Tag Archives: party

Hosting a Stress-Free Holiday Party is easier than you think!

Stress Free Parties!

The best part about a Holiday Party is a Relaxed Host – seriously!

I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember: I attend a party or gathering, and there’s a host who looks like she’s been put through the wringer – she’s harried, hassled and a complete mess. One host – and I’m completely serious – had such a scary look on her face that guests cringed every time she popped out from the kitchen. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, dared ask her a question.

Okay. Everybody who hosts a holiday party won’t make it through without at least a little stress. It goes up a notch when deliveries are late. Up one more notch when guests you thought weren’t coming – suddenly appear at your door. And think about how it cranks up when – just before guests are to arrive – your teenage son decides he’s not going out with his friends but they’re ALL coming to your house to play video games!

I’ve seen it all of course. Twenty years in the restaurant business and I’ve seen, first-hand, how stress can ruin a party – not only for the host but for the guests as well. Maybe you think that you can hide your stress by controlling your body language and the tone of voice? Well, perhaps you can, but most people aren’t that talented. The most important thing to remember about stress is that you’re not the only one feeling it. Everyone around you knows it – especially your friends and family. They can feel the adrenaline seep through your pores. It’s not fun for anyone.

That’s why I created my “Live and Die” list of seven things that I do for every event that I host – even small gatherings.

  1. Plan ahead and delegate, delegate, DELEGATE! Everyone has a special talent or unique thing they do really well. Give up some control and let them do it. Doing this will help you in two ways. First, it lets everyone feel involved in preparing for the party. Second (this is pretty good for some of you out there – including me), you relieve yourself of the feeling of having to keep total control.
  2. Do as much of the cooking well ahead of the event as you can. Plan your menu accordingly. Get out your slow cooker (I love my Cuisinart) and make a soup or stew . I might opt for a fabulous tomato sauce with Italian meat balls, in which case I reach for my Calphalon Elite Soup Pot. For a smaller group I might pull out my Staub Cocotte to roast a simple chicken with root vegetables. Or host a “potluck” and assign dishes to guests. Stop feeling as though you have to make everything! See? Giving up control is good!
  3. Keep drinks, and everything you need to make them, on hand and ready to use. Think about the mixers, juices, sodas, and soda water. Keep some vodka in the freezer (you will always find my favorite Chopin in mine). Put out the whisky (I love Maker’s Mark with the distinctive red wax on top) and gin (my new favorite from London is Ford’s) Pre-make coffee, teas, hot chocolate (like this one from Ghirardelli that you can make with hot water) – and hot apple cider for New Years!
  4. Don’t go nuts with the décor. Remember, anything that goes up must come down. So, keep it simple. Focus on a centerpiece that’s easy to make. Weeks before the party, visit flea markets or a good thrift shop for vintage ornaments and stack them in clear bowls or baskets. Or, get some bare branches, put them in a vase (no water) and hang the ornaments from the limbs. Then wrap it all up with twinkling lights and candles and you instantly create a simple but elegant centerpiece that will set the mood perfectly.
  5. Remember that buffets are the easiest way to feed a group – and they’re especially perfect for “potluck” parties. Arrange for one table to hold as much of the meal as possible. I have a video on how to set a buffet – take a look The best part about buffets is that they allow guests to mingle and talk to more than the person seated next to them so make sure there are plenty of places to sit.
  6. Of course, you will have music. Make sure you have a great playlist that will set the mood for your party. Copy your playlist to any mobile music device – like an iPod Shuffle. Be sure that there’s plenty of it – enough to last the whole evening. Set the device to playback on shuffle and – voilà, you’re a master DJ.  Keep it soft though – conversation is where it’s at. Right?
  7. Consider hiring someone (or more) to help! Even if your party is a potluck, get some help with setting out the buffet. Don’t hire a bartender unless you need one, but have someone around who will make sure that the bar stays well stocked. And, definitely get some help with the clean-up! You can call a local caterer whom you trust for suggestions on where to find help, but you can also reach out to party helper websites for pricing and suggestions.

Finally, and this is not on the list because it’s actually the whole reason for having a gathering in the first place: keep it as easy as you can. Even an elegant New Year’s party can be a laid-back affair. Unless you’re a master host and you envision a grand event like something out of the pages of the Great Gatsby – keep it easy on the host (that’s you) and your guests will appreciate it and then everyone will have a great time!

The Making of an Elegant Halloween

Elegant Halloween

The easy way to make your Halloween Party an elegant event.

If you know anything about me, you know that I love this time of year.  It’s the best season for home entertaining.  The absolute best time to have parties – as many as you like!  And, the first party of the season is always Halloween.

Halloween parties come in all sizes and shapes.  A friend of mine is a film art professional.  He, his wife and their grown kids get together and turn the family home into the perfect haunted house complete with strobe lights, sound effects, props of all kinds and huge dry ice fog pumps that lay an entire blanket of “fog” over the back yard.

In Southern California we have a lot of theater and film people, so the costumes can get quite elaborate.  Last year, another friend of mine went to a costume party as the Headless Horseman – complete with a horse!  And, another friend (a professional body builder) came to the same party as a very convincing Captain America.

I always aim for elegant sophistication for my parties – large or small – casual or formal – and this goes for Halloween as well.  After 20 plus years as a restauranteur, I always have a plan – lists and everything on my calendar – but the point of any party to is to have fun so I make sure there’s plenty of that! For instance, a Halloween party is the perfect excuse for adults to dress up like crazy.  If you want a costume party, pick a theme – favorite cartoon characters, TV characters from your favorite TV show, et cetera. Keep the focus on the fun.

Think about the drinks you can serve.  A great Halloween “welcome” cocktail is a Black Widow – mix black vodka (yes there is such a thing) and cranberry juice over a large ice cube in a highball glass and have them at the door so that when guests arrive the party gets started immediately!

Plan the décor and keep it elegant. The best way to do that is to keep it simple and consistent.  Black is a great background for any pop of color – think orange or “old gold”-  and it’s perfect for the holiday!  I use black chargers, black metal candlesticks with black candles, and silky gold napkins.

Don’t forget your centerpiece for your table whether it’s buffet or plated dinner.  Find black twig pumpkins, dark colored vines, maybe even some real pumpkins (small and in different colors) and column candles (these can be black or white) in different sizes.  Add in a skull or two and you have your “set.”  Just remember that some electronic props – you know, like the ones that laugh hysterically if you get close – will get VERY old as the evening progresses.

Keep it simple, keep it black with pops of color, and have fun!

What kind of Champagne Glasses?

FRAN_Champaign-Detail

Easy hints and tips for the “right” champagne glass for your party.

It’s a little joke between wine drinkers that the best glass for wine is always the one that you’re holding. No matter if it’s one of those little plastic cups hosts might use to serve at a casual backyard gathering or the elegant stemless glasses that they use at your favorite café bar, when you love wine, and you’re drinking a good one, especially Champagne, it almost doesn’t matter how it is served.  But, even if you’re OK at the moment with the plastic cup in your hand, you always want to know how the wine you want to offer should be served.

For example – what if you want to host a caviar and Champagne tasting party like I did a few days ago. What glasses do you set out for something like that?

First, the good news: there is no shortage of places to go to find them and no shortage on selection. Second, there are three glass types for serving Champagne: flute, coupe, or tulip wine glass. If you can’t find a tulip shaped glass, then a white wine glass will do very well.

FRAN_Champagn-Fluted-Glass

The Fluted Glass

The flute glass (with its tall narrow shape) is the traditional shape for champagne. The shape of the bowl helps encourage a lot of bubbles to rise to the surface and show off the fine effervescence of bubbles. But there’s more to Champagne than just bubbles. I may use fluted glasses for young wines, but not for a good vintage.

The ‘problem’ with the flute is that it tends to short-change the experience a little, especially if you want to drink a good vintage Champagne. The small top of the flute doesn’t allow much air space for the aroma to collect and enhance the flavor. Because there is so little of the surface exposed to air, the flute limits your ability to thoroughly appreciate the aromas and flavors that the winemaker worked so hard to put in your glass.

There’s always the novelty of the coupe glass. They are elegant looking, and some of them are even fantastic works of art. I have a set of very simple crystal ones with tall stems from Iittala. This glass style was popular back in the early 20th century – think flapper girls, glossy hair, and the Charleston.  The coupe was originally designed to showcase a Champagne style that was also popular then – a sweet bubbly dessert wine – which is fine if that’s what you want to do. However, it’s not right for the style of Champagne that is produced today.

FRAN_Champagn-Coupe-Glass

The Coupe Glass

I think that the coupe is a little like the flute glass – there are just some things it doesn’t do well. It can’t capture the beauty of the Champagne, especially the ones that are currently being produced. The wide shallow bowl doesn’t let the bubbles develop as they would in a taller glass, so they come to the large surface quickly, burst and are all gone before you’ve finished your glass.  But the worst problem is the large surface area at the top of the bowl means that too much air meets the wine and both bubbles and aroma (and much of the taste) are lost quickly.

That’s why experts – the connoisseurs of wine – have moved away from the flute glass and novelty coupe for enjoying fine aged sparkling. They want to enjoy what the winemakers put into the wine.  By using the proper glass, you get to showcase the artistry of the wine: the aroma, the palate, and the look. That’s why if I’m serving an excellent aged sparkling wine, I want my guests to enjoy it from either a wide tulip shape or a white wine shaped glass.

FRAN_Champagn-white-wine-Glass_mod

The White Wine Glass (alternative for the Tulip Glass).

The tulip glass gives you just enough length and surface area so that bubbles can burst at the same time. When it is filled to no higher than two-thirds full – you’ll have plenty of room to capture those aromas at the top of the glass. The wider bowl allows more room for the aeration of the wine. The flavors develop better when the narrower rim captures and holds those aromas in the glass for you to enjoy.  If you can’t find the tulip shape, then a white wine glass will suffice. Tulip glasses are similar enough in shape to a white wine glass, only wider at the bowl and slightly narrower at the top.

Last, but not least, I have a few suggestions for your party. There are three brands of Champagne/sparkling wine that I love and will always recommend:  Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame (a bold style for a strong statement), Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (for a big impression on your guests) and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico (my go-to sparkling for those informal gatherings).

For glasses, I recommend three – the Baccarat Crystal flute, the Iittala Crystal coupe, or a simple white wine glass from Crate and Barrel.

Enjoy!

 

Let’s talk about serving wine.

wine glasses on a tabletop

You’re hosting a party. How much wine do you serve?

How much wine should you pour in a glass? It all depends on what you want to do. Like, it’s been a bad day and you’ve come home for a little relaxation, then who’s going to comment if you fill your favorite wine glass to the top with your favorite red?

It’s something else though when you have guests, isn’t it? Filling a wine glass to the brim is just way too much when you’ve just invited some friends over for a quiet evening. Besides, do you want your friends sloshing red wine all over your carpets and chairs? Not anything I want in my house, right?

Over twenty years of owning restaurants has taught me a thing or two about serving sizes especially for events that you might host, like a party. Serving full glasses of wine is way too much not just for a party but really for anytime you’re having a glass of your favorite grape. You’re not taking full advantage of every experience the winemaker was hoping you’d have when drinking their wine. Worse yet, you’re cutting short the real enjoyment you get from drinking good wine. Especially at your party where you can make the experience that much more memorable for everyone.

When I serve wine at a gathering of good friends, I want to love the wine. I want to enjoy everything that the winemaker worked so hard to create. I want to taste the flavor. I want to enjoy the color. And I want to smell the full bouquet and I want my guests to do the same.

To encourage my guests to take part in the enjoyment, I fill their glasses to just below what we call the “waist” of the glass. For most wine glasses, that’s the point where the bowl is widest.  Filling the glass to that point gives you plenty of room to swirl the wine around in the glass, look at the color, and let the bouquet fill the glass. Then you can dip your nose into the glass and smell that wonderful aroma as you take a sip.

If you do a little research, you’ll find that there are all types of wine glasses. Riedel is a glass manufacturer that was the first to create wines glasses where form follows function.  In 1961 Claus Riedel was the first designer to understand that the shape of a wine glass affected the bouquet, taste, balance and finish and so created an entire line based on what grape you are drinking.  When it comes down to theory and mechanics of wine glass-making, Riedel is truly a unique company.  It’s the glasses that I reach for most often at home whether I’m having a party or just enjoying a glass of my favorite wine with dinner.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t always pay attention to what the book says about what kind of wine should go into what kind of glass. Bottom line, I buy the glass that I like. If it has a nice shape and it has a nice feel in my hand, I bring it home.

Riedel makes excellent simple wine glasses that are right for really just about anyone. The great thing is that they can easily be found at Williams-Sonoma – one of my favorite places to go for things for the tabletop.

Back at the party, no matter what kind of glass you end up with, encourage your guests to take their time with their wine.  Fill it short, and enjoy the experience.

Perfect Chili or Stew, for your Super Bowl Party

Football and food

Hot Recipe Ideas for your Super Bowl Party

I can’t tell you how many Super Bowl Parties I have thrown (too many to count!) but I can tell you my secrets to making sure your guests have the best time all while you’re able to enjoy the party too.  Because, really, what’s the point of throwing a great party if you can’t have fun too?  Even if you’re not the biggest football fan, there will be plenty of others with the same outlook on the game that you have for you to catch up with while everyone else is cheering for their favorite team.  If you plan this right, you will be doing exactly that – enjoying your own party!

My first rule, no matter what kind of party I’m throwing, is to pick out my menu while remembering what activities will be going on. For a Super Bowl party, everyone is going to want to be in front of the TV while they’re eating and not at a table. So, make sure that whatever you plan to serve does NOT require any cutting. People will be eating on their laps, the easier it is to eat, the less mess will end up on your sofa and rug. You also want to serve something that guests can serve themselves when the commercials come on.

Make a big pot of chili and keep it on the stove will all the fixings on the counter. Here’s a great recipe I found from Paula Deen for a Hearty Chili.

OnceUponAChef - Beef Stew with Carrots and PotatoesOr how about a beef stew to shake things up? I found this recipe a few years ago from Once Upon a Chef. Serve this one with a sliced crusty baguette to dip.

And remember, chili and stew always taste better the second day. So, you’ll want to make these the day before your party. Another secret? A taco bar set up on your kitchen table will work too!

One last tip, you don’t need to use China. In fact, don’t use China. You’ll be sorry if you do because you will need to do those dishes right when your guest are getting ready to leave! But, don’t use paper plates either. You need to make sure your plate/bowl will hold the weight of your food and not collapse.

For these kinds of events, I always use disposable bowls, plates, cups and cutlery by EMI Yoshi. You can find them on Amazon.

Go Team!

Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules – For Hosts (Part III)

toasting with champagne

Fran’s 7 Golden Rules for Hosting a Party

How about a few rules for hosts? Okay, so the word “rules” might be a little heavy-handed. More like guidelines. This is a part of a series – I started with guest rules, then worked my way through a list of ideas of host gifts (very important). Now I’m on to my list of “rules” for hosting a party.

The whole goal is to avoid those things that can absolutely affect your party in a big way.  Something will always happen, it can’t be avoided completely, but if you do try it will turn out better than if you didn’t.  If you remember the big “rules,” then you can party on fearlessly!

  1. Always make sure your house is set BEFORE your guests are due to arrive. Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than watching the host scrambling to finish those last few items.
  2. Set a tray with glasses of sparkling/champagne/signature cocktail at the door so that when your guests arrive you can greet them with a welcoming glass of something. Nothing sets the mood for the party like this.
  3. Just because a guest brings a bottle of something – you are not obligated to open it. This goes for food items too.  Simply tell the guest that you’ve carefully planned the menu so you will save their special “——” for another time, or that you would love to share it with them on another occasion so it will be a special event for you and them.
  4. I live in Southern California and you’d be amazed what some people do when they go to parties. This has happened to me and it even happened to a friend at their wedding.  Your invited guest decides it perfectly fine to bring an “extra.”  Be gracious to that “extra.” I am positive your friend told them it would be completely OK to come.  It’s not the “extra’s” fault they’re there.  Be welcoming to the “extra” and then take it up with your friend at a later time.
  5. Make sure you have fully stocked the powder room/bathroom that the guests will use – you know toilet paper, Kleenex, soap, hand towels, and do NOT forget the plunger. There may be that moment that something has happened in there that needs immediate attention – you don’t want your guest to have to come looking for you!
  6. I’m a big advocate of using candles for atmosphere – the more the merrier – but never use scented candles. You don’t know who’s got allergies (like me!) and believe me your guests will come “scented” enough.
  7. Make sure your playlist matches your invitation. Your invitation tells everyone what your party will be like.  If you send a formal invitation don’t be playing head banging music when your guests arrive.  And, if you find that your guests are having to talk over the music – turn it down a notch.

Of course, the most important rule of all (maybe #8, which kinda goes back to #1) is to chill out, smile, and have a blast. Nothing sets the mood of the party better than a happy host.

 

Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules – For Guests (Part I)

Guests at a party - party on!

6 Guest rules to keep you from becoming the party joke.

I love good parties, both throwing them and coming as a guest.  They can be great fun (at least for me)!  The most amazing thing is that with all of them that I’ve attended and many I have thrown, there’s always someone who ends up being “that guy.”  You know, the one that everyone talks about the next day either because of something they did or didn’t do.  They’ll make some faux pas by loudly making an inappropriate remark and then repeating it all night, or showing up with their “posse” when the invite clearly was for just them – it could be any number of bad moves and will be memorable depending on just how spectacular the fool decides to be about whatever he (or she) has done.

As carefree as we want to be at parties, there are some cultural rules – etiquette – for both Guest and Host. I’ve collected a few over the years. Call them “Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules” (catchy, don’t you think?). The list has gotten rather long, so I broke them down a bit over several posts (stay tuned!).

Let’s start with the rules that I hope will keep you from becoming the long-remembered party joke:

  1. Never show up to a party empty handed – it’s kinda rude, so don’t do it. Some  cultures have a very strong tradition about this – the Japanese even have a special name for such a gift – they call it “Omiyage.” The host has gone to a whole lot of effort to throw this thing – show some appreciation.  Having said this there are a few guidelines about gifting that I’ll go through in a later post. Read it!
  2. DON’T bring your own playlist of music unless the host has specifically dubbed you the party DJ. You don’t know what the host has planned and unless you want to wind up being disappointed (or embarrassed) by being asked NOT to mess with the music, just don’t do it.
  3. If you spill something – tell the host/hostess IMMEDIATELY. Don’t run and make pretend you didn’t do it.  The sooner it can be cleaned the better the outcome.
  4. If your babysitter bales on you – DON’T bring the kids. Call with your apologies.  Your kids don’t want to come to the party and the other adults there won’t be that comfortable either.  Even if your host insists you bring them (unless it’s a BBQ in the afternoon) don’t do it.  You will need to watch them all night – not great for you either.  Just don’t.
  5. Unless you’re are intending to help with the clean-up, and I mean really help not just follow the host around while they’re doing it, then leave before the party is over. My rule of thumb is that if there’s only about 20% of the guests left – it’s time to go.
  6. Don’t look in the cabinets or closets – stuff is put away in there for a reason and it’s not for you to know.
  7. DO NOT GET DRUNK! I know that one seems obvious but, as we all know, there’s always one.  Don’t be the one.

Maybe you have a few of your own set of rules? Wanna share? Let me know! Remember, though, it’s not about the rules. To me, a party is just another table to gather around– maybe bigger than your average get-together but it’s always about “around the table” – coming together and showing appreciation to one another that counts most.