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Cocktail Parties, Straight Up!
By Lauren Purcell
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-5896-X
IntroductionWHO WE ARE AND WHY WE WROTE THIS BOOK
The first cocktail party we ever threw-in the apartment we shared when we moved to New York City-was not a success. Oh, nothing particularly dreadful happened. The food tasted fine, the drinks flowed freely. But the party just never seemed to jell. Lauren's friends (journalists, mostly) talked shop on one side of the living room, while Anne's friends (financial types, mostly) congregated on the other side. We'd had visions of everyone mingling animatedly. Maybe dancing would spontaneously break out! Perhaps someone would meet his true love at our party and we'd be toasted at their wedding! But no. Our guests just placidly munched their hors d'oeuvres and traded chit-chat with people they already knew. We were crushed.
But we were also determined. We grew up in the small-town South, land of lawn parties and mint juleps; it would be very nearly traitorous not to be good hosts. Plus, we remembered the parties our parents threw when we were kids, and how magical they seemed. We would sneak out into the hallway long after we'd been sent to bed and peek at the grown-ups all dressed up, smiling and laughing, obviously having a wonderful time. When we became grown-ups ourselves, we wanted to recreate that atmosphere.
We envisioned a warm and friendly event where style and sociability would come together. Delicious food and drinks were essential, of course, but we also wanted our parties to have that indefinable element of connectedness, when everyone is swept up in the mood of the evening, and the guests seem to meet effortlessly and forget that they'd planned to stay only an hour.
We were long on ideas, but after our disappointing debut, a little short on confidence. So we went looking for instruction. At a bookstore near our apartment, we spent an entire Saturday searching through shelf after shelf of how-to-entertain books-yet we came away disappointed. The books we found had either dauntingly elaborate instructions that didn't seem doable for two girls with day jobs, or advice so frustratingly vague that we wondered if crucial pages had been ripped out. On how many people to invite, for instance, one book advised that the "room should not feel empty, and at the same time not feel over-crowded." But what does that mean, exactly?! What we were after was something more concrete-a recommended number of guests. But it was nowhere to be found. Then there were the books that assumed that we had lots of time and money to waste: "Paint the room red for a dose of instant sultriness." You call that instant?! Worse still were the books that drew us in by promising to make party-throwing quick and easy. Unfortunately, the advice they contained didn't reduce our stress; it just made us roll our eyes. No time to cook? No problem, one book assured us. Just spruce up takeout food by sprinkling it with the petals of edible flowers. Oh sure, those are a cinch to find!
We craved a book-even just a chapter or two-whose advice would feel down-to-earth and doable for people like us. We're capable cooks, not trained chefs or caterers. We're enthusiastic cocktail drinkers, but by no means professional "mixologists." We have full-time jobs, not full-time staffs. And we host our parties not in a mansion but in a Manhattan apartment with room for two people in the kitchen if they suck in their stomachs.
Clearly, we were on our own. So we experimented: Over the next 10 years, we tried out hundreds of hors d'oeuvre recipes, discarding many of them and fine-tuning the rest. We tinkered with the recipes for classic cocktails and invented our own. We endlessly brainstormed creative ways to get guests mingling. And we road-tested everything, throwing parties of all sorts and sizes and making loads of notes about what worked and what didn't. Our own parties weren't the only ones we dissected. Every invitation we received was an opportunity to pick up hostessing hints or hors d'oeuvre ideas. At a friend's annual Christmas party, we noted that she put the bar and the buffet table in separate rooms-a great way to get guests to spread out over the entire house instead of crowding into one area. At a wedding reception, we fell in love with gougères, a classic French cheese hors d'oeuvre, and we ended up developing a version of it ourselves (Savory Cheese Puffs, page 84).
The result of all our efforts? You're holding it in your hands. Cocktail Parties, Straight Up! Easy Hors D'oeuvres, Delicious Drinks, and Inspired Ideas for Entertaining with Style captures our experiences and provides straightforward answers to the questions we ourselves asked in our early party-throwing years. This is the nononsense advice you would give your sister or best friend if she asked you for hostessing how-tos. You'd share all your secrets and shortcuts, dig out your foolproof recipes. You'd give her detailed practical advice, not vague suggestions. You would help her head off mishaps that you had suffered through already. (Remember that party when you ran out of ice after only an hour? Or the time you underestimated how much glassware you needed and your guests had to drink cocktails out of coffee mugs?) Cocktail Parties, Straight Up! is like having a trusted, tell-it-like-it-is sister by your side. Or, as it happens, two sisters.
THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU IF ...
... you're new to throwing cocktail parties and you want step-by-step instructions.
Each of the 12 party chapters in this book contains the complete blueprint for a cocktail party. No need to rifle through cookbooks trying to figure out what to serve: We've carefully crafted the menu for each party, putting together exactly the right mix of hors d'oeuvres and thinking about the prep time for each recipe so that you don't end up panicked and perspiring in the kitchen.
Each chapter also includes the recipe for one or more signature cocktails-the simplest way we know to make a party feel special and at the same time streamline bartending duties. Plus, in every party, we've solved the beginning host's "will people have fun?" worries by giving you step-by-step instructions for a Conversation Kick-Starter, our fun, foolproof way to get guests to meet, mingle, and make friends.
We've mapped it all out, from start to finish. All you have to do is choose which party to start with.
... you're not new to party-throwing, but you want to raise your hostess confidence level.
Maybe you've already got some hors d'oeuvres recipes you know are big hits. Or you feel pretty secure in your ability to get guests into the groove of a party. Then you can use this book "à la carte," mixing and matching the elements that most appeal to you from various parties. Plus, throughout the book, we share with you our Sisters' Secrets to Confident Hostessing, which will help you navigate the finer points of throwing a successful cocktail party, from before the first guest arrives (see our discussion of "the 6:30 friend" on page 46) till the last one leaves (on page 150, we tell you how to end a party gracefully). By filling in the gaps in your knowledge, we will turn you from competent hostess to entertaining expert.
... you're a veteran hostess who could use an idea infusion.
Maybe you've thrown tons of parties, but you're feeling the need for a few new twists to shake you out of your entertaining rut. That's exactly why we created our unique brand of "gently themed" parties-each with a mingle-encouraging Conversation Kick-Starter: so your guests will be transported out of their workaday worlds and swept up in the novelty of the evening.
Whoever you are, let this book inspire you!
HOW TO GET ORGANIZED
EVERY PARTY'S 3 ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS
When we began writing this book, we did a little informal poll of our friends: Why, we wanted to know, did so few of them ever throw a cocktail party themselves? The answer, overwhelmingly, was: It's just too overwhelming! They all enjoyed going to cocktail parties, but hosting one? That sounded hard. As more than one person said: I wouldn't even know where to begin. Well, here's where to begin, and it's not nearly as hard as you may have thought. We've distilled the cocktail party into its three essential elements-food, drinks, and guests-and developed realistic strategies for getting a handle on each one. Our guidelines will guarantee that any party you throw will be a big success.
ESSENTIAL ELEMENT #1 THE FOOD
In every one of the 12 parties in this book, we've provided a carefully thought-out menu with easy-to-follow recipes. Every menu adheres to our Rule of Five, which results in a perfect mix of hors d'oeuvres and ensures that you, the host, will be able to prepare all the food yourself-much of it a few days before the party-without feeling overwhelmed. We've shared that rule with you below, so you can devise your own menus, and we've also provided the Hors D'oeuvres Estimator, our ultra-reliable rule of thumb for how much food to make.
HOW TO CREATE THE PERFECT MENU: THE RULE OF FIVE
Who in the world came up with the idea that the more guests you have, the more types of hors d'oeuvres you should offer? It just doesn't make sense: Each guest still has only one mouth. Sure, you need a larger amount of each item, but what's the point of a wider variety other than to increase the time you're stuck in the kitchen and send your stress level through the roof?
Instead, use our foolproof Rule of Five: For every party, no matter how large or small, we create a menu with five different hors d'oeuvres:
One "heavy," so that guests who skip dinner still feel satisfied. One either "heavy" or "medium." If you expect the party to go long or your guests to be big eaters, lean toward a heavier second hors d'oeuvre. One "medium." This is often our vegetarian hors d'oeuvre or a dip. One lighter choice, such as crudités, for nibblers. One bowl item, such as nuts or olives, that can go in multiple bowls around the party so that guests can grab a little bite no matter where they are in the room.
This mix makes for a menu that's easily doable by one person, yet provides enough variety to look impressive and please every guest. Each party menu in this book is built around the Rule of Five, and we've also sorted all the recipes into a heavy/medium/light/bowl list (see page 8) so you can easily mix and match recipes from different parties to create menus of your own.
HOW MUCH FOOD YOU'LL NEED: THE HORS D'OEUVRES ESTIMATOR
When it comes to food, what's more important than a wide variety is a gracious plenty. In the olden days (whenever that was), cocktail parties occupied a defined time slot, often only two hours long, and it was expected that guests would go from the party on to dinner. When we host a party, we want our friends to come and stay for the whole evening. Our start time is usually 7 p.m., and we like to provide enough food so that guests feel satisfied even without a sit-down meal. We use the following formula, though obviously, you should adjust this based on whether your guest list includes a team of football players or, conversely, the local ballet troupe.
Heavy hors d'oeuvres-4 to 5 pieces per guest Heavy/medium hors d'oeuvres-4 to 5 pieces per guest Medium hors d'oeuvres (such as dip)-4 to 5 pieces or 1/4 cup of dip per guest
With dips, provide tons of bread, crackers, or other dip vehicles. They're cheap and easy to prepare-there should be no reason to run out of them.
Light hors d'oeuvres (such as crudités)-5 to 6 pieces per guest Bowl foods-As a rule of thumb, we place 1 bowl for every 7 or 8 guests and keep them filled all night.
HOW IN THE WORLD WILL YOU GET IT ALL DONE? THE MAKE-AHEAD FACTOR
Maybe you've been there. We certainly have: The clock is ticking, you have 15 minutes until the first guest is due to arrive, and you're frantically trying to pull together several complicated dishes. In Cocktail Parties, Straight Up! we've eliminated that problem. Each hors d'oeuvre recipe we've provided can be made at least partially and often entirely ahead of time, ensuring that you, the host, get to enjoy your own party, not just man the stove. We applied this crucial cocktail-party test to recipes we created on our own, inherited from family, or borrowed from friends, as well as those from restaurants, cookbooks, and magazines like Gourmet that we've been clipping and collecting for years. When a recipe was complicated, or required lots of last-minute attention, we adapted and streamlined it. Look for "The Make-Ahead Factor" in every recipe in the book. In addition, for many hors d'oeuvres, we've suggested shortcuts-look for "No Effort/Low Effort/Mo' Effort"-that will help make party prep even quicker.
ESSENTIAL ELEMENT #2 THE DRINKS
What would a cocktail party be without cocktails? (Answer: over by 8 p.m.) In each party, we give you the recipe for a delicious signature cocktail or, depending on the party, more than one. Designating a specific drink for each event makes the evening feel special, plus it provides a simple and ingenious conversation starter-a way to get guests in the party mood. (There's just something about everyone standing around drinking Pink Panthers-the signature cocktail in the Cartoons and Cocktails party-that breaks the ice the way vodka tonics never could.) Serving a signature cocktail also makes your job as hostess easier in two important ways: (1) Having a featured drink to offer guests eases the need to provide every other conceivable kind of liquor on your bar. Instead, you can use our Two-Bottle Bar rule and save yourself considerable effort and expense. (2) You can make the signature cocktail ahead of time by the pitcher (use our handy conversion chart, page 12), saving you from having to bartend during the party.
HOW TO STOCK YOUR BAR WITHOUT GOING BROKE: THE TWO-BOTTLE BAR
Stocking the bar sounds pretty simple until you stand in the liquor store and realize that even if you stick with "the basics" you're talking about gin, vodka, rum, tequila, Scotch, and bourbon-well over a hundred dollars' worth even if you don't buy premium brands. And if you're tempted to add in flavored vodkas or single-malt whiskeys or other non-basic booze options, your bill will quickly escalate.
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