Tag Archives: parties

St. Patrick’s Day with Friends

Another year, another great St. Patricks day.  This year I decided to up the food and decoration game big time.  I am not going to lie – this is a pretty prep heavy, time consuming line up, so make sure to have some help.  I imported the best kind from Boston, my sister in law Sara.  I definitely wouldn’t have pulled it off without her – not sure if she has forgiven me yet for nearly killing her by blowing up so many balloons but as you can see it was totally worth it!

DSC06239

I had seen these kinds of wall ballon displays plenty of times on Pinterest but always figured it was too much of a hassle.  Turns out it is pretty simple (just give yourself time to blow them up!) if you use gaffers tape.  I ordered a bunch of different color balloons and then blew them up (with help) to different sizes to add variety.  Then we just started taping them to the wall, stepping back, adding in more, until we got the desired look.  I had the gold letters left over from the Masters Party and voila!  Everyone loved it and ensured that my guests took lots of pictures.  Of course there had to be a favor (no decanters this year – sorry friends).  I went super simple and did cello bags with Rolos and rainbow ribbon – instant pot o’ gold.  

DSC06241

On to the important stuff – the whiskey.  Make sure to stock up big time.  We are lucky as our local Costco carries large bottles of Jameson but this is also a place where you can get your guests involved – ask everyone to bring their favorite and you can taste and compare them.  Either way make sure to have plenty and shot glasses as well.  I found these adorable ones at my favorite custom online shop For Your Party.  

DSC06242

After all that whiskey and Gunniess you are going to need a good spread.  I have found after many many St. Patrick’s parties that the key is heavy food to keep people standing.  I always make the infamous Ina Herb Dip – set it out with carrots and celery to make the Irish flag.  

Herb Dip 

DSC06246

This year I added a hot dip as well because my girlfriend Erikka lent me her mini crock pot.  I have no idea how I don’t already have one of these – they are perfect for keeping dips hot and so cute!  Pretzels are a natural for cheese dip but really you could put this stuff on anything and it would taste good.

Warm Beer and Cheese Dip 

DSC06247

Potatoes are obvious – not sure if my husband would come to the party if we didn’t have them.  A couple of years ago we went to the Irish Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day party and they had these mini stuffed potatoes that were to die for so I wanted to replicate those.  As I said these are really labor intensive, but the good news is you can make them in advance and then warm them in the oven before your guests arrive.

Tiny Twice Baked Potatoes

DSC06252

If you have read my previous St. Patrick’s posts you know that this rosemary scented brown butter soda bread is a staple.  It makes 2 loaves but it goes fast so you may want to make a double batch – serve with Irish butter of course.

Brown Butter Soda Bread

DSC06249

Cause this all wasn’t enough I decided to make mini pot pies using the Beef and Guinness Short Ribs I made earlier in the month and froze. Then all you need to do is use a mini muffin pan and frozen pie crusts like Giada does in this mini pot pie recipe.

Last but not least you need to add something sweet to the menu so I made Irish Coffee Bars. They are delicious with whiskey! I hope you have a great St. Patrick’s Day

Chewy Irish Coffee Bars

ACC Parties: Oktoberfest

I kid you not – the German outfit koozies I got at World Market is 100% the reason why we had an Oktoberfest party.  How could I not???  Also the idea of a fall party with beer and pretzels was too good to pass up.  This is definitely the kind of party that is perfect for folks that don’t love to cook, as most of the food on this menu is already prepared.  So take your time with displaying the food and enjoying time with friends.  To get people in the mood at my party they were greeted with a mini pumpkin and beer coaster display that I had seen on Pinterest.  I basically stole a whole bunch of random cardboard coasters from bars leading up to the party – shhhh!

dsc04307

I lit lots of candles and set out flowers in fall colors.  Ideally we would have been outside but it was a grey and yucky day.  Sometimes I think that is more fun because people really hunker in to have a good time.  A couple of my friends have been to beer fests were they give you pretzel necklaces to clean your palate between beer tastings (also presumably to help keep you sober!).  I bought a bag of mini pretzels and just strung them on grosgrain ribbon long enough to put over everyone’s heads.  It was a great favor and helped keep the party going.

dsc04298

German food can be pretty heavy so I wanted to have a mix of snacky type things as well as a full meal if my guests were so inclined.  On my kitchen island I set out Ina’s famous Green Herb Dip along with endive spears and celery.  Make two batches of this dip – it goes fast!

dsc04314

It’s not a party without cheese, so I set a whole bunch out on my epic cutting board.  A mix of gouda, cheddar and blue cheese along side some sliced salamis, hearty crackers and grapes give this cheese board a rustic fall vibe.

dsc04312

You cant have Oktoberfest without beer and once September hits there will be plenty of options in the stores.  I went with a bunch of mixed cases, some actually German and some just fall craft beers.  Make sure to have plenty of water as well (I did a large container so people could serve themselves) and a couple of bottles of wine in case you have some non beer drinkers (!!!).

dsc04286

Pretzel necklaces was not going to be enough, especially when I live near The Pretzel Bakery (OMG OMG OMG).  So I ordered up a whole mess of them and kept them warm in the oven.  To display them I used a pasta drying rack that has dried exactly zero strands of pasta but was PERFECT for this!

dsc04311

Stock up on lot of mustard, preferably in a couple of flavors.  Normally I would have put the mustard in ramekins but lets be honest,  it is way more satisfying to squeeze mustard on a pretzel for some reason.

dsc04293

Oktoberfest means bratwurst so I bought a ton of them and simmered them in beer first – then just throw them on the grill when you are ready.  Set out buns and store bought sauerkraut (because no one ever has needed their house to smell like sauerkraut)  and you are in business.

dsc04297

I also made a fantastic German potato salad from the New York Times and set out good old potato chips to round out the meal.  But wait – no dessert?  Of course not and what better than German Chocolate Cupcakes.  Or cut out a step and just buy some delicious cupcakes.  That would mean all you have to make is dip, potato salad and grill some bratwurst.  Easy right?  Throw this party to usher in fall or just to justify lederhosen for a beer!

dsc04322

ACC Parties: A Spring Menu for Easter

Easter in my family is a big deal and definitely my 2nd favorite holiday (sorry nothing beats Christmas!).  There is something about the little chickies, the pastel candy and all those spring ingredients that make me so happy.  Even if you don’t celebrate Easter the beginning of spring is a great time to gather your family and sit down to a nice meal that celebrates the best parts of the season.  Here is a suggested menu that has a lot of moving parts but actually very little needs to be done the day of, leaving you free to hunt Easter eggs and binge on candy with the fam.  I wanted the table setting to be whimsical, especially with kids in attendance.  I found these super cute carrot utensil holders at the dollar section of Target and paired it with our Vera Wang wedding china, set on chargers that sort of mimic an Easter basket.  Glitter eggs scattered over my homemade seersucker tablecloth and bam, spring is alive.

DSC03136

I don’t like to have giant flowers getting in the way of conversation so instead I opted for some thyme from my garden staggered down the center of the table in white pots.  How cute is that cabbage serving dish?  I found it for $4 at Home Goods the week before Easter so I knew it had to make it to the table.  I set up our kitchen island as a appetizer and drinks station with a floral Cynthia Rowley tablecloth (also Home Goods!) and some baby’s breath mixed with bells of Ireland for flowers.

DSC03127

Cheese and Chartucherie Board

DSC03122

No party is complete without one!  Since both of the aps I was actually making were veggie based I knew I had to get some cheese in here somehow.  Just pick a nice selection and throw some dried apricots or grapes on the plate to jazz it up.

Chilled Sweet Pea Soup with Mint and Cream

DSC03126

Nothing is more springy that sweet peas (no one needs you know you get em out of a bag!).  This soup is simple and can be made up to two days in advance.  I served it in cute little glasses for sipping but discovered that the texture really wasn’t ideal for that so I would suggest providing spoons for people to eat the soup with instead.  It’s a super light appetizer that adds a nice green punch to the mix.

Za’atar Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

DSC03121

I had been dying to make this dip since the first time I spotted it in Food and Wine Magazine all the way back in 2012 – goes to show how many recipes I have socked away!.  It’s totally beautiful but I knew it would also be delicious, being the brain child of Yotam Ottolenghi, of Jersuleam (and this post) fame.  Everyone loved the earthy complex flavor and of course the color!

Lamb Kebobs with Minted Yogurt Sauce

DSC03198

Lamb is the quintessential Easter dish but with grilled lamb kebobs you can make life much easier.  Marinate the lamb up to two days before and then just throw on the grill as you are having appetizers.  I love that it doesn’t hog the oven like a big lamb roast and it also encourages your guests to go outside and enjoy the spring, keeping the grill master company.  This version by Ina is so good though I skipped her sauce and went for my standard mint and yogurt sauce found here.

Make Ahead Polenta

DSC03194

As described in this post, make ahead polenta can be really done with any kind of polenta recipe you have by just increasing the liquid content.  This was a great side for the lamb and didn’t require me standing over a hot pot frantically stirring the polenta – it was even a hit with the kiddos!

Roasted Asparagus

DSC03190

Just toss spears with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet.  During the last 15 minutes of the polenta put the baking sheet in the oven, toss once and voila!  A nice crunchy veggie side with almost zero effort.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

DSC03105

Ok so here is where most of the effort for the meal came in.  I realized when I was planning the menu that I had so many make ahead items that I didn’t really have much to do “day of.”  That can sometimes spell disaster because then I set and reset the table, putter around driving my husband crazy (and myself) before our guests arrive.  So I made an easy layer cake and decided to try my hand at the basket weave frosting on top.  I followed this tutorial from Wilton – it was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it.  It does take a while and my hand was sort of cramped into a claw for a bit but you can do this first thing in the AM and just keep the cake at room temp (or in the fridge if it’s really warm in your house).  I also got  beautiful edible dried flowers from Terrian and scattered them on top.  I have to say I was really proud of this one but if you don’t have the time or energy a store-bought dessert or even this cake without the fancy pants frosting would be delicious.  Happy Spring to everyone!

ACC Parties: A Masters Party

Marry a golfer and you marry golf they say.  Well “they” are right.  From about March to November I can count on Patrick golfing at least once a weekend, every weekend, and sometimes twice.  I am not planning on taking up this incredibly frustrating and expensive sport, I will leave that to the husband.  However, I am not opposed to wearing preppy golf clothes, vacationing at lovely golf resorts and throwing a golf themed party when called for.  The Masters is actually the one golf tournament that I used to watch even before I met Patrick, simply because Augusta is that beautiful.  Even before HD the greens just always seemed so green and the rows of azalea bushes in bloom made you want to don a funny hat and some white pants and start wacking around a little ball.  I decided the best way to celebrate this annual event was with a party, so the golf lovers could watch the Saturday rounds, and those of us less invested would have yummy food and drinks to keep us entertained.  I may have gone a little theme overboard but that’s part of the fun.  Here are some great menu and decoration ideas to get you ready for the 2017 Masters.  You know I love a party favor and personalized tees were a no brainer for this one.  I got them at Oriental Trading and then put them in cello bags with Masters green ribbon.  Super easy to do and actually functional (if you golf).

DSC03323

Every party needs a bar and a signature cocktail.  The signature cocktail here was really easy – a John Daly.  This refreshing mix of lemonade, iced tea and vodka is a twist on the original Arnold Palmer and named for another, lets say more notorius golfer.  I split the difference on making my own iced tea and adding Trader Joe’s lemonade.  Just make sure to make a BIG pitcher and add fresh lemon slices, easy on the vodka.  This is an all day drinking affair so slow and steady wins the race.  We also had a selection of beer and wine over in the bar corner as well as in the other rooms.  For the bar set up I decided to riff on the famous Amen Corner of the Augusta National Golf Club.  Amen Corner is a nickname for the 11th, 12th and 13th holes and has something to do with the first time Arnold Palmer won his first Masters (ask a golf expert please – my expertise is parties).  Anyway since our fireplace is a perfect bar set up and in a corner – viola!  Some letters from Paper Source and we have Amen Corner.

DSC03329

Since Augusta is in Georgia I went with a Southern theme for the food.  Pulled pork sliders are delicious and easy to keep warm in a slow cooker so people can help themselves through out the day.  I made my own but you can also make life easier by ordering from your local BBQ place.  You also need a classic slaw that acts as a veggie side and works so well inside those sliders.  Make sure to have a spoon handy for people to serve the pulled pork and a big bowl of buns.

DSC03330

To keep the table themed and fun I used a grass table runner you can find on Etsy and glass jars full of golf balls.  The Masters always serves Pimento Cheese sandwiches so I made them using Southern Living’s recipe and then added cute little flags I made out of toothpicks and yellow paper.  Round things out with chips and mini corn muffins and people will have enough food to hang out all day.

DSC03333Last but not least you are going to need something sweet so I made Peaches and Cream Oatmeal cookies (georgia peaches get it??) and had a friend bring her delicious brownies.  Golfers and non golfers alike had a blast – I hope you enjoy this year’s Masters in style.  DSC03335

St. Patricks Day Dinner Party

As I have explained, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in our house.  This year it is going to be even more awesome as it falls on a Friday and my sister in law Sara will be in town to celebrate.  DC watch out!  Last year I pulled together this fun little dinner party to celebrate.  Hopefully the menu and pictures inspire you for this Friday. Sláinte!

DSC03015

Decorating the table is easy for this one – anything green or gold works!  I used my favorite gold flatware and gold and black votive candles.  I just so happen to have several mini beer mugs (don’t you??) that I used to hold a sprinkling of baby’s breath down the middle of the table.  Paired with green linens and a rattan charger for contrast it was a super easy table to pull together.  For additional green, Bells of Ireland and Babys breath in a large vase at the end of the table.

DSC03034

Black Velvet

DSC03043

Guinness is essential for a St. Patrick’s day feast, but for those of you who are not a big fan or who want to class it up a bit may I suggest the Black Velvet.  Half Guiness, half Champagne (or in this case Cava) you use the back of the spoon to pour the two which creates this amazing layered effect.  Also the cava brightens up the Guinness making for a lovely drink.

DSC03018

I served these with an Irish cheese board that included Dubliner cheddar, a Irish whiskey washed cows milk cheese, some fig jam, candied walnuts and a Cashel blue cheese from County Tipperary.

Brown Butter Soda Bread

DSC03028

I make this every year without fail.  It is hands down the best soda bread recipe I have ever tried and even better, it makes two loaves!  The browned butter gives it a nutty rich taste and the rosemary adds a freshness.  If you have never baked bread, this is where to start as it requires no kneading or pans and is practically impossible to mess up.  Make sure to pick up some good Irish butter to serve it with.

Boston Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

DSC03044

You have to have some green right?  I love beautiful Boston lettuce (some call it bibb but not this Bostonian!) as its so tender and light.  You can serve it whole like I did which makes it look like you plucked it right from a beautiful Irish garden, or cut into wedges for individual servings.  Drizzled with this buttermilk dressing its a great fresh start to the meal.

Patrick’s Irish Stew Pot Pies

DSC03054

This stew that I posted last St. Patrick’s day is delicious all on its own but my boy looooves pot pies so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to combine the two.  Also a great excuse to use my cute little shamrock cookie cutters!  Make the stew in advance, then just put into individual bowls.  Defrost some puff pastry, you will probably need 2 sheets for 4 pies.  Cut out circles slightly larger than the top of the bowl.

DSC03013

Brush the edges of the bowl with egg wash and then top with the puff pastry.  You will need to cut slits in the top to let steam escape or you can use a cookie cutter like I did to make a shamrock hole.  Brush the top of the puff pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes or so until golden.

Guinness Ice Cream Floats

DSC03067

No real recipe needed here – just scoop your favorite vanilla ice cream into a tall glass and top with as much Guinness as you would like.  Drizzle on some chocolate sauce and you are in business!  All of these dishes are pretty easy so even when St. Patrick’s day falls on a weeknight you can impress your friends.  Happy St. Patricks!

Coffee Infused Bourbon

As you all know I am a sucker for favors at parties – last year I did a candy cane vodka for our holiday party and it was a big hit.  This year I was inspired by a coffee manhattan I had at the movie theater of all places.  At the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in the Shaw neighborhood of DC you can not only book your seat in advance (love that!) but they have a full bar with some really talented mixologists.  Patrick and I were there for a matinee and the bartender had been experimenting with coffee simple syrups and bourbon.  Since bourbon already has coffee notes in it, infusing it with fresh coffee beans just takes it to the next level.  I ran right out and bought some mega bottles of Bulliet Bourbon at Costco.  I needed to make 85 mini bottles (we have a lot of friends!) so got two 750 ml bottles but you can do it with any size or any amount really, even just for one cocktail.  I am not going to give you a recipe here since its stupid simple, just throw some coffee beans into the Bourbon and wait until it reaches the “coffeeness” level you like.  For a 750ml bottle I would recommend adding about 20-25 beans and shaking the bottle everyday for about 5 days.  The beans like to sink to the bottom or float to the top so shaking it helps make sure all the bourbon gets infused.  If you start with less bourbon then you could do the same number of beans, it will just take less time, about 2 days.

dsc04998

I get my mini bottles from here  but you can also usually find nicer glass ones at World Market or Home Goods if you are only making a couple for friends this season.  This year I decided to print my own labels (mostly because I didn’t get my act together to order any).  If you want to order some I can recommend Tinyprints for this.  They are pretty reasonable and have a bunch of cute designs.  If not just go out and buy labels and then go to Avery.com where they have templates like this Christmas lights one I used.  I do not recommend throwing in a couple of beans into the bottles you give out as decoration as they will continue to infuse the bourbon and at some point all you will be able to taste is the coffee.

dsc04996

You could certainly recreate my manhattan with the bourbon, drink it straight up or toss a little in your coffee for an extra holiday kick!  Luckily we have a bunch leftover as these are going to make perfect stocking stuffers.  Enjoy!

Rum Tasting Party

This party was starting to become my white whale – back in 2012 the Washington Post wrote an article about hosting your own rum tasting party.  Everyone is supposed to bring a different bottle of rum so you can taste varying styles and ages.  I immediately latched on to the idea and tried to make it happen…4 years later, success!  No this is not a difficult party to throw but you do need friends to sign up in advance so you can ensure a proper amount of bottles are represented.  You also need to get over the stigma of too many bad Captain and Cokes consumed during college.  Most of my friends said they would happily come to a tequila, scotch, whiskey…pretty much anything but rum tasting party.  Luckily I came up with a couple brave enough friends and it was a blast.  My buddy Devin, who has probably been to 99% off all parties I have hosted, declared it the. best. ever.

DSC02782

So as I said, have everyone you invite plan on bringing a bottle for the party to consume.  We ran the gamut from black rum, 12 year old Dominican rum (hands down the crowd favorite), to Mt. Defiance rum made right here in Virginia.  I made sure to have plenty of small tasting cups for everyone to sip out of.  People really got into the spirit, helped along by a good tropical Spotify playlist.  Unfortunately, lots of pineapples had to die for this party to work, not only for the food but also as decoration.  The produce manager at Harris Teeter  must have thought I was a loon carting off over a dozen pineapples!!!  Totally worth it though to finally execute the cute, flowers in the pineapple thing, I have seen a million times on Pinterest.

DSC02785

When throwing a liquor tasting party, you really need to think carefully about your menu.  No one wants all of their guests in a drunken stupor before the 1st course is even served!  I decided to go with heavy with the appetizers as they would be served while we worked our way through the tastings.  Basically I fried everything I could get my hands on.  I also made a really light rum punch to drink alongside the tasting (as recommended by the original article).

Spicy Coconut Shrimp

DSC02780

Oh baby are these good – if deep drying intimidates you try shrimp.  You need way less oil, they cook quickly and with the crunchy coconut crust you are going to get that nice crisp texture no matter what.

Pina Colada Fritters

DSC02778

I randomly found this recipe during some internet searching for Caribbean appetizers.  They were so light and crispy and great dipped into some bottled spicy mango sauce.  Since you are already heating up the oil for the shrimp might as well fry some more!

Following the tasting and appetizers most people switched to beer or wine and we served a full dinner.

Grilled Jerk Chicken

DSC02787

This marinade is SO powerful and delicious.  I went with just boneless chicken breasts for the party to make life easier on myself, as opposed to bone in chicken but if you have the time go for it.  Best of all it’s delicious room temperature so you can grill the chicken before your guests even arrive.

Caribbean Mango Cabbage Slaw

DSC02764

After all the fried and spicy foods I wanted a nice crisp slaw to balance everything out.  This one is nice and colorful and has a sweet hit from the mango.

Pineapple Fried Rice

DSC02793

So delicious along with the spicy jerk chicken you definitely should take the time to serve this fried rice out of the pineapple shells for the party.

Key Lime Puffs

DSC02797

These were my own creation – basically I wanted something really light since it was such a heavy menu.  I used Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Cups, filled them with key lime curd, topped with lime zest and a star fruit slice for decoration.  I think a plate of tropical fruits would also be the perfect end to this awesome party.

DSC02744

This was definitely worth the wait but I suggest you not and throw a rum tasting party this weekend to celebrate the end of summer.  I am already thinking of another next tasting party – any suggestions for what to do next???

A Nautical BBQ

The 4th of July is the perfect time to hang outside with friend and family, especially if you have a great deck like we do.  We are really lucky to have a view of fireworks from ours so usually we just post up on the deck and hang until it gets dark and the show starts.  But you don’t have to wait for 4th of July to roll around to have a lovely and really easy BBQ at your place – this menu is designed so that almost everything is made in advance and can be served at room temperature so you can relax and enjoy your guests.  I decided to go with a nautical theme for the table and even some of the food since it works well for 4th of July.  I also just so happen to have a “boat load” of nautical entertaining gear.

DSC03893

A party like this screams for disposable serve wear but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style.  I love bamboo plates for this because they are really sturdy, are eco friendly, chic and you don’t feel bad throwing them away.  Paired with cute wooden utensils and a large charcoal napkin your guests won’t even care they don’t have the real stuff.  Always remember when you are outside to think about what may blow away – I used my gorg turtle bottle opener as a paper weight but it did double duty with the beers.  I used lanterns filled with citronella candles to keep the DC bugs at bay and just set out all the dishes in the middle of the table so people could help them selves.  Scroll to the bottom for the sources of all this fun nautical stuff.  On to the menu!

Thyme Vodka Lemonade

DSC03888

Just posted this Tuesday, this drink is perfect for a BBQ.  Not too potent and so refreshing.  I created a self serve bar by setting out glasses and an ice bucket so people could help themselves.  I love stemless wine glasses for parties because they work as a wine glass, water glass or cocktail glass (also my friends seem less prone to breaking these and Crate and Barrel sells them in 12 packs!).  We also had a bucket with summer beers and some crisp summer whites set up next to the bar.

DSC03899

Open and Serve Snacks

My favorite kind!  The best way to round out a menu is to have some items where you have to do zero work at all.  Since I was already going “overboard” with the nautical theme I even went with nautical snacks.  These Wye River Crabbers are easily available in the Mid Atlantic – I buy them on the Eastern Shore but have seen them in local Harris Tetters – but you could definitely sub goldfish crackers here.  Sandbaggers are these awesome Virginia peanuts that are tossed with salt and fresh black pepper.  Again you can find them locally here in stores but go online and get some if you live elsewhere – they are a revelation.

DSC03884

Of course I also had to go with Cape Cod Potato chips to make sure New England was represented.  A pretty bowl will class up any snack so make sure to use your best here (ie not disposable) and keep an eye on the levels throughout the party and replenish as needed.

Corn Fritters with Jalapeño Jelly

DSC03896

These fritters were by far the most popular thing on the table.  The sweet corn is such a good foil to the spicy jelly.  I was nervous about making them in advance but they turned out really well – fry them off earlier in the day and then just reheat in the oven.  Even at room temperature they were delicious.  I topped them with my new obsession, Woodberry Pantry Chile Pepper Jam.  Made in Baltimore with fish peppers that are native to the Mid Atlantic region, it’s pretty spicy but with a nice sweet finish.  You can buy it on line or at Salt and Sundry in DC.

Crab Stuffed Grilled Bell Peppers

DSC03894

Another really easy make ahead snack set out on a cute whale cutting board.  Crab can be expensive for a crowd but a little goes a long way with this dish.  I grilled the peppers ahead of time and made the filling in advance as well so all I had to do was scoop the crab mixture into the peppers and set them out on this cute whale cutting board my mom got me.  Delish.

Sausage and Peppers

Ok I didn’t take any pics of the main dish of the night – mostly because I was having way too much fun!  Not sure if you all need to know what sausage and peppers look like anyway.  I did a mix of hot and sweet sausages that I just picked up at the grocery store.  I par boiled them for 10 minutes until they cooked through so all the grill master needed to do was throw them on the grill for a couple of minutes to get a nice char on the outside.  I also sauteed up some onions and bell peppers earlier in the day until they were caramelized and soft.  Reheated in a skillet on the grill and with a quick splash of balsamic vinegar they were great piled on top of the sausages in their buns.  You could also sub for regular hot dogs to make life even easier.

Salted Caramel Brownies

DSC03902

I have to admit – these were not the easiest brownies to make.  When I saw this recipe in the New York Times I immediately printed it out and made it that weekend.  The results were delicious but as you can see from the pic pretty messy!  All the caramel makes them pretty tough to cut but if you have the patience go for it!  If not I think brownies and cookies purchased from your favorite bakery would be a great way to go.  Some fresh strawberries are a great way to decorate the dish and add some fruit to the mix.  Have a great 4th of July – hope you get inspired and whip up some of these dishes!

Sources:  Gurgling Cod pitcher by Shreve, Crump & Low; Silver table lanterns (similar) from Pottery Barn ; Table runner from Serena and Lily no longer available – similar from World Market; Bamboo Plates and wooden utensils from Amazon; Stemless wine glasses from Crate and Barrel; Buoy bottle opener (similar) from Marc and Graham;  Nautical bowls no longer available – similar from Stonewall Kitchen; Fish plate serving the fritters from Come by Chance in St. Michaels, MD; Whale cutting board (similar) from Anthropologie.

 

Host a Raclette Night

Melted cheese as the basis for dinner?  Yes please!!  No it’s not fondue, it’s raclette – the Swiss tradition that is becoming all the rage.  Raclette is actually a kind of semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, as well as a method of melting said cheese into a dinner party sensation.  Years ago as a wedding present, my family friend Beverly, gave us an 8 person raclette maker along with a mega waffle iron.  The genius of a large raclette maker is that the top acts as a griddle so she explained it would be great for pancakes etc but if we wanted to it also doubled as this thing called a raclette maker, something very popular up in Canada where she lives.

DSC02875

The little raclette scoops go under the griddle surface to melt, while the top is left free to heat up anything you want to dip into the cheese.  Genius.

I sort of forgot about its secondary use until one day, low and behold, Crate and Barrel had an entire raclette display set up.  Up until then I didn’t realize it meant melting cheese and pairing it with all of my favorite things!  I ran home, pulled it out and raclette night has been popular in the Costello house ever since.  Friends love raclette night because it’s a fun communal way of eating that encourages sitting around, cracking into some bottles and experimenting with different combinations.  When I first started doing raclette it was hard to find the actual cheese but now I am seeing it everywhere.  If you are in DC, Righteous Cheese  carries an imported raclette from Switzerland (right) as well as one made in Vermont (left).  They also carry it at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.  As you can see it looks like Swiss cheese (duh) but has a much more nutty, rich flavor.

DSC02873

You can always improvise with another kind of melting cheese if you can’t find raclette – I won’t tell anyone.  The real trick is getting one of the makers.  The 8 person version is the most popular because raclette is meant to be shared but I also found this cute one for 2 people.  I really like this version from Williams Sonoma as you can have a larger “coupelle” at the top to share but it doesn’t have the grill/griddle portion.  If you are going to get one I say go whole hog and get the one with the griddle on top so it’s a multi use item.  Now that you have your maker and your cheese you are going to need to find stuff to dip into that melty goodness.  I like to go classic with a mix of hearty vegetables, cured meats and of course BREAD.  The Swiss are also partial to pickled items with their cheese that gives it a nice tang.

DSC02881

For this raclette party I served the following:  roasted brussel sprouts, prosciutto, calabrese salami, boiled baby new potatoes, cornichon, baguette slices, crackers, green grapes and grainy mustard.  Also good would be pickled onions, roasted turkey or ham, asparagus spears, chutney, kettle cooked potato chips…the list goes on and on.  That’s what is so fun about this dinner party is that all you really do is assemble.

DSC02886

To go with the raclette I suggest getting some nice Belgian beer like these Chimays I picked up.  The beer makes a great foil to the cheese – we also had some nice artisanal cider from Millstone, which was particularly great with the Vermont raclette.

DSC02892

Lest you think people will go away hungry, don’t – eating this much cheese really fills you up.  But just in case it is a good idea to end the night with something sweet.  I made this amazing blood orange tart with salted caramel on top.

DSC02899

I have seen lots of local wine bars and cheese shops doing raclette nights so check out your local ones and see if you can get on the bandwagon.  I am sure once you have done it you will want to get a raclette maker for yourself!

Chinese New Year Party

Happy year of the monkey!  Chinese New Year officially started yesterday but the good news is the celebration goes on for several days, through the weekend, so you can join in on the fun.  I remember going to New Year’s parties in Chinatown in Boston when I was a kid – I loved all of the colorful decorations, the exotic dragons and of course the food!  Even if you aren’t Chinese no one can argue with getting a second crack at celebrating New Years and this holiday comes with so many fun traditions.  Before throwing my party I did quite a bit of research but don’t get hung up on authenticity (and apologies in advance from any liberties I may have taken!).  The main purpose of Chinese New Year is to honor one’s ancestors so it’s all about being surrounded by friends and family and celebrating life.

DSC03041

Decorating for this party is half the fun.  I got a bunch of paper lanterns and fans and hung them all over – even better, if you are careful when you take them down you can reuse them plenty of times and they store flat.  I knew I definitely wanted to get lots and lots of fortune cookies so they could double as decorations and dessert.

DSC03046

Lucky Money Bags are a traditional Chinese New Year element where usually kids get these red envelopes with either real money or candy coins.  As thrilled as I am sure my friends would have been to get cash, I opted for the chocolate coins instead.  They were the perfect take home favor (though I think people started cracking into them early!).

DSC03065

I tried to keep the menu fun and sort of bite sized so everyone could mix and mingle with food in hand or chopstick.  This is a great excuse to head to your local Asian market (my favorite in the DC area is H Mart) and grab things you usually don’t cook with.  You can also grab take out containers, steaming baskets and chopsticks while you are there.  I cheated a bit and bought some frozen shrimp shu mai which helped round out the spread.

DSC03057

Since I bought the shrimp dumplings that freed me up to make my own pork ones.  These delicious Sichuan pork wontons also called Chao Shou were actually really easy to make since you can buy the wonton wrappers in advance and just fill and boil them.  Dressed in black vinegar and chili oil they pack a nice kick.

DSC03050

In addition to the dumplings and of course a nice selection of wine and beer (we tried to find Tsingtao but no luck) we had individual containers of cold sesame noodles.  I used a classic New York Times recipe (sans the cucumber, ick!) and doubled it up.  I thought it would be fun if everyone had their own little take out container so grabbed these mini ones from Webstaurant Store, an awesome online restaurant supply place.

DSC03037

To try and get some veggies in I made a nice crunchy asian slaw and put it in little wonton cups.  I made them myself (easy to do) with these green wonton wrappers I got at the asian market for a pop of color.

DSC03039

Last but not least I wanted to make sure to have a substantial meat dish and what is better than meat on a stick?  Chicken satay was a great choice because it was easy to eat and also really good room temperature.

DSC03045

I hope everyone has a delicious and happy Chinese New Year!

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: