Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Party Bar

How do I set up a bar for my party and how much alcohol should I buy? Are often the first questions a host will ask when they plan a gathering. This holiday season I decided to get ahead of these questions and offer some strategies, tips and ideas to help prepare a party bar for home entertaining.  

Serving a cup of holiday cheer is only part of entertaining but should be as carefully planned as rest of the event.

A basic party bar requires a work area where drinks can be assembled. This is where glassware, ice, garnishes and all beverage ingredients are stored. It need not be a fancy formal bar, but the area should be set out of the main traffic area, with room for people who will want to stand and visit there (guests always hoover around the bar). The kitchen may not be the best choice if food needs to be prepared in the same place, as it will be too crowded for both activities. If weather permits, a covered patio with heaters (if needed) or indoors an office or den works well. 

Bar Set Up Tips:
  • A surface space of 6 to 8 feet is about right for most party bars of less then 50 guests. Additional space for extra glasses or for a coffee set up may be needed for larger groups. If the bar will be attended by a server or bartender, it is good to have a 4 foot bar in front of the table for the server to work.
  • Use black tablecloths on the bar tables, they hide wear and water better then any other color. The bar back tables should topped with a black plastic table cloth over the linen. This will keep the linens and wood tables from getting soaking wet from condensation from drinks on ice.
  • A laminate surface is best for bar mixing and serving area. If you do not rent a laminated bar or have a comparable surface, use black plastic table cloth over linen on the work area.
  • If not near a sink, have a bucket available at the bar for the bartender to throw away liquids and ice from drinks. Offer plenty of cocktail napkins and an accessible trash can.
Chilling Drinks:
  • It is not necessary to fridge beverages ahead of time. Just arrange in tubs or ice chests and ice  down only whats necessary just 1 to 2 hours before service. 
  • Place beverages in water tight tubs first, then pour ice over the top. Drinks laid on top
    of ice do not get chilled properly. 
  •  Do not waste valuable icing tub space with bar mixers. The ice in drinks are enough to chill them. 

Glass and Garnishes:
  • Use an all-purpose nine to eleven ounce stemmed glass. An assortment of glasses is costly and unnecessary. The exception is a champagne flute or coffee mug if serving champagne or coffee drinks. Stock 2 to 3 glasses per guest. 
  • Champagne must be served in a flute-shaped glass to protect the effervescence that makes Champagne special. 
  • 1/4 each, lemons and limes per person and no more then two each other drink garnishes such as cherries, onions and olives per person.
  • Remember ice, lemons, limes and other bar garnishes are food items Take care to follow safe food handling practices.
  • Do not use glasses as ice scoops. Ice cannot be used if glass is broken in it.

For large groups:
  • Ease long lines at the bar when guests arrive all at once, by having a table with trays of pre poured wine, Champagne or a special themed drink ready for pickup as guests arrive.
  • Use shallow tubs set on a table for bottled or canned cold beverages. Place drinks standing up and tightly together before icing. This makes it easier for grasping.
  • Two bartenders can pour more drinks by working together than by having two bars with one bartender each. For more help, have a bar back person who refills ice, beverages and glasses for the bartenders.
  • Save wine and beer bottle boxes and put the bottles in the boxes instead of the trash. Easier than trying to lift a trash bag full of wine and beer bottles.

Serving drinks in warm weather
  • Always serve your drinks in the coolest place possible. Keep additional bagged ice in a shady space that drains well and cover with a heavy blanket.
  • Do not put glass punch bowls or serving containers in the sun. The heat coupled with the cold drink will make the glass crack and shatter.
  • To ice down punch, iced tea or lemonade: freeze one gallon of the prepared beverage in a disposable cut away container or plastic bowl. Place frozen beverage block in serving container before serving. As the block melts it will not dilute the drink. 
  • On warm days make sure you offer plenty of non alcoholic beverages to keep guests from drinking alcohol because they are thirsty.

When deciding how many drinks to buy, consider the guests your inviting, the length of the event and your budget. If you know what your guests prefer to drink and what they don't care for, by all means adjust your shopping list accordingly. The average guest drinks 2 drinks the first hour and 1 drink per hour for the remaining time of the party. Guests will drink more in warm weather then cool, more in the evening then at a day time event and more on a Friday or Saturday event. 

Suggested drink amounts to stock a full bar:
  • For every eight guests allow one quart of alcohol plus wine, beer, soda and mixes. 
  • 50% Vodka, 30% Scotch/Bourbon, 10% Gin, 10% Tequila or Rum. 
  • Wine; One-half bottle per person. Pour is five to six ounces per glass.
  • Beer; 1 to 2- 12 ounce can or bottle per person, 1/2 light. 
  • Mixes; One quart bottle for every eight people.
  • Sodas; 2 to 3-12 ounce can per person, 1/2 diet.
  • Mineral Waters; Two bottles for every eight people. 
  • Ice; One pound of ice per person for use in cocktails and to ice down drinks.
  • Only serve Champagne if you can afford to serve a moderate quality Champagne or sparkling wine. 
Remember the guidelines are based on an event with guests of varied drink preferences. It is perfectly acceptable to serve a limited drink menu such as beer and wine only. A popular trend is serving a themed or signature drink which can be budget friendly and also festive. CHEERS!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Halloween Menu and Tips for Entertaining

I's Fall and pumpkins... rule

Autumn is my favorite season to entertain...
The colors are warmer, shadows are longer and wrapping gifts won't start for at least a month.
Flavors taste richer in the fall, jewel tone vegetables and fruits crowd the market...
Children even the grown up ones, can be anything they want to be even if it's just for one night.

Is it me or didn't Halloween come up fast this year?
Before you know it the parade of children will be at your door. Waves of squealing little ones in costumes chirping,"trick or treat! Or maybe this year, a Halloween party is part of your plans. If so choose a menu that works well for casual fun and you don't need to break the bank on displaying it well.

When planning party fare, keep in mind that guests in costumes may have a hard time balancing a plate and foods that require cutting to eat. Small palm size sandwiches, dips and finger foods tend to be best. Give your menu items clever or spooky names for the night. Offering foods that can hold at room temperature and are easy to serve make your job less scary.


Setting a table in the center of the room not only helps for easy access, it acts as a focal point as well.

Drape fall colored fabric or even a fringed shawl to add texture and theme to a basic black drape.

Save time by placing bowls and platters where they will go before they are filled. When it's time to serve it makes the process of setting food out go smoother.

Glazed ceramic pots make great snack holders.

Before you spend money on decorations, look around for items you may be able to use. A black vase, candlestick holders, rustic trays and tier stands all work great for Halloween.

Other easy fall decorations are piles of squash and pumpkins. Fall leaves, are perfect, but make sure they are not placed near candles. The classic white sheets over furniture, never goes out of style!

Trick or Treat Menu

Chips Dips and Finger Snacks

Creepy Cabo Shrimp Cocktail

Lava Black Bean & Cheddar Dip with Tortilla Chips

Marinated Tortellini Medusa

Mozzarella Fingers in Marinara

Chili Lime Bat Wings

Snake Sausages 

Deviled Egg Eye Balls

Harvest Ham
with rolls and relishes

Phantom Potato Salad

Carmel Apples and Devils Food Cupcakes

Have a Happy Halloween, may the fun be non stop until the last of the tricksters, giddy with sweets,
are tucked into dreams! 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ginger Sesame Dressing, Just Right

I promised the recipe for Ginger Sesame Dressing at a party back in June, but I've stalled. Not because I didn't want to share, quite honestly I'm not sure how I made it! Cooking from the hip has it's hazards, especially when you attempt to duplicate and record a recipe later. 

I had another chance to make it again this weekend, for a bridal shower. I lined the ingredients up on the counter as if creating some magic spell. Thinking, "surely it can't be that hard to replicate the sweet sesame flavor, that was thick dark and dreamy on chicken and greens?" Ahhh... but it was! Several attempts ended with a concoction that was too salty, too sweet, too acid, or oily and or runny. Goldilocks would have given up, but I kept adding pluses and minus marks next to each ingredient, trying to get it just right.

Remembering what vinegar I had used before, if I had added honey. How much sesame oil, soy and chili sauce? I grated ginger till my fingers hurt and cried over shallots (which in the final recipe, got cut anyway ). Eventually I produced a few contenders and this one, although not a perfect replica, won the approval of family tasters.
Sesame Dressing
Makes 16 ounces

1 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1 Tablespoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon dry chili flake
1 Teaspoon fresh ginger
1 Teaspoon crushed garlic
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 Tablespoons dark sesame oil
3/4 cup salad oil

1. Bring vinegar, sugar, chili sauce, dried chili, pepper to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Boil 10 minutes. Remove from heat add ginger, garlic and allow to cool to room temperature.
2. In a medium glass bowl, whisk soy sauce with dry mustard. Place a fine mesh strainer over the bowl and pour the cooled vinegar mixture through (to remove ginger, garlic and chili pepper flakes).
3. Slowly pour in oils into the bowl, whisking vigorously until combined. Chill before serving.

Note; I usually need at least 2 times this amount for a salad to serve about 30 guests. However when doubled, it didn't thicken right. If you need additional dressing for a larger function, you might have better luck making it in batches.

Here's a picture from the bridal shower the dressing was for. Amazing isn't it, that you can set a buffet up in a small kitchen and easily serve 30 or more guests!

AND...don't forget dessert!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chelsea's Day

Nearly thirty years ago I fell head over heels in love with of all things, event catering. Not because I have a passion for cooking, although I'm pretty fond of creating great food and even more fond of eating it.  
What I enjoy most is the celebration of people by the people who love them. 

An event caterer, is involved in some of the most important moments in peoples lives. There is nothing more beautiful then friends and family coming together to mark a special day and special people like Chelsea Lane.

The moment I began working with Chelsea's her mother, Sandy, I knew Chelsea was special. The depth of care and attention to every party detail exceeded the preparation for most graduation parties.
I learned that Chelsea was diagnosed with Friedreich's Ataxia  (FA) ( see  Friedreich's Ataxia ) at age 5. FA is an inherited progressive disease that debilitates motor skills and often leads to serious health problems. This disease has robbed Chelsea of activities that average young people experience easily but on this occasion, it wouldn't steal her day.

Arriving for set up, I found the house brimming with family and friends chattering cheerfully. Did I mention Chelsea Lane is loved?
The party colors were teal, black and white. The buffet was tucked in the kitchen dining area, music and festive party tables filled the backyard.

More then celebrating a graduation, the Lane family were celebrating Chelsea!

Special Party Menu
for 70 guests 
Crab stuffed Mushrooms

Mandarin Chicken Salad
with ginger sesame dressing 
Hibachi Beef
marinated tri tip with rich pineapple glaze
Vegetable Rice Pilaf
Penne Pasta with Tarragon Chicken
baked with mozzarella in Parmesan cream sauce 

 Paradise Fresh Fruit Salad
Crab Stuffed Mushrooms ready for the oven

Hibachi Beef resting

The Mandarin Chicken Salad recipe will appear in next post

Chelsea Lane is courageous, loved and her family's perseverance inspiring. Sadly soon after the party Chelsea developed a heart virus. Please remember her and her care givers in your prayers.

To learn more about Friedreich's Ataxia (FA) and how to help, please click on the link or go to  http://www.curefa.org

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hatch Chili's at a Catered Reunion

Behind the 91 freeway sound wall it was hot enough to melt freckles. Had I known in 5th grade that you could melt away freckles in an Anaheim neighborhood, I might have visited sooner. I'm sure the engineers didn't intend to dam the breeze for the houses behind it. No one would be that cruel.

Still, hot or not, Summer will always call folks outside to gather. Most backyards will usually see at least one event or more in the season before school busses roll again. Most will center around grilled foods and precious family time that you can never have enough of. Backyards are my speciality, and I love when I get a chance to cater with fresh seasonal ingredients.

Just before I catered Sunday's family reunion,
the Fed Ex truck had arrived with a box from Melissa's, (foodie equivalent to a gift from the North Poll). Santa at Melissa's sent famous Hatch Chili's in various whimsical shapes and Scoville values, delightfully fragrant and, kind of well... sexy.

For the party I chopped the spicy ones into the Tex Mex Dip and the milder ones were served along with grilled corn.

Summer Family Reunion
Menu For 30

Tex Mex Dip with Hatch Chili's and Handmade Chips
Vine Ripe Pomodoro and Toasted Garlic Bruschetta

Tri Tip with Spicy Apple Cider Mop
BBQ Chicken Brochette
Grilled Corn with Roasted Hatch Chili's
Baked Beans with Bacon and Caramelized Onions
Ruby Gold Potato Salad
Country Cole Slaw
Garden Salad with Buttermilk and Raspberry Balsamic Dressing
Corn Bread Muffins
Fresh Sliced Watermelon

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Handmade Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

The New Mexico Hatch Chili is a grandparent of the Anaheim Chili seems like a good fit to roast and serve them at a friendly family gathering. Once blistered and allowed to sweat, the Hatch Chili's skin slips easily off leaving a silky pepper in your hands. Enjoy them in an omelette, quesadilla or turn them into a delicious salsa.
They have a limited season but can be stored in the freezer and used in delicious dishes for months. If you can't get away to New Mexico... Melissa's Produce can bring fresh Hatch Chili's to your door!

Learn more from Melissa's Chef Ida at: http://www.melissas.com/Recipes/Videos/Hatch-Chiles.aspx

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Tropical Menu for Graduation Catering

Often in May and always in June, 
someone...somewhere, is moving on.
It might be to a bigger campus, it maybe to start a career or a family but whether it's considered a beginning or end a graduation is an  accomplishment and worth celebrating!


Hands-down the favorite graduation theme is tropical. Perhaps because graduations are traditionally held before summer and leaving school triggers vacation thoughts of swaying palms and coconuts. When I plan a catered backyard graduation, I often suggest this theme for entertaining, it's comfortable for both the host and guests. The flavors have wide appeal and the casual barbecue buffet is perfect for backyard gatherings.
I have found that if I decorate the buffet with a few palm fronds some large sea shells, a bit of fish net and some bamboo edging it conveys a relaxed island theme. Because these items are neutral, they work with any color scheme. The soft warm color of khaki paired with crisp white, balances nicely against all the green in this backyard.

Not only do guests seem to relax at the first sight of tropical trappings, island flavors have a rich sweetness. At this party the backyard air is filled with wisps of deliciously exotic smoke from marinated skewers cooking on the barbecue. The fruit was cut while the meats cook and served as fresh as possible.
This menu works for any summer gathering it is backyard tested and graduation approved!

                                            Menu For A Backyard Graduation Gathering

hummus with pita toasts
bruchetta pomodoro
bleu cheese and almond spread
herb feta dip with vegetable sticks
jalapeno cheese ball with crackers
crab stuffed mushroom caps

teriyaki marinated skewers of shrimp, chicken and beef
island rice pilaf
sesame noodle salad
sliced fresh fruit
bite size desserts

Note: when planning a tropical theme menu, not everything on the appetizer list needs to fit the flavor profile, serve what you like. In addition, appetizers don't have to be served together on a buffet, they can be arranged on platters on several suitable surfaces around the party. Today's modern outdoor furniture and patio rooms, make it comfortable for smaller set ups to be placed about. 

For this gathering, the hostess chose a wide variety of intriguing dips and spreads that guests could nibble all night. She also chose crab stuffed mushrooms, a party classic, toasted and warm from the oven.

At this event, the host had a new exceptional grill area. It was the perfect place to cook the meal. The skewers of marinated chicken, were started first, followed by beef and finally the shrimp. Keep the skewers warm in a chaffing dish.  A fresh cool sesame noodle salad, and a seasoned rice pilaf are good with this menu. Fresh fruit is a must and the host chose small bite size desserts for easier service, rather then a graduation cake.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tomato,ToMAto,Two For A Crowd

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It's Memorial Day weekend and my last years tomatoes are finally ripe....I had given up the idea that I could actually grow anything with my two brown thumbs. My friend's, Teri and Bill, grew tomatoes last year that were magnificent so apparently it can be done, just not by me.

I was set on pulling them up, somehow they must have known ... because it finally happened~

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"A Memorial day miracle"...tomatoes! 

My enthusiasm comes from having a few great dishes that are made from the aforementioned fleshy, ripe, usually red globes of goodness. Tomatoes are well suited for catering or a home event. They have wide crowd appeal and are a staple in many cuisines. When in season, tomatoes are inexpensive, preserve well by a number of means and can be easily home grown...at least by some people.

Here are a two of my favorite tomato dishes easy to make for a crowd 

Caprese Skewers
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Bruschetta Pomodoro
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Bruschetta Pomodoro
  • ½ white onion
  • ½ red onion
  • 16 large Roma tomato diced
  • 5 turns fresh black pepper grinder
  •  salt to taste
  • 12 large fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
  • 2 lbs Ciabatta bread
  • garlic or herb seasoned olive oil
  • 6 whole garlic clove
Dice or chop onion.
Stir into diced tomatoes. Add garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Chiffonade fresh basil. Mix together all ingredients then salt to taste. Sprinkle in Parmessan cheese to garnish and set aside.
Slice ciabatta bread into 3"x4" slices approx. 1//4 inch thick.
Brush with olive oil on both sides, grill or toast in paninni machine.
Slice open garlic clove and rub onto toasted bread.
Serve along side of pomodoro sauce.

serves 25
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 Not only will I have my own crop this year, I found a great little secret farmers market in Orange with great produce to hook me up with the best tomatoes the local farmers grow... This one is mine, get your own. I'm kidding.
Check it  Orange Home Grown Farmers Market it's on Saturdays in Old Town Orange, CA
For the Caprese Skewers
If your shopping at the Orange Home Growers Market you'll find Baba Foods has the great little fresh mozzarella balls, the size of a large grape.
They are already marinated so just slide them on a
6" skewer with small tomatoes, add some basil
and you have a perfect appetizer.

It might be still a little early for really good tomatoes, in fact the gloom is making it tough to take good photos, but get your recipes ready, they'll be back.