Monday, February 15, 2010

Love and Cocktails

Among some of our friends, we have a tradition of throwing cocktail parties. Colucci was the cocktail party pioneer, when he unexpectedly invited us all over on a Sunday afternoon and served us drinks and snacks. We all had so much fun that we decided to make it a tradition, and rotate hosting cocktail parties once a month. Well, getting a busy group of friends together that often proved to be a bit more of a challenge, but I was happy to pick up the torch and throw the next cocktail party a few months later. I love a party with a theme, so I hosted on Chinese New Year's.

This was followed by a Cinco de Mayo cocktail party (technically hosted by Derek, I was just the caterer), the setting of the infamous "pinata incident."

Then we had a luau shortly after returning from a trip to Hawaii. So when we were deciding the best way to celebrate our recent nuptials with some of our friends, in a small, casual setting that didn't require too much fuss, a cocktail party sounded like the perfect solution. And what better day to celebrate love than Valentine's Day? It also happened to be Chinese New Year's so it was the 3 year anniversary of my first cocktail party!

This party had a couple of themes. For the cocktails, I was inspired by this article in Food & Wine to encourage people to create their own cocktails. I set up a table dividing all the drink ingredients into 6 categories: Strong (booze, obviously), Sweet (simple syrup, grenadine, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur, sugar cubes), Sour (lemon and lime juices), Bitter (bitters, olives), Floral (mint, violet liqueur), and Spicy (cayenne pepper, black pepper). Every good cocktail is a mixture of Strong and 2 or 3 of the other components.

I let our guests be adventurous and create their own drinks, but also wrote recipes on Valentine's to give some direction. The Aviation and Blood and Sand were a couple of very popular drinks. Also made this killer Kill Devil Punch.

I decorated the tables with conversation hearts to bring in the Valentine's theme. And the food - oh, the food! I tired to bring in some influences from New Zealand, along with some classic finger food.

I made 2 dips that I served with pita chips, carrot sticks and endive spears. The pea and sundried tomato dip is so easy, and people are always surprised by what's in it.

Peas and Sundried Tomatoes
1 lb bag frozen peas, thawed
1 8 oz. jar sundried tomatoes in oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 or more olive oil
  • Puree peas, sundried tomatoes in oil and garlic in food processor. With motor running, add olive oil until desired consistency is reached.
White Bean and Roasted Garlic Hummus
1 x 14 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 - 6 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 Tbls tahini
1/4 or more olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 400º
  • Roast garlic until very soft and brown, then remove from oven and cool slightly
  • Peel garlic and add to food processor with beans and tahini. Puree until well blended. With motor running, pour in olive oil until dip is smooth and blended.
I also served some spiced cashews, inspired by these cashews they served at Herzog on our wedding night...

For my version, I tossed unsalted cashews with a little olive oil and sprinkled them with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, chipotle and smoked paprika, then roasted them until until fragrant and one shade darker.

Another New Zealand inspiration was pumpernickel toasts topped with blue cheese, chopped toasted hazelnuts, and manuka honey from New Zealand that we brought all the way home with us. This honey is believed to have a wide range of medicinal properties.

For my vegan and vegetarian friends I made polenta squares with sauteed mushrooms.

Polenta Squares with Mushrooms
1 cup stone ground polenta
2 cups water
olive oil
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1.5 lbs cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup dry red wine
  • Boil water in a medium saucepan with 1 tsp salt. Stir in polenta and reduce heat to low. Cook until very thick, stirring frequently, about 20 - 30 minutes. Brush a baking pan with oil, and spread polenta over it in a think layer. Chill until firm, about 1 hour, then cut into 1.5" squares.
  • Preheat oven to 350º
  • Spread polenta squares on an oiled baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil, then saute onions and garlic until softened. Add mushrooms and saute until most of the liquid has evaporated and mushrooms start to brown. Pour in red wine and saute until mostly absorbed. Spoon mushrooms onto polenta squares and serve.
The seafood snacks included crab-stuffed deviled eggs and potato and parsnip pancakes with smoked salmon.

Add something for the meat eaters!

Mini Meatball Subs
1/2 lb ground lamb (from New Zealand!)
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 pound ground
1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup water
4 - 5 Tbl grated parmesan cheese
small handful chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
2 x 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes
olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 tsp sugar or sucanat
1 Tbl balsamic vinegar
mini sub rolls, toasted

  • Mix together ground meat, panko, water, parmesan, parsley and egg and season with salt and pepper. Roll into small balls.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium - high heat and add a glug of olive oil. Add meatballs to pan in batches, and cook until browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. Set aside and pour off excess oil from pan. Return pan to medium heat. Puree 1 can of tomatoes in blender. Add onion and garlic to pan and cook until softened. Add pureed tomatoes and whole tomatoes, and smash whole tomatoes with potato masher until crushed. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat. Add sugar and balsamic vinegar. Add meatballs to sauce and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Scoop 2 meatballs into each sub roll and top with additional sauce.
I also made some sweet potato falafels for the veg and popped those in a sub roll with some store-bought (gasp!) tabbouleh.

And, for the highlight of the night, my first foray into meat cooking. I seared and roasted racks of lamb from New Zealand.

After much research and recipe reviewing, I decided to listen to the guru, Martha Stewart, and use a recipe from her Cooking School cookbook. The Rack of Lamb with Herb Crusted was quickly seared in a hot pan, then coated with greek yogurt and crusted with a mixture of parsely, mint, bread crumbs, lemon zest and garlic. It was a huge hit!

I served it with this delicious warm brussel sprout and apple salad.

And to top it all off, I made a dessert invented in New Zealand - a beautiful pavlova.  I used this recipe, which tops the pavlova with lemon curd, but instead of berries I used kiwi and mango mixed with a little simple syrup and chopped mint.

What a wonderful evening. We were showered with love from some of our favorite people, shared good food and drinks and lots of smiles. We were also bestowed with lots of wine, chocolate,  amazing pickles and peanut butter cookies (they are delicious, Reuter!). I can't thank all of our wonderful friends enough for celebrating with us now and always. We're lucky kids. With silly hats.

p.s. thanks to Daisy and De for the photo contributions

Ok, you asked for it.  ONE MORE HAT!


  1. great menu- and amazing job with your first attempt at cooking meat- the lamb looks delicious!!

  2. you were a wonderful host as always. thank you for all the parties over the years. and you're welcome for the pictures <3