Sunday, June 12, 2011

Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program: My Italian-Inspired Foodbuzz/Electrolux "Are You Party-Ready?" Party

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I recently submitted my favorite impromptu entertaining tip as part of the Electrolux "Are You Party-Ready?" campaign. Imagine how excited and surprised I was to have my tip selected as one of the 16 best tips. For having my tip selected, Foodbuzz provided me with a $250 stipend to throw a little party at Casa Garcia!!

The tip I submitted was this: I always keep a few snacks in a special "off limits" cabinet in my kitchen...a bag of chips and a jar of my favorite salsa (Frontera Kitchens), packages of seasoned nuts, flavored crackers, and a box of gourmet cookies are what I tend to keep stashed away in there. I also have a bottle of white wine and some cheese in my fridge at all times. When unexpected guests come by, I can quickly and easily whip up a quick snack and a drink without having to frantically inventory my kitchen! 

When it comes to entertaining, I'm definitely in the "less is more" category. Part of that is out of necessity since we don't have a lot of space to entertain at Casa Garcia. Truthfully, I find it much easier to visit with my guests and manage the logistics of entertaining when I have a small guest list. For my party, I went with an easy Italian-inspired menu and invited one of our closest couple friends and their little girl over for a relaxing late-afternoon meal. I'm going to share a few tips for throwing a casual, elegant summertime party.

Tip 1: Don't spend a fortune on decor -- see if you have items on hand that you can use. I wanted to put a pretty wreath on my front door. However, I didn't want to buy an expensive wreath to match my I improvised. I used a grapevine garland that I had laying around. Since it was still rolled into a coil, I simply hung it and arranged it to look nice. From the moment my guests arrived, the tone of the party was set. I didn't take a picture, but I also put a pretty wine/grape area rug on my front porch to complete the theme.

For the inside decor, I stuck with a red/orange/golden yellow color scheme to play off my dishes and linens. I decorated my bar with silk flowers, wine bottles, and other decor that I already had around the house. Then I placed red tea lights in a decorative display above my fireplace. Total time to decorate inside and out? Less then 30 minutes the evening before the party.

Tip 2: Keep the menu simple. Don't overwhelm yourself with a complicated multi-course meal complete with multiple wine pairings. The idea is to have fun with your guests, not tie yourself to the kitchen the entire time! I served three easy appetizers, a sparkling sangria, and a simple meal. Here's my party menu:
  • Appetizers: store-bought parmesan pita chips and scallion-shallot boursin cheese, Tuscan White Bean Dip, and my spin on The Enchanted Cook's delicious Tomato Mozzarella Skewers. The appetizers were served with a delicious, fruity sparkling white sangria. Total time to assemble? Less then 30 minutes.
  • Dinner:  Lemon-thyme chicken breast; roasted broccoli w/lemon, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts; The French Laundry's amazing carnaroli risotto; and field greens w/strawberries, feta, candied pecans, and raspberry-walnut dressing.
  • Dessert: Shortcut Strawberry won't believe how easy these are to whip up when I share the recipe later this week! I will say this much for now: sweet homemade whipped cream and Grand Marnier-laced strawberries.

Tip 3: Prep work is vital! If you try to do all the cleaning, decor, and cooking on the day of even the simplest of parties, you're asking for trouble...mark my words. Who wants to be a worn-out frazzled mess by the time your guests arrive? Instead, do as much of it ahead of time as possible. Here's how my timeline for this party went:
  • Thursday: Inventory kitchen and make grocery list. Wash wine glasses and clean/vacuum living room.
  • Friday afternoon/evening: Buy groceries, decorate, clean bathroom, make tomato-mozzarella skewers, prep chicken and place in baking dish, and prep broccoli.
  • Saturday morning: Pre-cook step of risotto -- this recipe lets you prep it the day before/morning of, then complete 15 minutes prior to serving, bake shortcakes, make sangria base, and assemble salad.
  • Saturday afternoon: Shower, set table, prep roasted broccoli on baking sheet, set out appetizers and turn on the custom playlist of music on iTunes 30 minutes before guests arrive. 
  • Guests arrive: Greet them, serve appetizers, and add prosecco to the sangria. While everyone eats apps, pop chicken and broccoli in oven. This gave me 30 minutes to visit  and have a drink. While chicken rests for 15 minutes, finish cooking risotto. Michael cleared the appetizers to make room on the buffet for the main dishes. Assemble shortcakes after dinner, just prior to serving.
See? Easy peasy...I was busy, but not overly hectic or stressed out leading up to the party. By serving a menu with dishes that could be prepped ahead and featured mostly hands-off cooking time, I had time to actually participate in my party! The risotto did require 15 minutes of my undivided attention just before serving, but everything else was pretty much hands-off once the intial prep work was complete! 

To find out if YOU'RE party-ready, please go visit Kelly Confidential and test your party readiness. For each person who participates, $1 will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. You'll also be entered for a chance to win an Electrolux French Door Refrigerator with the Perfect TempDrawer and Party Ice.

I'll be sharing the recipes for the lemon-thyme chicken, roasted broccoli, and strawberry shortcakes later this week. For now, I'll leave you with the recipe for the delicious sparkling white sangria I served with the appetizers. It's light and refreshing, perfect for summertime entertaining!

Sparkling White Sangria
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Step 1: Add the following fruit to the bottom of a large glass pitcher: 1 small sliced orange, 1 small sliced lemon, 1 small sliced lime, and 5-6 quartered strawberries.

Step 2: Add 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup light simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar + 1 cup water brought to boil and stirred), and 1/2 cup Grand Marnier. Give it a stir and refrigerate until time to serve.

Step 3: Right before serving, add one bottle sparkling wine of your choice. I added a bottle of sparkling sweet moscato, but you can use prosecco or champagne. Note: Since these are both less-sweet than moscato, you might need more simple syrup...depending on how sweet you want your sangria to be! Give it a stir and pour into glasses...salut!

OMG...I love this sangria! It's fruity and refreshing, and I loved the fizz from the sparkling moscato. It was just sweet enough, and the Grand Marnier boosted the orange flavor of the juice perfectly. I can see this being my signature summer cocktail...easy to whip up and so refreshing on those hot Texas summer evenings!!

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