Tag Archives: birthday party

A Sparkling ‘Welcome’ Drink for Your Guests

Fran Berger Sparkling Punch

A great recipe for a truly fruity drink: Freixenet, Cointreau, Cranberries, and Oranges!

When entertaining at home planning is everything. If it’s a themed party, you want just the right decorations for your guests to enjoy. If you’re hosting a formal dinner or a casual gathering, you’ll want to make sure that the home décor is as fabulous as it can be. And, naturally, you want the menu to be flawless – everything just so, no matter if you have it catered or cook every dish yourself. Twenty years of running restaurants – I KNOW that pressure. But it’s all for fun – not just for your guests but for you as well.

That’s why I always say that a great home entertaining event is planned – everything from the arrival of the first guest all the way to clean up after the last guest leaves. When you take time to plan your event you won’t as easily forget the small details that can make huge differences in the flow of the evening. One of those small details is a ‘welcome’ drink- a mixed cocktail that you hand each guest as they arrive. A simple drink at the very start of the party that can help jump start a successful entertaining experience for everyone.

Sometimes it can take a bit of effort to find new and exciting party drink ideas that can be made in batches. But, it can absolutely be a whole lot of fun trying out different styles of beverages and new ingredients.  When I start my research, I spend a lot of time reading recipes and talking to friends of mine who are bartenders. Sometimes I think that I might have made a good bartender, well, maybe not. But I do love to experiment with mixing drinks for my parties and get-togethers.

One thing I’ve learned is that the ‘welcome’ drink can’t be just any drink. You should match the right kind of drink for the right type of event just as you do with anything else. Think of it as though it were the opening lines of a conversation – because that’s really what it is!

For instance, if you’re hosting an all girl’s night and the weather’s cold, maybe a bloody Mary ‘soup’ will be just the thing to serve. Here is the recipe and I also made a video of what it’s like to prepare. It’s delicious and easy.  You can definitely serve it with or without the vodka shot on top and still have a great drink!

Here’s a sparkling fruit punch that I found on Chowhound that’s perfect for a fun gathering any time of year. It takes about five minutes to prepare with a little time extra to chill some of the ingredients. The beauty of this cold sparkling wine punch is that you don’t use any ice. It stays cold because all of the ingredients are either frozen or chilled prior to mixing:

  • 2 whole navel oranges, thin sliced into discs (about ¼’ thick) This will yield about 8 slices
  • 2/3 Cup cranberries (frozen is okay, but it’s better if they’re fresh).
  • 3 Cups, Ocean Spray “100% Juice” Cranberry
  • 2 (750 ml) Bottles of Freixenet Cordon Negro brut sparkling wine.
  • ¾ Cup chilled Cointreau Orange Liqueur (add to taste, see below).

Quantities for each ingredient depend on how many guests you are serving. This recipe will give you about 12 drinks.  Here are a few tips I have for preparation:

  • Thoroughly clean the oranges (before slicing) and fresh cranberries. They’re going straight into the punch unpeeled, so this is a definite must.
  • As I mentioned before, you’re not going to add any ice to this punch, so it doesn’t come out diluted. For that reason, it’s always best to prepare it just before your guests arrive.
  • If you want to aim for a genuine fruit flavor, then you want to get the bottle of Ocean Spray that says “100% Juice” on the label and not one of their ‘cranberry and—’ juices. Cranberry juice is nice and tart, so this punch won’t be too sweet.
  • Lay out the fruit (orange slices and cranberries) on sheet trays before you place them into the freezer to keep them from freezing together. You will want to freeze them for about an hour.  If you’re using frozen cranberries – keep them in the freezer until you add them to the punch.
  • Cointreau Orange Liqueur has a very distinctive taste that will really bring out the orange flavor of the punch.
  • Pour all of the ingredients into a chilled punch bowl just before guests arrive and serve. Make sure that each cup of punch has some cranberries at least!

Enjoy!

Tips for Wrapping Presents for the Holidays

Fran Berger and Gift Wrapping tips

Isn’t it time to change up your Christmas wrapping skills?

I was always the gift wrapper at my house while growing up. The rest of my family thought it was a big chore, but I loved it. I turned every gift into a work of art. Some of my neighbors even turned to me for help with a “really special” gift.

Even when I was pretty young – like ten years old – my wrapped gifts were real stand-outs. I created themes for every gift I wrapped. Sometimes the theme was based on the individual, sometimes the relationship. Lots of times the theme was set for whatever occasion we were celebrating: birthdays, anniversaries, congratulations – and, oh yes, the holidays.

Back then, when I had nothing else to do but homework and chores, gift wrapping was a great distraction. I dreamed of different ways I could wrap presents. One year, I used aluminum foil and sparkly ribbons. Another year, it was newspaper – the sports page, the daily comics, or the Sunday funnies. One time, my dad had a friend who was a very successful entrepreneur. I used the stock pages from the newspaper with black ribbon (you know, because he was in the “black”?) – and wrapped a birthday present for him. I got a very nice compliment from them both.

I still wrap presents for friends and family. But these days, putting a theme together for gift wrapping is a lot easier. There are so many options now – stores have whole departments dedicated to people like me. Take a look at the options they have at The Container Store. I can browse a catalog like this for hours.

Here are my tips for making your holiday gift wrapping fun, and not such a chore.

First, you need a large clear, flat, hard surface to wrap presents. The floor will work, but be kind to your knees and back. Most important, make sure that whatever surface you have is flat enough and hard enough to make nice sharp creases.

Second, get all your tools and wrapping supplies together. That means having tape, sharp scissors, whatever you decide to use for paper and ribbon all in one place and ready to use. Your “next-level” tools could be double-sided tape (so you can hide the tape edges) and an old but reasonably sharp paring knife. Line up the edges of the paper, fold it where you want to cut, press a hard crease on that fold and slide the knife along the crease – presto – very precise and straight cuts!

Third, snacks for the gift wrapper and an excellent soundtrack. Of course, right?  Just be careful to keep your hands clean.  Fingerprints aren’t part of the plan!

I keep different papers on hand – for whatever season or occasion. I even hold onto the little scraps that are larger than my hand for the small gifts and keep those wrapped around the paper rolls. But maybe you’re worried about crunching the edges of the paper rolls when you shove them into a closet.

Here’s an easy solution for keeping wrapping paper safe. Buy several shipping tubes that are large enough to store two or three rolls of paper. Make sure that you get the types that have the plastic caps that insert into the tube. Label the tubes and pull them out when you need them (little scraps and all).

But if you want to make the gift even more special, you’ll want to go out and purchase paper that matches a theme you set for the receiver. Buy ribbons to match the theme and color of the wrapping paper. I love satin ribbons for the holidays; in particular, the ribbons with wire edges that make them so much more fun. But who says ribbon only? Try raffia or yarn (or raffia and yarn together).

Some items may need a gift box as well. Here comes The Container Store to the rescue with really easy to use pre-made gift boxes.

Don’t forget tissue (again, in colors to match the theme). And, remember gift labels or cards – you want to be sure that the person receiving your gift knows who to thank. But, sometimes gift bags are just the thing for that weird shaped gift.

My last and best tip – make it fun and make sure you put some joy into each gift you wrap.

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!

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.