On Saturday, I hosted a get together for amazing friends. When you work closely with people for several years day in and day out, you develop a very special relationship that often extends beyond your tenure at the organization. I changed jobs about 9 months ago, and since moving on I’ve rarely had the chance to connect with three of my close ex-colleagues. These guys had contributed significantly to my professional growth and we have so many amazing memories of not only working hard, but playing hard together. Since it’s been a while since we’ve all spent time together, I wanted to make something really special for them and their spouses.
As a hostess, I knew that I wanted to make sure that my guests felt especially cared for. Even though all of us live relatively closely (with the exception of one person who moved out of state), our lives, work, extracurriculars and family often take up our free time. Knowing that my guests had to make special arrangements to travel to Queens, I wanted to create a really relaxing yet elegant vibe, where deliberate mindfulness and hospitality appear effortless.
The start time for the party proved to be challenging in setting a menu. With one person traveling from out of state, we decided to start at 2 pm, for a late afternoon brunch that went into the early evening. I took some time to think about the menu, and decided to break the meal into three distinctive parts – appetizers and salad, main course and dessert.
To prepare for the party, I decided to batch a cocktail earlier in the morning so that as my guests arrived, I would be able to greet them with a drink. I had an amazing tiki cocktail at our local favorite bar a few weeks ago and loved the beverage and the presentation. I ended up purchasing the same glasses and created a similar drink.
A special homemade welcome cocktail made with dark rum, spiced rum, amaro, lime juice, simple syrup, pineapple juice and orange juice.
To create a comfortable environment, I set up the appetizers on our coffee table, on a neutral toned tablecloth. Using slate boards and a slate and wood stand created both an elegant yet modern appearance, and the dark backdrop really helped to make my colorful crostini pop!
Great parties start with a great cheeseboard. My favorites: truffle gouda, wensleydale with cranberries, cave aged cheddar, creamy goat cheese, truffled marcona almonds, dried apricots and cranberries, fresh strawberries, fresh figs, fig jam, and wildflower honey. A little tower of crostini: pea pesto with baby tomatoes, ricotta with lemon zest, strawberries, basil and honey, and ricotta with figs, pistachio and honey. Pro-tip: use the same base (in this case, ricotta cheese), while varying up the toppings makes it easy to serve different types of crostini without a lot of extra work! Providing a few printed menus on the table helps to let guests know what they’re having while you make drinks, greet new arrivals, cook hot dishes, or deal with last minute details. This also gets them excited for the next course! My husband called this the best bacon he’s ever had. It’s called Praline Bacon, and it’s an easy recipe using thick-cut bacon, pecans and brown sugar. Alton Brown has really perfected this, so if you want to try it out, check out his recipe here . I would recommend checking the oven often – mine didn’t need as much time to crisp up. These pretty little mushrooms taste even better than they look. I learned about these after having dinner at the recently crowned #1 restaurant in the world, Eleven Madison Park. These are organic maitake mushrooms. They’re fluffy and woody, and all you need to do is slice them up, add olive oil (a little more than you think you need, mushrooms soak up oil), salt and pepper, and pop them into a hot 400F oven for about 15 minutes. While my guests settled in and enjoyed their first appetizers, I threw together a quick salad of oranges, blood oranges, grapefruit, avocado, arugula, microgreens, fresh mozzarella, pistachios and lemon zest. I had prepared the fruit in advance by removing all of the skin and slicing it into rounds. A quick dressing can also be made in advance – mine was a citrus wildflower honey vinaigrette with a little bit of balsamic vinegar that I brought back from my trip to Italy last year.
After appetizers and catching up, we all settled in for a bit of competition. Using the Jackbox Party Pack, we played a few games that involved using our phones to come up with lies while discovering truths, and others on trivia. After the second quick game, I excused myself to cook the pasta dishes, which were the main course.
Making pasta for a crowd is really challenging! Timing is key. You don’t really want pasta sitting out for a long time as it loses its al dente texture. Since I was using fresh homemade pasta, I started by making the sauce and kept it on a low simmer on the stove while I boiled the pasta. Here is a fresh pasta dish of homemade garganelli, proscuitto, fresh shelled peas, arugula, microgreens, cream, lemon and parmesan. For the main course. I wanted to feature two different types of homemade pasta. This one was a sweet sausage, tomato and ricotta ravioli with cacio e pepe sauce. I had made the sauce the day before and put it in a squeeze bottle. Warming it up in the microwave took about 1 minute. This made it really easy to serve! I set out plates on the kitchen peninsula and once the ravioli were cooked, spooned them onto each plate. Then I topped each with warm sauce, a few sprigs of microgreens and a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper. These little ravioli pack a serious punch. The squeeze bottle and microgreens take this dish from deliciously homemade to top restaurant quality. Both pastas!
After letting our pasta digest briefly, I served an Italian pear almond cake, which I had baked the night before. I found the recipe on Pinterest from a popular Canadian food blog, Seasons and Suppers. Served with a simple cream of mascarpone, marsala wine and orange, it was more fruity than sweet, yet still very decadent.
My light and fruity pear and almond cake. Unfortunately we didn’t snap one of the cream, which was delicious and totally made this simple dessert shine!
So there you have it! It was an absolutely lovely afternoon-evening where we shared great food, lots of laughs and made memories that will last a lifetime.