With summer just around the corner, many people in the Dallas area will be thinking about enjoying some leisure time such as taking a vacation or entertaining at home. If you enjoy having friends and family over to your home, one great idea is to host a daytime garden party where you can all enjoy the great weather as well as a range of food and drink.
Hosting a party such as this at the weekend is a great idea, as it means that many people will be off work so you have more flexibility with regards to the time you have your party. You also need to make sure you plan your food and drinks menu properly so that you cater for all needs.
Some tips that can help with your garden party planning: There are various tips that can help when it comes to planning a garden party for the summer. When it comes to drinks, creating delicious chilled cocktails is perfect for this sort of event. The first thing you need to bear in mind is that not everyone will be drinking alcohol. Some people may be driving and others may prefer to stick to soft drinks. So, although you can create sumptuous alcoholic cocktails for those that are able to drink, make sure you also have the ingredients to make some virgin cocktails (or “mocktails”) for those that are not drinking.
The next thing you need to consider is the food that you will be serving up. As it is summer and the party will be held outdoors, it is best to stick to buffet food that can be enjoyed cold rather than go for hot food. Of course, you can also consider a BBQ if you prefer but depending on the weather it may be a little too hot for someone to be slaving over a hot grill all afternoon. If you opt for bugger food, go for simple options that are likely to appeal to most people and are simple to make and serve up. Also, don’t forget about people that may have special dietary requirements such as vegetarians or those with certain food allergies.
Entertainment for your guests is also an important consideration when it comes to your summer garden party. You can’t go wrong by having some music by way of entertainment and these days you can just go on music streaming sites to download the perfect summer tracks for your garden party. You can then use a Bluetooth player to play the tune directly from your smartphone, which makes finding the right entertainment a breeze.
If you want to push the boat out or the garden party is for a special occasion, you may even want to consider hiring a marquee where guests can go to get some shade. In addition, you can put tables up in the marquee to set up your food, which will keep it free from insects and pests.
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.
Adult children, rejoice! Pinstack has a new location off of 635 in Las Colinas.
For those of you who haven’t been to their Plano location yet, Pinstack is the modern version of a bowling alley, arcade, and restaurant, all poured into one. This new location is 53,000 sqf of fun with three main areas—the restaurant and bar, the bowling alleys, and the arcade area. Just beyond the restaurant is a 4,000 sqf patio with half of it climate controlled and the other half outside with various giant-sized lawn games. The arcade area also offers a two-level laser tag arena, a rock climbing wall, a high-ropes course, and hundreds of the newest video games and simulator technology.
For those of you who would rather watch than do, the restaurant and bar have much to offer you. I would highly recommend starting with the Mac & Cheese Pops (fried mac & cheese balls), served with a tomato bisque sauce. They’re entirely too easy to eat.
From there, you can’t go wrong with the Blackened Mahi Mahi served over jasmine rice with pineapple pico and sweet chili sauce, or the Simply Grilled Chicken served with sautéed heirloom cherry tomatoes and asparagus, baby arugula, balsamic reduction, and parmesan cheese.
This wouldn’t be a complete review on this site without some cocktail info, so be sure to give their signature Paloma a go. This classic cocktail is refreshing and delectable … really, it’s a perfect way to cool down after a heated game of laser tag. They also offer domestic and craft pints (quite a few of them on draft), house wines, and margaritas
Happy hour is Monday through Friday, 4-7pm, and features specialty pricing on cocktails, beer, and wine! They are also offering specials on Mondays and Wednesdays: their Monday night special, dubbed Bowl & Bite, offers $3 draft beers and 1/2 price appetizers. They also have Wine Down Wednesday with 1/2 off bottles wine!
This particular Pinstack location can accommodate up to 1,800 guests with an inviting layout for private parties and events.
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.
The holidays have come and gone, and that means the one gift you agonized over has been given. So … what can your go-to gift for the year be? You know … for the person who has everything. Do your friends like to cook? Or as a minimum … do they like to eat? I have the perfect (read: delicious) solution for you: give the gift of a culinary education, with a little help from Chef Tre Wilcox and American Kitchen Cookware.
At the end of 2016, Julia Pearl‘s Chef Tre Wilcox (you may also recognize him from Bravo’s “Top Chef”, or impressively taking down Iron Chef Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America”) opened Tre Wilcox Cooking Concepts: a beautiful event venue in Plano, featuring a state of the art demonstration kitchen with four cooking stations. Cooking Concepts offers everything from themed cooking classes, to team building events, to catering services. Cooking Concepts’ partnership with American Kitchen Cookware is a match made in culinary heaven, giving would-be Wolfgangs and Giadas the opportunity to experiment with some beautiful cookware that is actually affordable.
I had the opportunity to participate in a cooking class with Chef Tre and his crew, and here are a few things I can share:
This is not one of those “cooking classes” where you sit back and watch someone else do all of the heavy lifting while you half-watch amidst socializing with your friends and sipping mediocre wine from a plastic cup. Oh, no. I have very few pictures from this event, and this is because I was constantly chopping, stirring, sautéing, or pan-searing something. You are going to earn your dang dinner.
That said … you will not be thrown to the wolves. Each of the four demo stations were staffed with one of Chef Tre’s kitchen minions, who were A) extremely talented, B) extremely helpful, and C) REALLY INTO FOOD … kind of like that Central Market deep voice guy but remarkably less annoying.
You may learn that you’re doing everything wrong in the kitchen. Just accept this heading into the experience. There can’t really be a “wrong” way to chop an onion, right? Oh, on the contrary. There is, and it’s the way you’ve been doing it all along. Get ready to make some adjustments, and you will learn some time saving (and injury saving and perhaps even watery eye saving … ) hacks you will want to use at home.
You can cook a delicious, impressive, restaurant quality meal. Ok, so maybe it’s under the watchful eye of someone who is slightly more well versed in the kitchen than you are, but that’s a technicality. Shrimp and grits … pan seared scallops … Thai coconut salmon … yeah, I created all of these dishes. (Me, the UberEats Queen.)
Here is a list of upcoming cooking classes, with themes running the gamut from sushi, to Southern cooking, to knife safety. Note: Cooking Concepts is offering a couples’ cooking class for Valentine’s Day, which is coming up quickly. So, make your plans! Online registration is available. Classes are small, and will fill up quickly!
If you’re going to surprise the aspiring chef in your life with a Tre Wilcox cooking class, you may as well give them the right tools to be successful once the class is in the books. Check out American Kitchen Cookware to peruse some of the cookware Chef Tre uses in his demo kitchen. You’ll want to take some home with you.
I like to entertain … like … a lot. The worst part, though, is being forced to be tied to the bar so you can make everyone drinks or to keep it tidy when the one messy friend inevitably spills all the things. (Dammit, Linda.) Say “adios” to playing babysitter to the bar and batch out a cocktail (or three) for your Cinco de Mayo fiesta.
For Cinco de Mayo, the easiest thing to batch out is, of course, margaritas. And (hold on to your sombrero), the US imported 12.3 million cases (yes, M-M-M-M-M-million) of tequila in 2014 … and Texas is apparently one of the top 10 tequila consuming states in the US. So yeah, a drink with tequila is a slam dunk.
This Cinco de Mayo, I’ll be visiting family in Pennsylvania to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Luckily, on her last visit to Dallas, my mom and I introduced her to margaritas … and she loved them. Needless to say, once I land in the Keystone State, I’ll be swinging by a liquor store to pick up the makings of this remixed margarita just for her.
So, why Sauza? It’s made with 100% blue agave in Jalisco, Mexico the same way it has been made since 1873. The agave is put into production within 48 hours which gives the tequila a crisp flavor.
Perfect Pear Margarita (serves 8)
2 cups Sauza® Signature Blue Silver Tequila
1/2 cup lemon Juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup simple syrup
1 cup pear syrup
Mix all ingredients in an ice-filled pitcher. Serve in margarita glasses garnished with a rosemary sprig and lime wheel. (Ignore the color … because it’s delicious!)
1 cup pear purée
1⁄4 cup Sugar in the Raw
1⁄2 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch grated nutmeg
In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves fully. Reduce to low and simmer for 10 minutes. (The syrup will thicken-up slightly.) Strain and store in an airtight container in a refrigerator for up to two weeks.
I was given the chance to participate in this campaign and was sent items from Sauza to promote.