Filed under: Entertaining
So did you guys know I had a party? Oh, I don’t know, maybe I mentioned a few times here and there. Well, here’s the thing…suddenly I’m feeling quite shy about the party and my planning abilities and I regret the hype I might have generated because really, I am no expert. It was a lovely get together, and it looked precisely the way that I had envisioned…but my insecurities stem from the idea that perhaps we had over-planned, and just maybe it was interpreted as more opulent than we had intended.
For us, it was the celebration of many things: making time to connect with friends, celebrating during a time of year that’s often dull and dark (in Seattle anyway), and making the most of a silly holiday. It was also a time to celebrate the fact that half of my things were moved into Andrew’s house, not 24 hours before the party. So there was stocking, cooking, moving, and planning that was all happening simultaneously. Crazy? Yes, definitely. We are crazy.
But with 18 of our closest friends in our new home it was a beautiful and fun get-together and I think we did a great job at staying nimble and open. Here’s how things went down.
Planning and Set-up
During menu planning I use my trusty Sharpie pen and Post-It’s to “diagram” how the plating and service will look. This is the best way to see how many platters/serving trays you’ll need and also show how much table space (and storage space) you’ll need. Each serving piece will have its own label so you can move and plan. Any platters that will be switched out for new ones should be stacked.
We ordered flowers from our friend Nisha at Fleurish and picked them up the day off. Because I had included vases (and votives) into the planning of the table I knew where each arrangement would go. I also made sure to plan to have some mini guys for the bar area, side tables, and bathrooms.
And then there was this amazing piece in my ceramic vase (which was surprisingly 3x bigger than I expected when I originally got it). So I took my own vases in to Nisha and with only the mention of no reds, lots of blushes, champagnes, and light pinks she created the most beautiful arrangements. They were quite the showpieces and ultimately set a sexy, festive tone. In other words, the ladies totally freaked!
Initially we had quite an elaborate menu planned, and it was mostly because our start time of 7:30 was determined to be prime dinner time, but our research led us slightly astray as more modern couples eat before any sort of cocktail dinner/party, even if the start time is more or less dinner. This was actually a blessing in disguise as our menu was easily scaled back and we only put out as much as was needed. Really at the end of all things, people really only cared about getting a nice Valentine’s buzz.
I didn’t capture everything, there was a pretty endive and grapefruit salad that I wish I could post but here are a couple of bites that were some favorites.
Mini pot pies are called hand pies, for real. Whatever they’re called, they were a hit and were the perfect party bite because they’re hearty and small enough to pop more than one. We cranked out tons of these guys ahead of time and then kept them warm in the oven.
The most wonderful tiny meatballs for snacking. We served them in a large Le Creuset pot and had the skewers on the side for people to serve themselves.
We kept the cheese and charcuterie simple and served only one type of cheese and ham — we just got A LOT of each one. It made things so much easier and the cheese bar was really an easy way to get people full and satisfied in case they did come really hungry.
Bar & Booze
We planned on vodka, rye, beer, and mostly red wine and bubbly. Surprisingly everyone was all about the bubbly and we went through tons. We had coffee on hand too but it seemed that people were more interested in continuing to drink bubbles.
One thing we did learn about using coupes for parties was that slight spillage is inevitable. Whatever, I’ll take it just to use a sexy coupe but for practical purposes just stick to flutes.
Crepe Paper Garland
I love working with the crepe paper but I was totally stressing trying to figure out what I was going to do with them. At one point I asked Andrew if he thought it looked prom-y and he kinda paused like he was trying to think of how to answer. Poor guy. Really, there’s a fine line to follow in order to avoid prom, so I decided that with only a touch of red and mostly the light colors we’d be safe. I also knew that I didn’t want things to be symmetrical (and there should be no twists!) so I went with a haphazard, disheveled look that was it was definitely less prom, and more festive. Problem solved.
As fate would have it, our piping tool for soup shooters (a turkey baster/injector) was out of commission, so in a quick regroup I repurposed the shot glasses with slices of my all time favorite chocolate (Pralus Barre Infernale)…that was originally planned to be sliced by the party-goers at a small bar. So perhaps the lesson here is all about versatility and regrouping.
Another piece of decandence was in the form of a take-away container and I must say this was one of my favorite touches. Our chef at the restaurant makes the most unbelieveable pandan leaf custard, chiffon cake cupcakes, so I ordered a few dozen from her for the party. We stuffed them in takeaway containers and handed them out as our guests were preparing to leave. It was a sweet and easy little touch that I’ll add at all of my future soirees.
Before and After
Ok, so I’ve mostly shared the prettiest parts with you, but I can assure you that there were times where it was a total shit show and I wanted to be sure to be honest about how things came together. Oh, and I have yet to mention that for whatever reason my gougeres did not work. But whatever! We had so much else that they were not even missed and the lesson I took from everything was to stay nimble and open. Really the most important piece was making our friends feel comfortable and loved, and that is definitely what we did.
Things were pretty grim before.
The thing I haven’t been able to resist all weekend is, for better or worse, the thing that we were left with the most of after the get together on Friday (we may have over-planned). These sugared pistachios that Andrew made are evil and addictive…so here ya go. The recipe.
It’s from the gorgeous Heston Blumenthal at home cookbook, and while the book is more advanced this recipe is quite easy with a few kitchen geek items on hand. Andrew quadrupled the recipe, but as I’m sharing it here it’s the original from the book, using weight as measurement instead of volume.
200g white caster sugar
[special equipment: kitchen scale, candy thermometer.]
Preheat the oven to 170-degrees C (338-degrees F).
Place the nuts on a baking tray at toast in the oven for 12 minutes.
In the meantime, put 150g water and the sugar into a small saucepan. Place it over a medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
When the temperature of the liquid reaches 135-degrees C (275-degrees F), or the syrup is beginning to color at the edge of the pan, add the pistachios and whisk until the syrup has completely crystallized and coated the nuts.
Pour the coated nuts onto a baking tray lined with parchment and allow to cool.
The nuts can be kept in an air-tight container for up to 6 months.
It suddenly dawned on me that I DID, in fact, plan an epic bash last year…so it hasn’t been as long as I’d originally thought. It was the boost of confidence I needed last week because I was deep into questioning how much I really knew what I was doing. I was able to convince myself that I did know a thing or two when I remembered how much people loved the poms and crepe paper garland at Thani and Mari’s wedding. It’s oh so festive, and instantly happy-making. So it was settled, crepe paper garlands were what we were doing for Lucky Valentine.
There are two ways you can go when choosing the crepe paper (not the streamers that you see in small rolls, but long sheets that you’ll cut into strands). There’s the basic $2 rolls or the heavier Italian stuff for $7 a roll. Everyone talks about the weight of the paper, and initially I didn’t care about the weight and decided to use the cheap stuff. I soon learned that it’s not just the weight that you’re paying for, but perhaps more importantly you’re paying for richer, deeper, and a wider-range of colors. I got three different shades of pink and they all looked the same color and more neon than the range I was looking for. I caved and ordered the good stuff and was so much happier. I cut the strands about 1.5″ and twisted some to add texture. (Love how the red looks like rose petals!)
Everything’s set…now I just need to figure out how we’ll hang them. (Well shit. Maybe I don’t know as much as I thought.)
I used this tutorial for dotted garlands from Jordan @ Oh Happy Day. If you’re going the wedding decoration route, I’d go with the good stuff from Carte Fini. The shipping is fast and free when you buy more than 6 rolls! Also, THE PERFECT wedding blush color is SWEET PEA.
It’s crunch time. This week will be spent running errands and making a million last-minute decisions like this one…which movies to show in our little movie room. The main living room and kitchen area will be bustling with food and booze, so we figured we’d convert the office into a fun little retreat for popcorn and some of the ultimate Valentine’s Day movies. For a split second we thought we’d play the Die Hard trilogy (seriously), but figured that’d be best saved for a Black Valentine party down the road. We started thinking about some really good, funny, inappropriate, or sweet love stories; but, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the Rom-Com genre is flooded with many not-so-great movies. We’ve collected a few options but need to narrow it down.
I think The Princess Bride and Mary are epic choices. What do you think? Any other ideas?
I would very much like to alter, hell, even completely re-do our entire party menu just to be able to work-in these sweet little straws. They scream for a nice chocolately milkshake, don’t they? There is still only one source of hearts (from the Kaj Franck bowls that for now will house the Gougère’s from yesterday) so I think that perhaps a heart or two could find a way in. But alas, our menu is pretty badass right now, with a lot of thought put into tastiness, ease of eating, AND digestibility…so there will be no milkshakes. It is, afterall, a Lucky Valentine’s Day party and we DO, in fact, want people to get lucky when they get home. *wink, wink*
The invites went out, and most of them seem to have gotten lost in the mail. I’m thinking the post office doesn’t quite know how to handle the postcard anymore. Regardless though, the attempt at real mail was made…now come the text invites. Sigh.
So dangerously poppable, these wonderful cheesy puffs are officially cocktail party approved. Two successful test batches in and we’re hooked. I mean, really. Who’s not going to love a homemade puff of cheese. One bite. Savor. Two bite. Gone.
The Pâte à Choux pastry dough is really sticky, so we tried two methods to form the puffs: quenelles and piping. With the first batch using the quenelle method we found it harder to control the size of the puffs, and it seemed like a lot of unnecessary work. The second batch with the piping bag was much easier and faster. Go the piping route! And if you’re out a pastry bag just snip the corner of a plastic storage bag.
We liked topping each puff with a touch of sea salt and parmesan to vary the tastes a bit. The sea salt was an essential addition, but if you prefer to stick with one cheese, for the ease of things, you can always top with some of the Gruyère. Oh, and in a strange twist, I prefer these guys cooled a bit. There’s definitely something sexy about the cloud of steam one gets from a fresh-from-the-oven bite, but all of the cheesy, chivey goodness is best tasted after they’ve cooled slightly.
Perfect for partying in every way.
Gougère French cheese puffs
Yields about 30 small bites
1/2 cup water
3 Tbs butter
1/4 tsp sea salt, plus more as a topper
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch black pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 organic eggs
1/4 cup minced chives
3/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese (plus more for topping)
Optional: 2 Tbs grated parmesan
Prepare (shred, chop, measure) all of the ingredients before you get started. Preheat the oven to 475-degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat mat.
In a medium saucepan add the butter, water, salt, cayenne, and black pepper. When the butter has melted add the flour and mix quickly until the dough begins to pull away from the sides. Remove from the heat and transfer to a stand mixer or bowl and let cool before the eggs are added, about two minutes will do.
Add the eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly and quickly. It may seem lumpy at times but continue to stir until just incorporated. Add the Gruyère and chives, mix well.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag and pipe small mounds about the size of a small truffle. Space evenly and allow them room to puff. If there are any peaks gently press them down while topping each puff with grated parmesan (or Gruyère) and a touch of sea salt.
Pop the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375-degrees and let bake for another 20 minutes. They should be a lovely golden color and have a crisp bite at the outset. The inside should be eggy and cheesy, but still quite light.
It’s sad to say but the last official party I hosted was probably about 8 years ago. It’s lame because I love entertaining, and even in my early days as a hostess we always had fun snacking and sipping at my tiny old house in Wedgwood. I even converted a tiny extra room into a “Moroccan tea room” with tons of floor pillows and lots of candlelight. The guys especially loved calling it the make out room, but the only thing they ever did there was to get in the candle wax and make a huge mess. So yeah. Boys.
My idea of entertaining has changed only a tad, but I’m using this opportunity to plan and collect key pieces that I can use for any type of get together. Here’s the concept I have in mind, using similar pieces that I already have or have just found, and a color palate that is (hopefully) far from the horrifying search results one gets when looking for ideas on this sort of thing.
Etsy has been an amazing source for vintage pieces at really great prices too. I’d recommend spending time searching there, but only when you know precisely what you want (combing through the results is a disaster otherwise). eBay and Craigslist are also great resources, especially when you’re looking for larger lots of dinnerware. (Our set of salad plates came from Craigslist!)
I decided that I want everything to be neutral: crystal/glass/ceramic with small bits of silver and gold. I actually like mixing the two and with only small bands of it here and there I think it will be nice little touches. The flowers will be more neutral as well with ivory, blushes and natural greens. Yep, no red flowers! The only bits of color will be the guys above, and they’ll be in the form of crepe paper that I’ll make into some sort of garland.
Some quick tips on collecting pieces:
Crystal pitcher – This Waterford one here is quite lovely, but there’s no need to spend big money. Check out a current sale at One King’s Lane and see some great ones for about $30.
Linen napkins - I have the greatest little vintage linen napkin collection resulting from a few mixed lot listings for less than $15 each. A quick search will get you lots of great results.
Champagne coupes – don’t spend big money on these. (I don’t really love the ones here, save for the gold rim.) Again, search eBay, Etsy, Craigslist.
Silver Serving tray – even new ones can be inexpensive, just take the time to find one in the shape, size, and weight that you want.
Serving utensils – I just picked these guys up on One King’s Lane for $30. Mother of pearl too!
Andrew and I were all set to plan a holiday party last year but it quickly dawned on us that in the hub-bub and holiday frenzy it wouldn’t necessarily be the party we’d want to host. After some brainstorming we settled on Valentine’s Day. It’s perfect actually! It’s right in the midst of the winter doldrums, everyone’s looking for an excuse to get out and have some fun, and so far the guys are really excited that they don’t have to go too far beyond a box of chocolates.
Hoping to make this a tradition of sorts I figured it would be the perfect time to stock up on some vintage serviceware, and for some reason I am all sorts of crystal-glass-giddy. Andrew seems to think this is Grandmaware but I say tut-tut: it is precisely the touch of feminine elegance that we need in the house, and it’s also perfect for a “Lucky Valentine” party such as ours.
As usual I turned to my all-time favorite vintage shop (and all-around guilty pleasures) High Street Market. I happily picked up the bowl and ice bucket above, but oh how I’m dying for the jam jar. At the moment there’s no use for it on our menu but good lord am I trying to sneak it in. Lots of other perfectly curated vintage goodies at the shop too.
So from now until the party we’ll be testing recipes (sharing a few) and I’ll continue to search for more vintage goodies to have on hand.
I’ve never been an egg nog kind of gal but I’ve always felt a little lonely without it during the holidays. There’s something so wonderfully festive about a richly coated glass of boozy, milky goodness. Thankfully this season I happened upon this vintage concoction (but still a southern favorite) and was immediately giddy, I mean with a name like Milk Punch how could you not get excited?
In the most non-alcoholic way possible I must admit we’ve been enjoying this on our weekend mornings while still in our pajamas. There are many a variation out there, and of course heritage recipes are always being rediscovered and reinterpreted, but after playing with proportions I’ve included our favorite here, for two. It’s really easy to size up though, so if you’re thinking holiday get-together I’ve seen recipes where you’ll whisk instead of shake. (In this case you’d get to serve it in a fancy punch bowl too!)
I used organic raw whole milk and half & half, but there are recipes where cream is used. Ultimately you’ll want more than one, there’s no need to make it richer with cream…I’d say start here and go the cream route later if you wish.
Milk Punch for Two
- 3 oz. organic whole milk
- 3 0z. organic half & half
- 2 oz. bourbon or brandy
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. superfine sugar
- freshly grated nutmeg (to top only)
Add all of the ingredients (except the nutmeg) with ice in a shaker and shake vigorously until sugar is dissolved and a nice this foam is made. Strain into two small glasses. Grate fresh nutmeg on top of each. Sip and enjoy!
It’s funny that we all think of oysters as a summer staple, but truly they only start to come into their real season when the weather and the water cool down. Makes sense enough, so as hard as it is, I forgo oysters on the half shell during the warmer months and often look forward to the holidays to make up for precious lost time. Since ’tis the season to entertain you might want to consider trying your hand at shucking and serving some fresh local oysters for your guests. Or if the thought of that is too daunting, try practicing for a nice date night at home.
Some quick tips:
- If you’re going the party route, plan for 2-4 oysters per person (raw or baked). Limit to small gatherings until you’re confident enough to power through big batches.
- Start with Kusshi or Kumamoto varieties as they are easier to shuck, and are the perfect starter oysters for people who aren’t yet fully adventurous.
- My neighborhood Taylor Shellfish at Melrose Market has the most wonderful staff. If you head in before the afternoon/evening rush they’re always willing to give you a quick shucking demo.
If you buy your oysters the day before you plan to serve them, they will be fine to sit in the refrigerator overnight but there are a few things that you’ll need to do to make them happy during their stay:
1. Line a baking sheet with a wet (filtered water is best) kitchen towel.
2. Arrange the oysters in a single layer.
3. Place another wet towel on top of the oysters and make sure that all are covered.
4. Place in the refrigerator and check to be sure the temperature is no more than 35-degrees.
Note: Each shell should be closed, but if any are open they should close when tapped. If not, discard!
- Kitchen towel
- Oyster knife
- Shucking gloves (optional)
1. Fold a kitchen towel into fourths lengthwise. Create a little cradle for the oyster by folding the narrow towel into thirds and then creating a handle for the left hand.
2. Place the oyster cup-side down and use your left hand and the handle of the towel to hold it in place.
1. Insert the tip of oyster knife into the hinge at the back of the oyster. There’s an indented notch that’s easily identified above on this Kusshi.
2. Using pressure (as opposed to force) gently, but firmly guide the tip of the knife to the spot where the knife can fit past the notch and gain more leverage, then twist the knife to pop the hinge.
3. Gently run the knife along the top of the shell to separate it from the muscle, being careful not to pierce the body or lose too much of the liquor (juice) as you work.
4. With the top shell removed, the body needs to be separated from the bottom. Gently run the knife under the body of the oyster and separate it again.
5. A true sign of a proper restaurant/chef/shucker: as you’ve separated the body from the bottom cup, flip the body with the knife. Why? Because it looks better.
6. Check for shell pieces. Smell each oyster before plating. If anything smells off toss it! (Another note of importance: never swallow a bad oyster. Spit it out immediately and grab a piece of lemon to rid the taste in your mouth. Trust me, you’ll know when you’ve got a bad one.)
Note: As you practice popping the hinge you will break a few shells when the knife isn’t quite deep enough. It can be unnerving when you hit that first bit of resistance as it feels like there’s not a spot where the knife can fit, but with practice applying the right amount of pressure you’ll get the hang of things. I, too, am still practicing.
Tip: Use the towel to wipe the knife as it gets dirty or as bits of shell get stuck
Serving & Eating
- Ask for a bag of shaved ice when you buy your oysters. I much prefer oysters served over ice as opposed to rock salt.
- Serve naked or with lemon wedges and a basic mignonette: finely minced shallot, red wine vinegar, black pepper.
- For a special touch: freshly grated horseradish on the side. (My fave!)