Princess Edamame\’s Parties

You CAN have a great party – just learn from my mistakes!

To The Curious Google-er

Why on earth would you want to cook edamame in a crock pot?  Really, it doesn’t take long.  Boil water, put in frozen beans, bring back to a boil, cook about 5 mintes, drain, salt, eat.

 So, if you should pass this way again, please let me know exactly how busy you are, that you want to cook edamame in a crock pot.

January 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Someone Actually Blogs Less That I Do

Okay – I take a lot of flack for not posting often.  And I admit it – I don’t.  I post as often as I feel the need.

 But I have finally found someone who updates his blog less frequently than I:  Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  You can read him here:  http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/

Please don’t get into a debate about good, bad or indifferent on Tehran here.  Unless you’re talking about what to serve at a party where you intend to talk about good, bad, or indifferent on Tehran.

December 12, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Having a Large Party in a Small House

So, you want to have 60 people over, but don’t have much room for them?  Parties where your guests are belly to belly and butt to but are the best!  Here’s how you do it.

First, be sure this is realistic for your house.  You want a lot of people, not a safety hazard. You know your house better than I.  If you decide you think you can, then…

Turn on the AC well before the party, and drop it a few degrees lower than you are comfortable.  It’s gettin’ hot in here, but you don’t (necessarily) want to be takin’ off all your clothes.

People congregate by the food.  So set your main food items in one room, but set up snack foods (nuts, trail mix, M&Ms) in other rooms.  I put snacks in my small front parlor, the appetizers and small foods in the dining room, beverages and main dishes in the kitchen, and more snacks in the family room and patio.  It helps that our house is L-shaped, and each of these rooms leads very well to the next without strange hallway navigation.  Setting your food up in this way will help encourage flow throughout the house, and encourages mingling from room to room.

 If possible, open up the great outdoors.  Even a small patio will give guests the opportunity for a breath of fresh air.

Don’t worry about having a seat for each guest.  We do well with seats for about half.  To help with this, serve foods that are easy to eat standing up.  No knives (yes, this is a mantra of mine).

November 13, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Fourth of July Party Was A Blast!

This year, I wanted our annual Fourth of July party to be something worth reporting to my devoted readers.

 

So I approached the party as though I were helping someone else simplify his or her own party.  (Although I tend to really practice what I preach, I do have moments where I really overreach – anyone remember the homemade gnocchi from our Christmas party a few years back?)

 

First, I considered the starting time.  Fireworks are legal where we live, so the party tends to run late.  In previous years, we started pretty early, as early as 1:00, so people tended to leave before the fireworks got started.  In addition, I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to not only get everything prepared, but to relax before the party.  A long shower, time to put on makeup and style your hair, all go a long way towards being a relaxed hostess.  So I decided that this year, we would start at 5:00.  I had plenty of time, and nearly everyone who came stayed for fireworks. 

 

 

As in many other families, our Fourth of July party is a barbeque.  However, depending on what you are cooking, that tends to put a lot of burden on the griller.  This year, I wanted to take that pressure off Dear Husband, so he could be freer to socialize.  So here’s what we did:

Our main courses were sloppy joes and Italian sausage sandwiches.  (We also did hot dogs for the chilluns.)  The sloppy joe mixture (5 batches, recipe from Cook’s Country, October/November 2005) was cooked the night before and the morning of the party, and stored in zipper bags in the fridge (the fewer dirty dishes, the better).  About an hour before the party, I nuked each batch to take the edge off the cold, and tossed them all into a crock pot, set to low.  Done!

 

For the sausages, I precooked them almost, but not quite, completely, by steaming them with a little white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper.  I held them in the fridge, and all Dear Husband had to do was finish them on the grill.  Then, he’s free!

 

As for the side dishes, which I adore making, devilled eggs are a must.  (My favorite recipe:  Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1999, Better Homes and Gardens Books.)  The eggs can be boiled well in advance.  Then, make the filling the day before, and store it right in the pastry bags you’ll use to pipe the filling into the egg halves.  Don’t forget to cover the tip of the pastry bag, and clip the top shut.  Easy, right?  My tip for a upper smooth filing:  put the yolks through a potato ricer, rather than mash them with your fork or a pasty blender.

 

 

For a BBQ, chips and dip are simple enough, and sure to be eaten.  A fruit plate is easy, if you buy very nice looking pre-cut fruit.  Pile it on a plate, and you’re finished!  Olives are also always easy – buy and dump.  Just be sure to get a nice quality olive.  Try them from an olive bar (like at Bristol Farms or an Italian deli).

 

I have a cheese plate at every party, whether it’s the Fourth of July party, Christmas Brunch, or Bachelor Sunday.  (More on Bachelor Sunday in another post.)  Cheeses are great, if you get the right ones.  If you are planning to leave the cheese out for a long time, such as all afternoon during your BBQ, forget cheddar and jack.  They will start to sweat, and become oily and unappetizing.   Try soft ripened cheeses, like brie, which typically become better as they sit out.  A great soft-ripened cheese to try (if you can get past the barnyard aroma) is epoisses.  If it’s properly ripened, it will simply “melt” as it sits out.  Blues are also great.  Try Saint Agur, a nice gorgonzola dolce, or a Stilton.  Use water crackers – you want to really taste the cheese.

 

M&Ms are fun – I purchased some custom printed ones this year.  They are expensive (about $12 for 7 oz), but of course custom printing isn’t necessary.   Nibbles like bar snacks or trail mix are great.

 

Keep your beverages simple.  A few juices are great for kids or as mixers.  Vodka, tequila gin, scotch and rum are good spirits to have around.  We also like some more “exotic” ones around, for fun, such as Hpnotiq, Midori, and Sambuca.  Don’t forget beer, sodas, and plenty of water, for a summer party.

 

 

I serve dessert and coffee with the fireworks, and I keep it pretty simple.  This year, my sister made a beautiful red, white and blue trifle, and I purchased a sugar-free angel food cake, and topped it with sliced, macerated strawberries.  Both were simple, elegant and tasty.

 

All in all, our simplified bash was a ton of fun.  Nearly everything was finished before the first guests arrived; the only remaining task was plating a few items, which we all did together.  And, most importantly, I had plenty of time to spend with our guess – and isn’t that what it’s all about?

July 22, 2007 Posted by | 4th of July, barbeque, BBQ, entertaining, Family Parties, fireworks, food, Tips, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Long Time, No See! Cookbook Clubs Explored…

All right, it’s been a while.  But I have at least had some interesting things going on.  I’ve been buying cookbooks like they are going out of style lately.  DH thinks it’s fine, as long as I use them!  Some recent acquisitions:

 small bites big nights by Govind Armstrong (2007, Clarkson Potter)

Tapas by Penelope Casas (1985, 2007, Alfred A. Knopf)

Washoku – Recipies from the Japanese Home Kitchen by Elizabeth Andoh (2005, Ten Speed Press)

A Twist of the Wrist – Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingedients from Jars, CAns, Bags, and Boxes by Nancy Silverton (2007, Alfred A. Knopf)

I have to add here that, if you are interested in acquiring massive amounts of cookbooks, The Good Cook book club is a great resource.  I’ve been a member a few times now.  First, check the catalog (which is extensive) to make sure you want enough of their books to make the minimum requirements.  Then, take full advantage of their specials.  The initial sign up is often 4 books for $1 plus shipping, or something similar.  Cheap, at any rate.  Next, meet your minimum requirement of purchases.  If you don’t want their selected offering, be sure to return the reply card on time, or check in online – it’s not a bargain if you don’t want it in the first place.  Then, once you have met your minimum – quit.  You will inevitably receive an offer in the mail a couple of months later saying “we want you back” and you can get a bunch more books for cheap, or buy one get one free…if you can be diligent about the reply cards and your minimum purchase, this can really work to your advantage.   I love receiving 4 or 5 beautiful, expensive, dustjacketed hardcover cookbooks, and paying less than $50 for them!

 The book club I’ve had luck with is www.thegoodcook.com.  I’ve just looked at their site, and they are having a 4 books for $1 each (plus shipping – a few bucks a book) promotion.

June 24, 2007 Posted by | cookbook clubs, cookbooks, entertaining, tapas, Tips, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

The Party’s Over…

Brunch was a blast.  Really.  Did I look stressed?  Nah, not me….

Well, a little.  Preparation ran about 1/2 hour behind schedule, but that ended up being no harm, no foul.  So did the guests!

I came up with 2 new rules for the Christmas Brunch:

1.   Brunch starts at 1:00 p.m!  We have loads of friends who were either late because they were attending or performing at church services.  Why kill myself when half of the guests need to arrive later anyway?  Sleep in!!

2.   First guest helps.  Of course, this only applies if you are behind.  It may seem rude at first blush, but think about it. You are a little behind in setting things out or plating those wonderful items you made ahead.  The first guest arrives.  He will see you busy and undoubtedly offer to help.  What are the options?  (1) Tell him no, hand him a drink, and make him sit and watch, or (2) Tell him thank you, hand him a drink, and involve him with something simple.  Perhaps emptying a bag of chips into a bowl, or cutting fruit…He will feel better being involved, and you will have one less thing to do.  Trust me – works every time. 

An important corollary to #2 above is, don’t concern yourself with the way the job gets done.  The apples aren’t cut into precise eighths?  So what.  Chips are in the wrong bowl?  Who cares.  A simple “thank you” is all you should tell the helper guests.  Remember – they did it for YOU.

Next up – the source of my latest inspiration…

January 10, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What to Serve?

So now my Christmas Champagne Bruch is coming up (just around the corner, I’d say), and I’m deciding what to serve.  Where shall I look or inspiration?

 My “tried and trues” of course!  These are the books I always go to when planning a party.  The recepies are remarkably consistent, even if (when?) I screw up.  There are lots of great-tasting recepies that satill taste great when made ahead.  And, most importantly, they are largely simple recipies.  The last thing you need when planning a soiree is the stress of a difficult recipie!

 Drum roll please….

  • Willams-Sonoma Hors D’Oeuvres & Appetizers
  • Cook’s Illustrated Italian Classics (especially the shrimp scampi recipie, ifyou’re into that sort of thing)
  • Gale Gand’s Short + Sweet
  • Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook

I know what you may be thinking at this point:  “All right, Princess.  What’s up with the Martha Stewart reccomendation?  I thought this wasn’t the typical Martha Stewart-type website!”  It’s not, really!  But I have to hand it to her with this one.  I mean, she has some very simple and tasty items in there!  (Beware, there are also some that you would have to sell your soul to make properly…)

I also wanted to give you some recommendations for everyday cooking.  My absolute faves are:

  • The above, of course
  • Anything from Cook’s Illustrated, and most especially The Best 30-Minute Recipie.  Their recipes are fantastic.  I’ve never made one that didn’t turn out, even after forgetting to put in ingredients!
  • Fondue, by Rich Rogers
  • at the Japanese table by Lesley Downer  (She also wrote some great books about geisha)

And for fun? Anything by Anthony Bourdain and Charlie Trotter.  I will admit that I haven’t been brave enough to try the Les Halles recipes yet, but I will, and I’ll let you know how they come out.  For me, reading the Bourdain books are positively inspiring.  From Kitchen Confidential to The Nasty Bits, I have not been able to put them down.

December 3, 2006 Posted by | Tips, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Being a Guest…

I went to two Halloween parties this year, and both were great – for totally different reasons.

The first was thrown by a long-time friend of mine and her husband. The guests consisted largely of people who knew each other, or at least of each other, and a few people only the hosts knew. It was a great mix. Going to party after party with the same people can get to be droll. It’s always good to invite people whom no one else knows, but who have something in common. (By the way, costumes help people have something in common…)

The food was great, without being extravagant. Some frozen appetizers, cooked well and very nicely plated. No one knew she hadn’t made them herself! Some was catered via take out and, again, the food was well presented.

The second party was a family party. Everyone in costume again, which is great for family, because you see people in a new light. The food was largely homemade, with a good mix of food for adults, and food for kids (that the adults could eat, too). Excellent bar set up, a pumpkin decorating contest, and lots of cozy places to sit, inside and out.

Some tips for your party, whether friends or family:

Get rid of the evidence! You can’t have the empty boxes or take out containers lying around! Always put out your own platters, bowls and plates.

Use what you know, Part I: A party isn’t the time to try a new restaurant. The chic new place around the corner may look good, but until you have had at least 3 different meals there, don’t bother.

Use what you know, Part II: This isn’t the time to try a new convenience food, either. If a frozen appetizer looks good for your party, get a box and try it first. Better to find out now that the cooking instructions aren’t right, it won’t hold for the whole party, or it just tastes like crap.

Use what you know, Part III: Same goes for new recipes. Try them out first! Know how much time it will actually take, how much preparation is involved, and how well the food will taste, and hold for the evening.

Alcohol: The great ice breaker. A few well-chosen boozes and a few well chosen juices make for a fun evening. Don’t forget the beer! If you aren’t hiring a bartender (I never have), it’s nice to put out a few recipe cards as suggestions for what your guests may wish to make.

Coming up:  My progress on planning my own Christmas party, and my favorite cookbooks for parties…

November 6, 2006 Posted by | Family Parties, Tips, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Success!

The back-to-back parties went off rather well, I think!  Saturday night was Japanese dinner for 6, plus my almost 2-year old son.  We made sukiyaki, which is a sort of stew your guests cook at the table.  All I needed to do was buy the ingredients, chop the veggies and make some very simple broth to cook in.  Since this is fantastic party food, I will definitely do an in-depth post on it another time, and recommend some cookbooks.

Sunday afternoon was my son’s second birthday party (a little early).  Mainly family, and a few neighborhood kids.  My uncle made the cake, which was stellar:  devil’s food with rasberry filling!  We held the party at 2 p.m., so no need to prepare a full meal:  pub mix/trail mix, fruit with dip, Halloween candy, shrimp scampi (homemade, but extremely easy and keeps well), and frozen quiches (brand:  Nancy’s.  Almost as good as my homemade.)

Here’s what I would recommend should you decide to hold two parties very close together:

1.  Definitely re-think the idea.  It’s going to be a lot of planning – the schedule will be everything.

2.  Make one of your parties super simple.  Think party platters, pre-cut vegetable trays, or even catering from a favorite restaurant.

3.  If one of your parties is for family, try making that the more casual party, and enlist their help.  Don’t turn them down when they offer to bring something, clear the table or wash dishes.  Don’t be a hero!

October 12, 2006 Posted by | Family Parties, Japanese Dinner, Tips, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Big Experiment This Weekend – Back to Back Parties!

By Monday, I may have a treasure trove of tips for you, good, bad and otherwise. 

My son’s second birthday party is Sunday.  Yay.  Cake, ice cream, family, and appetizers.  Tips to follow.

However, we have decided that it is also a very good idea to have a 6-person dinner party Saturday night.  Japanese food, lots of fun, easy to make.  Book recommendations to follow.

Let’s see if this was a good idea… 

October 6, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment