Good Partying

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.


This description from 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

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

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,

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

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

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” – Erin Olson,

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,

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,

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,

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.

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!

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

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!

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

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

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!

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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 ( 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.

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.

‘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

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