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ACC Parties: A Classy Cocktail Affair

Happy Valentines day!  This post is a perfect fit for today – romance and cocktails.  This party plan is for a classy cocktail party which I threw to celebrate the engagement of our dear friends, Erikka and Michael.  They are such an amazing couple so I wanted to go the extra mile to make this one memorable which meant dressing up, gold everywhere and thoughtful touches.  One tough issue to tackle as a hostess is either guests who you aren’t super familiar with or guests that don’t know each other all that well.  That was the case here, with family and friends coming in from all over so I wanted to keep the mood light while still making it feel special.  My solution – a make it yourself cocktail bar.  The centerpiece of this party certainly gave me some sleepless nights leading up to the date (are people going to think I am a jerk asking them to make their own drinks???) but it was a hit!  It really encouraged mingling and being engaged in the party and also freed up myself and Patrick to make sure everyone was felt taken care of with food etc.


Pick a couple of classic cocktails that are relatively easy to make – I went with the  classic martini, manhattans, negroni and vesper.  I printed out the recipes and framed them so even a cocktail neophyte could be their own mixologist.  Then set out everything people will need to make the cocktails – the key here is in the luxe touches.  Instead of setting out giant bottles of vodka and gin I put them out in pretty decanters.  You will also need a selection of liqueurs like vermouth for the martinis.  We also had sparkling wine (my favorite house one of course) for those who didn’t want to do the cocktail thing so I set out casis, framboise and St. Germain as good toppers for the bubbly.  Red and wine wine as well as some beer rounded out the bar.


Ramekins with all the garnishes needed like stuffed olives, maraschino cherries and citrus twists meant it was super easy for guests to customize their drink.


Real glasses are a must here, plastic just won’t do.  Shop around to find something that fits your style and budget. I went with these martini glasses from World Market, that were perfect because of the slight bend in the glass they also worked for sparkling wine, almost like a coupe.  I couldn’t help myself and got custom made martini glasses for the happy couple.


I always like to give out favors and for this party they served a purpose as well.  I found these great mini shakers on a restaurant supply site and got one per guest.  People used them to make their cocktails and then got to take them home to remember all the fun we had.  The shakers set out out on the table added even more metallic glamour.


If people are knocking back cocktails all night you want to make sure the food is substantial.  I kept with the classic theme and did old school appetizers, just classed up a little.  Pigs in a blanket are always a favorite but made with puff pastry and poppy seeds they have way more flavor than the original.


Who doesn’t love a cheese puff?  Gougeres are amazing french cheese puffs and best of all they can be made in advance, frozen and then reheated right before the party.  These went FAST.


The chicken salad veronique cups that I posted a couple of weeks ago were a perfect one bite so people didn’t have to mess around with forks or knives.


Add a very substantial cheese board, bowls of olives and nuts, and some dips (I made the groom’s favorite with crudite) and people will have plenty to nosh on while they mix and mingle.


I ordered these beautiful napkins from For Your Party – they are my favorite resource for customized items and they always turn out beautiful.


Finish off the party with something sweet – I did my Individual Tiramisu because they are a sentimental favorite of the couple.  You could always head to your local bakery and get a selection of cookies, brownies etc to make things even easier.


It was an incredible night for an incredible couple.  But don’t wait for friends to get engaged to throw this party – this would be a great way to break up the winter doldrums by getting dressed up and shaking some cocktails.  Wishing everyone a very happy Valentines day and congratulations Erikka and Michael!!


Individual Tiramisu


In keeping with last week’s “mini” theme I thought I would post a great individual dessert you can serve to a crowd.  These were the perfect sweet ending to an engagement party I threw that I will post about next week.  The best part is that they have to be made in advance, so while there are a lot of layers, they are easy to do and can all be made a day before.  I used 8 ounce glasses from Ikea but any small vessel will do, even plastic.  Grab a bunch of these mini spoons and you are good to go.  If you don’t want to do individual tiramisus then just follow the instructions without breaking up the lady fingers and layer in one large pan.  The special couple had a sentimental attachment to this dish but it turned out to be a real crowd pleaser – almost like coffee and dessert in one!

Individual Tiramisu

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 24 ounces room temperature mascarpone cheese
  • 2 cups of espresso (or 2 cups hot water with 6 tablespoons of espresso powder)
  • 1/2 cup coffee liqueur (like Kahula)
  • 36 lady fingers (found in the Italian section of your grocery store or in the cookie aisle)
  • cocoa for disting

Place the egg yolks, marsala wine and sugar in a heatproof bowl.  In a saucepan add several inches of water and bring to a simmer.  Place the bowl over the water (make sure its not touching) – this is called a double boiler.  Using a handheld mixer beat the egg mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, until the eggs have tripled in volume.  The mixture will be light in color and thickened.

Take the bowl off the heat (carefully) and fold in the mascarpone cheese, trying not to deflate the mixture (room temp is very important here so it incorporates easily).

Set aside.  In a shallow baking dish combine the espresso and the coffee liqueur.  Break the ladyfingers into a couple of pieces (I broke them into quarters).  Spoon a small amount of the mascarpone mixture into the bottom of the glass.  Dunk two ladyfinger pieces into the espresso mixture, quickly so they don’t fall apart, and pile them into the glass.

Repeat for 2 more layers and then dust with cocoa powder.  Repeat with the rest of the glasses (I did it in assembly line style which worked well).  Chill overnight and serve.

Tapas Party

Make sure you carefully enunciate when you invite folks to this party – speak too quickly and folks will think you are hosting a topless party (yes it happened more than once!).  Themed cocktail parties are really fun to do and so easy, this time I went Spanish.  Sometimes when I am trying to come up with a menu I can get paralyzed by all of the options but if you focus on one cuisine or type of food, not only will your menu be more cohesive but it will be much easier to put it all together.  Patrick had been craving patatas bravas for a while so I decided I would try my hand at making my own aioli and then heck if I am making my own mayo might as well invite some people over, and then well we might as well have a Spanish theme…this is usually how my party snowball starts.  We hosted this on a busy weekend so unlike most cocktail parties, I committed to only making 2 things and purchasing the rest.  A little part of me died doing this, but honestly no one notices, and I didn’t end up looking like the Tasmanian devil right before our friends arrived.


The key to really fleshing out a cocktail party without a lot of work is of course your best friend – the cheese board.  Unwrap a bunch of cheeses and done.  I also keep a variety of crackers on hand and some accompaniments to compliment the cheese.  To keep with the theme I put out membrillo paste, a Spanish quince jelly type spread that goes well with sheep and goat cheeses.  I got it at Righteous Cheese, an incredible cheese shop in Union Market, but you can find it pretty easily at your local cheese counter.  For the cheese selections you always want to have a mix of soft and hard cheeses, mild and strong, and a mix of cow, sheep and cow.  We of course had a manchego, the king of Spanish cheeses, along with a cabrales blue, an incredible washed rind goat and a cheddar.  No, cheddar is not Spanish but when you host your own party, you make your own rules!  When you do a cheese board make sure to fill in the empty spaces on the board with crackers or grapes so it doesn’t look chintzy.  I used this beautiful board my darling friend Erica had made for me – I have my own merch now!  Also make sure to set out cheese knives that can actually do the job – nothing worse than wanting a nice hunk of a hard cheese just to be greeted by a wimpy little knife.  I have this amazing cheese cleaver from Sabre that we got in Paris, that can really handle any cheese, a great wire cutter thingy also from Righteous Cheese and then I have these  gold bamboo spreaders from Home Goods that I can pair with soft cheese.


In addition to the cheese board we also had Spanish marcona almonds, sliced chorizo, olives and grapes.  Put them on a footed silver compote or in a lovely bowl and BAM! you have a pretty good spread.  Of course I had to satisfy the patatas bravas craving right?  If you have never had them, they are crispy potatoes sprinkled with smoked paprika, sometimes with a spicy tomato sauce and always with a really garlicy aioli sauce.  To make this classic tapas a little more cocktail party friendly I cooked up some pee wee potatoes and make an aioli with smoked paprika in it to dip them in.  Some recipes I saw had you add garlic and paprika to mayo but making aioli was so easy and MUCH better than anything made with premade mayo.  I used this Food and Wine recipe and it was delicious.


I had to make sure there was meat on the table so I also made some grilled chicken skewers to dip into my Uncle Bill’s amazing chimichurri sauce (recipe below).  Notice the extra char on the skewers – a good reminder to everyone to soak those sticks but also to watch them on the grill!


Last but not least was the booze – we did a mix of riojas, albarinos and cava along with beer.  Usually I would have also made a signature cocktail but I was keeping this simple, right?  No, ok confession time – I tried and failed to make sangria popsicles to go with the meal.  Oh well, the night was a success anyway – try a tapas party next time you are looking to mix things up.  Have a great weekend!


Red Wine Chimichurri

  • 2 cups fresh cilantro
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dry red wine 
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2  jalapeños, roasted and peeled (do this like the rajas)
  • 1 garlic clove

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender along with 2 tablespoons of water and puree until smooth.  Season with salt.  This sauce keeps in the fridge for several days and is great with steak or fish as well.

Breakfast for Dinner Party

Happy national waffle day!  I saw this being promoted at Whole Foods last week and wanted to do a post on it.  Oh course I then realized that I make my waffles from a box so not exactly thrilling, artisan stuff.  Then all of a sudden a dinner party menu popped into my head.  Use the waffles as dessert and build a whole menu around breakfast foods.  When I was in college the cook at my sorority house would do breakfast for dinner once a month and it was always the most popular night.  It makes you feel like a kid to eat a stack of waffles for dinner and even better if you can pair it with a mimosa!  For breakfasts and brunches I always try to get a good balance of salty and sweet.  This menu brings all of that and appropriate sophistication so your friends don’t think you sold scrambled eggs as a dinner party.  For the decor I tried to keep it somewhat rustic and simple since breakfast isn’t really the time for fussiness.



Everything Bagel Bilinis


I wanted an appetizer to start the meal that was classic breakfast with a twist.  I spread room temperature marscapone cheese on plain bagel chips and sprinkled with sea salt and everything bagel spice.  You could definitely use cream cheese but I had marscapone on hand and I think it added a richer sophistication to the canape.  I have the Better Than Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend which is great but you could also make you own using poppy seeds, sesame seeds, crushed pepper, and onion and garlic flakes.  I served these with champagne to start the meal.

Food and Wine Custardy Baked Orzo with Spinach Bacon and Feta and Toast with Chive Butter


 a This dish is the reason why I was able to do this dinner party on a weeknight.  Instead of making eggs, frying up bacon and then trying to get a salad or veggie in there somewhere I threw them all into a casserole.  This delicious recipe from Food and Wine magazine was a hit and the left overs were terrific the next day.  It’s a lot like a frittata but even easier because you don’t have to worry about flipping it.  The addition of greek yogurt I thought odd at first but it really gives the dish a nice tang and helps bind the whole thing together.  I also toasted up some sourdough bread that I had in the freezer and whipped up a quick herb butter to serve along side of it.  Just mash up room temperature butter with any herbs of your choosing, I went with chives here and some sea salt.

Kahlua Waffles with Coffee Gelato


I have tried making waffles from scratch and cannot tell the difference at all from those that came from a box.  I like Trader Joe’s Buttermilk Pancake Mix but I honestly think any box mix will do.  To class these up I substituted Kahlua for half of the water that the mix calls for.  You can make the batter in advance and just keep it in the fridge until you are ready to make the waffles.  I topped it with coffee gelato, sticking with the breakfast theme, and some dark and milk chocolate balls for texture.  It was a delicious and fun evening with zero stress.  Best of all any leftovers can be eaten the next morning for breakfast of course!

Take Your Travels Home – an Italian Dinner Party

In April I travelled to Italy for 2 weeks with my mom and Patrick.  We started our trip in Bologna, which is in the region considered the “food belt” of Italy, and then made our way down to Florence and Rome with stops in Ravenna, Parma, and Siena.  At first we started counting how many delicious bottles of wine and bowls of pasta we consumed but it was starting to get ridiculous by day five so we stopped.  Needless to say we ate very well and have a true appreciation for the amazing fresh food products there.  Whenever I am travelling in a place like Italy, busting with fresh vegetables and cheeses in all the lovely outdoor markets, I am desperate to just cook and cook.  Until I get a villa in Tuscany that’s probably not in the cards but I do bring as much back with me as possible.  I try to pack as light so we have room to bring back the good stuff you just cant get here in the states – its tough leaving that extra pair of shoes behind but its worth it when you can drizzle fresh green olive oil straight from the fields.


Our amazing friends watched the kitties while we were gone and I figured what better way to thank them then dishing up some of the goodies we smuggled in along with a menu full of our favorite dishes.  I also had brought home some beautiful entertaining pieces like this amazing cobalt blue acrylic pitcher.  In Florence I purchased small Chianti bottles and then repurposed them as salt and pepper shakers.  To add a little elegance to the evening I bought place cards from one of the beautiful paper stores in Siena.


Of course lots of delicious Italian reds were drunk and both Dave and Ashley and Devin and Erica went home with hand painted olive dishes from Florence as a thank you.  Honestly, no one wants to sit through a slide show of your vacation no matter how awesome it was – but here is a delicious and fun way to share your experiences with folks back home.


Cheese plate with Parmesan and fennel sausage from Florence


Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce


Porchetta Style Roast Pork


Fennel Salad


Affogato with chopped chocolate covered espresso beans

The cheese and sausage we got from the incredible Mercato Centrale in Florence.  I had been there once before and described it as my version of heaven but they have managed to make it even better.  The first floor food market, which has been in operation for hundreds of years, has everything you can imagine from cured meats, to vinegars and fresh vegetables.  However, now you can take an escalator to the 2nd floor and a whole new layer to the market opens up.  It’s as if the next generation of the families that operate downstairs decided they needed their own new hip spot to play.  There is a cooking school, a small Eataly outpost and amazing spots to have pizza, a beer or watch cheese being made.  The bolognese was inspired of course by our time in Bologna but honestly it was not the best version I have ever made.  The taste was really rich and deep but I didn’t love the texture so stay tuned and hopefully I will find a version I like that’s blog worthy.  The porchetta is my attempt at a version we had at Il Latini in Florence.  This is a unique Italian experience that’s a little confusing at first (definitely get a reservation) but so incredible.  Food just keeps coming and coming including this ridiculous meat plate with porchetta, Florentine steak and a whole duck!  It was delicious and one of the best nights we had.  I threw in a fennel salad with lemon dressing just to lighten things up, basically fennel sliced thinly with a little red onion, lemon, olive oil and shaved parmesan.  To finish things off we had Sambuca we brought from Rome and affogato, the world’s easiest dessert.  Scoop vanilla gelato into bowls and pour over hot espresso – done.  I added chopped chocolate covered espresso beans for crunch.  It was a great night and a terrific way to remember our trip.  Buon appetito!


Welcome to a Capitol Contessa! Grab a margarita


I am so excited to get this thing going – what started as a slightly boozy idea at the Fainting Goat on New Years Day, is finally a published product.  The minute I mentioned I was thinking about doing a blog my husband Patrick told me to take 60 days to conceptualize and 60 days to execute which roughly takes us to today.  I would not have even imagined starting this journey without him and his incredible support.  He will always be my number one guinea pig but I am glad that this forum will give me the opportunity to try out new ideas and recipes on a larger universe. My friend Ben brilliantly pointed out that if one is launching an entertainment blog there should be a party involved!  With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner we decided a fiesta with plenty of margaritas were in order.  I was so glad to have my friends and family to celebrate with me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I tried to keep it pretty simple by grilling tacos and we got super lucky to have a beautiful D.C. spring day.  The cookies, margarita mix, and most of the taco fillings were prepped in advance so all I had to do day of was make the cornbread, guacamole and guacamole salad and have Patrick grill the steak and chicken for tacos.  This kind of party is great for a crowd because everyone can find something they like.


Cornbread by Martha Stewart

Guacamole Salad  by the Barefoot Contessa

Steak and Chicken Soft Tacos

Homemade Guacamole and store-bought salsa

Alfajores Cookies by Fine Cooking

Grate some cheese, chop some onion and plop sour cream into bowls and you officially have a taco bar.  Aided by the dozen or so hot sauces Patrick keeps on hand we had quite the spread and plenty of leftovers for Sunday.

DSC04510 It’s not a party without a cocktail and for this one we went with a household favorite – Spicy Margaritas with Salt Air.  If you have ever been lucky enough to go to Oyamel in D.C. you will be familiar with Jose Andres’ amazing salt air – it’s the perfect solution to getting a salty little touch with each sip of your margarita without ending up with salt crystals all over the front of your shirt.  I was so happy to learn you don’t have to be a gastronomic genius to figure this out – thank you Washingtonian Mag for sharing this with the masses.  I also gave out the tequilla as a favor because you never get too old for goodie bags right?  People just love getting to take a bit of the party back home with them. DSC04513

Spicy Margaritas with Salt Air

– 1 habanero pepper, stemmed and cut in half
– 2 cups silver tequila (or the whole bottle if you want to infuse it all)
– 3 cups freshly squeezed lime juice, divided
– 4 cups water, divided
– 1 tablespoon kosher salt
– 1/2 teaspoon soy lecithin powder (get this at a nutrition store or online, I got mine on amazon)
– 2 cups sugar
– 1 cup triple sec or Grand Marnier (which I prefer)

First you want to infuse the tequila – I suggest go ahead and do the whole bottle as it lasts forever in the fridge and is great to have on hand. If you don’t want to go whole hog just pour out 2 cups which is what you will need for 8 margaritas. Place the cut habanero in the tequila carefully as these little peppers are HOT. I use disposable gloves whenever handling hot peppers so taking out my contacts later doesn’t become a painful event. Let the pepper infuse into the tequila for 3 hours or more depending on how much heat you want (if you want less you could also use a jalapeno instead). At this point you toss the pepper and keep the tequila in the fridge indefinitely for when you want to use it.

For the margaritas first make a simple syrup by combining 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer and stir until all of the sugar has dissolved. Let cool (this is a good thing to make in advance as well as it lasts forever in the fridge and simple syrup is great in lots of cocktails and iced coffee). Combine the simple syrup, 2 cups of the lime juice, 2 cups of the spicy tequila, and the Grand Marnier in a large pitcher. Stir and taste – if it’s too hot you can add lime juice or water to dilute.

To make the salt air combine 1 cup of the lime juice, 2 cups of the water, the salt and the soy lecithin in a large bowl. Tilt the bowl so the liquid is at the bottom away from you and use an immersion blender until you create a good layer of foam. Pour the margaritas into chilled glasses and top with a scoop of foam. If you run out of foam no worries, just blend again to create more. Enjoy!

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