This year, Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day land on the same day. (God, help us all.) Since I love big hats and margaritas, I wanted to give each its own parties. So, we Cinco-ed early so I could show you all the shortcuts to get your Cinco party done early to give the evening to the Derby!
Since I get a little crazy sometimes making two or six batched drinks for parties, I decided to let my guests play bartender a little. I batched out a traditional margarita recipe and made fresh purees—blueberry, strawberry, and mango—then put out mason jars so everyone had their own “shaker”. Then, all you need is festive, paper straws and lime wheels for garnish, and tada … the easiest margarita bar ever. (I also put out freshness basil and a muddler for an extra flavor.
1.5 oz Pura Vida Tequila Silver
1 oz Pura Vida Naranja orange liqueur
0.75 oz lime juice
0.25 oz simple syrup
Since Cinco de Mayo celebration seems to be all about tequila, I also gave my guests three expression of Pura Vida Tequila to taste. This tequila is a new favorite of mine. Made in Jalisco (as it must be to be be called tequila), the brand has Texas roots and is incredibly smooth.
The biggest thing to remember is: less prep means less dishes. Since I tend to be a messy cook, I opted to cater our little meal. La Ventana, a Dallas-based taco shop that makes authentic Mexico City tacos and goodies and now has five locations across DFW. I’ve always loved their breakfast tacos, so I started my party at 11am so I could be sure there were breakfast tacos on the table!
Since their breakfast tacos aren’t the only thing they do well, we stocked up on their traditional options like steak, pastor, lengua (beef tongue), and barbacoa. There was a little something for everyone, and since their tacos are made on corn tortillas, even my gluten-free guests could dig in.
The tacos were, of course, amazing, but their signature dessert, churros con cajeta, took the cake. (Pun only kind of weirdly intended.) These things are addictive, and I’m OK with it.
And what’s a party without favors? Last year, I made my own adult pinata, but this year … I found someone to do it for me. This fun website, Nipyata, has themed pinatas for every holiday FILLED WITH BOOZE AND CANDY, and it even comes with a papier-mâché bat, blindfold, and rope. Starting at $69.99, it’s a fun addition to a fiesta, bachelorette party, etc. (Even cooler, you can add custom fortunes and even a hand-written note—think gender reveal, people!)
We had a blast whaling away on it. Give some “adults” a few margaritas and the chance to take out some pent-up aggression on an inanimate object with no repercussions and the goal of unlocking more boozy goodness … it’s on.
I absolutely love to entertain. But, it seems my generation has lost the desire (and, honestly, the aptitude) to do so, and I find myself being one of the only shows in town to roll our the red carpet and don an apron and sparkles to make a fun evening for friends, neighbors and family. And the holiday season is no exception. That said, every year for the past seven, I’ve gotten a motley crew of friends together to share some holiday spirit(s) and entertain ourselves with a slightly outlandish white elephant exchange. (Exchange rules are listed below!)
Every year the party gets a little bigger, but some of the cast of characters remain the same, as do some of my favorite (and my guests’ favorite) recipes. The staples for years have been my bourbon meatballs (I’m asked for the recipe so often that I put it on a letter board this year!), sausage cheeseballs, Neiman Marcus Dip, and my Cool Weather Punch. I also always am sure to keep plenty of cheese on the table for easy snacks. All of these recipes are below!
My main bar (usually set up in my kitchen) always has at least one batched drink—usually my cool weather punch, base liquors (bourbon and rye whiskey, rum, vodka, tequila, scotch, etc.), a bottle of bitters, simple syrup, mixers, and citrus. I also ice down bottles of beer, cider, and splits of sparkling wine and leave them on my porch. Needless to say, no one ever has to look too hard for booze at my parties. I was once told by my badass boss, Flip, “No one cares about much at a party if there’s plenty to drink and great music playing.” … it stuck with me, so I sweat the details a little less now.
A fun twist I add each year is having a “make your own” bar of some sort. This year it was a hot chocolate bar that was a HIT. The base hot chocolate I made (if I do say so myself) was incredible. So good, in fact, that I may have to make it a new staple. The recipe is below, but the fun part was outfitting the table with plenty of goodies to add so each person’s drink was different. Giving guests plenty of options for creativity is key, but make sure to have things that just make sense. My favorite of the boozy additions was the Smirnoff Peppermint Twist vodka, which made for the perfect peppermint hot chocolate!!! (I may or may not have moved the rest of the bottle beside the stove … just in case I get a craving.) I also ordered plain coffee cups with sleeves so people could write their names on their cups. (And you also know who doesn’t throw their cup away. 😏)
While I learned how to entertain from the best (my mother threw some of the most amazing events when I was a child and I was always in awe of her ability to make everything from scratch and entertain everyone at the same time), I have found, much to my chagrin, that I can’t do it all. My wonderful mother always makes an item or two for the table, and I sometimes go for items I can pick up to save a little of my sanity. I love getting cupcakes from Trailercakes, cake balls from Savor Pâtisserie, and this year I went with some of the absolutely adorable iced and Linzer cookies from La Madeleine. Store bought doesn’t have to mean throwing in the towel!
While I’m sad paper invitations for informal events have gone by the wayside, I’ve found a decent replacement is Paperless Post. It gives a nice user experience, is relatively inexpensive (check RetailMeNot for coupons to purchase credits), and it allows you to track RSVPs. There are also some damn cute designs to use!
For entertainment, I make sure to have music playing (as mentioned above) and I’ll put a Christmas movie on TV on mute for a little extra texture. I’ve been compiling a Christmas party playlist for years with some slightly unconventional holiday songs. Find it on Spotify and give it a listen.
I hope that my party lives on, though every year it seems to get harder to find a date to make it work. The gift of hospitality is so important, and I hope you’ll join me in trying to keep it alive!
1 pound frozen meatballs (I prefer Trader Joe’s brand)
½ cup ketchup
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon whiskey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients except meatballs in a bowl. Pour over the meatballs in a crock pot. Heat on high for about an hour (then turn to warm) or low for at least three hours.
SAUSAGE CHEESEBALLS 2 cups Bisquick
1 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound hot or medium ground sausage
1/4 cup water
Mix all ingredients together with your hands. Ball up a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and place it on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 22-25 minutes at 350º.
COOL WEATHER PUNCH
1 part white rum
1 part ginger ale
1 part apple cider (non-alcoholic)
a heavy dash of cinnamon
Combine all ingredients, stir. Garnish with a thin slice of apple and cinnamon stick if desired. This recipe can also be served warm.
NEIMAN MARCUS DIP 5 green onions, chopped
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup Greek yogurt
6+ slices of crispy cooked bacon
½ cup slivered almonds
Combine all ingredients and chill for at least two hours. Serve with Ritz crackers.
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
20 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
10 cups whole milk
2½ cups heavy cream
12 ounce can evaporated milk
¼ teaspoon salt
topping ideas: marshmallows, chocolate shavings, soft peppermint sticks, peppermint snow, sea salt, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, cookie sticks (like Pirouettes), whipped cream (homemade if possible), toffee crumbles
boozy additions: Smirnoff Peppermint Vodka, Disaronno, Irish cream, hazelnut liqueur, coffee liqueur
Either in a crock pot or a large pot, whisk cocoa powder with hot water until mixed. Add in chocolate, milk, heavy cream, evaporated milk, and pinch of salt.
If using a crock pot, cook for 4 hours on high OR low for 6 hours and stir occasionally. Keep on warm to serve.
If using a pot on the stove, heat for about 15 minutes on medium and stir often. Then, keep on simmer and continue to stir occasionally. Makes about 20 servings.
THE WHITE ELEPHANT EXCHANGE
Over the years, we’ve fine tuned the exchange … and we’ve seen gifts anywhere from booze (so much booze) and live lobsters to unicorn Snuggies and phallic paraphernalia.
– All attendees are asked to bring a gift with certain specifications. Some people choose themes like booze or food, but I keep it open. This year the price cap was $35.
– Everyone gets a number. (I usually just count the number of people participating and write them on little bits of paper and allow people to draw out of a bowl.)
– The person with 1 begins and opens a gift. Then, go through the numbers consecutively, and each person has the choice to either open a new gift or steal a gift that is already open.
– Continue until all the gifts have been opened.
– After this is done, the last person who has the chance to steal or open is able to steal ANYONE’S GIFT, whether it’s frozen or not.
– Each gift can be stolen twice. (Meaning, the third person who has in his hands is the final owner.) Anyone whose gift is stolen cannot steal the same gift back immediately; they must wait for their number to come back up.
– Encourage everyone at the beginning to nice. Some people think that their gifts are clever and other may think they’re stupid, so encourage people to be kind.
World Cucumber Day is June 14! Of course, I’m going to celebrate by putting cucumber in something boozy. And, as of late, frozen. (Because, Texas.)
I chose to work with Hendrick’s Gin for these recipes because the spirit already has a delightful cucumber note. (After macerating and distilling most of the botanicals with the alcohol, rose and cucumber essences are added.) And they get a kick out of cucumbers. They even have a cucumber blimp.
I wanted to try something a little different to add a peppery note to a Cucumber Collins (which is delicious, but not complex enough), so I added a little watercress. Watercress is incredibly inexpensive and also makes for a fun garnish.
Cucumber Watercress Collins
2oz Hendrick’s Gin
1oz fresh lime juice
0.75oz simple syrup
5 cucumber slices
Muddle lime, syrup, cucumbers, and about 10 watercress leaves in a cocktail tin. Add the gin and ice, then shake until well chilled. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice, then top with club soda. Garnish with a small bunch of watercress leaves.
Special thanks to Feo Forte from Rapscallion for the help workshopping this cocktail!
As you may have noticed lately, I’ve been a little obsessed with alcoholic popsicles. I’ve gotten a little bit of a wild hair to add a kick to things that aren’t meant to be boozy. Go ahead … call me an anarchist.
Combine liquid ingredients and stir. Place a few slices of cucumber in each popsicle mold, then pour liquid over. Add sticks, then freeze overnight or for at least eight hours.
Not in the mood to make your own drinks? Stop into your favorite drinking establishment this evening and see if they’re offering a special cucumber drink to celebrate the day.
DALLASITES: There are quite a few local establishments that will be offering special Hendrick’s options to celebrate. Maybe I’ll see you there! (Visit District 30, Rapscallion, Dish, The Fairmount, Public School 214, The Standard Pour, Dragonfly at Hotel Zaza, Parliament, Bowen House, The Mitchell, Stock & Barrel, Boulevardier, and The Londoner locations in Colleyville and Addison for features and/or specials tonight!)
Cinco de Mayo is coming up, and this year it’s on a Friday. [Cue amateur hour.] While every restaurant will make their best attempt at a margarita and slap a $3 price tag on it, you may want to avoid the hordes of partiers looking for cheap drinks. That said, sometimes it’s best to host your own fiesta–then you can make your margaritas as strong as you want (and know that they don’t have well tequila in them) and share good food with your amigos.
My friends and I put together a little fiesta to celebrate Cinco a bit early. To make things easier, we ordered catering from Moe’s Southwest Grill (promotion). The party was simple–catered food, a margarita bar, and, of course, a piñata.
To make it a little more festive, I put together a margarita bar so each guest could create their own margaritas. My guests could choose their citrus–lime, key lime, orange or blood orange–and sweetener–Patrón Citrónge Orange, blood orange syrup or “Sweet Heat“, Torani’s ghost pepper syrup. We wrote the traditional margarita recipe in chalk on the ground so even a novice could get it right.
This year, to celebrate “Cinco de Moe’s”, Moe’s created a new, margarita-inspired drink, the Moe-Rita, that combines limeade, lemonade, orange and some other goodies. (If you’re at one of their restaurants, you can get it from the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. To make things even easier, guests could use the Mo-Rita as the base of their margarita and spice it up as they desired.
Instead of grilling up fajitas and stressing myself out trying to cook rice perfectly (just not my strong suit), I let Moe’s cater everything. I went with the fajita bar that came with everything we could have possibly wanted to pile onto a tortilla–chicken and beef, rice, beans, mixed onions and peppers, shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream, guac and pico de gallo. Their catering comes with chips and salsa and we went all in with queso (which is quite fantastic).
Moe’s even covers dessert … their crispy sopapilla chips are my new obsession. They were a hit and my guests were more than happy to take a bag home (I may or may not have been grabbing one here and there all week. They’re real damn dangerous.)
Every party needs a little entertainment … and party favors. I stepped into Fiesta for a piñata (they’re quite inexpensive there and there are plenty of options). I filled my colorful llama with mini liquor bottles (plastic ones to avoid breakage), Mexican candies and snacks and hangover helpers (Advil packets and TUMs). You’re never too old to take a swing at a piñata!
Feeling inspired and want to win? Host your own fiesta, and make sure to post a picture of your Moe-Rita creation on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using #MoeRitaMixer. Moe’s will pick one entrant to win a FREE catering for up to 50 people!*
Thanks to Moe’s for partnering with me for this promotion and setting us up with great food and the Moe-Ritas! *Entries will be judged on originality and creativity. The winner will be announced on June 15th and can host their event anytime in the month of July 2017. For more information, visit www.moes.com.
Need New Years Eve plans but don’t have a clue about what to do? Look no further as the Harwood District is taking care of it for you with set menus and live entertainment at Saint Ann, Mercat Bistro, and Dolce Riviera!
Reservations at Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar (with a special NYE three course menu and live entertainment) start at 5pm and the band goes on at 9:30pm. When 2017 finally arrives, balloons will drop both inside and out on the heated patio and champagne glasses will be raised to the “new year, new you”. (Cue the cliché kisses and toasts.)
The special menu features twice baked black truffle fingerling potatoes with crème fraîche and caviar for the table along with four appetizer choices–including the positively naughty bacon-wrapped sizzlers (chicken-stuffed jalapeños, wrapped in bacon, and served with ranch dressing).
You’ll have some trouble deciding between the five entrees, but you can’t go wrong with the grilled black angus tenderloin and lobster, served with asparagus and hen-of-the-wood mushrooms. Dessert will be as sweet as the date you bring: either a salted pots de crème with bourbon whipped cream and almond biscotti or a chocolate lava cake with port-soaked cherries and vanilla ice cream.
Their regular cocktail and drink menu will also be available during the special evening. To make your reservations for New Years Eve at Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar, click here.
With the changing of seasons comes the changing of the guard … err … shakes at Dallas’s newest burger chain. Shake Shack has a new holiday menu that would turn even the Grinch into a cheerful SOB. You can get three new shakes and a hot chocolate treat to keep your spirits bright from the inside out.
Pumpkin Pie Shake: vanilla frozen custard blended with Four & Twenty Blackbirds pumpkin pie and topped with whipped cream and spiced pie crumbles ($5.79)
Christmas Cookie Shake: sugar cookie frozen custard topped with whipped cream and red and green sprinkles ($5.79)
Chocolate Peppermint Shake: chocolate frozen custard blended with peppermint and topped with whipped cream and chocolate peppermint candy crumbles ($5.79)
Brownie Batter Hot Chocolate: a blend of bittersweet dark chocolates and rich fudge sauce, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles ($3.89)
Don’t forget to check out the Custard Calendar to find out what custard is being featured daily at Shake Shack!
The culinary team at The Second Floorby Scott Gottlichalways manages to keep things fresh and interesting–and most importantly, delicious. With new addition Chef Ryan Barnett (formerly of Stephen Pyles) at the helm, this certainly continues to be the case. I recently had the opportunity to pay a visit to Second Floor to check out a French-inspired “Classics” prix-fixe menu that ran for a limited time. From the first bite of French Onion Soup down to the last taste of Cambozola en Croute, each dish was flawless and exceeded my expectations. Other highlights of the evening included a beautifully seared Steak Diane, as well as a masterfully executed Rack of Lamb. Thoughtfully curated wine pairings were available for each course. Chef Barnett informed me plans for future prix-fixe menus are on the horizon, so keep on eye The Second Floor’s website for a peek at what’s to come.
In the meantime, The Second Floor has debuted a new lineup of fall menu offerings that you won’t want to miss. Among them, the Texas Gold Shrimp & Grits with an anchiote tequila cream sauce ($14/$25), an Orecchiette Pork Ragu with slow-braised pork jowl ($15/$24), and a Lobster Risotto with roasted butternut squash ($14/$36). And, consider drinking your dessert; The Second Floor’s featured fall cocktail (created by Gina Gottlich) the Caramel Appleton, ismade with Ciroc Apple, Bailey salted caramel, butterscotch, cranberry, cream and garnished with a caramel rim ($13). If whiskey is closer to your speed, check out the Cinnamon Whiskey Sour (Makers 46, cinnamon, cranberry, citrus, rocks–$13). See the full fall menu here.
The Second Floor Happy Hour:
Speciality cocktail of the day (changes daily) $5
Domestic Beer $4
“The Best Wine in the City”, Honoro Vera, Garnacha, Spain, or Les Costieres de Pomerols, Picpoul de Pinet, $5
Various Snacks and Small Bites $2-5
The Second Floor by Scott Gottlich 13340 Dallas Parkway (inside Galleria Dallas, Level 2)