Tag Archives: Home entertaining

8 Must-Have Items for your Home Bar

8 must-have home bar

Spare yourself the last-minute run-around – get these 8 handy home bar tools now.   

Next to food, drinks are a main hospitality ‘go-to’ especially if you plan to get serious with home entertaining. Of course, I’m talking specifically about adult mixed drinks. Whether you plan to mix something as complex as a Commonwealth (with 71 different ingredients!) or as simple as a Negroni (equal parts, 3 ingredients), you need some essential bar tools.

Before you wave me off and say, “Fran – I’ll improvise,” think about all the tools you have for preparing and serving food. As my dad always said, “You’ve got to have the right tools for the right job.” You wouldn’t forget spoons or forks, would you? Serving plates and bowls? How about cookware and a set of wooden cooking spoons?  We all have our ‘must haves’ in our kitchens.

So, why is it any different for the home bar? If all you have today is a bottle opener, one rusty cork puller, and a single shot glass, it’s time. Intimidated? Don’t be. Just about every mix recipe you find online and in books comes with careful step-by-step instructions on what to use, how, and when. You’ll be mixing like a pro in absolutely no time at all. The best part, your mixed drinks will actually taste better, they’ll look more appetizing, and you’ll have more fun mixing them!

Here’s your list of the 8 ‘must-have’ bartending tools for your home bar:

  1. A high-quality stainless steel jigger is basically two measuring cups stuck together to form a kind of hour-glass shape. Typically, the bigger end measures 1½ ounce (or “one jigger”), and the other measures ¾ ounces (or a “half jigger”) – the most common measurements for drink ingredients. Pay attention to the jigger that you buy as some of them are 1 ounce and ½ ounce. The OXO has measurements inside each cup so you can use it for ANY drink recipe.  This is an indispensable tool for mixing up perfect drinks every time. No conversion with cups or measuring spoons, and no clumsy messing around with shot glasses.
  2. Good ice cube molds are much better than the regular ice trays you have for daily use. First, you want larger cubes for your drink as they melt slower than normal or smaller cubes and keep drinks colder longer without diluting it. Secondly, there are all sorts of fun shapes and sizes – ones that will fill a standard highball glass with a big cube or a single sphere. You can find very nice “ice molds” from Tovolo, Rabbit Wine, and W&P Design.
  3. Muddlers are extremely handy for extracting the oils and flavor from mint leaves or other herbs – even fruit. With fruit, you can ‘muddle’ with gusto, but with herbs and citrus peels, I suggest a gentler touch because over-muddling can produce a bitter taste. Use muddlers for mixing mojitos, mint juleps, and caipiroska (a tasty vodka drink with lime wedges and sugar muddled together).
  4. There’s nothing more indispensable than a two-piece cocktail shaker. When you shake a drink, it not only chills it properly but also creates the proper dilution and aeration (adding air) for the beverage. Get a separate strainer if yours doesn’t come with one – you don’t want the errant bits of ice poured into your glass.
  5. You’ll need a bar spoon – for stirred cocktails – Manhattan or Martini (if you’re not James Bond) or mixes with floating layers. They’re long handled and narrow (teaspoons are too short and too wide). This one from OXO can spin while you stir, which is kinda fun!
  6. A fresh fruit juicer is important for many, many cocktails – lemons, limes, oranges or even pomegranates. Buy one large enough that can handle most citrus.
  7. Good garnishes are important for great mixed drinks, so don’t skimp. Use fresh fruit, herbs, and high-quality cherries and onions. Absolutely avoid neon colored cherries – they look bad and taste terrible. I recommend Luxardo maraschino cherries and Reese sour cocktail onions.
  8. Cocktail books are also important to have around, even if you have some experience. Don’t go crazy and get a “masters” level ‘mixology’ book unless you have master-level skills. Start easy and simple, like “The Bartender’s Black Book” – 150 easy-to-read, simple to mix recipes, along with useful mixing tips.

There are lots of places to go for bar tools. I like the selection and quality of OXO. You can also find some great tools from Crate&Barrel and Sur la Table. Happy mixing!

4th of July Party? How about a tasty recipe for marinated olives and feta?

Marinated Olives and Feta

Sophisticated but incredibly easy: smash some olives, crush a bit of garlic, shred some bread, and you’re good to go!

Want to bring something different to your 4th of July party that DOESN’T need refrigeration or special care? A while back, I found something genuinely fabulous in my favorite place to find fabulous things – Bon Appétit Magazine. It’s a perfect recipe for things like 4th of July parties where light, savory snacks with friends really hit the spot.

There’s only one part of this recipe that needs a bit more explanation – smashing olives and crushing the garlic. I know that there are all sorts of ways to do this, but my video gives you some easy ways that work for me. The rest is that simple.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 ounces of drained green (I prefer Castelvetranos for their flavor) unpitted olives
  • 3 medium-sized cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil – essential to get the “good stuff” for this recipe.
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 ounces of crumbly feta cheese. I use President Cheese.
  • 1 loaf of crusty bread

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees F
  2. Rip up your bread into bite-sized pieces and place them on a baking sheet. When the oven is ready, bake the pieces of bread for 5-8 minutes, or just long enough to make the them a bit crispy and golden.
  3. Lightly smash (by pressing the side of the knife blade directly on top) the olives to just break apart the skin and flatten slightly.
  4. Smash (using the same technique as for the olives – you don’t want them completely flat!) and peel 3 cloves of garlic.
  5. Use a vegetable peeler (this will give you nice wide strips) to peel the zest from the lemon. Remember – only the yellow, not the white which will be bitter.
  6. Place lemon peel, smashed olives, crushed garlic, ½ cup of good Extra Virgin olive oil, and ½ tsp of red pepper flakes into a small saucepan over med-low heat. Swirl every so often and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the garlic is golden around the edges.
  7. Crumble feta cheese into a shallow serving bowl.
  8. Pour the olive oil mixture over the feta and let it sit at least 10 minutes. Longer if possible, perhaps an hour or more, before serving.
  9. Serve together with your crisped bread pieces.

You can always double or treble this recipe for a larger crowd.

Some last DO’s and DON’Ts – DO remind your guests that the olives are unpitted, but DON’T worry about letting this sit out for as long as your guests are nibbling. It will go fast!  A Negroni is the perfect adult beverage to accompany this appetizer.

Happy 4th of July, America!

Home Entertaining Tip – How to speed-chill a bottle of white wine

Fran Berger speed-chill wine

Guests on the way? Forgot to chill the wine? Here’s an old restaurant trick that will get you chilled wine in 15 minutes FLAT.

A restaurant – an excellent restaurant – will never have a shortage of good wine chilled to the correct temperature dictated by decades of tradition and agreement among experts. The sommelier (someone educated in all things “wine” and the person in charge of the wine ‘vault’) will know that red wine should be chilled to 55°F (12°C) and white chilled to 45°F (7°C). Unofficially, the sommelier knows a bottle must be chilled to the customer’s taste. On rare occasions, a customer may say, “I’d like this bottle chilled more.” As we say in the restaurant business, the customer is always right.

But, let’s pause here.

There are several calculations we keep in the back of our minds when we open a restaurant for business. One of them is that it takes about 2 hours for a bottle of wine to reach its ideal temperature in a standard restaurant refrigerator. You can shave off about an hour in the freezer. That’s it – no way to change the laws of thermodynamics when chilling a bottle in ambient air temperature. Given that the average customer is usually done with their meal in about 1.5 hours, sticking a bottle into a refrigerator or freezer won’t work. Worse yet, bottles that have already been chilled will get cooler, but at a significantly slower rate. I’m told that also has something to do with thermodynamics.

So, what do you do?

This is such a simple trick, it’s amazing. On those rare moments when a bottle has to be chilled more – or let’s say that you have guests coming and you forgot to put that bottle in the fridge! What do you do?

Just add salt to your bucket of ice water!

You think I’m joking, right? I’m not! You probably already know that putting wine in a bucket of ice and cold water, rather than just ice, will chill the bottle faster. But did you know that adding salt to the mix further speeds up the cooling time? Salt reduces the freezing point of water and allows the water to get to a lower temperature or colder without turning into ice, which in turn chills your wine more quickly.

Next, be sure to spin the bottle!

Maybe you didn’t expect that one either, but spinning the bottle occasionally will help the water/ice/salt method work more efficiently. Place your precious Sauv Blanc into the water so that you cover most of the ‘shoulder’ (where the bottle narrows to the ‘neck’) of the bottle. Keep the bucket nearby and gently spin the bottle in the ice water mixture every couple of minutes.

Why does this work? First, the cold water/ice is far more efficient than cold air. Direct contact with the entire surface of the glass bottle helps the wine chill. Also, by turning the bottle, you move around the contents inside, allowing more wine to come into contact with the cold glass, chilling it faster. From room temp to a good “chill” – this method takes about 15 minutes to work. See? I told you this was simple.

Keep in mind that this method works best for non-sparkling wines. If you try this method with a bottle of Champagne, don’t spin the bottle (you can GENTLY turn it) or you and your guests will be in for a little shock when you pop open the bottle!

Enjoy!

We love our Avocados GREEN

You love green avocados

An easy to remember trick to keep your cut avocados from turning that unappetizing brown.

If you have been following me for a while, you know that I collect little stories about this and that. I think that’s one of the skills that a home entertaining expert should have: being able to dole out a quick story for any moment or situation. It’s better than trying to crack the ice at a party with talk about the weather. Right?

Here are a few tidbits about avocados.

If you haven’t heard, the avocado is actually a fruit. Botanically, they belong to the same plant group as do laurels. So, basically, we eat what amounts to an enormous berry that has a single large seed.

Originally, avocados were thought to have come from Mexico. A while back, a friend of mine who is an anthropologist (yeah, I have one of those too), told me that there was some new evidence that suggests that avocados started off as several distinct varieties that came from Peru, the Guatemalan highlands, and along the Central American isthmus. They’ve even found the remains of an avocado plant that they think is 15,000 years old!  It’s crazy that avocados have been around for that long.

Now for the practical part.

I love avocados. They’ve always been one of the staples in my home – ready to slice and eat at a moment’s notice. They’re a great “go-to” easy snack for friends who drop by and perfect for salads, sliced with veggies, or as guacamole (more on that later).  Don’t forget the ever popular avocado toast that you find in almost every restaurant and that is so incredibly easy to duplicate at home!

The downside for avocados – they have an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase that causes our tasty fruit to start browning almost immediately after cutting. This is really inconvenient when you want to save half in the fridge for tomorrow’s snack. I mean, who wants to spread brown avocado on toast? Seriously.

Everyone has their own little trick to keep their avocados from turning brown. Twenty years in the restaurant business – I’ve heard them all, seen them all and tried them all!

One of the most popular tricks is my least favorite: drip lime or lemon juice on the cut parts, which is the same trick we use on cut apples. It works but, in my honest opinion, not very well. They still turn brown after about 4 hours and then the avocado has an extra flavor that you might not want.

Then there’s the one about keeping the pit attached. I don’t know why, but it seems to work for about 4 hours or so, and then the oxidization starts. The big downside is that the pit has to be attached to the uncut half. You can’t add the pit back to an avocado that’s been sliced.

The fact is, many of us will eat an avocado that’s been stored in the fridge and has browned a bit, but not for company consumption.  So, a near miss just doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s going to work, it has to work really well.

The best method – tested in my own kitchen – place the cut half of an onion into an airtight container with your cut avocado. The onion releases sulfur dioxide which is a natural preservative – which puts a full stop on the browning. The great plus for this method is that it’ll keep cut avocados nice and fresh (cubed, sliced, peeled) for about 24 hours! And now you have a little onion to add to that toast.

See my video on this method. And enjoy your avocado!