10 Tips For Hosting Your Holiday Party

It’s that time again! The school year has begun and the holiday season is quickly approaching. For members of the food service industry this festive season promises longer work days, less sleep and customers with high demands and expectations (reasonably so). It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, all rolled into one.

To help reduce your holiday stress (and mine) I suggest to you party planners that you book your parties now. In the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” So let’s jump in and get started.

Recently I was asked by a local Pittsburgh magazine to contribute some tips and trends for planning a successful cocktail hour. After developing my “10 Tips” I realized that the list applied not only to cocktail hour but to the planning of the event in general. I thought it might be useful to share my perspective in hopes that it will reduce some of your own stress and result in happy guests.

(1) It’s not all about you. Consider that your guests’ tastes and preferences may differ from your own. Remember that not everyone is a culinary daredevil. On the contrary, not all guests are impressed by raw vegetables and dip.

(2) Incorporate stationed and passed hors d’oeuvres. Limiting hors d’oeuvres to stations can create unwanted congestion (or excessive lines). If room allows, create several stations in strategically placed locations (away from doorways and high-traffic service areas). Utilize servers by having them pass hors d’oeuvres as well. This results in guests who are more engaged and keeps people from feeling singled out as “the first to eat.”

 Stationed hors d'oeuvres are great,
but they will attract a crowd.

(3) Insist that servers are educated regarding the foods they are presenting. An uneducated server detracts from the special feel of the evening. It may also cut back on the number of hors d’oeuvres consumed which could result in unhappy guests (or unhappy hosts).

(4) Plan in advance. Leave yourself with plenty of time to wrap up the details. Advanced planning means more choices and fewer restrictions. Following a timeline will keep you on track.

(5) Limit seating.The more seats you provide for your guests, the more guests will sit. Cocktail hour is a time for mixing, mingling and socializing. Incorporate cocktail tables as a resting place for drinks and/or appetizer plates. Offer lounge seating along the perimeter of the room for those guests who require seating.

(6) Incorporate a “featured cocktail.”

(7) Limit bar service to beer and wine only to deter excessive drinking.

(8) For the budget conscious host, offer an open bar for cocktail hour and move to a cash bar thereafter. Guests will appreciate any freebies you throw their way.

(9) Present a glass of sparkling wine, champagne or Bellini as guests enter the room. This makes for an excellent kick off to the festivities and keeps the bar from being overwhelmed right off the bat.

(10) Be kind to your guests with allergies, sensitivities, and dietary preferences. Allergies and dietary preferences are more prevalent than ever, particularly gluten intolerances and gluten-free diets. Consider these guests when choosing your food options. Limit shellfish, nuts, and bread options and infuse color with fresh vegetables and fruits.

This is a great spread,
unless you're gluten-free.

Happy party planning!

Patio Popsicles: Watermelon-Mint

Watermelon-Mint Pops

3 c. water
3 c. sugar
6 c. watermelon juice
2 c. half and half
fresh mint, finely chopped

Combine water, sugar and watermelon juice in sauce pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Puree with half and half.

Add fresh mint to taste. Stir.

**For very best consistency, this is best done in an ice cream machine or bowl, then transferred to popsicle molds.**

Freeze. ENJOY!

Patio Popsicles: Lemon Rosemary

Lemon-Rosemary Pops

3 c. water
3 c. sugar
6 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 c. half and half
fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Combine water, sugar and lemon juice in sauce pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Puree with half and half.

Add fresh rosemary to taste. Stir.

**For very best consistency, this is best done in an ice cream machine or bowl, then transferred to popsicle molds.**

Freeze. ENJOY!

“Take a ride on the flavor train.”

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Josh Bader, our beverage director.

Josh is a recent transplant to Pittsburgh (originally from Ohio, most recently from Michigan), and he’s wild about drink and food (and tattoos and rap).

He’s taken a bit of time to gather some thoughts on wines of the Loire Valley. And he talks about patios and the flavor train. Nice.

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The Loire Valley—

Crisp acidity, restrained fruit, bracing minerality and most of all, great value. These are all adjectives that could describe the wines of France’s Loire Valley. Located in Northwestern France, the Loire is one of the most diverse growing regions in the world. Several grape varietals are grown here, but a few of them truly shine. In the famous regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc reigns supreme. Unlike New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, these bone-dry wines are less about the grapefruit and more about a certain steely minerality that only the Loire can produce. The high acid in these wines makes them great for summer and they pair well with a variety of lighter dishes. If you want to experience a classic food and wine pairing, get yourself a chilled bottle of Sancerre, some quality goat cheese and crackers, head out to your patio and take a ride on the flavor train!

Speaking of patios, there is no better wine to simply drink while relaxing outside than a fruity and dry rosé from the Loire Valley. Every sub region in the Loire makes rosé but rosés from the large district of Anjou are the most well known. These wines are made from several grapes but Cabernet and Cabernet Franc are the most common. Do not confuse these with the poorly made sugary swill that is white zinfandel. These are wines with character, dry and complex, certainly some of the best wines to pair with a wide variety of cuisine. A simple plate of charcuterie and a good rosé is a match made in heaven. The best part is, you can typically get a really good bottle for under $15!

When it comes to reds, Cabernet Franc finds its best representation here in the Loire. While in most other regions it is mainly used as a blending grape, Cab Francs from the Loire are often bottled on their own or with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. Two of the best sub regions are Chinon and Bourgueil. The best of these wines display a palate full of red fruits with a slightly earthy and green component to them. The lighter body and mouthfeel of these wines makes them a good red for warm weather drinking.

So next time you’re in the wine store, walk past the chardonnay and step outside the box with a wine from the Loire. You will be rewarded.