Tag Archives: Entertaining

HOW TO BE A HORRIBLE HOST

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Sure, there are lots of extra things you can do to be the ultimate host: fresh flowers, candles, extravagant meals made from scratch. Those things are great, but really not necessary to show your friends a good time.

There are some things, though, that need to be done to keep your guests from wanting to walk out. And I think sometimes the best way to learn is through what not to do! So, here are a few tips for how to be a horrible host:

Don’t clean your apartment, not even a little.
Let’s be clear about this: your place doesn’t necessarily have to be pristine. But various clothing items and shoes strewn about and dirty dishes in the sink can make guests feel like they are intruding or maybe you forgot they were coming over in the first place. Make sure your straightening up includes cleaning the table or where ever you intend people to eat, having enough dishes and silverware for them to eat with, and making sure your bathroom isn’t gross.

Shame people for not eating your food.
There comes a point in life where you have to accept that other people may not like the things you like. Sure, it can seem a little rude to let someone make you dinner and then not eat it. But you never know if they’re battling stomach issues or just an embarrassingly picky eater. Let it go. Hopefully whatever you made makes for good leftovers. (This is even more important when it comes to someone not drinking alcohol, by the way.)

Text / check your phone throughout the night.
The only thing worse than having people to your house who then sit on their phones the whole night is going to someone else’s house and having them sit on their phone the whole night. This has happened to me a few times, and I always feel like maybe I’m subpar entertainment for my host and want to leave. Not cool.

Be incredibly stressed the entire time.
As much as people appreciate you putting hard work into a night for them, if it’s causing you to stress out the whole time it’s probably not worth it. This is why make-ahead meals are great, and if cooking is out of the option for you, just order some good takeout and get some nice wine. Chances are no one will care, and everyone will have a better time!

There are, as with all things, exceptions to the rules. But generally speaking, these are good ones to follow. Or, rather, not follow!

HOW TO BUILD A BLOODY MARY BAR

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There’s no way around it: I can’t stop fantasizing about football game-day brunch. And as much as I love a good mimosa bar, there’s a time and a place for that. In my humble opinion, no morning cocktail is going to transition you into nachos and wings (and oven fried broccoli) better than a Bloody Mary.

So, if you’re hosting the big game at your place, nothing will make people happier than a well-stocked Bloody Mary bar. My favorite part about building a Bloody Mary bar is that you can go as simple or over the top as your want. Just make sure there’s vodka.
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How to Build a Bloody Mary Bar:

Salts
If you want to include fancy salts for glass rims, you have a few options. You can go out and buy some fancy flavored salts and be done with it. Or, just buy a large canister of kosher salt and make your own. Keep one plain, mix another with equal parts Old Bay seasoning, and mix another with cracked black pepper. This is fancy already!

Liquor Selection
If you’re looking to go simple, just choose a bottle of decent, unflavored vodka. Extra options can include flavored vodkas (think pepper, lemon, or tomato) or tequila for those who want to take the Bloody Maria route.

Ice Cubes
While hydration is key if you’re in a “hair of the dog” situation, that doesn’t make a watered down bloody mary taste good. Plan ahead and freeze some of your bloody mary mix into cubes (or better, full on spheres) for maximum flavor.

Meats
If you want to have a few meats available, shrimp and bacon are great go-to’s. The shrimp can either be boiled or roasted in the oven, peels off but tails on. Bacon should be crisp – no one wants to stick a piece of floppy bacon in their morning cocktail! Various charcuterie meats arranged on toothpicks or bamboo skewars are also fun.

Pickles, Olives, and Peppers
Cruise your grocery store’s olive bar and/or pickle aisle and see what peeks your fancy. Consider non-traditional pickles (pickled green beans or asparagus) and olives stuffed with crazy thinks like garlic and jalapeños. Hot peppers are good, too. Have a small assortment or go crazy and get some of everything – it’s up to you!

Sauces & Seasonings
Providing an array of spices and seasoning is a great choice. People can customize their drinks to their liking, and you can get away with just providing tomato juice instead of mild and spicy mix options. Include a few different hot sauces, Worcestershire sauce, grated horseradish, and celery seeds. Have salt and pepper on hand too.

Traditional Garnishes
Don’t get so carried away with creative add-ins that your forget the things everyone usually wants! Lemon and lime wedges along with leafy celery stalks should all be on the table.

So there your have it – let football brunch season begin!

SHRIMP AND SAUSAGE OVER CREAMY POLENTA

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Mmmm comfort food. Filling and satisfying and all the other good things. I know it’s summertime and it’s hot and even kind of sticky in some places, but that still does not make comfort food any less comforting.

This Shrimp and Sausage over Creamy Polenta is kind of a play on southern shrimp and grits. The flavors are much more Italian, though, with a chunky tomato sauce loaded with fresh thyme and oregano.

It’s comfort food to the max.
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I don’t cook with a lot of meat, but sausage is one of my favorites to use when I do. It’s so flavorful when browned in a hot pan. You could easily substitute in vegan sausages if you want. Or add veggies. Or just make this sauce with shrimp only.

Or just skip the sauce and eat a whole pot of polenta. I would totally understand if you just did that instead.
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Believe it or not, this was the first time I’d ever made creamy polenta! It was way easier than I expected and somewhat similar to making rice. I found this article to be super helpful!

I didn’t add a ton of cheese, which is somewhat shocking for me. But I really just wanted enough to give the polenta a little extra salt flavor. This whole meal came together in under an hour, and was pretty stress-free. It’s a great choice if you’re cooking for friends at home!
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SHRIMP AND SAUSAGE OVER CREAMY POLENTA

Serves 4

Ingredients
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb. Italian sausage (I used mild)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

4 cups water
1 cup polenta
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Instructions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prick your sausages in a few places with a fork and place them on the sheet pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

While the sausages bake, bring a pot with the 4 cups of water to boil over medium-high heat. Once the water is boiling, add the salt. Whisk the water and slowly stream in the polenta. Keep whisking as the mixture thickens.

Once it thickens to the point that the polenta does not fall to the bottom if you stop stirring (about 3 minutes) turn the heat to low-medium. Keep whisking another 2-3 minutes as the polenta continues to thicken. Place a lid over the pot and set a timer for 30 minutes. Then, every 10 minutes stir the polenta with a rubber or wooden spatula, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pot.

By the time you place the lid on the polenta, the sausage should be done baking. Heat a skillet over medium/medium-high heat. Slice the sausage into 1/2 inch pieces. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to the hot pan and then add the sausage.

Once the sausage starts to brown, add the diced onion. Cook the sausage and onion for another 5 minutes or so, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another minute, and then the diced tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce cook down a little bit.

Once the timer goes off on your polenta, remove from heat. Stir in the butter and cheese until melted. Stir the shrimp into the tomato sauce and place a lid on that pot. Remove the lid once the shrimp are cooked, about 4-6 minutes. Remove the pot from heat.

Ladle about 1 cup of polenta into the middle of each dish and top with the shrimp and sausage sauce. Garnish with fresh thyme as desired. Serve immediately, paired with a light red wine like Pinot Noir.

4 TIPS FOR A TINY APARTMENT DINNER PARTY

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Throwing a party is one of my favorite things to do! If you love to cook like I do, there’s nothing more rewarding than sharing it with new and old friends. If you don’t cook, it’s still a great feeling to pop a few corks and fill your home with good energy and good company!

We used to live in a small house with a nice patio and yard which made entertaining really easy. Things are a little trickier living in a city apartment, but it can be done! Here are 4 tips for hosting a tiny apartment dinner party:

Move Things Around
Your apartment may not fit many people the way you have it set up for everyday, but can you move anything around? Decorative furniture and plants can be moved to bedrooms to make space for more chairs. If a coffee table is clogging up a living space, move that too!

Make Some Space
If you need to be pulling things like coffee tables or end tables out of your common space, that might leave you questioning where to place food and drinks. Try clearing off other surfaces like book shelves. Even if you have a small kitchen, clear the countertops of anything not needed for your party. Toasters, blenders, dish racks, and maybe even the coffee pot should be cleared. No where to put them? Try your shower!
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Create a Thoughtful Menu
Whatever your restrictions are, keep them in mind when planning what to serve. If you’re place tends to be unseasonably warm and/or has poor air circulation, don’t host pizza night or anything else that requires cranking the oven way up. If there’s no central table for people to sit and eat, serve a bunch of heavy appetizers that can be eaten standing up if need be.

Relax and Have Fun
As the host goes, so goes the party! The worst thing you could possibly do is spend the whole time apologizing for not having a formal dining room (or a table at all), enough wine glasses, or three bathrooms. If you’re confident and relaxed about your solutions, your guests will be too.

Happy partying!

AN EASY WINE PAIRING GUIDE

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Wine pairing is a tricky business. I find that a lot of the guides I read are complicated and include a ton of wines I’ve never even heard of before.

And really, I’m not trying to be a sommelier. I just want to look a little fancier than I actually am by intentionally serving wine that’ll compliment the dinner I just slaved over. So here’s an easy wine pairing guide, designed for the everyday wine-o turned chef:

For starters, if you’re making a wine sauce, serve the same wine! This is a really simple trick that works every time. Whether you’re making a red wine sauce to serve over pasta or a white wine sauce to sauce with chicken or fish, just serve what you’re putting in the sauce! Done and done.
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Appetizers: If you want to serve something different with appetizers than you will with dinner, go for a dry Rosé. It’s refreshing, will appeal to almost everyone, and go with everything you serve.

Vegetable Dishes: For something light and green, like a salad, go with a light, dry white wine. Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio are good options. For something hardier, roasted, and maybe including more root vegetables, think about a dryer white (Chardonnay) or a light bodied red. Pinot Grigio is my go-to.

Fish: In general, fish and Pinot Grigio are best buds. For a lighter fish meal (something you might squeeze a lemon over) you can also go with a Sauvignon Blanc. For something richer, with a lot of butter or a creamier sauce, Chardonnay is also a good bet.
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Chicken and Pork: This is where we start to move up the scale a little bit. The lighter end pairs well with a dry white, like Chardonnay. From there, depending on the richness of the dish, you can go with a lighter red like Pinot Noir or a medium red like Merlot or Tempranillo.

Beef & Other Red Meat: For something lighter, like a grilled steak, a medium bodied red like Merlot or Tempranillo is a great pairing. For something richer, like a slow roasted pot roast or bolognese, think big and bold – Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are your friends!

When in doubt, Champagne/Cava/Prosecco goes with everything!

Seriously.

DIETARY RESTRICTIONS: HOW & WHEN TO ACCOMODATE

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Hosting a 4th of July BBQ? This is arguably the simplest party to have all year long! All you need are some hamburgers, hot dogs, popsicles, and beer.

That is, until your friends’ dietary restrictions come into play. But don’t worry! There are a lot of simple solutions to handling any kind of restriction a friend might have. This year you can enjoy yourself all while including everyone.

Accommodate Where You Can
If you know you have a few friends coming who are vegetarians, there’s a pretty simple fix. Just do the hospitable thing and pick up a pack of veggie burgers and a can of vegetarian baked beans (or make your own!). If you want to go a step further, maybe don’t put bacon in everything. It’s pretty minimal effort on your part and your veggie friends are sure to feel super grateful!

Just Ask
If you know someone has a dietary restriction but don’t know how to accommodate it, just ask! For example, there are lots of things that people with celiac or who are otherwise avoiding gluten can eat. So, if you’re concerned, just give your friend a call a day or two before the party to make sure what you are planning will work for them.
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Go Potluck Style
For trickier dietary restrictions and acute allergies, sometimes it’s better for everyone if you invite your guest to bring something that meets their needs. That way, you’re not left worrying about accidentally sending someone into anaphylactic shock and your friend won’t go hungry.

Dietary Restrictions vs. Picky Eaters
While it’s really considerate to take dietary restrictions into consideration, remember this does NOT need to be an opportunity for yours guests to tell you exactly what to make for them. If that’s what you’re going for, just take them out to dinner. If you know someone who only eats buttered noodles, it might be best for them to eat before they come.

How do you usually handle dietary restrictions for a party?

EASY BRUNCH IDEAS

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While I wouldn’t call myself a morning person, I really do love a good breakfast spread. Thoughts of mimosas and bloody mary’s dancing through my head always make me want to host some sort of brunch party. But the idea of getting up 3-4 hours before the appropriate time to host such an event makes me cringe.

It’s especially cringe-worthy if there’s any chance you’ll be pulling this together while nursing a hangover. In your favor, I think brunch is really well served as a buffet. Everyone is different in terms of how much and what they eat in the morning. Having a few serve-yourself options makes everyone happy.

Whether you drew the short straw at the office, got roped into contributing to an early-morning shower, or just let the mimosa bar dream get the best of you, here are some really easy brunch ideas to get you through it:
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Photo from Jenny Hobick

Lox & Bagels

What to Include: Bagels (different kinds – all savory), Smoked Salmon or Lox, Capers, Diced Red Onion, Cream Cheese, Sliced Tomato, Fresh Dill or Chives

Keep in Mind: Take the cream cheese out first to let it soften. If using mini bagels, make sure your lox is cut into small enough portions. Segment your plate (like Jenny Hobick did above) so guests can grab the accompaniments they like and leave the rest.

Why it’s a Winner: Simple as it is, this just always feels fancy. It’s also likely to satisfy (almost) anyone who shows up needing something more substantial to start their day.
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Fruit Platter or Tart

What to Include: Whatever fruit is in season, affordable, and easily cut into bite-sized pieces. Serve separate like a fruit platter with bowls of yogurt and granola on the side, or put them all together like in the tart shown above (making the shell the day before).

What to Remember: Slice melon and strawberries the day before if you want to. It’s never a bad idea to portion this off (like the Lox Platter) so people can grab what they want. If including apples in your mix, toss them with some lemon juice to keep them form going brown. If including bananas, plan to slice them right before serving to keep them from turning brown.

Why It’s a Winner: Fruit and Breakfast have been BFF pretty much forever.
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Pastry Platter

What to Include: Variety of baked good like muffins, scones, breads, danishes, and even sticky buns! Also have condiments like butter and jams if appropriate.

What to Remember: Make sure you have a variety to accommodate allergies and tastes: not all with nuts, all with fruit, all with chocolate, or all with frostings and cream cheese.

Why it’s a Winner: This is often one of the less expensive options, and people sometimes feel like they’re allowed to eat dessert for breakfast. Win-win.

Most of the time you can get all these elements store bought, and assembling them yourself instead of getting the already laid out platter can really cut the cost. Read this and make it look just as nice!

SUMMER PARTY DO’S AND DON’TS

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My favorite part of summer is sitting outside with friends, soaking up the sun – preferably cocktail in hand! One thing is for sure: you don’t need to have a huge house, a pool, or even a big yard to share the season with your buds.

Whatever you do have, here are some Do’s and Don’ts for hosting a summer party:

DON’T: Invite more people than you can fit. Whether you’re pulling together a party in your apartment, on your patio, or in a shared space at your apartment building, no one will really care how big it is…unless you invite so many people it’s uncomfortable. If you have a lot more space outside than in, make sure as much as possible is set up there so people only need to go inside to use the bathroom. This means, food, drinks, sunscreen, and bug spray if needed.

DO: Make sure you have enough seating for everyone. Same with the rule above, don’t invite so many people that it’s standing room only. If you’re having people over to hang out and relax, make sure you have enough seats for everyone to do just that. Consider borrowing extra chairs from friends if you need to!
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DON’T: Run out of food or drinks. Running out of booze is the fastest way to kill a summer party. But, not serving enough food with said booze, especially if it’s hot out, is the fastest way for a party to go terribly wrong! Also, keep enough water and non-alcoholic beverages on hand for everyone to stay hydrated.

DO: Share the load. Having enough food and drinks to keep the party going does not need to be completely on you. One way to do it is to take care of all the food and make most or all the alcohol BYOB. The other option is to just organize a potluck party.
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DO: Stock up on amenities: Just like for any other party, make sure the bathroom is stocked with enough toilet paper and that you have plenty of ice. Take care of anything else you don’t want to deal with later on!

DON’T: Overcomplicate things! On any nice day, most summer party goers are just happy to be outside and in good company. If you want to change things up and do something like grilled pizza, go for it. But know that hamburgers and hot dogs will always be acceptable!

THE CHAMPAGNE COUPE: THE ONLY COCKTAIL GLASS YOU NEED

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Camille Champagne Coupe Glass | Crate & Barrel | $10.95 each

Our things finally arrived in Denver last week (hooray!), so unpacking has been in full swing since then. I am both happy and shocked to report that I somehow fit all of our kitchen stuff into our fairly small kitchen. It truly feels just short of a miracle.

Unsurprisingly, though, I got cut off at our barware. We saw this one coming and had already decided that we’d need to set up a separate bar area to house both bottles and stemware. As we unpacked, though, it really became clear that we’re going to need to downsize our glass collection.

Because that’s what it’s become, really: a collection. Pint glasses from breweries all over the place, wine glasses from a winery 5k (my favorite way to exercise), martini glasses from my martini phase, etc.
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Bubbled-Up Coupe Set | Anthropologie | $58.00 for Four

While we’ll definitely hold on to a few of our more sentimental pieces, practically speaking there is only one specialty stemware piece I feel inclined to keep: the champagne coupes. I think they’re just about the most versatile piece in any bar set!

Granted, you could easily get away with just wine glasses. But, if you do want to have any sort of specialty stemware, coupes are the way to go! Unlike champagne flutes, coupes can hold both bubbles and any type of strained cocktail, such as a martini. Even the hardier Manhattan, nowadays often served on the rocks, is traditionally strained into a coupe.
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Vintage Style Stemware | West Elm | $32.00 for Four

I think my favorite part about champagne coupes – and the reason I invested in them in the first place – is I almost instantly feel more glamorous when sipping from one. If drinking a good glass of Cava or a flavorful cocktail, you also get so much more of the aroma than when sipping a champagne flute.

So, if you’re looking to pair down, keep the coupes and ditch the rest. If you’re looking to invest in some flutes, consider coupes instead!

DINNER MUSIC

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We’re a music house. We just are. If we’re not watching TV or reading, there’s usually some serious tunes filling up our home. We cook, clean, eat, and make to music. The radios in our cars are never turned off. It’s just how we roll.

That’s probably why I feel like dinner music is a must if you’re having people over for dinner, even if it’s just for delivery pizza. Music can make such a difference in your night, especially if you’re hosting new friends. It can fill a quiet room and be a great conversation starter. Also, it’s way less likely for your evening to end in a full-on dance party if you don’t have music on…and why would you try to avoid that?

There are some guidelines here, though. While throwing Pandora on and leaving it for the rest of the night is certainly better than nothing, I recommending breaking it up into a few pieces, almost like a wedding: before dinner, during dinner, and after dinner.

Before dinner you’re best off playing some light and bright feel-good music to make everyone comfortable. It should be upbeat enough to pump some life into you but still be easy to talk over.

Dinner Time: If you’re sitting down for a formal meal, that’s a good time to tone it down a little. You’ll want something that essentially just serves as background noise. Depending on your style an acoustic playlist or some soft R&B are good choices.

After dinner really depends on what kind of a night your’e going for. Either you’re going to move the coffee table over and crank straight into the ‘80s/‘90s dance music or melt into the couch with some jazz and some Scotch.

If you don’t have the time/don’t want to make the time to put together specific playlist, welcome to the rest of humanity. Pandora and iTunes Radio are great (free!) resources for generated lists based on a single artist. If you are an Amazon Prime member, Amazon Music offers tons of pre-loaded playlists, many of which are designed specifically for entertaining.

What’s your go-to party jam?