Tag Archives: entertaining friends

Setting up a home bar? Keep it simple!

Home bar elegance

10 Simple Tips for setting up your home bar for a holiday party.

Home bars do not have to be and, quite frankly, should not be complicated affairs. I mean, unless you’re a professional bartender, why go out and get all of those gadgets? Why stock bottles of alcohol and mixes that you don’t want or won’t use?

Twenty years in the restaurant business has taught me a thing or two about tending bar, but I keep all of my “tools” low and out of sight for parties. Okay – shot glasses and my wine opener are the exception, but do you know what happens if you put out those bartending gadgets on an “open” bar? They become an open invitation for one your guests to play bartender and start making complicated mixes (from memory). Likely as not, the drinks will be undrinkable and all you’ll have is a huge mess.

Years of experience has taught me that it pays to plan to make any party that much more enjoyable. Here are 10 simple rules for the bar to help you do just that:

  1. You simply do not want to ever run out of ice. There’s nothing that will kill the party mood faster than needing someone to make an “ice run”.   The general rule is one 10-pound bag of ice per every 4 guests. You’re probably thinking, wow – that’s a lot of ice. But, remember ice melts.
  2. Assume 2 drinks per guest per hour for the first 2 hours and 1 drink every hour after that. This rule works exceptionally well for prepared drinks like punch, cider, or mulled wine. Then add bottled wine, beer and sparkling water on top of that. Don’t get too crazy with the variety – remember, keep it simple.
  3. Got wine? Great. Uncork only a few bottles at a time. Put chillable wine (like Longmeadow Ranch Sauvignon-Blanc which lives in my refrigerator), champagne (Gruet Brut Rosé is always welcome at my home), and beer in a tub with ice. Got vodka? At my house there’s always a bottle of Ciroc or Chopin vodka in my freezer – where they belong!
  4. Have a “house cocktail” ready at the door to greet your guests on arrival. It sets the mood for the evening and tells everyone it’s going to be a real party.
  5. A few days before the party, plan what silver pieces you will want to use at the bar, get them out and polish them to a perfect shine. Nobody wants to see tarnished silver – it just looks dirty! And, while you’re at it, make sure all the glasses you have out are sparkling clean too.
  6. Think about different ways to raise some bottles or glasses off the bar top. The different heights create visual interest.  You can even use cake stands to display liquor bottles!  Put out saucers or small bowls to place loose caps and corks. It keeps the “work area” clean and gives you a place for those caps and corks so they don’t get lost.
  7. Consider your friends’ favorite adult beverages. You don’t need each one but there will always a few who’ll love Maker’s Mark whisky, Don Julio tequila, or Bombay Sapphire I always have those favorites on hand – your friends will be so happy you remembered.
  8. Make sure you have plenty of cocktail napkins. I love the cotton ones that I found here on Amazon. Not only do they come in a ton of colors but they’re real 100% cotton and can be washed and reused up to 6 times!
  9. Have some sprigs of fresh herbs in glasses of water – they add quiet elegance to any party. Add the sprigs to your mixed drinks (like the house cocktail). Think mint, thyme, basil – it depends on the mood and flavor you want to set.  It may sound like this isn’t keeping it “simple” but this one small touch will make all the difference.
  10. And, don’t forget non-alcoholic drinks for those who are driving or just don’t want alcohol – like hot cider, cocoa, or coffee. Try my favorites, the classic taste of Williams Sonoma’s Hot Chocolate (made from Guittard Chocolate) or any of the coffees from la Colombe. Have liquors around like Schnapps or Kahlua (et cetera) so that guests can add them to taste. Remember to have plenty of bottles of plain water on hand – at least one 16-oz. bottle per guest. Stay hydrated – one glass of water to one alcoholic beverage.

If you want to get very creative you can infuse a plain vodka with fruits in different clear bottles so that your guests can see the colors. They’re a fun way to add flavor.  Place the bottles in buckets of ice and they become part of your décor!

Never be concerned if you don’t have enough glasses that match or are the “right” size or shape for what you are pouring.  Unless your guests are serious wine snobs and will only drink certain grapes out of certain shaped glasses –all anyone wants at a party is to enjoy themselves and if that means drinking their favorite drink out of a juice glass they’ll be perfectly happy with what you have!

And, seriously, why have a party if having fun with your guests isn’t your goal. Right?

 

The Delicate Etiquette of the Last drop of Wine

Wine Etiquette

Some customs just make the whole art of entertaining that much more fun!

When I was very young, my parents were pretty serious about teaching customs and manners to me and my siblings. We learned how to be polite and show respect by using salutations like “Mr. xxx” and “Mrs. xxx” when addressing our elders. I was taught to say “please” and “thank you.”  When I was in Junior and Senior High School some of my friends’ parents would tell me to use their first names when addressing them – I couldn’t – it just seemed wrong.

Unfortunately, many customs and manners have long since drifted away. And maybe it’s okay that some of them have gone the way of other old things. But to be honest, I miss some of them. Around my neighborhood, people still open doors for each other and say, “Good morning” even if they don’t know someone. But get on the freeway, and it’s a whole other world – such language – some of it not even verbal.  I have to admit that when I’m behind the wheel I can have a whole conversation with the driver in front of me – and they don’t even know it!

But, there are some customs I will always follow.  When I’m setting my table for guests, I put utensils, plates, and glasses in their proper places and I use cloth napkins and napkin rings. Why do I do that?  I want to show my guests that I put a lot of thought in preparing my home to receive them. It’s my way of welcoming them and making them feel that they are truly special. Manners and etiquette are all part of sophisticated living: paying attention to the details.  When you go that “extra mile” in preparation, it makes the evening feel that much more complete.

Knowing and following traditions and manners wherever you are can be a lot of fun. A friend of mine who lives in Osaka, Japan took me out to a Japanese restaurant a while back in Los Angeles. We had wine (not sake), but she said that “Japanese rules” still applied. I asked what she meant by that and she answered that we could not pour wine for ourselves. “We pour for each other,” she said, “it shows respect for our friends and the friendship we share.”  Well, you don’t have to be Japanese to understand that concept. Right?

Here’s another one. In western culture, a sign of respect and kindness to your friends and guests is to always serve them first.  And, when serving wine, women should be served first, and the “server” always last.  Never empty the bottle into your own glass – that’s just bad manners – unless, of course, you’re by yourself! If you’re in Italy, it’s considered bad luck to serve the last drop of wine in a bottle to a single woman.  No kidding.  Friends there told me that it’s a very common belief that you never give the last drop to a single woman or she’ll never marry!

If you’re traveling outside the U.S., take a minute to look up what the drinking traditions are for wherever you’re traveling.  Because, in some cultures (Korea, Russia, etc.), if you sit down to an evening of drinking – you are in for a very long, very intoxicating night.  But, if you’re in France, getting drunk is not the focus of the evening but rather it’s something to be savored slowly, for the wine to be appreciated, gently.  Wait until everyone has been served and then raise your glass and toast to everyone’s health by saying “Santé.”

Wherever you find yourself, whether in your own home and you’re entertaining or you’re traveling, take that extra minute to follow some traditions and manners – it will make the experience that much more grand.  I promise.

Entertaining at home with Magnums

magnums as tabletop centerpiece

How to use Magnums as a centerpiece for your dinner table.

Entertaining at home presents a fun challenge for me because I’m always looking for a way to do something a bit more extraordinary than before. I find the small touches that make a big statement, something that adds sophistication and makes the event more memorable.

“Magnums” contain 1.5 liters of wine or champagne, or the equivalent of two regular 750ml bottles. Two bottles in one! When you use magnums of wine on the table you get to enjoy the party more because you don’t have to keep jumping up and opening wine bottles as often.  But, there’s more than just the convenience of having to open fewer bottles for your gathering.

No matter how you look at it, magnums create a great party atmosphere.  Whatever the size of your gathering – large or small – when you have magnums as part of your centerpiece, the extra-large bottles immediately become fabulous additions to the tabletop and great conversation starters.

I went to a party in San Diego where the host served a double magnum of Champagne, equivalent to two magnums or four standard 750ml bottles. Just to get the cork out was a tremendous feat but, it took two guys to tip the bottle carefully to serve all the guests. That was not only a constant topic of conversation, it was also so much fun and the source of a whole lot of laughter all night long!  It really added to the party atmosphere.

There’s also a practical perspective for magnums. Winemakers prefer larger bottle size because wine ages more slowly and gracefully in larger format bottles than in standard bottles. There are several reasons for this.  One reason is that even though there is a greater volume of wine in the bottle, the amount of oxygen or “ullage” between the cork and the wine is the same as in a regular sized bottle. Corks are porous so tiny amounts of oxygen are let in (very, very slowly!) and that oxygen modifies the wine over time – aging the wine.  Too much oxygen will eventually damage the wine but if there is a lot more wine in the bottle and still the same ullage and cork size then there is less risk of damage to the wine over the same amount of time.  And, the bigger the bottle the more your wine is protected from other things that can damage it (larger bottles have thicker glass) – light, heat, changes in temperature and vibration from travel.

This is particularly true for Champagne where experts note that magnums help the wine retain a more youthful taste than when served from standard bottles. Also, due to the increased content volume, magnums tend to have slightly higher pressure which enhances the bubbles a bit – always a good thing in my opinion!

Either way, imagine one or two magnums sitting on your tabletop at your next party. You’ll enjoy the party with fewer interruptions to open more bottles and your guests will have a lot of fun passing the large bottles around the table to refill glasses. And think of all conversations that will start. But, the biggest benefit? You will be serving and enjoying wine that is closer to what the winemaker intended.

Level up your Summer Snacks Strategy!

Summer Fruits

Kitchen Tips: Chill out and stock up on fruits and frozen blueberry “Bites”

Here comes the sun. Summer is one of my favorite times of the year. I’m a sunshine kind of person, so I welcome all of it. Especially the fun part: the joy of cooling off!

There are a lot of different ways to cool off. The first thing you’ll want to do is have plenty of water around. Just plain, every day H2O. The doctors say that we all need to drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water every day (think of it as the “8×8” rule). Following this rule is especially important when it’s sweltering.  But, if you’re like me and think that plain water is so very boring then be sure to keep a pitcher of water with sliced citrus or mint and cucumber in the refrigerator – it tricks me into thinking I’m drinking something special and I get my 8 glasses in!

Another trick? Keep lots of cold fruits around. I stash fresh fruit of all kinds, cleaned and cut in bowls in the refrigerator. Things like melon (canary, cantaloupe), pineapple, strawberries, kiwi, and oranges. Make sure that you buy whole fruit at the market and cut them at home yourself. Cutting your own fruit reduces the possibility of bringing a food-borne illness into your home. And besides, you KNOW how clean your cutting board is! Right?

A note on apples. Precut apples start to brown almost immediately. But, you can stop the browning by dabbing them in fresh orange or lemon juice. I prefer orange juice because it enhances the apple taste. I think lemon juice clashes a little. Once I’ve cut my apples (one-eighth slices) and dabbed them with orange juice, I’ll place them on a covered plate in the fridge ready to serve.

Frozen grapes are another great way to cool off.  Buy organic seedless grapes, clean and thoroughly dry them and then place them on a sheet tray in the freezer.  When they’re frozen, transfer them to a Ziploc bag.  Everyone can just reach in and grab a few anytime.

How about frozen blueberry bites – doesn’t that sound delicious? With yogurt! This one is for those of us with insatiable appetites for sweets with just a bit of tart. And the heat of the summer just brings it on even stronger. I saw this video on PureWow. It’s so easy to make. And they are so very delicious.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces of vanilla yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1 pint of fresh organic blueberries

Directions

  1. Get a bowl large enough to accommodate 8 ounces of yogurt plus 1 pint of blueberries.
  2. Slowly, with a rice paddle or very large spoon, mix it up and add the lemon juice. Be very gentle – you don’t want to crush the blueberries.
  3. Use your paddle (or large spoon) to scoop out yogurt covered blueberries, one at a time, and set them out onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. You can also use wax paper or plastic wrap.
  4. Place the sheet tray with coated blueberries into your freezer for about 2 hours.
  5. Serve!

And now you know the best way to keep those summer snacks coming!

What is “sophisticated living”?

Sophisticated Living: it’s not what you spend, but what you share.

I’m a big advocate for enjoying life.  We only get one ticket to the big dance so we should participate in life to the fullest extent that we can. No matter where I am, I find that there’s always a way to draw out enjoyment from even the smallest thing. It’s the start for living a sophisticated life.

Why? Because how you enjoy something only increases the chance that you’ll find a way to refine it and add some degree of elegance to it. When you’re having fun, you find it’s so easy.  It takes such surprisingly little effort to add just the right thing to transform the ordinary into extraordinary. It makes everyone smile, including you!

But where does the inspiration come from? How do you learn about that “little thing” that makes such a big difference?

With over twenty years owning restaurants, I’ve seen – up close and personal – individual interpretations of what it means to celebrate your adult life. I’ve made some great friendships with people who have been very successful in finding just the right balance between being happy with their life and leading others to be happy as well. I have seen for myself that an inspired approach to living is infectious – once you experience it, you can’t leave it alone.

We’ve all heard that who you love is as important as how you love. I’d like to take that one step further: how you enjoy life is as important as how much you are willing to share. You’ll quickly learn that sophisticated living has very little to do with how much money you spend living your lifestyle. It has everything to do with what you learn about yourself and the world around you and how you share that knowledge.

I think that a big secret to living a sophisticated lifestyle is being honest with yourself and the people around you. It also takes a bit of bravery because you may feel like you’re risking embarrassment. But, how can you expect to be “sophisticated” when you hide behind pretext telling someone else’s story and not yours? Shout it out! What are your true interests? What types of things are you into? Fashion? Travel? Food? Entertaining? Fearlessly put it all on display! Have fun with it. Be bold. Invite others to have fun with it too.

Living a sophisticated life encourages us to express our deepest dreams and ideas through everything that we do. We enjoy moments and scenes. We embrace our experiences and knowledge – unabashedly and with the greatest joy. And all the while we have our friends and family at our side enjoying every moment with us.

My goal has always been to express the lessons I’ve learned from my years owning my restaurants through parties and gatherings and how I view life; sharing my likes and loves, tips and observations. It’s how I’m living my sophisticated life – sharing my knowledge and enjoying the time I spend doing it.

Want to come along?