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I love to throw a good party, especially at home. But sometimes entertaining outside of the home is the best solution for a celebration. In addition to offering convenience for you (no clean up!) and your guests it can be an economical choice, too.
My past “out of house” party venues have included a pumpkin patch, an IMAX theatre and of course, local eateries.
Recently two coworkers and I hosted a baby shower for a fellow coworker. We knew we wanted an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, so a tea party seemed ideal. We were able to find a local English gastro pub that featured daily high tea. Because high tea is a prix fixe (fixed price) menu, we were able to work out a group rate that was about what we would have paid for food and beverage anyway.
Luckily, the mother-to-be favors a pink and brown color scheme, and the restaurant had brown and white linens. Adding touches of pink was a cinch with balloon bouquets for each table, pink butter mints sprinkled on the table and pink and brown gift bags at each place setting.
Although the bags look extravagant, they were relatively inexpensive to put together. We found tea infusers online for a couple dollars each, then added a custom blended tea that we called “Lavender Lullaby” from a local tea shop. I printed bag tags with my color printer in just a fe minutes. Filling individual tea bags took the most time and patience! Then it was just a matter of setting up an assembly line of bags (from www.nashvillewraps.com) and dropping in tea bags, the infuser and a brochure about tea (free from the tea store), then topping them off with some pink tissue from my local Party City store.
Because high tea is served in courses, it kept the afternoon on track and we could skip the shower games. Instead, we opted for “new mom advice cards” that every guest filled out. This also encouraged conversation at the tables. Later we organized all the cards into a photo album.
Guests stayed briefly to chat and wrap up the party after the gifts were opened. We paid the bill and were free to go. The guests appreciated the central location of the restaurant and the abundance of parking, which can sometimes be an issue at a private residence.
It was a very satisfying hostess experience!
Besides leaving the clean up for the restaurant, entertaining in a restaurant provides a certain finality to the festivities—no guests lingering on your sofa until the wee hours. And you can always leave, even when the last guest refuses to go. (Anyone who’s had the person who just won’t leave when all you can think about is going to sleep because it was a really long day/party knows what I mean.)
Here are some tips for entertaining in a restaurant:
Pick a theme and a color scheme; it simplifies decisions about decorations.
- Coordinate with the venue’s colors where possible.
- Keep the favors simple and easy to transport.
- Use ice breakers or other devices to encourage table conversation.
- Keep the menu simple; work with the venue for a prix fixe menu.
- Split the cost and the responsibilities with other hostesses.
- Confirm what time you may arrive to decorate and set up, and see if restaurant staff is available to assist.
- Confirm the number of tables you will need, including a gift table, and any special requests.
- Many restaurants have private dining rooms for parties at no extra cost.
The next time you’d love to have a get together or a celebration, consider saving yourself a lot of time and effort and look to entertain outside the home.Read More
Of all the dictionary definitions of “essential,” the one I like the best is “indispensable.” For home entertainers, there are a number essential items — those indispensable items that every hostess should have in her collection to make entertaining effortless. The great thing is, essentials can be collected over time; these aren’t things you have to dash out and get before your next party!
In this series of posts, I’ll break down the world of entertaining into its components: the bar, the pantry, utensils, tableware and glassware, serveware, the powder room and the guest room.
First up: the bar.
All parties need liquid refreshments. Whether your party includes spirituous liquor is up to you, but the essentials of setting up a good beverage station equally apply to all kinds of parties, from a baby shower punch to pre-theatre martinis.
First decide what type of beverages you will serve. Will it be a full bar? Will you feature one or two cocktails or punch? How about a wine tasting featuring one or two whites and reds? The trend in home entertaining is to plan one or two beverages—such as themed cocktails to set the mood for the party or a nice wine—plus water and a couple of soft drink choices. Limiting the beverage choices reduces the variety of glassware and bar equipment required. Punch is a perennial favorite for easily and continuously serving large groups of people for similar reasons. As a bonus, the grown-ups may add a shot of rum or brandy to a non-alcoholic punch if desired. Simply place a bottle of the liquor along with a shot glass on a pretty tray next to the punch bowl.
Next, decide how much fluid refreshments you’ll need. For pre-dinner cocktails, plan on one to two drinks per person. For a full-on party, figure three to four drinks per person.
Basic bar equipment
- Ice bucket and tongs
- Small cutting board and paring knife
- Cocktail shaker
- Bottle opener
- Shot glass (jigger)
- Long handled mixing spoon
- Absorbent towel (I swear by Williams-Sonoma’s bar mops)
- Cocktail napkins
- Glassware appropriate for planned beverages
Basic liquor supplies
For a full bar offering, start with these basics:
- 1 bottle dark rum
- 1 bottle whiskey
- 1 bottle gin
- 1 bottle vodka
- Club soda
- Tonic water
- Soft drink mixers
- Cranberry juice
Setting up a beverage station
One great piece of advice from my mom is to make sure the bar is set up before guests arrive; even if you’re running behind on dinner, guests will enjoy a drink and a nibble while you get caught up. Set up the beverage station as far away from the food preparation and service area as possible to avoid traffic jams and guests getting underfoot in the kitchen.
Set up the bar like you would a buffet: in logical order. Place the glasses on one end, followed by the beverages or liquor bottles and mixing equipment, then garnishes such as a small bowl of lemons and limes, and finally napkins and a couple bowls of nuts and party mix or a relish tray. I like to place the glasses on a serving tray to keep them corralled on the bar top. I place individual bottles of water in a cooler or party tub filled with ice, either on the floor under the bar area or on the bar itself if space allows.
Typically, the host or hostess mixes and serves drinks, or you may appoint a friend to tend to the beverages. After greeting a guest, the host or hostess should offer the guest a drink. In small or informal gatherings, the guests should serve themselves to subsequent beverages. For large parties, it is helpful to have someone making the drinks; your liquor will go further!
So, whether your celebration, dinner or party is for four or 40, assess the essentials you have on hand and plan your beverage choices in advance to get a jump start on your planning.Read More
If you’re having a Halloween bash this year, streamline your beverage menu to one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic option. For example, you could mix up an easy punch with equal parts pineapple juice and sparkling apple cider with a splash of a flavored syrup. Raspberry syrup would impart a nice blood-red quality! I used to be a fan of punch bowls (I own 3!), but I now prefer beverage dispensers with easy-pour spouts. They are so inexpensive and widely available – and less messy than ladling out of a punch bowl.
For the alcoholic beverage, look a pre-mixed mimosa. I found the Mionetto Il Spritz at World Market (about $14). It’s a semi-sparkling white wine with natural citrus flavors. Other brands have their own varieties; have fun taste testing before your party and pick the winner for you and your family and friends.
Once you’ve picked your poison, serve it chilled in custom stemless glasses. (Glasses, $1.99 each at World Market; decals $10 for 12 at www.dalidecals.com)
Another tricked I’ve picked up over the years is to line the serving trays with a bar towel or napkins to avoid stains or chemical reactions with the tray. For Halloween, simply line your trays with black cardstock. Write the name of the drink directly on the cardstock with a white pencil. This idea would also work with appetizers!
Happy Halloween!Read More
Don’t you love going to some big gala event and getting a goodie bag as you leave? I sure do! That’s why I also love sending my guests home from a party with a little something to remember the evening. Party favors are any small gift item that a guest may take home, and the selection is limited only by your imagination. They can range in price from a few cents to a few hundred dollars at celebrity parties.
For your home affairs, include a line item in your party spending plan for party favors, and then let your creativity loose! Party favors can do double duty as a place card at a dinner party, so things like mini picture frames or a small plant in a pot could work. Try to fit the party favor into the theme of the party. For example, at a “Moonlight Madness” party I hosted, guests received a packet of moon-shaped lemon cookies (purchased from a local restaurant) with a goodnight poem tied on with a shimmery ribbon. (See photo.) I arranged the packets on silver trays near the door so guests could take one as they left the party. I received many compliments the next day!
For your next brunch, dinner party or event, what can you find to give your guests as a memento of your time together? Whatever your choose, be sure to assemble them at least the day before your party.Read More
St. Patrick’s Day is on a Saturday this year, and that could mean a late — and painful — morning on Sunday. Here’s a hearty, but easy, brunch idea using the centerpiece of any St. Pat’s menu: corned beef.
Corned beef hash is an ideal way to use any leftover corned beef, and this year could be the highlight of a post-Patrick Sunday brunch. Serve it up with baked eggs and drop biscuits, add in some fruit or a simple salad and it’s a great way to welcome spring.
Corned Beef Hash
2 c. russet baking potato cubes (1/4 inch)
2 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound cooked corned beef, diced small (1/4 inch)
1 T. horseradish mustard
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
2 T. chopped flat leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the potatoes in a medium sauce and cover with water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 1 minute. The potatoes should still be firm. Drain and set aside.
In a large oven-proof skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, cooking until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the corned beef, potatoes, mustard, salt, pepper and parsley and cook another 5 minutes. With the back of a spoon, pack the hash firmly into the skillet, then bake for 20 minutes.
This is a super easy way to get your protein on in the morning. What’s perfect about this corned beef-and-eggs pairing is that they can bake together!
For each serving, crack 2 eggs in a buttered 6 oz. ovenproof ramekin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a bit of shredded cheddar if you wish.
Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven, 15 to 20 minutes depending on desired doneness. Garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley if desired.
My grandmother and great-aunts could make a mean biscuit, my mother always said. My mom did not inherit that gene, and neither did I. When I discovered the drop biscuit, I felt I could redeem the family biscuit baking name a bit. For this brunch, bake these first, and then pop them back in the oven during the last 5 minutes of the corned beef baking, just to reheat. Serve with butter and jam.
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ t. double-acting baking powder
½ t. salt
2 T. shortening
1 T. grated parmesan cheese
½ c. milk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. With a pastry cutter or 2 knives used scissor-fashion, cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk with a fork until well blended. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Yield: 12