A Happy Hour Bridal Shower

A gal from my office is getting married, and two of us offered to throw her a bridal shower.  I wanted to show you what we’re doing!  As with all my events, I started the planning with a Pinterest board.  You can see it by clicking here.  

Format and Theme

We decided on a Friday afternoon, happy hour time just after work ends.  That way people can stop by on their way home and have a drink, unwind, and celebrat

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Fruit kabobs

e her upcoming nuptials.  I have that day off so I can work on preparing everything during the day, and, my son’s girlfriend is available to help me since she also doesn’t work or have class that day.

Our theme is a lingerie shower.  I personally wouldn’t want one of those, because I’m not a lingerie person, but she seems to be loving the idea and this is all about her!

Color Scheme

We chose pink and white for two reasons.  One, pink is her accent color in her wedding.  Two, it’s Valentine’s day and the stores are FILLED with pink and white stuff that’s cute and romantic and affordable!

Food Menu

Since we are not trying to feed people lunch or dinner, we decided on three sweet and four savory bites for the event:

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Pretzel rods dipped in colored white chocolate with sugar pearls

Sweet:  fruit kabobs, chocolate covered pretzel rods, and cake (hopefully in the shape of a penis if we can find someone to bake it for us.  My co-host owns the penis pan.  I didn’t ask her why.  Haha!).

Savory:  deviled eggs, tomato and cheese crostini, finger sandwiches, and nuts.

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Paula Deen BLT deviled eggs.

The sweet items–I chose fruit kabobs because I own a BUNCH of packages of skewers and it just made sense to put them to good use.  Plus everyone at this event is over 40 and probably watching their carbs so fruit is a good choice.

The pretzel rods I saw on Pinterest

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Tomato and cheese crostini

were just too cute.  I went to Michael’s last week and for Valentine’s day they had all the candy melts and candy decorations on sale plus I had a coupon for an additional 20% off.  So, I got the candy melts and little sugar pearls for about $6 total. I can make the white chocolate a nice pink color with a dab of gel food coloring.

The savory items….my favorite deviled egg recipe is Paula Deen’s BLv5T Deviled eggs.  The last party I served them at they were a huge hit.  They are very “bridal-shower-y” in my opinion and unique.

The tomato and whipped feta cheese crostini is another favorite from a previous party.  It’s a Barefoot Contessa recipe that is always a huge hit.  Plus it’s something you can serve “deconstructed”–put the cheese mixture in a dish, then put the tomato and pine nut mixture in another dish, and serve that alongside a platter of toasted bread slices.  People can make their own (which also has the advantage of not getting soggy in advance).v7

Finger sandwiches in the shape of hearts. Who doesn’t love heart shaped stuff at a bridal shower???  My co-host is making those, not sure what she will put in them but I’m sure whatever she chooses will be great.

And, finally, we’ll have some nuts of some sort for an easy, high-protein munchy.

Drinks

We are going to serve a pink alcoholic punch that I love to make.  The recipe is from Giada DeLaurentis and it is absolutely lovely both in color and in flavor.  The recipe is super simple and it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Decorationsv1

I love those tissue paper pom poms that are so popular!   So I went to www.papermart.com to buy tissue paper to make them, and I found that they sell ready-made pom poms for about $1 to $1.50 apiece.  What a deal, and no trying to figure out how to make them myself!  I ordered pink and white ones in a range of sizes.

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Pink tulle chair decorations.

Also from Papermart, I ordered some rolls of pink tulle to tie on the chairs in my dining room.  I think that looks so festive, and their rolls of tulle are super inexpensive!

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A little bit of sparkly ribbon on the straws makes them look so festive!

I have pink and white paper straws, which will go great with the pink punch!  I love this idea I found on Pinterest of tying a little slash of ribbon to each straw.  Definitely going to do that.

As with all my events, I went to Dollar Tree and stocked up on disposable platters, bowls, etc.  They have plastic ones that look like cut crystal, and silver ones that look like metal.  They even have some metal trays that are only $1.00 and very elegant looking.

I also grabbed tons of heart shaped doilies since the stores are full of those around Valentine’s day!

I have some pink and white silk gerbera daisies in my craft stash.  I’m planning on putting those in vases and jars, for a touch of feminine color.

8cee5588da43ad0194fab581530d7e9aFinally, I saw this idea on Pinterest to tie pictures of the couple to balloons.  I thought that was very clever and I’m going to try to pull that off, too.

Entertainment

I know some people love shower games, some people hate them.  I went to the v8bride and asked, she said she was fine either way.  I told her about this game I saw on Pinterest that I just loved.

You fill a condom with gum balls or other candies that you can count, and then the game is for everyone to guess how many candies are in there.  Then, for additional fun, you can gather all the guests in a circle, then have them pass the condom from person to person using only their knees, and no hands.  This sounds like fun after everyone has a few glasses of that alcoholic punch!

Other than that, I think the entertainment will consist of watching the bride open her gifts, and, sharing good conversation.

I took lots of pictures of the actual event to share.  Click here to see them.

Holiday Party Planning: Cold Appetizers

Continuing with my party planning series (which is good for any time of  year, not just the holidays), you’ll recall that I select foods for a party that fall into one of four categories:

  • Basics
  • Cold appetizers
  • Hot appetizers
  • Sweets

There are certain items that I think always make sense when you’re selecting your cold items.    As I mentioned, you need two to four of these.  They are easy and fun because they can usually be made ahead of time, freeing you up to focus on other things the day of the party.  Here are some of my favorites!

Pimento Cheese

I wrote about this earlier this year, just click here to see it.  I consider good homemade pimento cheese to be a party staple that I rarely go without.  The recipe I use is tried and true, and it’s always met with rave reviews.   You can put it out in a bowl and let people just scoop it up on crackers or bread slices, or, you can use it as an additional dip for your vegetable spread.  You can also make little finger sandwiches out of it.  It can be made a week or more ahead of time, and should be made at least a day in advance so the flavors have time to blend and develop.

Deviled Eggs

Really good deviled eggs are easy to make, they can be made a day or more in advance, and, they are quite inexpensive to make.  You have endless options to create memorable food with these, think of them like a little palette that you can be as creative on as you like!   Eggs are a fairly bland food in their natural state and this means that the ingredients you use when deviling them need to be really good.  Their flavors will shine through against the bland background of an egg.

One of my favorite recipes is Paula Deen’s “BLT Deviled Eggs.”  I served these at a party and they got absolutely rave reviews.  I did make two adjustments to the recipe, though.  First, I used homemade mayonnaise, and second I used fresh

Paula Deen's "BLT Deviled Eggs."

Paula Deen’s “BLT Deviled Eggs.”

Italian parsley instead of dried parsley flakes.

Now if you’re feeling creative, you can start with a basic deviled egg recipe and let your imagination take over.  Here’s a basic recipe for deviled eggs from the Food Network (just click here).  Then, you can have your way with this process by messing around with the recipe like this:

  • Substitute sour cream in for some or even all of the mayonnaise for a slightly tangy-er egg
  • Use brown or dijon mustard in place of the yellow mustard
  • Double or triple the amount of mustard for a tangy-er egg
  • Substitute plain Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise for a much healthier egg
  • Substitute 3 to 5 Tablespoons of pesto for the mayonnaise

The number of things you can mix in to the egg mixture is limitless.  I have compiled this list for you, but don’t let it limit you!  I would also suggest trying just a bite of each of these first before committing to a whole batch of one flavor, just to make sure you like it.

  • 2 slices of crispy crumbled bacon
  • 3 Tablespoons of sliced scallions
  • 1/4 cup of hopped ham or turkey
  • 1 Tablespoon of sriracha sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of wasabi paste
  • 3 Tablespoons of finely chopped celery, or bell pepper (or both!)
  • 2 Tablespoons of sweet pickle relish
  • 1/4 cup of lump crab meat (or shrimp, or smoked salmon, or even lobster meat
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of chopped kalamata olives, 1 1/2 Tablespoons of chopped capers, and substitute white balsamic vinegar for the white vinegar in the recipe.

Garnishes for eggs can be as simple as the paprika sprinkle or as fancy as a dollop of caviar.  A tiny sliver of bell pepper or carrot can also add some needed color.

Shrimp Cocktail

Who doesn’t love shrimp?   I recommend fresh and not frozen shrimp whenever possible.  If you think there’s no difference in the taste, I have to say you’re wrong.  I live 90 minutes from the Atlantic ocean so I have access to fresh shrimp in my town, but not everyone does.  If you don’t, the next best thing to do is get them frozen with the shell on.  Don’t buy pre-peeled or pre-cooked frozen shrimp!  The shrimp you get should be flash-frozen and from the waters of either the gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic ocean whenever possible.

My favorite shrimp cocktail recipe is either this one from the Barefoot Contessa or this one from Alton Brown.  I really have nothing to add to those, as they are perfect in their own right.

Chips with Salsa and Guacamole

AvocadosVarieties

Types of avocados. The most common ones in American grocery stores will be Hass and Hall. I prefer Hall as they have a tendency to be a lot larger for about the same price.

This is one of my go-to items because I love to make homemade chips (click here for the recipe) and fresh salsa (click here for the recipe).  Guacamole is very easy to make and I really think it’s best if you make your own.  What I haven’t shared with you is my guacamole recipe, and as we say in the south, “I’m fixin’ to do just that.”  Before I do, let me say that I don’t recommend serving chips and salsa if you’re going to use salsa out of a jar and guacamole out of a tub from the grocery store.  At a minimum, pick up some good fresh stuff from your favorite Mexican restaurant.

So guacamole is a piece of cake to make.  Like all my other recipes, it calls for super fresh ingredients,  There are no shortcuts or substitutions you can make from this ingredient list:

  • 5 ripe Hass avocados or 3 ripe Hall avocados (you can feel the flesh yield to your touch when you push on the skin.  It should NOT be mushy or super soft, though).
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup of finely diced tomatoes
  • Juice from 3 limes
  • 2 large or 3 medium jalapenos, with seeds and ribs removed, finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons of finely minced fresh garlic
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh ground black pepper
  • Sea salt

To get the avocado cut, I recommend this website:  http://www.avocadocentral.com/how-to/how-to-cut-how-to-peel-prepare-avocados .  Dice the avocado into small pieces and put in a bowl, and mash it up with a fork or a potato masher until it’s nice and creamy (you do not have to get rid of all the chunks, chunky guacamole is fine!).  Add in all the other ingredients except the salt and combine well.  Start with one teaspoon of salt, stir to combine thoroughly and taste.  Add in additional salt until it’s to your liking.  Refrigerate for at least a day before serving for the best flavor.

Seven (Okay, Eight) Layer Dip

This is a perfect accompaniment to homemade chips and salsa!  And so easy to make.  There are a million variations of it but this is my favorite recipe.

  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 1 packet or 2 tablespoons of taco seasoning mix
  • 1 cup of Daisy sour cream
  • 1 packet or 2 tablespoons of Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix
  • 1 cup of guacamole
  • 1 cup of homemade salsa
  • 1 cup of finely shredded mexican cheese (the 4 cheese blend is best)
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 small can of sliced black olives
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced.

Mix the beans and the taco seasoning together thoroughly.   Mix the sour cream and ranch dip mix together thoroughly.  Now build your layers in a clear glass dish if you have one:

First, spread the beans, then add a layer of guacamole, then the ranch sour cream.  Add the salsa, then the cheese, onions, olives and tomatoes.

Enjoy and by the way all of these foods are great to eat anytime!  Don’t wait for your next party, try the seven layer dip for an easy, make-ahead snack for watching the game or just enjoying time with your family.  I’ll be back again soon with my tips and tricks for hot appetizers.

Holiday Party Planning: Rules of Thumb

Good luck with this one....

Good luck with this one….

To continue my series on holiday party planning, I want to talk about some rules of thumb.  You might think some of them sound weird, but, trust me…. I’ve been there, done that enough times that I firmly stand by what I’m about to say.

  1. You’ll never get 100% attendance.  My office party every year could have as many as 40 to 50 people.  I typically have 10 to 15.  No, I’m not that unpopular–people just have other things to do, and/or they don’t like to go to parties.  The same was true when I almost had my wedding–I got very low turnout compared to the number of people I invited.  The best way to plan and get an accurate headcount is to ask everyone to RSVP by a certain date.
  2. You’ll never get everyone to RSVP.  This one really irritates the crap out of me, but RSVP’ing is a dying custom.  In my office, of the 20 to 25 people who are invited to my holiday party each year, only about 10 ever RSVP either way.  The others never say “no thanks” or “go to hell” or anything else to indicate that they don’t plan on attending.  The good news is they also don’t show up, which is kind of a relief because it would just piss me off if they did after not RSVPing.  Occasionally you’ll have the person who inadvertently doesn’t RSVP but they really thought they did, and that’s understandable.  People make mistakes.  But, for the most part, a non-RSVP is a “no” on attendance.
  3. Be specific.  About everything.  Nobody likes to be under dressed, over dressed, or empty handed.  So, put all the details on your invitation about what to bring and what to wear.
  4. Be sensitive.  Many people are picky about what they eat, but some people have to be due to health conditions such as food allergies.  I know someone who is so highly allergic to peanuts that if he’s even in the vicinity of them he can go into anaphylactic shock.  So, put a note on your invitation that just says “please let me know as soon as possible if you have any special dietary needs.”
  5. Make sure the invitation goes to both spouses/partners.  My invitations are always specific in terms of what to bring, yet the wives of my colleagues always tell me they are not shown the invitation.  I don’t know how many times, for my dirty Santa gift exchange, women have shown up and been embarrassed and disappointed because they didn’t bring a gift to play in the fun.  Why?  Their husband didn’t tell them about that part of the invitation.  Whenever possible, send the invitation to BOTH spouses/partners.
  6. Have a few extras.  At my holiday party, I always have a dirty Santa gift swap.  It’s fun and everyone looks forward to it.  Inevitably (see previous item) someone shows up without a gift, so I always have a couple of bottles of wine wrapped up as additional gifts so they can get in on the fun and play along.  Worst case scenario is I end up getting my own wine as a gift at the end, and that’s okay!   If I’m doing party favors I always have 2 or 3 extras because you never know when someone will bring an additional guest or when you’ll find someone at the last minute you want to invite.
  7. Beverage service.
    1. Figure on 2 drinks, beers, or glasses of wine per person per hour.   Most people won’t drink that much, but, you’ll be well-prepared if you figure on this amount.
    2. You don’t have to stock a full bar to have a great party.  Provide beer, wine, and one signature cocktail or alcoholic punch.  If you do want to stock a full bar, here’s a guide to what you’ll need and how much.
    3. For non-alcoholic beverages, I recommend 2 liter sizes for soft drinks.  Four flavors, even two bottles of each, will set you back about $10.  Any leftovers you don’t want will be gladly accepted in your office break room or your child’s teachers’ lounge.
    4. It is perfectly acceptable to have a “BYOB” party.  I love to focus on the food, and, I’m not crazy about being a bartender.  So, for my holiday party this year I’m asking each person to bring the beverage of their choice, whether it be alcoholic or nonalcoholic.  That way I am not worrying about stocking my bar in the first place–I can just worry about having great food and plenty of it!  Admittedly I’ll have a couple of two-liter sodas available for those who don’t bring anything, but I don’t feel obligated to have a ton of variety in this area since that is the one thing I’m asking guests to arrange on their own.
  8. Food service.
    1. Label everything if possible with cute little tags, mini chalk boards, etc.  People want to know what they are eating and may be shy about asking.

      These little chalkboards are great for labeling food selections at your party.

      These little chalkboards are great for labeling food selections at your party.

    2. For a nice spread, figure on 6 to 10 different items.  Any less and you don’t have enough variety.  Anymore and you’re going to just stress yourself out.  I haven’t designed my menu yet for this year but I do know it will go something like this:
      1. Cheese board (about 5 different cheeses, fruits, nuts, crackers, breads, etc)
      2. Crudite platter and homemade ranch dip
      3. 2-3 hot appetizers
      4. 2-3 cold appetizers
    3. In terms of portions, it’s hard to know what you’ll need unless I know what your format is.  If you’re having an event around dinner time you should plan on more food than if you’re having it at 2:00 in the afternoon.  But, there are a few guidelines that might help you a little bit.
      1. For dips, plan on 1 pint (2 cups) per 10 people.
      2. For hors d’oeuvres, plan on 6 to 10 pieces per person per hour.
      3. For sweets like cakes or cupcakes, plan on one piece or slice per person.
    4. It’s dangerous to let foods sit around at room temperature especially if your event lasts awhile.  Keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold, to avoid making your guests sick!
    5. Variety is important, so avoid going overboard with one ingredient.  If you love shrimp like I do, you could be tempted to just have five or six different shrimp dishes.  This would suck for anyone who is allergic to shrimp.  If you’re having six different hors d’oeuvres, for instance, make sure no more than two are shrimp/fish based.  If you have vegan guests remember that they are going to want something to eat, too!

I hope this little guide helps you plan and host an amazing party!

Holiday Party Planning

he2117e07Every year I host a party for the folks in my office.  I love parties.  I love the people I work with.  I also like to throw a shindig at least twice a year because then and only then do I really get my house truly clean and decluttered.  Party planning intimidates a lot of people but I love it.  And I’m going to tell you the easy way to do it.

1.  Go to Pinterest.  Create a board just for your event.  Click here to see my board for Holiday Party 2014    Start browsing for themes, decorations, and recipes you like.  Do this at least two months in advance, if possible, so you have time to do some research and find some clever ideas.

2.  Get a save-the-date notice out to guests as much as two months in advance.  You can use www.evite.com or you can do paper invites, or both, but especially if it’s holiday season you want to get on people’s calendars early.

3.  Decide  where, when, who and what.   I’m assuming you know where you live (or wherever it is you’ll host the party).  You know the time of day that works best for your folks.  The who and what is where you need to do some careful decision making.

“Who” is easy when it comes to adults.  Whether or not children are invited or not is another story.  And you’ve got to decide early on if you’re going to accommodate children or not.  Be consistent in your decision and specify on the invitation “adults only, please” (or something to that effect) if you decide no kids are allowed.  Don’t think you can let one person bring their’s and then turn everyone else’s away.  You’ll look like a jerk.  If you’re going to have kids, make sure you have child care and a dedicated space provided for them.  That’s an entirely different blog post I don’t feel like writing, though.

“What” means “what is your theme?”  You need a theme to dictate all the details.  It may be something simple, like “Fred’s 50th Birthday.”   In that case the rest of the details need to be about Fred.  You need to pick out food and decorations and entertainment and everything else to suit Fred.  But, maybe it’s like my party, which is an office party for the holidays.

I have hosted it four years in a row and my theme every year was “It’s a holiday party for my office friends.”  That’s good enough, and it’s been successful every year, but this year I am expanding out to include fun theme:  “Reindeer Games.”  We’ll play a couple of games, maybe a drunken version of “Pin the nose on Rudolph” or something like that.  This means I will be brainstorming about recipes and decorations and such around that central theme.

4.  Let everyone bring something.

Unless you’re just super wealthy and love to throw cash at a party, it’s best to let everyone bring something.  Most people with any manners are going to bring something anyway, so you might as well give them some direction.  (Even if it’s just a toy or can of food for charity, having guests bring something is smart planning.)

I set it up a little differently every year.  Some years it’s “bring a dish” and some years it’s “BYOB.”  I decided this year to do a “BYOB” party simply because I love to cook!  I don’t love to bartend, so I’ll have ice cups and a couple of soft drinks but otherwise my guests are going to be told to bring whatever libation they want, even non-alcoholic substances, and they’ll be routed to the drink station I set up to pour and mix their own.
Isn’t a party fun if you just take it step by step?  I’m not done… click here to see Part 2 of the series.  Have a magical day!