Showing posts with label entertaining. Show all posts
Showing posts with label entertaining. Show all posts

March 2, 2014

Vintage Cooking

Over the weekend, I hosted a small gathering of local ladies as part of a cooking club. Soon after we moved here, one of the members got married and moved overseas, and I got drafted in to fill her seat. Every meeting offers a new theme and everyone brings a dish -- an intimate potluck, if you will. The hostess provides the drinks and party flair. 

This month's theme was my idea and of course I picked 'vintage'. Any excuse to pull out the Pyrex, I say.  

My vintage recipe books hold a cornucopia of old-fashioned recipes, so I was excited to see what the gals would cook up. They didn't disappoint. We had baked brie (divine), old fashioned PA Dutch Pot-Pie (homemade noodles; no crust involved), pistachio jello salad (yum) and a pineapple upside down cake (yes, please!)  

All I had to do was supply the beverages. I desperately wanted to use my punch bowl that I thrifted last summer. But every vintage punch recipe I saw had waaaayyyy too much booze in it. I'm all for a good tipple, but many recipes called for three or four different types of alcohol mixed together. And the quantities were astounding. This was an intimate affair -- not a party for 40. 

I finally found this one from the 1960s -- a bourbon punch. I halved the recipe and I mixed together the lemons, seltzer, tea and sugar first, and it was delightful all on its own. It reminded me of tea cooler -- that summertime blend of lemonade and iced tea. I ended up only using a quarter of the bourbon called for though -- it was plenty strong just like that and reminded everyone of a good whiskey sour. 

I think my favorite part of making the punch, besides getting to use actual vintage punch cups and the bowl, was the giant ice block. I poured water into my smallest bundt pan, added lemons to it and let it freeze. Rather than having small ice cubes melt away and dilute the drink, the giant block melted much slower and was just fun to watch bobbing around in the bowl.

Not to be outdone, the non-alcoholic option was just as tasty. I made this raspberry cordial, àla Anne of Green Gables. I halved the cordial and it still made a ton. Considering this hardly took any time or effort, I think I might be making a lot more cordial in the future! 

I served the cordial with a bottle of seltzer water (cordial is far too sweet on its own and should be diluted) on a Pyrex plate, and as an added vintage bonus, I included glass swizzle sticks for guests to stir their mixture together. I've been hunting for vintage swizzle sticks for a long time, and I found these three cute ones with sailboats on them, last week at a thrift store. 

While the vintage cooking theme was a resounding success in my book, I do realize that not all vintage recipes appeared (or tasted!) as lovely as ours. For a good laugh, check out BuzzFeeds's 21 Truly Upsetting Vintage Recipes. If the photos alone don't make you laugh out loud, the captions definitely should!

August 28, 2013

Simply Wine and Cheese, Please

My last post about tea reminded me so much of living in England that I thought I should explain how I got there. At the end of my third year of college, I was offered a 10-month internship overseas. Of course I said yes.

Having already volunteered two summers in Scotland, and decidedly blasé about postponing my college graduation for a year, I picked a flatmate and before I knew it, I found myself bashing around London as they say. 

I hardly knew how to cook, and the internship stipend proved meager at best. Luckily, the office where I worked had a cheap canteen and enough staff who recognized a foreigner living on pennies, that I got invited out often enough.

Young, impressionable, and thirsty, I spent a good portion of my time overseas in British pubs with my new friends. (I also lived in a house with no heat, so over the winter and when friends were too busy to accompany me, I bundled up and trudged the few meters up the road to my local establishment and spent hours writing in my journals, on my own, while nursing a soda. True story.)

When we weren't at the pub, often we gathered at someone's home for a wine and cheese evening.

It was the thing to do for any sort of event: house-warming party, a leaving-do or anniversary. Sometimes people hosted them for no reason at all except to hang out with friends. People came and went as they pleased, and in between we all drank wine and ate cheese. 

Simple as that. 
This week, a local friend had a birthday and I volunteered to host a wine and cheese gathering on her behalf. It's been a while since I've done a soirée of sorts (last December actually) but I was confident I could pull it off quickly and easily. Besides, I've moved into an apartment with a kitchen that is made for entertaining.   

I gathered the necessary nibbles and drink, and then the night before proceeded to Google 'wine and cheese party'. You know, in case I missed something.   

Clearly I had, because that day, when I mentioned that I was hosting a party, the wine clerk said he'd be terrified. He wouldn't even know where to start -- he had a hard enough time picking out cheese, let alone trying to pair them with the wine. 

Driving home, I started to panic. What was all of this pairing nonsense? I said I would host a wine and cheese -- is a wine and cheese in America different to all of the ones I've been to in the UK?! In all of those years, had I never been to a PROPER wine and cheese party? 

I didn't actually know everyone on the guest list. More panic. Maybe they're really posh... what if they think I'm a total wine and cheese dunce?

Google affirmed my fears. Every site I pulled up listed ways to pair the wine with the cheese and how to arrange the cheese on a board. I saw list upon list of which wines went with which kind of cheese and I got a little dizzy. Then they all said 'make sure to label' each cheese. And above all, only have 3-5 cheeses.

Forget that, I thought. 

The day of the party, I set up a lovely spread -- it was my friend's birthday after all, so I made the same coconut cake* that I made this past Mother's Day. I used the thrifted vintage snack sets (they were a huge hit) and I decided to do things the way I learned in England years ago.

I opened a few bottles of red and white, put some non-alcoholic beverages next to them, and unwrapped more than the recommended quantity of cheese and crackers. Of course I arranged everything nicely, but I didn't worry about which cheese was at 12 o'clock and which one was next to it. 

I certainly didn't worry about which wine went with which cheese.

Admittedly, at one point, I had both printer labels and toothpicks in my hands and I contemplated writing out the names of the cheese. The moment was brief. There would be no sad little white flags skewered in my cheese. 

When the time came for people to actually tuck in, I simply pointed to each cheese and said what they were. I figured that anyone coming later could ask me (I'm usually the one hovering by the food table in any case) or they could ask someone else. What better way to meet new people than to strike up a conversation with the person standing over the cheese?

I added a few chopped veggies, hummous, grapes, olives, nuts and dried fruit to the table spread. Chocolate also made an appearance, as did some summer sausage. But the cheese was still central -- so was the wine. 
And the only word I heard all night over the din of party chatter was 'delicious'.  
So, there really was no need to panic. My wine and cheese was a success. 

Now that it's over, I'll share my secret rules with you: 

1. Eat cheese
2. Drink wine
3. Be merry

Seriously. It's not that complicated. Don't be scared off by what Google says you should or shouldn't do. You can have an elegant wine and cheese, casual wine and cheese, or anything in between. Generally, no matter what you do, unless you're serving wine aficionados who misread the invitation to read: 'wine tasting', you'll be fine. 

Above all, make sure you have enough for leftovers, because the only thing as nice as a wine and cheese party, is an encore with a few friends a day or two later. 

(* I altered the recipe for the coconut cake by using sweetened coconut instead of unsweetened and then halving the sugar.)