.  And, we have plenty of both red and white wine on hand, to serve with dinner.


And here’s what our party planner looked like: 

Two Days Before:

  • Finalized the menus for the weekend and made the grocery list.
  • Cleaned the bathrooms.

Day Before:

  • Grilled the pork shoulder all day (for Sunday’s dinner.)  Put it in the oven overnight.
  • Got all the grocery shopping done.
  • Made a trip to the liquor store to buy more beer.

Day Of/ Morning:

  • Shredded the pork and refrigerated it.
  • Set the table.
  • Made the dough for the pot pies and put it in the refrigerator to chill.
  • Made the macaroni and cheese for Saturday night’s dinner.  Didn’t bake it but just refrigerated it.
  • Made the lemon mousse.

Day of/ Afternoon:

  • Made the chicken pot pies.
  • Made the biscuits and started them rising.
  • Tracked our guests’ arrival time and made sure I was out of the shower by the time they got here.
  • Set out everything we needed to make the Cosmopolitans.
  • Washed the romaine.
  • Set out butter to soften for the biscuits.

Just Before Serving:

  • Preheated the oven for the pot pies and biscuits.
  • 30 minutes before dinner, started the pot pies baking.  (If you don’t have a double oven, bake biscuits and then the pot pies, and keep the biscuits covered to keep them warm.  Just back up your start time by about 15 minutes.)
  • Put the salad together.
  • Opened bottles of wine, lit the candles and poured water.
  • Plated the pot pies, put the biscuits into a bread basket, everyone seated at the table, and dinner was served!

Snow sled   Pistachios

Chicken Potpie

Table Setting

Buttermilk Biscuit

Snowy Aspens

Pulled Pork Sliders – A Game Day Crowd Pleaser

Contrary to tribal folklore, men really do appreciate something besides a bag of chips for football game snacks.  It’s just that if they are asked to bring a snack, chips may be what they think of.  So, here’s a way to impress your buddies on Super Bowl Sunday.  Or any day, for that matter.  Show them you’re the Grill Master with these Pulled Pork Sliders.

P.S.  Women like these, too.

Two Pork Shoulders on Grill

Pork shoulder, rubbed and ready for grilling…

Hickory Chips and Pork Shoulder

Start by adding a little hickory smoke…

Smokin' BBQ

Tick…tick…tick…you can’t rush perfection!

Pork Shoulder After Smoking

Smoked and ready to finish overnight in the oven

Shredding Fork-Tender Pork Roast

The next morning: Time to shred! It smells SOOOO good!

Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps in the recipe.  The only mistake you can make is to try to rush things with a grill that’s too hot.  Low and slow is the key to grilling stardom.  The real beauty of slow-cooking a pork shoulder is that it gives you an entire afternoon to lounge around drinking beer while simultaneously accomplishing something really incredible!  What’s not to like about that?

Happy grilling!

Click here to get recipe

Pulled Pork Sliders

Girls Weekend

What do you get when you have a group of longtime friends, together for an entire weekend, away from jobs and kids and housework and every day life?  A pretty darn good time.  When you add snow, cocktails, a rousing round of Cards Against Humanity AND the knowledge that no one has any place to go for 3 days, you get one heck of a fun adult slumber party.

There were 8 of us.  Well, 9 if you include the Bartender who bravely “volunteered” to stick around for the weekend and do one of the things he does best:  Tend the bar.

I wanted a menu that provided good, warm “comfort food” for the main course and meals that easily fed a large group.  And, because this was a group of friends that hadn’t all been together for a while, I wanted food for the weekend that allowed me to do a lot of the work ahead of time so that I could spend the time with my friends rather than just in the kitchen.  This menu fit the bill for Friday night:

And here’s what our party planner looked like:

Day Before:

  • Got all the grocery shopping done
  • Started setting the table

Day Of / Morning:

  • Finished setting the table, including the friendship quotes place cards
  • Made the cake layers for Saturday night’s dessert
  • Made the broccoli cheese sauce for Saturday night’s dinner
  • Started the meat marinading for the beef stroganoff
  • Made the Tangerine Mousse

Day of / Afternoon:

  • Started the stroganoff cooking
  • Started the rolls in the bread maker
  • Took a break to help shovel the driveway so we could get the cars the last 10 yards to the house
  • Shaped the bread dough into rolls and let them rise for about 45 minutes

Just Before Serving:

  • Got a little distracted (perhaps it was the blueberry martinis) and started the noodles (for the stroganoff) a little later than I should have.  It takes a few minutes to get a big pot of water to boil.  We just used the time to open bottles of wine, light the candles and have another martini.
  • Baked the rolls for 18 minutes
  • Started the water boiling for the peas
  • Got everything into serving dishes, everyone seated at the table, and dinner was served!

Table Setting 3

Blueberry Martinis

Deborah, Alex, and Suzette

Blueberry Martini

Marg and Debbie

Table Setting 1

Snowshoers   Table Setting 4

Old Fashioned

Table Setting 2   Tangerine Mousse 2

Group Shot

Happy Entertaining!

Putting the Couth into Casual

There is something appealing about a formally set table.  Just looking at the pictures on Pinterest or in catalogs makes me want to have 20 people over for a formal, sit down dinner.  But let’s face it.  Most in-home dining experiences call for a more casual table.  However, casual doesn’t have to mean boring or, worse, uncivilized.  Just because dinner with our closest friends doesn’t call for a stiff, formal setting, shouldn’t we still practice a little decorum?  I think a little etiquette is still appropriate even when dining with our shoes off.  So, let’s leave barbarian ways to the Huns and get that fork on the correct side of the plate, shall we?

Table Setting Diagram - Casual

Diagram of a casual table setting

Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa G. for their wonderfully worn, now vintage Pendleton blanket that provides the perfect backdrop for our Christmas morning table.

Christmas Plates

Waechtersbach plates and vintage Anchor Hocking water glasses make for a casual yet festive table

Christmas Plates with Centerpiece

We used three Mason jars as vases for this centerpiece

Napkin, Fork, and Plate

Holiday Placesetting


Our three wise men (from Gurley) make an appearance every Christmas

Rustic Bell Napkin Ring

Sleigh bells make an easy napkin ring

Holiday Table Setting

Happy Entertaining!

Tips to Help You (Throw a) Party Like a Pro

Self Serve Candy Station‘Tis the season!  To jubilate and to fa-la-la; to gather together and celebrate; to host and be hosted; and to survive with the holiday spirit fully intact and in proper working order.

Every magazine this month is promoting ways to help you successfully host a shindig.  Below are a few of my tried-and-true favorites for keeping my sanity when the party is at my house.

Some simple and basic tips to help you (throw a) party like a pro:

  • Be prepared.  Make a plan and think through every detail. I can’t imagine throwing a party without my lists.  (What food will you serve?  What beverages will you serve?  How will everything be served?  What do you need for each dish or drink, including details like toothpicks?)  A little planning and organization go a long way towards pulling off a successful soiree.
  • Be realistic about how much time you have.  If your schedule is tight, give yourself a break and don’t feel the need to make everything from scratch or to provide homemade gifts for guests to take home.  You can buy a vegetable platter from Costco guilt free.  Just transfer it from the big plastic wheel it comes in to a nice platter of your own.  If you want things to be homemade, then allow yourself to go simple.  Remember, simple can be surprisingly stunning.
  • Match the food to the style of the party.  People are going to either eat/drink while they stand, walk around and mingle, or they are going to sit down to eat.  If your party is going to be the stand/walk/mingle type of party, you’ll want finger foods (which means no utensils) versus food that is served for a sit-down dinner party.
  • Serving a specialty cocktail can be a fun alternative to stocking an entire bar.  Have a non-alcoholic choice as well.  It’s also a good idea to have wine and beer on hand.  Start the party off right by having drinks available right when people get there.  If you’re having a dinner party, start with cocktails and then move to wine with dinner.
  • If kids are on your guest list, think about how to keep them entertained during the party.
  • Do whatever you can in advance.  Shop for non-perishables and things that you can have in the pantry or freezer.  Prepare food that can just be reheated the day of the party.  Make dips the day ahead.  Set out serving dishes.  If you’re having a dinner party, you can even set the table ahead of time.  Clean the bathroom.  (Seriously.  Make all of our mothers proud and clean the loo.)  The less you have to do the day of the party, the better off you’ll be.
  • Create a music playlist ahead of time and have it queued up and ready to begin as soon as the first guest arrives.
  • Set the mood.  Dim (or turn off) the bright overhead lights.  Light candles and use accent lighting. Have you ever been in a restaurant after it has closed, when the lights are turned up?  Trust me, the pros dim the lights for a reason and you should do the same.
  • On the day of your party, calculate your time wisely.  This includes time for you to get ready.  It’s not okay to answer the door in your bathrobe and curlers and tell your guests to make themselves at home while you finish getting ready.
  • Most importantly, relax and enjoy your party.  Nothing kills the festive mood of a party like an overworked, stressed-out host or hostess.  Let your guests whisper about the how fabulous the party is, not about what a wreck you are.

Happy Entertaining!

When You Can’t Hide the Welcome Mat

Holly BerriesLike it or not, the holiday season is here.  And with it comes the inevitable opportunity for entertaining in a myriad of ways.  There are parties to be given and out-of-town guests to be housed.  So, now may be an appropriate time to face the ugly truth:  There are just some people in this world that don’t make the best guests.  If your entertaining plans include anyone that fits this description, I understand that this can be an emotional (and almost physical) drain.  For us, personally, time carved out for people that mean the most to us is a valuable commodity, not something to be squandered recklessly.  So, to give up sacred time to spend with people that practically suck the very life out of me, well that can be a sacrifice.

Back in my corporate days, I worked with this incredible woman.  She was everything that I am not, both in appearance and personality.  She was this tall, sleek, dark, and a somewhat mysterious and guarded woman.  When we went traveled together, as we often did, I felt like the chihuahua puppy nipping at the heels of a beautiful quarter horse.

Being of  Haitian-descent, she shared many wonderful anecdotes with me that were based on Haitian folklore.  My favorite, and the one that rang true with me, is do not invite negative energy into your house.  In her divine wisdom, she said don’t invite it in because it’s too hard to rid your house of it afterwards.

I think about this often and honestly try and live by it.  For me, life is too short to spend time with people who just go around emitting all that negative stuff onto others.  But, the reality is, sometimes you don’t have much choice in the matter.  Sometimes negative energy finds its way into your home, whether on the back of some relative (which reminds me of that adage about being able to pick your friends but not your family) or the (somewhat unwelcome) spouse of someone you hold dear.  Or, they could be that neighbor that is all too available to participate in any neighborhood get-together.  And, there is always the oft-dreaded work party where that certain someone you do so well avoiding in the office is all of a sudden a guest in your home.  So, although most of the time I can choose who comes to our home and sits at our table or sleeps in our guest room, sometimes I’m just stuck with the situation.  That’s when Haitian folklore meets Southern hospitality.  I realized, recently when I was presented with this very predicament, that I learned graciousness from my mother.  With all of her Southern charm and grace, my mother was the epitome of gracious.  If she was ever gritting her teeth in artificial tolerance, you’d never know it.  She had the ability to make anyone feel at home without ever seeming false or fake while doing it.  To me, this is the real art of being gracious.

At this point, I could regale you with stories about the times I’ve had less-than-pleasant guests in my home.  But I decided to dial back the snarky here to, in the spirit of the season and the sweeping away of negativity, just leave it alone.

So, if you find negative energy a-knockin’ at your door, I’m afraid you may just have to deal with it.  I have found that a glass, or three, of wine helps the situation immensely.  Then focus on the positives and serve up all the graciousness you can muster.  All the while, don’t let any of the negative stuff get a foothold in your soul or home, so that you can just sweep any lingering negativity out the door right behind the person who so cluelessly brought it there in the first place.

If you find yourself needing some comfort , here’s a recipe to try.  Because a little chicken soup is feel good food when we need it the most.

Chicken Tortellini Soup

Happy (and Gracious) Entertaining!

Ready, Set (the table), Go!

Call me old fashioned, but it just seems like everyone should know which side of the plate to put the knife on when you’re setting a table.  Now I know there are those who don’t really care and perhaps have more important things in their lives to worry about.  BUT, if you do care AND you find yourself needing to set a table soon, say for a Thanksgiving dinner, then here is a quick tutorial on setting a formal table.

This simple diagram shows how dishes and utensils are placed

  • Chargers (or service plates) are oversized plates and, with the exception of dinner at Downton Abbey, are really more for decoration than service.  They should be used for the first course (salads and soups) and then removed for the main course.
  • Utensils are placed in order of use, from the outside in.
  • Knife blades are placed so that the cutting edge is towards the plate.
  • The napkin can either be placed in the center of the plate or to the left of the forks.  The fold of the napkin should face the plate (or face to the right if placed on top of the plate).  If space is limited, I usually put the forks on top of the napkin although etiquette books would probably disapprove of this and say that the napkin should be easily accessible without having to bother with the utensils.
  • Dessert spoons or forks can be placed above the plates or brought to the table when the dessert is served.
  • Only set the coffee cup and saucer if you’re serving coffee with the meal.  Otherwise, bring them to the table with dessert.
  • Place cards are a nice touch for a table of six or more.  They allow you to decide ahead of time where people should sit and avoid any of that awkward last minute confusion among guests when it’s time to sit down.

Table Setting

Place CardSpeaking of place cards, I have a thing for old post cards, especially the ones that feature a holiday.  And, while I’m not really a DIY-type of person, here’s one of my favorite things to use the post cards for.  I copy the post cards onto watercolor paper and use them for things like place cards.

I love the internet.  There is something for everyone on the internet.  Like butlers.  Who knew that if you are some guy that is hired as a butler by the royal family and find yourself in need of basic butler advice, you can find it on Butler’s Guild.com?  It’s where I found this little ditty:  “NEVER FORGET: You’re not setting the table, you’re setting the mood.”  Ah, words to live by.

And just because.  Inspired by my favorite find on Pinterest this week.

Happy Entertaining!

An Alcohol-Free Alternative: Cosmo Punch for the Holidays

A few evenings ago, the Hostess and I tended bar for a local business at their annual holiday open house.  In case you’re keeping score, this was my second gig as a guest bartender – back by popular demand (or maybe just because the Hostess did a good job of farming me out) for the same event as last year.  This year we decided to serve the Cosmopolitan.  The Cosmo is quick and easy to make and, with its cranberry flavor and festive color, it’s the perfect cocktail for Thanksgiving and Christmas entertaining.  Our Cosmopolitan recipe proved to be a big hit that evening, and I was surprised that, while most of my “customers” had heard of the Cosmopolitan, several had never actually tasted one.  One person even commented that she didn’t think people drank Cosmos any more; after a few sips won her over she agreed with us that it’s high time for those people to start again.

As with last year’s event, we also wanted to offer an alcohol-free alternative to the featured cocktail so I set about concocting something that would have the same signature flavors as a Cosmopolitan.  It needed the tartness of cranberry, the hint of tangy-sweet orange (normally provided by the Cointreau), along with the subtle bite of lime juice that holds all the flavors together in perfect balance.  Plus some effervescence to round out the edges usually occupied by the vodka.  After a few rounds of measuring, pouring, tasting, and tweaking, we’d created a virgin Cosmo Punch that was awarded the Hostess’ seal of approval.  We mixed up a punchbowl-full for the open house and it earned five-star reviews from drinkers and non-drinkers alike.  The best endorsements came from employees who first opted for the punch, then upgraded to Cosmopolitans once their shifts ended, and declared both to be equally delicious.

The fun and festive open house was a nice way for the Hostess and me to kick off our holiday entertaining season, and we enjoyed introducing (and re-introducing) people to the Cosmopolitan. Cheers!

Get recipe

Margarita Season is Coming

There’s something about that first really nice spring day.  Not that day where there’s still a chill in the air in spite of the sun being out, when you think it just might be warm enough to get by without a jacket but every light breeze convinces you otherwise.  No, I’m talking about that one day, when the sun breaks out early enough to really cut through the coolness of late winter, and it stays warm even as afternoon turns into evening, and there’s just something about the way it feels, the way it smells, that causes your subconscious to suddenly decide that it’s summertime.  Fleeting thoughts of barbecues, beach parties, and happy hours on the patio suddenly flood your mind as if they’d happened only yesterday, and your spirit fills with happiness and optimism for the coming warm and carefree days.  If you live as we do in a place with fickle weather, this first really nice day is all the more special:  Knowing it’s only a cruel tease, you savor every minute to help carry those warm feelings with you through the chilly weeks ahead.

I contend that the margarita exists specifically for the purpose of helping inspire those warm feelings of lazy summer days.  Maybe it’s the result of good marketing by the tequila industry, but when I think of a margarita, I feel the same emotions that are triggered by that first nice spring day.

Of course, the margarita will also always remind me of my very earliest experiences as a bartender, when the Hostess and I became somewhat notorious for serving blended margaritas at various functions for our extended “corporate family” after a work-related relocation took us to a different part of the country.  Back then we re-purposed a vintage airline ski boot bag into a travel case for an almost-vintage blender. And over the years our “blender well traveled” mixed many a margarita for friends and acquaintances in kitchens, family rooms, and ski condos throughout the Rocky Mountain area.  (As a side note, this also reminds me of the many dangers of over-serving:  One of our fellow partiers, years after spectacularly purging several helpings of my margaritas, unfortunately became the senior manager over my organization at work.  Having been the server, and first-hand witness, at this event was likely a career-limiting move on my part).  As my friends now hear as I hand them a cocktail, “Respect the Drink…”

But I digress.  There are many of you who’ve probably been wondering why it’s taken me so long to get around to writing a tequila post, so without further ado (and just in time for Cinco de Mayo) over the next few days I’ll be posting several of our favorite margarita recipes.  Whether you prefer rocks or blended, salted or not, there’s something here for everyone.  For starters, here’s the recipe for our Blended Gold Margarita.  Stay tuned for the next round!

Blended Gold Margarita

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring

Spring has (finally) begun to show its face here in the mountains.  If you measure a winter based on snowfall, like skiers tend to do, we’ve had a good year.  Our visitors, like the weather, were just as forecasted.  Over the last 17 weeks, we entertained a total of 19 guests for an average of 3 days each.  We only ate dinner out twice.  If you’re doing the math with me, it means that we served 24 dinners plus enough breakfasts and lunches to keep everyone fed.  While there were moments when it felt like all we were doing was flipping beds, what we really got out of it were countless memories that, according to a well-known ad campaign, are priceless.

The question we always get is, how do you do it?  Here’s a glimpse into our Entertaining 101 Battle Plan.  It’s all pretty basic stuff and can be applied to most entertaining situations, whether it’s a dinner party for 8 or, as in our case, a house full of guests for the weekend.  

First, we come up with a plan.  I make a meal plan for each round of visitors.  For repeat visitors, I use my guest/meal diary to see what we served them before so that we don’t serve the same meals again, unless of course they request it.  For first time guests, I check with each one to make sure we are aware of any food restrictions.  (And there were some.  With one round of guests, salmon and beef were both off the table — pun intended — because of various dislikes and convictions.) 

Then, we get realistic.  I look at the calendar and get a good, and honest, sense of how much prep time we’ll have between visitors and how much time we realistically can spend preparing for each meal while people are here.  Unlike a dinner party, where guests arrive just before dinner is served and you can do much of the prep ahead of time, when guests are in your house all weekend you are doing the prep with an audience.  And contrary to what it feels like at times, we aren’t running a bed and breakfast.  We are hosting friends and family and want to enjoy their company rather than spend all day in the kitchen preparing for a meal.

Since I don’t ever want us to be those crazy host people, we stick with simple and basic.  Basic for us is something we’ve made before, because it requires less concentration and creates less stress for us.  Truly, one of the nice things about having a new set of guests show up every few days is we can repeat menus.  The Smiths don’t know that we served the same thing to the Jones’ last week.  I experiment with new recipes when time, and personalities, permit.  The beef stroganoff was one of our experiments and I’m happy to report it’s now a great addition to our list of favorite things to make and serve.  But for the most part, we rely on our tried and true favorites.

After the meal plans are complete, each week I put together shopping lists of what we’ll need.  We make sure the bar and wine cellar are stocked.  Then we make the house guest-ready.  We fluff the pillows.  We stock each bathroom with toiletries and clean towels.  We clean toilets, because apparently Mom was right:  Toilets do not clean themselves.  When guests are coming, we don’t usually get too carried away with a manic cleaning routine.  But I do think bathrooms should be clean.  It’s one place where one may sit, or stand, for a minute or so and anything other than clean might be noticed.  And we usually chase away the dust bunnies as well.  At least the obvious ones that move when someone walks by.  

While this winter has provided more fond memories than can be recounted here, from an entertaining perspective, one of my favorite moments was when we served Caesar salad with poached eggs.  This is a favorite with guests, and while not a complicated recipe, there are several things that need to happen as the salad is assembled (bread has to be toasted, eggs have to be poached, lettuce has to be tossed with the dressing, cheese has to be grated), so there’s a lot of last minute work that goes into them.  Normally I’m happiest when my kitchen isn’t crowded with well-meaning guests who want to help, but in this case, I loved (and needed) the help.  The scene was something out of a friends movie with lettuce flying, music playing, and several of us carefully working our own piece of the salad.  I guess what they say is true.  Food really does bring people together.

Some samples of what we served over the last few weeks:

Mac and Cheese
Marinated Flank Steak
Chicken Potpies
Beef Stroganoff

Happy entertaining!

The Perils of Happy Hour

Don’t let people tell you otherwise.  As a host or hostess, a happy hour can actually be too happy.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for happy.  I’m just saying that when you’re the one responsible for the meal, you should be aware that apparently there can be too much happy at times.  I know, firsthand, from my recent experience.

I talk a lot about entertaining success being dependent on a good strategy.  Being prepared goes a long way in allowing you, as the host/hostess, to be relaxed — which in turn goes a long way in your ability to be gracious and make everyone feel comfortable and at home.

Yeah, well blah, blah, blah.  I had a good strategy and a good plan.  Our plan was to start with raspberry lemon drops made with Meyer lemons and then gracefully move on to dinner:  roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits and green beans.  Good, simple down home cookin’ to ensure everyone enjoyed their dinner and felt right at home.

Fortunately, I had prepped the chicken and started it roasting before happy hour.  I had also made the biscuits, which while not difficult just required a bit of attention.

And then the cocktail shaker started shaking, and all of my good intentions went out the window.  I was happy.  Then just slightly unfocused.  And after several rounds of drinks, I barely got dinner on the table.  I undercooked the potatoes which resulted in lumpy mashers.  I left the biscuits in the oven too long which caused them to be too dark on the bottom.  And the green beans?  Never made an appearance.  I completely forgot to cook them.

Fortunately, we had several things going for us that evening.  One, our guests are some of our best friends, so they don’t judge.  At least not out loud.  Two, they had also indulged in the Bartender’s cocktails, so they were as equally happy with the world as I was.  And, lastly, no one actually missed the green beans.

Simply Entertaining

We’re sort of in recovery mode here.  We started off the month with a visit from our forever friends and their too adorable 4-year old daughter.  We spent four days laughing and talking and drinking and eating, and if I were the type of person that labeled things, I would call it an almost-too-much-fun kind of weekend.  I spent the Sunday after they left feeling like I had a good-times hangover.

Afterwards, I realized that it was one of the first adult-slumber-party, extended-stay, on-the-go weekends we’d had since starting this blog.  And the weekend was a great example of what the Entertaining Couple is all about.  Good friends, good times, good food.  But not fussy, elaborate, spend-all-day-in-the-kitchen kind of food.  Just the kind of food that gives us a reason to gather and linger around a table.  Or maybe the lingering was the result of the wine.  Either way, these are friends that we only get to see a few times a year, so it was wonderful to have the time, and reason, to be together.

For one of our dinners (of the three), we started with Tangerine Lemon Drop martinis and simply set out a bowl of pistachios to ward off the hunger and offset the early yet potentially pesky signs of a drink that looks sweet but packs a pretty good punch.  The Bartender dusted the snow off the barbecue so we could make our Barbecued Salmon.  We served this with a simple sticky rice and a vegetable stir-fry.  And the Bartender opened a really good bottle of zinfandel, which just added another level of yum-factor to the evening.

The Season of Entertaining

There is a season of giving.  A season of hope.  We all know about football season and the season of change.  Even Audi has its own event season.  But for us, the most marked season is the season of entertaining, which is just about to kick off in earnest.  And, as it turns out, it happens to coincides with ski season.

Last winter, over the course of 25 weeks, we entertained a total of 26 guests for an average of 3 days each.  We had several guests that stayed for a week.  Besides breakfasts and lunches, think of it as hosting 21 dinner parties in 3 months.

And, according to our calendar, this year will be no different.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  We live for this.  We invite this.  When we built this house, we envisioned this and operated under the mantra “If we build it, they will come.”  We’ve now been here long enough that we have more repeat visitors than new visitors.  They come to ski, they come to eat, they come to drink and they come just to hang out.  In many cases, it’s the adult’s turn at a slumber party.  And with each round of guests, it seems, new laughs are had and new memories are made.

Our guests often request certain meals or call for one of the many adult beverages for which Bartender is famous, which is great.  It’s flattering and frankly simplifies things from a planning perspective.  But we also try and serve different things as well, just to keep ’em guessing.  I keep an entertaining diary to keep it all straight.  What we served, what people liked, what foods people won’t or can’t eat.  I sit down at the beginning of the season and plot out menus.  Last year one of our dear friends opted to celebrate her birthday here, so we asked her wanted she wanted to eat for her celebration dinner. (Her choice was Italian, which was good news.  If she had said “sushi,” since we have no idea how to prepare it,  dinner may have looked more like fish sticks.) But most times the choices are left to us.

We have many, many recipes that we rely on to run what sometimes feels like a B&B,L,D (bed and breakfast, lunch and dinner).  As you know, we don’t post any recipes here that haven’t been road tested at least once.  And entertaining season is where recipes earn their stripes.  One of our recipes, for buttermilk pancakes, has become a standard breakfast offering when entertaining becomes more than just a dinner party.  And it’s one of the reasons I always have a container of buttermilk in the refrigerator.

Gluten Free?

We got this great question recently about gluten-free recipes:

Jim asked:

“Hey entertaining couple!  In my small group of best friends, one gentleman has emerged as “gluten free” in all that he eats.  He and his wife say that this has solved some health issues and I want to be supportive, but when cooking for him (as part of a dinner party for example), what are some dishes that are gluten-free and yet appealing for everyone else?  I can’t be the first host to try and accommodate a guest’s dietary requirements regarding gluten. Can you help?”

Thanks, Jim.  We don’t claim to be experts on gluten-free cooking, but we know many people who stay away from gluten in their diets and, as hosts, we are always looking for ways to accommodate those restrictions.  Please check out the With Style and Grace web site for a wide selection of gluten-free recipes.  It’s a great blog with lots of wonderful recipes.  I think you’ll find it to be a great source.  I know I do.



Bartending field research, north of the border

The Hostess and I recently spent an extended weekend at The Wickaninnish Inn on the remote western coast of Vancouver Island, near Tofino, British Columbia.  “The Wick,” as it’s known to the locals, is at the end of a long and winding mountain road that cuts across the island, a 3-hour drive from the nearest ferry back to the mainland.  As we discovered, the Wick has an outstanding restaurant and a stellar bar where I was reminded that, while I really enjoy making and serving drinks, there are people out there whose creativity and passion for bartending put them in a whole different league.  I guess that, being in such a remote place, I didn’t expect to find much of anything too far from the mainstream.  I couldn’t have been more wrong — we’d stepped into a world where handmade ingredients and unusual recipes were the norm.  I was thrilled to open the Wick’s seasonal cocktail menu to an entire page of drinks entitled “Homage to Campari,” an Italian liqueur that’s the key ingredient of one of my favorite cocktails, the Negroni.  Suffice it to say I didn’t make it beyond that page our first night at the inn.

By our final night, though, it was time to branch out.  All in the name of field research, of course.  I landed on a page specifically devoted to Whiskey Sours.  While I do enjoy an occasional bourbon, it’s usually in the form of a Manhattan.  I loved whiskey sours in my early 20’s but since that time have held the opinion that a real whiskey drinker would never ruin their liquor by masking its flavor in a “sour.”  But as I read, “Sours are simplicity personified with spirit, fresh lemon and sugar in balanced perfection,” I thought, “Whoa, I gotta try one of these!”  One concoction in particular caught my eye: the Cedar Sour, made with cedar-infused Canadian rye whisky.  Our bartender Hailey grinned when I ordered one and proudly announced that the Cedar Sour was her personal creation. While she shook one up for me she explained her process of preparing the cedar, infusing the rye whisky (and why she chose the particular brand), making the lemon-thyme-infused simple syrup, and how she went through many iterations before settling on the perfect recipe.  The drink, she said, should instill a recollection of a sauna — which in some contexts seems like it could be so wrong — but in the subtlety and complexity of her cocktail was so right.  It was truly and unexpectedly incredible.  Yet another of my long-held opinions blown to bits.

Hailey sent me home with instructions on how to find her Cedar Sour recipe on the web, and I encourage you to check out the fascinating link here:  Link to Hailey’s Cedar Sour.  I’m humbled, and hopefully inspired, by such greatness.

A final note for you spelling purists, the bar menu spoke of whiskey when referring to bourbon-based sours, but it used the proper Canadian spelling of whisky in the recipes using rye.   There’s just so much to learn when conducting field research!

Happy New Year!

Tonight and tomorrow are all about reflection, anticipation, out with the old/with in the new, and celebration.  Tonight we kiss the old good-bye and kiss the new hello.  As you count down to midnight, chances are you’re also counting down to the end of holiday parties and entertaining, which for many of us, is a welcomed end.

Tonight we think of champagne. And with it, the obligatory and customary toast that seems to accompany the bubbly.  Not sure why most people are so intimidated by giving a toast.  Must be because it resembles public speaking, which most people dread more than a root canal.  That, and the toasting is usually done before the drinking, so one doesn’t even have the benefit of alcohol to bolster their confidence.  There just seems to be so much pressure to deliver the perfect toast that will inspire and move people.  And most people just aren’t cut out for that.  So, if you’re looking for a way to introduce a celebratory toast into the evening that removes some of the intimidation, and with the potential for some humor, here’s an idea I read a while ago.  Come up with one word that everyone must use in their toast.  My thought is that you could put a selection of random words into a hat, and let someone draw the one word that everyone will use.  I just keep thinking, if the word was, say, “eggs,” what toast would I give that uses that word?  “May your eggs hatch into something wonderful in the new year”?  I think I need to ponder that one a bit longer.  But you get the idea.

How to set up a bar at home

I have to admit, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that bartending at home, to me, meant having a cooler full of beer sitting on the back patio and a bottle of tequila and a few limes on the kitchen counter.  And if it was supposed to be a classy party, maybe some store-bought margarita mix to go with that tequila.  And a bottle or two of wine.  Oh, and a stack of Solo cups.

I’ve learned a great deal about making and serving drinks since those days (thanks especially to The Hostess’ passion for entertaining), and needless to say my approach to bartending has evolved pretty extensively, and mostly for the better.  I’m the half of the Entertaining Couple who’s responsible for ensuring our guests have a frosty beverage in their hand as soon as they walk in the door.  And occasionally writing about my experiences in our blog these past few months has helped me realize that I really have developed some competence on the serving side of the bar (my competence on the drinking side of the bar was already well-established).

A major part of what’s helped me get good at all of this is the setup of my home bar.  From the tools and glassware, to the types of booze I make sure are always in stock, right down to the location of the bar itself, having a great bar makes all of this easy and fun.  I’ve just finished writing a four-part series of tips for easily and inexpensively setting up your own bar at home.  Even if you already have a cabinet full of liquor and you entertain regularly, I encourage you to take a quick look at our Perfect Bar category in our collection of Entertaining Tips.  There may be an idea or two that you’ll find useful.

Oh, and please leave comments with your own ideas you’d like to share!

Short Cuts

Here’s how the whole thing played out.  Our house is located in such a place that we were pretty sure that our back yard would provide a front row seat to the annual Christmas boat parade.  So, we invited my brother and sister-in-law to come over and join us on the patio to watch.  Then, on Friday night, we asked a few of our neighbors as well.  You see, I really wanted this party to happen.  It just seemed so local, so fun and so Christmas-y.

But, here’s the reality that slapped me in the face Saturday morning.  I did not have time to pull together a big dinner party.  We had been out late the night before and had a commitment that would take several hours in the morning.  People were coming at 5:30 because the parade was scheduled to start at 6, which gave us about 3 hours to get ourselves, and the house, ready.  We had a mix of meat-eaters and vegetarians coming, so I needed a menu that would suit all the different dietary preferences.  So, rather than panic, I did the only other thing I could think of.  I resorted to shortcuts.

We bought lasagnas at Costco.  I baked them in our pans* to improve the presentation a bit (but admitted that it wasn’t homemade when people complimented me on them).  I made our romaine, pear and pecan salad, but I substituted the Sahalie Snack Maple Pecan mix for my normal homemade candied pecans.  And while I desperately wanted to make some sort of homemade dessert, I had to be realistic and realize it wasn’t going to happen.  So, I piled a variety of chocolates on a plate and called it good.  I lit a lot of candles and we opened several bottles of wine.

Turns out that this was one of those nights we’ll remember for a long time.  We started with gin martinis and Pomegranate martinis by the fire pit as the boats paraded by.  Then we moved inside to dinner and wine.  The conversation was easy and fun and funny.  We felt so connected to our neighborhood and to the season.  It really seemed to define what this season is all about: Friendships and family and being together with people that make your life richer.  I am so happy that I allowed myself a few shortcuts and focused on what was really important.  So what if I didn’t wow anyone with my homemade meal.  There are other, greater, memories we’ll take away from the evening.  There will be other opportunities to spend all day in the kitchen and attempt to impress our guests with my attempted culinary skills.  But to not have done this party would have been a missed opportunity that we’d never get back.

*If you ever find yourself in a place where you want to do this with frozen lasagna, all I did was take the frozen bricks and laid them side-by-side in my pans (one for the meat lasagna and one for the veggie) and covered them with foil.  They didn’t fit down into the pans initially, so after they baked for about 30 minutes I took a spatula and just kind of smooshed the pasta down into the pans.  I baked them uncovered for about another 30 minutes.  It all just sort of baked together and looked like one big pasta (well, two, given that I had two pans of it).

How to be spontaneous? Plan for it!

Do you ever wonder how some people can pull off spontaneity without even so much as one ruffled feather?  Do those people really have a monopoly on grace and composure while the rest of us just get muddle-headed by the mere thought of not being able to plan for something?  Because I am not a very spontaneous person (please note my subtle use of understatement here), I have a theory about all of this.   I’m of the (long proven) opinion that I can be as spontaneous as the next guy as long as I can plan for it.  And that, my friends, is how those people deliver spontaneity with enviable ease.  They just plan a little.

With the holidays upon us, if you’d like to be one of those people that can unabashedly extend a last-minute invitation to someone for a casual drop-in, I’m sharing my short list of things to have on hand that will allow you to be Johnny-on-the-entertaining spot without even breaking a sweat.  This is the actual list of what you’ll find in our pantry and refrigerator, which means if you dropped by right now, unannounced, these are the items that would magically appear at our impromptu party.  As I’ve said, I’ve planned just a little in case I need to be spontaneous.  And for some additional great tips on being prepared for happy hour, see Bartender’s Guide for stocking basics in the bar.

So, go ahead, plan just a little and impress them all with the cool-headed way you lay down your own version of a party-in-a-box. And watch our Entertaining section for updates as we continue to add add new entertaining tips to our blog.

Fun holiday garnish

Last week, as we gathered at a neighbor’s house for Thanksgiving, we were thankful for the many things that our lives are full of: Family, friends, our health.  But most of all, I was thankful that I didn’t have to do the cooking!  It was simply scrumptious to be on the receiving end of the hosting.

Our hosts started the evening with cocktails that are modified version of a Cosmopolitan, called a Cape Cod.  It’s safe to say that was one good cocktail, although it took me about three of them before I knew for sure.  The crowning glory of the drink was the garnish.  Cranberries skewered on a sprig of lemon thyme (from her own garden, no less!).  That wins Hostess’s Pick of the Week.  Loved it and can’t wait to use this one at our house.

Also loved the Scrabble tiles scattered around the (perfectly set) table.  We played different words throughout the dinner, including “spot” over the dribble of red wine left on the white tablecloth by none other than my beloved Bartender.  Which reminds me, I’m also thankful for OxiClean.

Season’s Drinkings…

As The Hostess observed a couple days ago, the holiday season is already upon us.  This time of year, opportunities abound for liquid celebrations with friends and family.  It’s been almost four months since we launched our blog, and I (your humble Bartender) have been somewhat lax in developing content for our bartending tips.  So, just in time to help with your holiday pre-functioning, I’ve gotten my writer’s butt in gear and am working on a four-part series of tips on how to create and stock your home bar.  Part One is now posted with the rest not far behind.  Watch the Perfect Bar category under our Entertaining section for more.  Cheers!


Holiday Time is Party Time!

There are Christmas decorations in almost every store.  I’m starting to see Christmas commercials on TV.  And, today I heard the first Christmas carol on the radio.  Let’s face it.  It may only be November but it appears that it’s almost Christmas.  And at the risk of appearing to jump on the let’s-rush-the-Christmas-season bandwagon, it is not too soon to think about holiday parties. Or more specifically, the holiday party that you will throw.

If your idea of throwing a party includes a few beers, a box of Cheez-Its and a remote control for the TV, then you may be wondering where to start.  You may have gotten volunteered for the job of host/hostess by some well-meaning co-worker, desperate family member or a conniving neighbor who has roped you in to hosting the office/family/neighborhood get-together this year.  Or, you might actually want to host a party, but you just aren’t sure how to go about it.  If so, you’ve come to the right place!  Read our entertainment tips for preparing for the perfect holiday party.

Coming soon:  The Bartender will weigh in with tips on stocking your home bar for a party and The Hostess will provide some things to have on hand in case neighbors or friends stop by unexpectedly.  We’ll also provide more details on how to make your party a success.  Watch the Entertaining section of our blog for more!

Candle Confessions

There’s really no denying it.  I’m a candle junkie.  I have this ungovernable urge to buy and hoard candles in quantities that exceed even a generous concept of planning for a calamity.  Thankfully, I’m a user not a hoarder.  We have candles scattered all over the house in all different types of holders.  Pillars, squatty and tall alike, are part of the permanent landscape.  Little votives make an appearance in masse when we throw parties.  And there’s always one scented candle on the kitchen counter.  And for every candle you can see, you can rest assured that there are at least 2 similar ones safely tucked into my comfort stash.

Over the years, I have become quite well practiced at removing the remains of a spent votive from glass holders.  But I have a few choice candleholders that I’ve never really wanted to subject to the hardened wax that is the aftermath of a votive candle.  Like my beautiful glassybaby candleholders (http://www.glassybaby.com) that were a gift from a friend.  (I had never heard of these wonderful candleholders before my friend gave me two.  Wow.  The company founders have very cool story of survival and surrounding oneself with a sense of beauty and calm.  And since they come in about a hundred colors, it’s a very scary discovery for someone with a potential for uncontrollable collecting.)  Anyhoo, I haven’t gotten on the battery-operated candles bandwagon yet.  I’m a chronic late adopter.  Plus, I like the act of lighting a candle that flicking a little switch to “on” doesn’t satisfy.  I have tried those little tea lights but I never liked how short the burn time was.  More often than not they burn out before we’re finished with the main course.

So, imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a much better solution.  Votives in a glass which keeps the molten wax contained.  And they have a nice, long burn time.  I was amazed that it took me so long to find them (especially given how often I stock up on candles).  That’s why I’m sharing the idea with you.  They are a great solution for those candleholders where a bare votive could potentially be a problem and where tea light candles just don’t have enough burn oomph to be practical.

I buy these candles at Jo-Ann’s, but I understand that you can buy them elsewhere as well.

Note:  These comments are not meant to be formal endorsements.  They are simply my opinions and I am not compensated if you buy anything featured here or click on any of the links provided.

I’m not a real bartender, but I play one on the web…

I’m not sure how or why it happened, but the “when” part is pretty clear.  It was just before Christmas back in 1998 and we were at an office dinner party at the home of the Hostess’s new boss.  Our jobs had taken us to a new part of the country a year earlier, and Hostess and I had recently gained some notoriety among our company’s skiing and happy hour cliques, thanks to a killer recipe she’d created for blended margaritas.  “Have blender will travel” had become a bit of a mantra for us.  And because, more often than not, I was the person operating the blender, I was beginning to get the hang of serving drinks to big, boisterous groups, and people were starting to associate me with really good adult beverages.

So, at the holiday gathering, we were opening the traditional “I’m so thankful and lucky to have you working for me” Christmas gifts, and the boss had given Hostess a trendy-looking book on cocktails both classic and modern.  Something about the title, Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century connected with me.  And when I say connected, I mean I nearly dislocated Hostess’s wrist and elbow as I snatched the book from her hand.  I was fascinated.  A half-hour later I was gently reminded that we weren’t invited to the party so that everyone could sit around and watch me read.  Oh, and also that the book was her gift, not mine.  Oops.

It was pretty much right at this point that my passion for mixing and serving drinks took root.  At heart, I’m a techie.  I think like an engineer and I love to understand how things work.  And strangely, the process of constructing cocktails fits comfortably into my nerd universe.  I once commented that “Making drinks is easy, it’s just math!”  (Yeah, that got some weird looks.)  I’m a meticulous measurer — I’ll never be the flashy bartender who flings stuff into a shaker.  And I’m also super picky about mixers.  And fruit.  (Watch for subsequent posts on those and other topics).  But none of that means that it’s hard or that it takes any special talent to be the person everyone looks to when it’s getting towards “that time of day.”  With a little preparation and some basic know-how, you can make it look effortless.

My goal on our blog is to share with you my tips, tricks, and experiences, and hopefully you’ll get something out of them that’s useful to you.  I’m pretty new to this writing stuff, and I’m way behind on getting my recipes posted, but bear with me as I get rolling.

Sadly, the Cocktail book is now out of print, although copies can still be found on the Internet.  The author, Paul Harrington, used to write a regular cocktail column for Wired Magazine.  My copy (um, I mean Hostess’s) is not for sale.

Wine charms

This is fun idea for a party.  I’m always looking for something to do with that stash of vintage postcards I have.


Three Lessons Learned from a Lemon Drop Martini

My signature cocktail is, without question, my Lemon Drop.  Our return guests expect them as soon as they walk through the door. Year over year I probably serve as many lemon drop martinis as all other drinks combined.  Hostess Debbie positively loves a good lemon drop martini, so years ago when I really got interested in developing my skills at mixing cocktails, the lemon drop was one of the first recipes I took on.  But mastering the lemon drop martini proved to be surprisingly difficult – and the lessons I learned in the process made me much better at bartending.


Looking back, I had several different challenges to overcome.  First, I’m the kind of person who reads users’ guides cover to cover.  Next, I don’t like to deviate from a plan once it’s in motion.  Add those traits together and there I was, trying to convince Debbie that she really should be enjoying the crappy drink I’d served her because I’d carefully followed the recipe in my cocktail book so it had to be good!  So here’s my Lesson One:  Be flexible and open-minded, listen to what your guests like (and don’t like), and be ready and willing to make adjustments.  Your guests’ satisfaction (not your own) is what matters!

A challenge with learning any new cocktail is that you have a limited number of attempts in a given day to perfect your recipe before you (and your fellow tasters) get too snockered to distinguish the adjustments you’re making from round to round.  (This is why wineries offer spittoons.  Although, honestly, “swirl and spit” has never worked for me).  So it may take multiple happy hours of tweaking before you find the right proportions for a cocktail you can be confident will be a hit with your guests.  Lesson Two:  Don’t rush the process, and don’t get discouraged.  It can take much trial and error to find the right recipe.  Taking notes on what’s worked so far and what changes you’re going to try next time is a good idea, in case your “tasting session” results in short-term memory loss.

My early lemon drop martinis flat-out didn’t taste good.  I was basically serving up a too-strong vodka shot paired with a face-puckering slap of sour lemon.  The goal of any great cocktail is balance, where each of the ingredients complements the others.  My cocktail book suggested using simple syrup to smooth things out, but adding more of that only made the lemon drop sweeter, not more balanced.  So I tried different vodkas, tried adding triple sec, experimented with a squeeze of orange in addition to the lemon, and tweaked and fiddled with the proportions.  Weeks later my lemon drop had improved from “Yuck!” to “Huh, that one’s not quite as nasty.”  Progress, but I still had a ways to go.

Finally one evening I replaced the simple syrup with a splash of premium lemonade.  Wow.  The resulting lemon drop was crisp, refreshing, and perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, yet still packed enough kick to remind why people consider the lemon drop to be a martini.  Success!!!

Lemon Drop Martini

Which brings me to Lesson Three:  The key secret ingredient to a cocktail may be simpler than some exotic concoction you’ve made from scratch or spent a lot of money on.  It’s not cheating to use something off the shelf – all that matters is that your guests like the end result!

So now, when Debbie’s considering ordering a lemon drop in a bar or restaurant, she can tell merely from how one looks on the server’s tray whether or not it’ll be any good.  She says I’ve set the bar so high that, instead of taking a chance on the bartender’s recipe, she’d just as soon wait for one of mine at home.  That’s a pretty good endorsement!


Click here to get recipe

A day in the life of a dinner party

This is probably a good example of a menu that we planned when we were hungry.  Like grocery shopping on an empty stomach, planning a menu in said state can lead to an overly-ambitious menu.  But it was raining and cold (in July!), so I didn’t have anything better to do all afternoon but prepare for an evening with friends.  And the process of making cobbler and biscuits, combined with the smell of the roasting chicken, took me to a much warmer, cozier place.

In hindsight, I may not have done a crab dip with this dinner.  It’s a “big” appetizer.  But we had fresh crab and we just had to use it somehow.

The menu

Raspberry Martinis
Hot Crab Dip with toasted baguette and crackers
Roasted Chicken
Mashed Potatoes
Steamed Green Beans
Icebox Biscuits
Blueberry Cobbler with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream

Our day of entertaining

9:10 am.  Decided on the menu.  Debated between cobbler and peach ice cream for dessert.  Given that it was only 59 degrees outside, we went with cobbler.  Measured Crisco and put it in the freezer.
10:11.  Washed the blueberries
11:15.  Jon cleaned the crab (which was caught and cooked yesterday).  Yield: A generous 2 cups (+ the flakes of crab meat all over the counter).  Prepped the green beans.
12:03.  Jon cleaned the chicken.  I stuffed and trussed it.  Washed the cutting board.
12:42.  Took the cream cheese for the dip out of the refrigerator so it could soften. 
1:12.  Peeled the potatoes and got them soaking.
1:46.  Made the dip.  Had to unwrap 4 different mysterious chunks of cheese to find the parmesan cheese.  Why don’t I ever label those things???  Washed dishes.
2:15.  Prepared the dessert.  Took me about 30 – 35 minutes.
3:07.  Set the table.
3:36.  Ran the small vacuum around.
4:05.  Cut hydrangeas for the vase.  Note to self:  Run the vacuum after disposing of the old hydrangeas.  Ran the vacuum again to get rid of the hydrangea dust.
4:23.  Off to take a shower and get dressed.  Cleaned up the cat barf on the way to the shower (the result of buying her wheat grass that day at the store to help with her hair ball issue).  Oops, forgot that the chicken needed to go in the oven at 4:30.  (Cooks for 2 hours.)  Put my bathrobe on, back to the kitchen, put the chicken in the oven.
4:48  Started the biscuits.  Good thing.  They needed to rise 45 minutes. 
5:02  Washed dishes.
5:18  Jon realized a slug/snail has left its slimy trail on one of our picture windows.  Since we were doing drinks and appetizers in that room, out he went to clean the window.
5:37  Oops.  Realized I need an oven to broil the bread.  Had to hold off baking the dessert until I’d done that.
5:45  Crab dip went into the oven.  Set the timer for 20 minutes.  Oops, realized I’d need soft butter for the mashed potatoes.  Nuked a cube to expedite the softening.
5:48  Called “uncle” on the weather and Jon built a fire.
5:52  Sliced/buttered the bread.
5:57  Jon washed the whipping cream dispenser so we could make fresh whipped cream for the cobbler.
6:05  Muddled the raspberries.  Got the bar ready.
6:10  Guests arrived fashionably on time.  Appetizers and drinks were served.  (Raspberry martinis, because we had fresh raspberries.)  Started the potatoes boiling.
6:40  Took the chicken out of the oven; basted and covered.  Drained the potatoes.  Let them sit covered on the stovetop.  Biscuits went in.  Started beans steaming.
7:00  Mashed the potatoes.  Biscuits done.  Carved the chicken.  Realized we hadn’t selected of bottle of wine.  Stood in front of the wine cooler for a few minutes trying to select a wine.  Overcooked the beans, apologized.  Cobbler came out of the oven.  And dinner was served! 
9:30 pm.  Several martinis, 2 1/2 bottles of wine later, we were tired, happy, and stuffed.
10:30  Dishes were washed, kitchen was clean and we were off to collapse in bed.

‘Nuff Said

This designer has the best quotable cards. For me, this one says it all.  In case you can’t read the second quote up in the corner, it says “Good food with friends and family is the core of souls.”  ‘Nuff said.

For more of her cards and quotes, go to www.curlygirldesign.com.

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