Saturday, May 2, 2009

Party Time, Excellent!



I think realistically, if I had all the money and time in the world, I would probably spend it throwing dinner parties. There's nothing more exciting than when the ideas first start coming together, whether you are circling around a theme or just planning a memorable meal. The menu ideas, the decor, the entertainment, the guests! There's nothing more fun than a party! Call me a nerd, but I'm particularly fond of theme-based parties. Here are some party ideas, some of which I may develop further in other blog entries (stay tuned!):

Cocktail Party: Serve a selection of hors d'oeuvres alongside a fully stocked bar.

Tapas Party: Offer small plates of Spanish dishes like tortilla espanola, marinated olives, and garlic shrimp along with pitchers of sangria.

Mexican Party: Serve homemade tacos, fajitas, or enchiladas along with Mexican beers and margaritas. Don't forget the guac!

Brunch Party: Start the festivities early with a frittata or quiche, some breakfast pastries and mimosas, bellinis, and/or bloody marys. The options are endless!

Pizza Party: Make your own pizzas! Invest in a pizza stone, choose a wide selection of toppings and people can create their own mini pizzas.

Tea Party: Okay, this is not just for 5-year-olds and nerds like me. Make a platter of tea sandwiches and some scones and enjoy a spot of tea. Cheerio, old chap!

Clambake: Fill a pot with lobsters, clams, potatoes, corn, and other yummy treats. Your guests will love you regardless of whether you're at a beach or in your backyard.

Beach Party: Pretty much anything portable can make the beach a happening spot for a party.

Picnic: Fill a picnic basket with your favorite treats, whether they be sandwiches with pasta salad, or a baguette with some cheese and olives. The great outdoors is the perfect spot for any meal.

Burger Bar: Fire up the grill with some premium meat burgers and offer a large array of toppings. I'm not talking just pickles and tomatoes. Try some sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese crumbles, crisp pancetta, caramelized onions, your own "special sauce," etc. Anything you can imagine on a "gourmet" burger you can imagine on your own burger, right in your own backyard.

Spa Party: Offer healthy and refreshing options, like fruit smoothies and veggie and hummus wraps. Enjoy face masks, manicures, pedicures... whatever floats your boat!

Award Show Party: Either go the upscale route with filet mignon, champagne, and the works, or go more low key, maybe choosing menu items that compliment some of the nominees.

Mashed Potato Martini Bar: Well, this isn't the whole party, but I think this is a really great element to provide at one. Stock up on martini glasses as the vessels for the potato concoctions, and set up a mashed potato buffet offering an array of toppings such as various cheeses, crumbled bacon, broccoli, pesto, roasted garlic, sour cream, chives, sauteed mushrooms, gravies or sauces of your choosing, anything you might enjoy on your mashed potatoes.

Movie Party: This is by far my favorite (duh)! Almost every movie subconsciously offers menu ideas that would compliment the viewing experience. Here are some examples:

Foreign films: Create a menu based around the language of the film (ie Slumdog Millionaire-create an Indian feast; Cinema Paradiso-serve your favorite Italian dishes; Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-try creating some authentic Chinese dishes, and don't forget the fortune cookies).

Gangster Films: Italian food, once again.

Lady and the Tramp: Spaghetti and meatballs (double duh!)

The Birds: Tastes like chicken!

Juno: Serve veal and baby vegetables. Ouch! Yeah, I went there...

Donnie Darko: Serve rabbit. Yeah, I went there again...

The Feature Presentation:

Jaws: DON'T serve shark. Sharks rule and should not be eaten under any circumstances.

I recently threw a shark party (aptly named Shark Bowl--it was on Superbowl Sunday). I decided on a Mexican shark theme. I knew I wanted to serve fish (something that sharks eat), but in a non-pretentious way since it was a very casual party, so I made delicious fish tacos (which were somewhat shaped like shark teeth) with pink chili mayo and a mango-radish salsa (thanks Tyler Florence), served in warm corn tortillas. We also had homemade tortilla chips (also shaped like shark teeth) and guacamole. To wash it all down, I made a cocktail called shark attack, which was really refreshing and pretty to look at! Finally, for dessert I had made cherry-almond biscotti (which also resembled shark teeth!) to round out the meal. We watched some Shark Week DVDs from the Discovery Channel with Jaws as our feature presentation (of course). Yup, we had a jolly old time and you will too if you want to try recreating this menu or planning your own. Parties can be so much more than a bag of chips, a jar of salsa and a keg of beer. Even a "drinking" party can be spiced up with savory offerings such as homemade dips and chips, crostini, potato skins, anything you think you can make yourself, regardless of the difficulty level. Don't simply rely on bagged and prepared items to feed the masses. If you make it with your heart, people will enjoy it a lot more :)

Shark Attack
Serves 1

Fill a highball glass (tall glass) with ice. Add 2 oz light rum, then fill the rest of the glass with lemonade, leaving a little room at the top. Stir, then float 1/2 oz of Blue Curacao on top. Add a dash of grenadine in the center and a cherry to sink. An orange slice represents the shark fin. Enjoy!

Homemade Tortilla Chips
Serves 6-8

1 package corn tortillas
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt

Cut tortilla into quarters. Heat up a pot of vegetable oil to about 375 degrees F. The oil is ready when you throw in a tortilla quarter and it immediately begins to sizzle. Fry tortilla chips until golden and crispy. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and toss with salt immediately (be careful not to over-salt). Serve with homemade guacamole, salsa, or queso dip.

Homemade Guacamole
Makes 4 cups

6 avocados
3 limes, juiced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
Kosher salt and black pepper

Remove the pits and peel from the avocados. Either chop them, or mash them up with the rest of the ingredients, depending on your preference on the texture of guacamole. Season to taste and serve with homemade tortilla chips.

Fish Tacos with Pink Chili Mayonnaise and Mango-Radish Salsa
Serves 8-10

2 pounds white fish, such as mahi mahi or haddock (skinned, boned and cleaned) cut into 1-ounce strips
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons water
2 cups panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
20 corn tortillas for serving

Pink Chile Mayonnaise:
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
2-3 T. chipotle sauce, depending on your taste
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mango-Radish Salsa:
2 limes, squeezed
2-3 mangoes, diced
3 red radishes, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper

Prepare the fish. Cut the pieces of fish into 1-ounce strips. Set up a breading station of flour, lightly beaten eggs with water, and panko bread crumbs. Season all with salt and pepper. Dredge the pieces of fish in flour, egg then bread crumbs. Once all the fish is breaded deep-fry in small batches in (375 degrees F) oil. Drain on paper towels and season with salt. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Prepare the pink chile mayonnaise. Put the sour cream, mayonnaise, chipotle sauce and lemon juice in a blender and until the mixture is consistent and creamy. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the mango-radish salsa. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Season and refrigerate until ready to use. You can also place all of the ingredients into a food processor and puree for a smoother salsa, but I prefer having more texture.

To serve, set up the tacos "family-style". Assemble the fish in a pile on a plate; the pink chile mayonnaise in a bowl; and mango-radish salsa in another. Serve alongside warmed corn tortillas.

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