“You don’t have to know how to cook to throw a party with fabulous food; you just have to know how to shop.” Ivey Levy
“That’s Entertaining” Helpful Hints
Know your audience
Please keep in mind that this is just a guide, no one knows your friends better than you do. If you feel that they are heavy eaters or that the specific occasion calls for less, by all means, please adjust to your discretion.
Hors d’oeuvres only Party, served at mealtime, provide six (6) pieces per guest for the first hour, four (4) for the second and two (2) for every additional hour.
Cocktails Before Dinner Party, provide four (4) pieces per guest for the first hour and two (2) for every additional hour.
Variety Selection There should be a minimum of three (3) selections at any one party. The maximum is limited only by the amount of time that you have, the effort you want to exert and the coin you want to spend.
Don’t Take On Too Much, Remember; killing yourself preparing your party can really suck all of the fun right out of it.
Use shopping/organization lists
Non-perishable –three (3) days in advance
Perishable – day before party
Place orders – 2 weeks in advance
Hors d’ oeuvres should be bite size
Do not experiment with new recipes the day of the party
Let the season be your guide, do not plan your menu using out of season ingredients
Provide a small side plate to discard toothpicks, olive pits, shrimp tails, etc.
Nice to look at is always fun to eat
Odd numbers look better than even ones
Diagonal lines are more pleasing to the eye
Arrange one or two selections on a platter never more
Some $#!T is just better out of the box. Using high quality, store-bought ingredients will aid in saving time and organization. There is no shame in providing everything for your party from somewhere else. Hey, I do.
When guests ask what they can bring, I always respond dessert or alcohol. Think of it as an atmospheric insurance policy. The bottom line is to have fun. There is no other reason in the world to entertain other than to have a great time!
Obnoxious but Entertaining Benefits of Entertaining
You DON’T have to go anywhere.
This covers such wonderful points as not having to drive, put gas in your car, wait for your significant other to finally be ready. There will be no umbrellas needed and no visits to Mapquest and no annoying discussions as to the “better way to go…” This means you get to be home and have all of your friends come to see you. The adult responsibility meter becomes quite flexible as well. It is a party, right?
You get to choose the menu.
Choosing the menu means never having to say “What exactly is this?”. You are guaranteed to be happy with your evening’s meal because you choose it. You didn’t even have to cook it, you just had to “pick it out”. Not hard, right? Always stick with your favorites. If you’ve never had it before or think someone else might want something different, resist the urge and step away from the counter. When in doubt, always go with what you know.
During the month of December you’ve got the more religious holidays, January is about celebrating and inducing hangovers and February is all about love. There’s a lot of chances to entertain.
Religious holidays abound this time of year. I’m Jewish – just in case the name didn’t tip you off – I like bagels & lox. My friends are always so surprised to come over for an evening and see a basket brimming with bagels, a platter of artfully arranged smoked fish and several kinds of cream cheese. (All I did was order ahead, pick it up, peel off the plastic and throw away the cream cheese lids.) It’s different, and how much easier can it be?
Mt. Kisco Smokehouse is the best place to go for all that good stuff. Michael used to think I was nuts driving 30 minutes to go there. I took him with me one morning – just to shut him up quite frankly - man, was He easy to convert, one new pickle right from the barrel and he crossed over to the dark side. He’s a convert and now sometimes, he even let’s me sleep and goes to Mt. Kisco himself just so he can pick out all his favorites. What a nice Husband.
Mt. Kisco Smokehouse has all the delicacies you would want for a fabulous party; like smoked fish, aged cheeses – HUGE selection, different varieties of toasts and crackers and sour pickles so good, they’ll make you cry. The olive assortment isn’t bad either. It’s a great place to get your platters as well as one stop shopping for a party.
When it’s Celebration time, party platters really are your friend. It doesn't matter if you made it or the stork brought it, quality is all that matters. It’s not what you choose so much as where you shop.
There are something’s that are forever classics. Shrimp cocktail platters are always a wonderful way to entertain any size group. Feel like making it look a little different, buy a Dijon mayonnaise from the supermarket and put it in a dish next to the cocktail sauce. (Do not forget to place a small dish beside the platter for the tails – I always eat one and throw it in there before the party J) Also chilled crab legs or cracked crab claws make a scrumptious platter. Mt. Kisco Seafood puts together the nicest ones. They have a Tuna Tare Tare there that the thought of it makes me drool and while it sounds a little fancy schmancy I’ll admit – I gotta tell ya, it’s amazing on Ruffles Ridges. Nope, not kidding.
Cheese anyone? If you do not feel like cutting up all those little chunks, go smile nice at the deli counter guy and ask him to cut your cheeses 1 inch thick. There are many different varieties now. All you have to do is stack them up and cut them all at once. Good trick huh?
YOU get to set the mood.
None of those silly evenings where you show up and find out someone had the bright idea to organize a group activity. And while I do not mean to offend anybody – I love a good game of “Beer Monopoly” as much as the next guy, but those things really need to progress naturally for the kind of effect desired.
Organized events put people on the spot. A more relaxed approach provides for a relaxing evening. Hanging out, talking, eating and drinking with the people you like to be with. What could be better?
Entertaining means never having to say, “Well, this evening was a total waste”
Have I convinced you yet? Okay.
You don’t even have to clean up.
You did all of the work to put the evening together (they don’t have to know it was so easy), you deserve to put your feet up and relax. Friends are always so happy for the invitation that they are glad to pick up a paper cup or two.
Here’s where we come to the good part.
PAPER. Go disposable. Friends are friends, they couldn’t care less about fancy china, and they’ve come to see you. Any party store will have heavy duty plastic that looks like china if it’s important to you, buy it. Pretty or interesting cocktail napkins are a great way to throw a little touch in, pick ones you really like. I’m telling Ya, doilies cover everything and there is nothing better than having a party and swooping the entire thing into a big black garbage bag.
As long as the food is good, you can eat on paper, sit on the floor and no one will care. Everyone will have a great time!
Now let’s talk gifts. A big part of season is all about giving, and my Mom taught me to never go anywhere empty handed. There are different levels for gift giving. All it needs to be is thoughtful. I always bring a bottle of Magic Oil and loaf of bread, people love it. You should consider that too, everyone brings wine. And our gift bottles are really something else. Besides, I like being the first on the block to turn people on to new things.
Zee Gift & Houseware in Mt. Kisco have great stuff. If you have not jumped on the Magic Oil band wagon yet, they are a great place to pick up a special gift. I go there when I want something impressive. They have everything for the home and the best part is, they cover all price points.
Don’t forget, if you would like free samples of our Magic Oil, please send $2.00 for shipping and handling to Ivey’s In My Kitchen, Inc. PO Box 181, Crompond, NY 10517. You can always visit me online to purchase your gift size bottle at WWW.Iveysinmykitchen.com
Now, for some other helpful thoughts……………………………
The Mystique of the Mellon Baller
A melon baller is one of those kitchen utensils that we buy instinctively, without thought. We grab it off the shelf, not looking at it twice. I don’t field a lot of customer calls, asking me what brand of melon baller I like. All of our Mom’s had one in their kitchen so we do too, it’s one of those things that everyone has and no one uses. And even though they really do make the job easier, when making fruit salad, people still reach for a knife instead. Maybe they are worried about dirtying too many utensils. Who the #@%$ knows?
Keep in mind, where melon balls are concerned, size does matter. They come in LOTS of sizes too, so pay attention next time you’re buying one. Look for a heavy handle and press it hard against your palm (I don’t have to tell you round side down, do I?), if it gives or bends, put it back. Suits them right for trying to sell you shitty merchandise.
Mellon baller’s are a real “multi-tasker”. Don’t you just hate words like that? They’re not just for fruit salad anymore; they can also be a real party starter, a life saver when you’re entertaining.
Do you have any of these things in your home fridge right now; zucchini, cucumber, mushrooms, cherry tomato?
How about cream cheese, any left over, hiding in the back somewhere? Any kind is fine. Flavored can be fun too.
What about a lemon? Ok, how about fake lemon?
Eggs? Anybody got eggs? Ok, let’s get started.
Zucchini, cucumber, yellow squash or anything else in the long and hard family, gets cut into 1 inch pieces. Stand them up on the flat side and gently core out the center. It turns into the sturdiest little cup. Ready to be filled with whatever floats your boat. J
When working with a cherry tomato, place it stem side down and slice off, just a little, of the smooth top. Use the melon baller to scoop out the inside. Turn it upside down on a paper towel to drain. Don’t worry if they feel fragile or soft, the filling will sturdy them up. I do recommend being a little more gentle on the tomatoes than you were with the zucchini.
Mushroom is self explanatory, just pop off the stem and it’s ready to go.
Eggs (I think small is best), hard boiled, cut crossways, no coring necessary. You will, however, need to slice off the rounded tip to make both halves of the egg cups sit properly. They make great little holders for whatever flips your skirt. I have a weakness for deviled eggs, so I naturally go there first. But I have also filled them with finely chopped tuna fish, chicken salad, chopped liver or garlic mashed potatoes. So really, whatever gets you goin’.
Now where is that cream cheese? Ah yes, it’s sitting on the counter getting to room temperature.
Mix-ins, now that’s up to you. Chives, are my personal favorite, they’re everywhere this time of year. They can, as well as any other fresh herb, be chopped up and mixed in. The truth is, almost any flavor in your spice cabinet can be combined with cream cheese to make a nice filling. So go nuts, ohhhh, what about ground nuts?
Whenever I use dried herbs, I like to soak them in a little warm water from the faucet for about 20 minutes, just to soften them up a little. And salt, don’t forget the salt. Everything tastes better with a little pinch.
You want the filling to have a strong flavor. You’re pairing it up with things like zucchini and mushroom, which, while delicious when cooked, raw, their pretty bland. The flavors will balance eachother out nicely.
If you want a smother consistency for your filling, try using your food processor. Try adding a little mayonnaise, lemon juice or sour cream to loosen up the mixture. Are you getting’ the picture so far?
Ok, now what? Take out one of those trusty Glad freezer bags and fill it with the mixture of your choice. Work all the filling towards one corner of the bag and seal the top. Make sure to get the air out. That’s going to be your pastry bag. Fancy huh?
Snip off just the corner of the bag and squeeze filling into each little veggie cup slowly. Abracadabra, instant party!
I like to use that soft cheese that comes in the plastic tub; I believe it’s called Borsin. It’s a garlic and herb spread that’s great as it comes. I dump it into a Glad zip freezer baggie, let it get room temp and I’m ready to go, no mixing required.
Now, I know I’m making it sound like a piece of cake, and it is, but coring out with the melon baller does take a little finesse. Or at least a little practice, so don’t be upset if you fuck up the first few. Think of them as snacks while you’re cooking.
I like to core everything the day before and store them in an airtight container. Stack the cups upside down on paper towel. Feel free to layer them, as long as you have paper towel in between, they will stay overnight nicely. I recommend that you refrigerate them for overnight, but they do not require refrigeration, so they’re very portable.
Try that soft cheese that comes in the plastic tub; I believe it’s called Borsin. It’s a garlic and herb spread that’s great all by itself. I dump it into a Ziploc baggie, let it get room temp and I’m ready to go, no mixing required.
The Versatility of Toast Cups
Toast cups are very versatile. After you’ve made them once, you’ll see just how many uses they have. They can be filled with almost any stuffing. After you’ve made them a few times, you can experiment with many different types of bread as well. Start with standard sandwich bread, it’s shape is the easiest.
The cups should be filled just before serving, but they will hold one to two hours before getting soggy. It is imperative to let your filling cool before stuffing.
1 loaf whole-wheat bread
Serrated knife / electric knife
Cut crusts from bread and roll bread flat with a rolling pan
Cut slices into quarters
Press into lightly oiled miniature muffin pans
Bake in a preheated 375º oven for 8 - 10 minutes, or until cups just begin to crisp. You may want to turn the pan half way through toasting.
Let cups cool completely.
Fill and serve at room temperature.
Wild Mushroom Filling
Sticking with the theory of seizing the seasons, now is the time we start seeing exotic mushrooms in the stores. It’s also the time of year when we start Holiday entertaining.
Keep in mind that when using exotic mushrooms, not a lot is needed. Unlike our standard friend the button, which absorbs and takes on other flavors, exotics have very strong flavors of their own and require only a few ounces to leave their mark. Don’t be shocked when you see the prices on those bad boy’s, you only need few. Button mushrooms are a wonderful base and can also be used alone.
3 Large Portobello Mushroom Caps – rinsed, dried and rough chopped
Small handful of exotic mushrooms; Shitake, Oyster, Woodear, Bluefoot, Trumpet or any other mushroom that strikes your fancy
¼ Cup Pine Nuts (Pignoli Nuts)
¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese - grated
2 Tbs. Fresh Thyme - fresh or dried
4 Tbs. Magic Oil
2 Tbs. Butter
Splash of White Wine - optional
Place mushrooms and pine nuts into a food processor and pulse until mixture is small and crumbly.
In a large skillet, heat oil over med-high heat. Sauté the mixture until the mushrooms begin to give up their liquid. Then add the butter, thyme and a splash of white wine. Sauté for 3 or 4 minutes more.
Remove from heat, add the cheese and toss lightly.
The cheese will “tighten up” the consistency a little. You want the mixture to stick together well.
If the stuffing is for toast cups, make sure the mixture is cooled completely before filling the toast cups. If the stuffing is for mushroom caps, you can stuff ‘em as soon as you can handle ‘em.
Top with chopped chives and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Magic Oil or Truffle oil is a nice drizzle on top, if you’re feeling fancy.
Wishing you the warmest of Holidays! Enjoy!