Whenever I have company coming for dinner, which is not that frequently, I pour through my cookbooks and favorite recipes looking for the perfect delicious dishes to serve. Preparation is key! And having a good time with your guests is of paramount importance! The first thing to consider is cocktails. An impressive bar station, whether it be an actual bar or mini-bar, dining room buffet, side table or kitchen counter is important. It sets the mood and establishes the level of hospitality your guests can expect during their visit. Knowing drinking preferences can help. It’s tricky trying to adequately stock a bar…but if you know Bob usually drinks Grey Goose martinis, Alice drinks chardonney (any kind!), Ted drinks Dewar’s and Carol drinks Tanqueray martinis…that is a tremendous help!
The bar area should be sparkling and inviting. I like the idea of a martini glass collection (as well as rocks glasses, highball glasses and wine glasses). Various colors and designs are not only eye catching but functional as well. Let each guest pick their own glass and mix their own drink. Only Bob knows that he wants exactly two drops of dry vermouth in his martini…let him prepare it! You don’t want him to suffer silently through the evening with a martini you fixed with one part vermouth to four parts vodka. And, since each person has selected his or her own glass, it is easy for them to identify that glass. If you had all the same color and design glasses, it is difficult for individuals to keep track of their glasses. Say Bob and Carol put their drinks down to head over to the hors d’oeuvres. They come back with their little plates of cheese balls, habenero pepper jelly and crackers and reach for their drinks. Yuck! Carol has taken a sip of Bob’s vodka martini and Bob has taken a sip of Carol’s gin martini! How vile! So you can see what I mean about the advantages of having a glass collection. Another nice touch is to use antique sterling or silverplate nut picks for olive picks.
These nut picks measure just under 5 inches long on average and work wonderfully as an olive or cocktail onion pick. Again, the beauty of this is that you can collect them one at a time and display a variety. The pick in this glass is a Rogers Bro. silverplate nut pick in the 1871 “Persian” pattern. These attractive little picks can also be used by your guests to spear those cheese balls and other tiny hors d’oeuvres! Very handy little tool the nut pick! See the links below to find nutpicks available at my Etsy shop.
Other classy and decorative accoutrements for your bar would be vintage glass stirrers and cloth napkins. Again, the stirrers can be various colors. I would suggest, however, that the napkins be one color, like white or ecru as this color thing can get a little out of hand if you let it. Of course, the napkins can have various hand embroidery detail or even monograms. What fun to search for vintage cloth cocktail napkins with your monogram! And your friends and family would always know what to get you for your birthday…an unusual martini glass, nut pick, glass stirrer or monogrammed napkin. How thoughtful it is of you to make life easy for them! See links below to napkins and glass stirrers available at my Etsy shop. When my mother had company for dinner, I remember her serving celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese (maybe there was some blue cheese mixed in) with a sprinkle of paprika on top. These easy appetizers are still a good idea today. Philadelphia Cream Cheese now puts out Jalapeno cream cheese which works well with celery. Spinkle a little cayenne pepper on it for a little extra kick!
And talking about those nut picks being used for hors d’oeuvres, following is a photo provided by Shannon Carter showing a tray of baby beets and Boursin with nut picks.
This beet and Boursin recipe is in Shannon’s marvelous book, “Living Artfully, Inspired By Tradition”. This is a marvelous book and I recommend it highly. It inspires the reader to treasure family heirlooms, have fun entertaining and includes many of Shannon’s own recipes. It is published by Orange Frazer Press and available at orangefrazer.com
If you feel a little more ambitious, and if your guests are carnivores, another wonderful appetizer is homemade pate. The following recipe was in the book that came with my Cuisinart many, many years ago when Cuisinarts first came out. Serve this with cocktail rye and or pumpernickel, some good quality mustard on the side and cornichons. The only problem with this pate is that your guests might eat too much and then not have any appetite left for your marvelous dinner! Pate (I really wish I could figure out how to insert the acute accent mark in this post!) Approximately 6 sprigs parsley 1 medium onion, quartered 2 large cloves of garlic 1/2 lb. bacon – cubed 1/2 lb. veal – cubed 1/2 lb. pork – cubed 1 lb. hame – cubed 2 large eggs 1/2 teaspoon marjoram 1/2 teaspoon rosemary 2 tablespoons dry sherry 1/4 teaspoon pepper (I use cayenne but you could use black) 1/4 teaspoon salt Put parsley and garlic in food processor and blend. Add onion, bacon, veal and pork and blend about 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and blend for about 1 minute more. Pour into loaf pan and bake at 400 degrees for about 1 hour or until top gets brown and sides separate from pan. Cool for a few minutes and drain any fat – remove from pan, cool some more and refrigerate for several hours before slicing. Now, for a main course, although I like to experiment with new recipes, I usually fall back on the tried and true.
And one “tried and true” is “JFK’s Seafood Casserole” which came from the White House Cookbook. My grandmother had a paperback version of this cookbook. The pages had yellowed and the book was falling apart. I’ve been making this recipe for decades and love it. It can be assembled before your guests arrive and just popped in the over about a half hour before serving. Don’t skimp with the quality of the shellfish which you use in this recipe. Don’t use less expensive canned crab as it will ruin the recipe. You can replace half the crab with lobster (8 ounces crab and 8 ounces lobster) to make it truly magnificent. JFK’s Seafood Casserole 1 pound crabmeat 1 pound cooked shrimp (best to use small or medium shrimp) 1 cup Hellman’s or Cain’s mayonnaise 1/2 cup chopped green, red or yellow pepper 1/3 cup minced onion 1 cup chopped celery 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 2 cups crushed potato chips Mix all ingredients except for chips. Place in casserole dish and sprinkle chips over top. Bake in 400 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes…no more. I usually serve this casserole with saffron rice and peas and salad. And now for dessert!
Another festive occasion dessert favorite of my mother’s was simply called “Icebox Cake”. Loved it then and love it now. It should be made earlier in the day and refrigerated for 4 to 6 hours before serving. It’s made with chocolate wafer cookies. I’ve seen some recipes on line where the cookies are handmade in this recipe! My mother always used a store bought package of cookies. Nabisco’s brand “Famous Chocolate Wafers” works wonderfully and they even have the recipe on the box. However, they don’t include confectioner’s sugar in their recipe and I do (just a little) as I like that tiny bit of sweetness and I also think it helps the whipped cream hold up better. Icebox Cake 1 box of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers 2 cups of heavy cream (I use heavy not whipping cream) 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or orange, almond, mint…whatever) Whip the cream with mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form, quickly blend in sugar and extract of your choice. Spread about 1 1/2 teaspoons on each wafer, stack, then stand on edge on platter. Frost with remaining whipped cream. The Nabisco box also mentions that this cake can be stored in the freezer. Since I’m on an orange / chocolate kick lately, I use orange extract in the whipped cream. I drizzle a little chocolate syrup on the plate and put a spoonful of Smucker’s Simply Fruit Orange Marmelade on the side. This Smucker’s Simply Fruit marmelade is not sweet…and delivers a little extra orange punch. And that’s it for my entertaining suggestions! Hope you’ve been entertained… Links to my Etsy shop items shown above: https://www.etsy.com/listing/120821177/n-f-nickel-silver-co-silver-plate-spray https://www.etsy.com/listing/99448146/two-silver-plate-nut-picks-rogers-bro https://www.etsy.com/listing/119324407/three-blue-glass-swizzle-sticks-stirrers http://www.etsy.com/listing/91104992/vintage-cloth-napkins-lot-of-4 And actually, the brown transferware dish (cake plate and four dishes) that you can barely see under the whipped cream, chocolate sauce, marmelade and icebox cake is also for sale: https://www.etsy.com/listing/75995724/aesthetic-brown-transferware-serving-set