Princess Edamame\’s Parties

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

Shake That Turkey!

I have been asked by fellow blogger Mrs. Metaphor (see Blogroll) to share tips on shaking up a Thanksgiving feast.

I have thought about this a great deal since receiving this request, and must confess, it’s a stumper.

The thing that came to mind most often was serving non-traditional food – flavoring Tom Turkey with Moroccan spices, for example.  Or serving a meat other than turkey.  If your family is adventurous, I’d say go for it.  Make exotic side dishes.  Skip the ambrosia salad.  But in my personal experience, changing up the food doesn’t always make for a memorable gathering, at least, not necessarily in a good way. 

Every time I thought about sexing up Thanksgiving, I came back to the fundamental part of the holiday – giving thanks.  I’m not sure that this is something that needs sexing up.  I really feel that Thanksgiving is the kick off of a season which features appreciating others at its core. 

 So perhaps the best thing that one can do to “shake it up” is to begin cementing traditions.  Have everyone write on a cut-put paper leaf what they are thankful for, and put them in a bowl.  Everyone can pull one leaf from the bowl, read it aloud, and guess who is thankful for that item.

 Have your traditional turkey carver carve the turkey together with a younger family member.  It’s a great photo op, and a great way to pass the knowledge of turkey carvery.

And perhaps the best tradition I can think to start?  Turn off the Game!  Enjoy the company of your loved ones – even the dysfunctional ones!

November 7, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, entertaining, Family Parties, food, holidays | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stop Procrastinating and Get to the Good Stuff!

I made a promise to give tips on combating pre-party planning procrastination, so here goes.  I should be planning my annual Christmas party right now.  I should be ordering my printed invitations.  I should already know what I’m going to serve.  I should know how many people I’m inviting.  I should know what this year’s theme is.  I don’t.

 

I’m not sure if my latenik-i-ness stems from experience, or if it’s just because I’m busier than I used to be.  But it must be overcome at all costs.  The best party is a well planned one.

 

The urge to procrastinate planning your party may be because you feel like it will be to big a project.   To that I must say, simplify!  Are you thinking that you must serve a homemade hand-carved prime rib, or it just won’t be Christmas?  How about ordering that roast pre-cooked from a local gourmet shop like Bristol Farms (or whatever is in your area)?

 

Do you feel that you are simply too busy to plan it out?  You may be surprised that it probably won’t take as long as you think it will.  Sit down one evening after everyone else is in bed, and grab a cocktail, your most trusted cookbooks, some sticky notes and a notepad. 

 

First, take a sip and decide on a theme.  Don’t make it too complex:  Italian, retro, whatever.  Just something that can unify your choices.  If you have several cookbooks in a particular style, sit down with those, instead of the one Indian book you have.  Having a lot of choices will be helpful – you won’t feel stuck with anything, and will have a bit more freedom.

 

Second, take a swig, and decide whether you want to serve all appetizers and tapas, or whether you want to serve the components of a proper meal (such as salad, veg, a starch, a meat or vegetarian entrée, and a dessert.  (I never do a sit down meal for a large party.  It just doesn’t work for me.)  I like a mix – meal components, tapas style.  Everything bite size.

 

Next, start flipping through your books and tagging anything that looks good.  Don’t filer it.

 

Now, look again at the tagged items.   

 

  • Remove anything that takes more than a day to prepare. 
  • Remove anything that doesn’t have at least one make ahead component. 
  • If you have marked items that use many of the same ingredients (3 kinds of cheese puffs, for example), choose one, and remove the rest.
  • Remove anything that requires a knife to eat, if you are not having a seated meal, and people will be eating and roaming, cocktail style.

 

You should now have a variety of items that should nicely make up your meal.  I like to make sometimes 10 to 12 items.  I don’t recommend this, unless you thrive on driving yourself nuts.

 

Sending invitations is the one thing you really shouldn’t procrastinate on.  They must be sent at least 3 weeks in advance.  Make inviting everyone easy on yourself.  If you have everyone’s mail address, use a service like Evite.  If you mainly have mailing addresses, don’t make extra work for yourself by gathering everyone’s email address.  Order inexpensive pre-printed invitations online, and mail them out.  Some services will even do the mailings for you for a fee, if you provide a mailing list.  For my parties, I order pre-printed invitations, and have my guest list saved in Microsoft Word in label format.  It’s the best of both worlds.  (I prefer snail mail invitations to Evites for my own parties.  I think it’s great to receive party invitations by mail; it makes it a little more special, in my opinion.)

 

I think that’s it for now.  I’m off to order my Christmas party invitations…

November 6, 2007 Posted by | Christmas, cookbooks, planning, Tips | , , , , | 6 Comments

Procrastination

I’m currently suffering from a severe bout of procrastination planning this year’s holiday party.  I’ll tell you about it, and how to try to overcome it, tomorrow.

November 5, 2007 Posted by | Christmas, holidays | , , , , | Leave a comment

Cookbook Recommendation, Part I

Okay party people, I have only 13 minutes left to post in order to prevent missing a day, so here’s a quickie for you:

I have to give a great big ShoutOut to Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country for their foolproof recipies.  I have a dozen of their cookbooks, and I subscribe to both magazines and keep every issue.  I have cooked many things from them, and every single thing has turned out perfectly, as promised.  Even if I screw it up, which I tend to do.  If I break my rule of not trying a new recipie for a party, it is only with a Cook’s Illustrated recipie.  Buy the magazine, the cookbooks, and/or subscribe to their websites. They rock.

You can find them at:

http://www.cooksillustrated.com

http://www.cookscountry.com

November 4, 2007 Posted by | cookbook clubs, cookbooks, entertaining, food, Tips | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hostess Gifts – Bring ’em On

If you’re like most people, you may often wonder when it is appropriate to bring a hostess gift when going to someone’s home for a meal or a party.  Here’s my position:  Bring it on.

The host/ess is going to some measure of trouble to have you over, whether it’s a small affair or a large event.  You should in turn show your appreciation for his or her efforts with a small but thoughtful gift.

“But what?” you ask.  This is where it gets fun.

Everyone knows the usual:  a bottle of wine or flowers.  A bottle of vino is always nice, and I always appreciate it.  But please don’t be offended if the host/ess doesn’t open the bottle that evening.  The wine may have already been carefully chosen, and what you brought may not go well with what is being served.  But please know that your gift is appreciated.  A note on flowers:  It is a good idea to bring a small arrangement that does not smell too strongly, and that does not require being put into a vase.  An arrangement that it already in a container is fantastic, because your host/ess is busy enough; don’t make her stop what she’s doing to find a vase, snip the flowers, and arrange them. 

 But how about something more unique?  Here’s a quick list of some favorites that I have either given or received (or would love to receive – hint hint):

A package of novelty cocktail napkins.  I’m of the belief that you can’t have too many cute cocktail napkins.  And as proof, I have over 30 different unopened packages that I can’t wait to get through.

I once hosted an eat-on-the-floor Japanese dinner, and my guests brought a basket containing a variety of Japanese snack food, and a pair of long cooking chopsticks (which came in handy that very night).  It was adorable, well thoght out, and relatively inexpensive.

A low-maintenance house/outdoor plant.  One friend brought a pointsettia to my Christmas party.  We kept it outside after the holidays, and it grew up beautifully.  It was a nice reminder of this guest, and his thoughtfulness, every time I saw it.  He’s invited every year.  My grandmother brought a chrysanthemum (my birth-flower) to one of my parties many years ago, and it is still thriving to this day.  She’s invited every year as well. 😉

Cookbooks!  If you know the type of food being served, you could theme your choice.  A book about a favorite region would be nice as well.  Perhaps you are of a different ethnicity of than your host?  How about a book featuring the cuisine from your native land?

November 3, 2007 Posted by | entertaining, Family Parties, food, hostess gifts, Japanese Dinner, Tips | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Post-Party Stress Disorder

FightingWindmills has sent me the following question in support of my NaBloPoMo effort:

 “Okay–I want to know how to deal with after party laziness and letdown. How, as a host, do you deal with cleanup and avoid over-analyzing your party’s level of suckiness/success?”

 After a party, post-party stress is common, as is total disorder in the house.  From the disastrous dining room to the unkempt kitchen, you are sure to feel overwhelmed.  You just cleaned your house, and now, only a day later, it’s a mess, and you have to do it all again.

First, you probably have one definite advantage over me:  Your party was likely on a Friday or Saturday.  As a musician’s wife, all my parties are on Sundays, which means work the next day.  So the mess will sit a while. Eww.  Now, we have a disastrous dining room, and unkempt kitchen, and putrid party platters.

So here’s what we do:

1.   Share, freeze, refrigerate, dump, or compost your leftover food, if there is any.  I prefer to share, since I am probably tired of looking at the stuff by the time end-of-party rolls around.  Please remember that not all leftovers are salvageable.  Sweaty meats and cheeses are best tossed, as is macaroni salad, potato salad, sour cream dips, etc.

2.  Rinse your serveware to get all chunks off.  This is best done with a glass of wine in one hand.

3.  Hit the hay. Or the couch.  Or the bath.  Or something.  If it’s Friday or Saturday night, you have an entire weekend ahead of you.  You’ve just thrown a fantabulous bash.  You’ve done quite enough for one evening.

4.  Next morning, after breakfast, start washing.  If you’ve got a dishwasher (that your serveware fits into), great.  You’ve got another advantage over me.  If you, like me, live in the world of analog dishwashing, start with the largest items.  The sense of accomplishment you get from clearing off half your counter space by washing only 3-5 items is immeasurable, and will make the rest of the task seem less daunting.  (Note:  Hopefully, you have been able to use at least some disposable serveware.  There are some very nice, inexpensive plastic platters and bowls that caterers use that you can toss post-party.  A store like Smart & Final is a great place to start.)

As to FW’s question about how to avoid over-analyzing the success or failure of your party, that’s a little tougher.  If people leave happy, you’ve done great.  If they come back, you’ve done fantastic.  If no one wants to leave, you’ve done too well, and need to tone it down.  Or start handing out dishtowels and aprons. 🙂

Im my opinion, one entertains for their own pleasure.  You should never entertain to try to impress someone else or please someone else.  That only leaves you with paranoia, wondering whether you did well enough.  So, if you entertain because you want to, and because you enjoy it, and you are happy at the end of the party, you have had a successful party!

November 2, 2007 Posted by | after the party, entertaining, food, Tips | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

NaBloPoMo – Help!

For some reason yet unknown to me, I have decided to take the National Blog Posting Month challenge and post every day during the month of November.  They may be long; they may be short; they may be good; they may be bad.  But they will be here.

 As fodder for my future posts, and as a public service to you, Dear Reader, I am taking inspiration from a friend’s blog (http://mrsmetaphor.wordpress.com) and I invite you to email me, or post here, any questions or dilemmas you may have about parties – throwing, attending, anything!

October 29, 2007 Posted by | entertaining, Tips | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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