#81 | InStyle Parties
The Complete Guide to Easy, Elegant Entertaining All Year Round
By The Editors of InStyle
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery By the Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
April: I'm April Colburn and I'm the editor of InStyle Parties, the Complete Guide to Easy, Elegant Entertaining, All Year Round.
Suzy Chase: A completely revised and updated edition of the top selling book from InStyle and Time Inc. Books, this is the must have resource for anyone looking to host chic parties without stress or guesswork. So, the bar situation always boggles my mind especially in a small, New York City apartment where I don't have room for a proper bar. Let's kick things off with your tips for a fun, limited bar.
April: I actually also live in an apartment where my bar is limited to my bar cart, so I completely get the need to streamline the amount and type of alcohol I keep in stock. So for starters, you should always have wine on hand if you're hosting a dinner or cocktail party. A typical 750 ml bottle of wine, will pour about five glasses, so keep that in mind as you plan. I personally love red wine, so I normally keep a Merlot or a pinot noir handy, but white or rose wines are perfectly fine as well, especially in the summer. It's best to have white or rose available.
Some guests, especially men will prefer beer to wine. So, it's great to have at least one type of beer kept ice cold on hand. And if you offer more than one type of beer, just be sure that they're very different in flavor, to make it really worth having the option. For instance a Maltese stout will pair nicely with say a light, crisp lager. A more bitter, or hoppy IPA will balance a tart and funky sour. So just think through the flavor profiles and how to vary them to cover all your bases. Using a local craft brew is always a great option.
As for liquor, gin, vodka, tequila, whiskey and rum are really the tried and true staples. They really do form the foundation for dozens, if not hundreds of drinks. Of course if you have other favorite liquors, say scotch, or if you have a signature cocktail, like a Sidecar that calls for brandy, you can certainly include those liquors as well. And again, as a good rule of thumb as you're planning that your menu, a 750 ml bottle of spirits will make about 16 drinks.
Finally, mixers and citrus are just as important as the liquor itself is. It's essential to keep fresh lemons and limes on hand. So many drinks call for them. And then for mixers, you should have club soda or tonic water, as well as regular soda such as Coke or ginger ale. You can also sub for a diet soda if you prefer. And then juice, such as orange juice or cranberry juice.
So in general, just let the tone of the evening and the menu, dictate what you offer. It's better to offer wine and beer and just one or two really great cocktails then to try to accommodate all the cocktail preferences that your guests might have.
Suzy Chase: I love that you have a bar cart, so you can just kind of move it around.
April: Yes. It's ideal, because I can move to my living room, or to our dining room, wherever the party is happening.
Suzy Chase: So, food plays the starring role at the party. In the book, you suggest that we first figure out how our guests will eat. Can you talk a little bit about that?
April: Sure. Yeah. So, it's really important to think through if your guests will be sitting or standing when they eat. If you're having a group of maybe, six or eight people for dinner, they'll probably be sitting at a table. But, if you invite 20 people or more, some will be sitting at tables, some will be standing probably around a highboy or a bistro table. And then perhaps some will even be sitting on a couch without a table at all. It always matters, because depending on whether guests are sitting or standing, whether they're holding their plates, or can rest them on a surface, you'll really need to adapt what food you serve to best accommodate them.
For example if your guests won't have access to tables, then don't serve them a pork tenderloin or something where they'll need to use a fork and a knife. It's really hard to hold a plate and also use a fork and a knife at the same time. So if guests will be standing and eating, serve them foods that only require one utensil, or even no utensils, just finger foods.
Suzy Chase: The next excellent tip is to buy frozen hors d'oeuvres, which I love. And also, don't serve fish. Why shouldn't we serve fish?
April: Don't serve fish because you have to serve it almost immediately after it finishes frying or roasting, and that kind of timing is stressful. You don't want to be standing over the hot oven cooking when guests are arriving. As we all know, sometimes guests are late, and you don't want to have to worry about reheating or adjusting the cook time for them.
Suzy Chase: What should our party-ready pantry look like?
April: Well, always keeping a few staple foods in your pantry will allow you to graciously pull together a snack with just a few minutes of warning. Say, if a neighbor drops in unexpectedly, or an old friend is passing through town and wants to stop by. So here are a few things that I like to keep stocked. Smoked or spiced nuts are great. Crackers, I love multigrain. Sliced baguette is a great thing to have on hand. You can actually freeze the slices in freezer bags, and then defrost and toast them when you're ready to serve them. Olives are great, especially the canned type. You can eat them just as they are. You can serve them on crackers or bread. Finally, dried fruits and figs. Figs or apricots are really great for keeping on hand. And then also, think about having some desserts on hand as well, like biscotti or cookies.
I love gourmet dark chocolate. There's just something really delightful about being offered an exotic chocolate when you visit someone's home. I always try to keep that on hand. I love a great cheese board as well. I'll keep brie or goat cheese, as well as charcuterie in our refrigerator for that. So really with just a few staples like this. The only other thing you might need, is a pretty platter, or board. Presentation really makes such a difference when you're hosting people. So arrange whatever foods you have on hand, on a pretty piece and serve it to guests. They'll be totally amazed that you pulled together something so easily.
Suzy Chase: In this book there are 15 unique celebration ideas from a Fourth of July picnic to a woodland baby shower. What's included with every party idea in the book?
April: Each party has a ton of features that are in every single one. Each party has a customized menu of recipes including a signature cocktail, which is really fun. Each includes an inspirational invitation. Readers for the most part can purchase the exact invitation shown, but really they're most meant to just jog ideas so that readers can pick the concept and make it their own.
Also, for each party there's information given for how to create the perfect party look. We touch on elements like what flowers to buy, how to decorate the table, how to create a centerpiece, what color palette to use, and we give notes about the menu. Also, for each party we offer either an activity that guests can participate in at the party, or we suggest a take home gift for hosts to offer their guests.
For example, the activity that comes from the woodland baby shower, is that we suggest setting up some sort of table or station where guests can get together and create their own whimsical crowns made with items from the forest. Calling for ribbon, and cotton spun mushrooms and faux silk flowered. And then an example of a take home item comes from the spring dinner party in the book. We inspire readers to give their party guests these tiny potted succulents, which are such a cute little take home item for them.
And then there's just a couple other features that are also included in every party. One of them is the countdown, which gives readers a timeline of what to do when as they get ready for the party. For instance, what to do three weeks out, a week out, the morning of, and then even as guests are starting to arrive. Then finally, the shortcut feature gives tips for simplifying party prep, or cutting down on prep time.
Suzy Chase: Let's focus on New Year's Eve, which is coming up. I find hosting a New Year's Eve party particularly stressful, because I want everything to be perfect for the last soiree of the year.
April: Yeah, I get that.
Suzy Chase: Over the weekend, I put together the New Year's Eve cocktail menu that you can see on my Cookery by the Book Instagram. Let's set the scene for New Year's Eve. What should we focus on first for the décor and the flowers?
April: You should really think about a gold and white palette. Metallics like gold and silver are classic colors for New Year's Eve celebrations. And in the New Year's Eve party in the book, we pair gold and white together to give the scene a real timeless and fresh quality, something that makes this party something that you can do every year.
So, you should start by laying a crisp, white tablecloth, and then layer on top of it gold accents. In this way, the white tablecloth really acts as this great canvas backdrop from which your gold accents will pop. So the way that we bring in gold accents is mainly through the serving pieces we use. Gold platter here, a golden rimmed bowl there, different types of serving utensils that are flecked with gold, weave in a gold colored ice bucket to ice champagne. And then we have these really awesome champagne glasses that are flecked with gold. These aren't pieces that you have to go out and actually purchase yourself. Really anything that you find that you already have, or something that you can borrow from a friend is great as well. If it sounds like a lot of gold, it is a lot of gold, but that's why bringing in white is so helpful. It softens the look and it provides some visual rest.
So, we also incorporate some white serving pieces as well, such as marble platters, or matte white pottery. Another thing that is really helpful when you're thinking about décor is bringing in interesting shapes and textures. So, we brought in geometric shapes into this New Year's Eve party, because geometric shapes really echo the same sort of modern, and art deco style that the metallic colors do. So, for our table we brought in a geometric gold candle holder, and also cocktail napkins that have a similar golden, geometric square. Use objects that bring in some interesting pattern to breakup all the solid gold and white is really helpful.
As for flowers, we also did some gold. They're actually not true flowers. They're just large leaves that we spray painted with gold spray paint. Really any kind of large thick leaf will work, like a magnolia leaf or a sago palm frond. Anything that's just big and sturdy.
Suzy Chase: I found all of my gold utensils and plates at Party City.
April: That's a great solution, actually. You don't have to go out and purchase something that's expensive.
Suzy Chase: So for the punch, I made Mar tease Punch. Describe that.
April: Well that punch is very sweet and bubbly. It contains Icelandic beer, which is really just a fermented beer. It has a tart and funky taste. It also contains prosecco, and then some great fruit. It has orange and pear slices. It has crushed raspberries. And those raspberries give it this beautiful, brilliant red color.
Suzy Chase: An appetizer that always wows is are blinis with caviar. And I didn't have time to make the homemade blinis, so I used the store-bought. But you have a great shortcut suggestion of thick, rich potato chips.
April: It's great to have a list of every single thing that you could do if you had all the time in the world, but a lot of are crunched for time, so really wanted to include some handy shortcuts.
Suzy Chase: Next on the menu were the lamb meatballs with arugula pesto. This was an easy to pop in your mouth dish, when you have a drink in your hand.
April: It's great for a party like this New Year's Eve cocktail party where guests will be standing and mingling.
Suzy Chase: So the herb tartines were a different take on brushette and very, very light. Describe them.
April: So for the herb tartines we used a bunch of fresh herbs that we chopped. So we have basil, and chervil, which is a french parsley, and tarragon. So we chopped all that up and then we mixed it with arugula and some shaved pecorino cheese, which is this hard cheese with a salty, nutty flavor. And then spread all that on top of toasted, whole wheat baguette slices.
Suzy Chase: So mini food is perfect for a party. And the dessert is the mini cherry cheesecakes with Oreo crust.
April: I love those, and they're super cute, too. They're basically these mini cheesecakes that you make in a muffing pan. You start with a layer of crushed Oreos on the bottom, and then you top it with a simple cheesecake layer. And then you finish it with this beautiful cherry bourbon sauce. It's super amazing and tasty.
Suzy Chase: There's a handy countdown guide with each party idea. Walk us through the New Year's Eve party countdown. So, we start at six weeks out with the invitations. You said in the book, we can purchase the exact invitation?
April: So most of these invitations came from Paperless Post. You can actually go onto paperlesspost.com and search for just these different types of parties. We didn't include the label that they include on Paperless Post in the book, but you can type in keywords like, winter party, or New Year's Eve party, and you'll see some of these options pop up. Some of them might have gone out of print availability, but there's dozens of great options there as well.
Suzy Chase: Three weeks out, buy all the tabletop items and figure out your outfit. I find that the outfit part is usually the hardest thing. Do you have any outfit tips?
April: So right now, sequins and shimmery dresses are all the rage, which is actually perfect for this New Year's Eve party, because if you have gold theme. And New Year's Eve is also a party that typically pretty classy and formal. So don't be afraid to pull out your formal attire and ask guests to do the same. A nice suit or a tux for a man, and a long dress or a short cocktail dress for a woman is totally appropriate.
But of course you don't have to make it this formal. The important thing is that you just clearly communicate to guests what they should wear. Terms like, festive attire, or creative attire really are just confusing. Just be sure that you are very clear in the invitation. If you want guests to wear tuxes and long dresses, say black tie. If you want them to wear suits or a cocktail dress, say cocktail attire. If it's okay if they show up in jeans, then just tell them it's casual attire. It really may be good to followup personally with this, and just give them more information so they feel more comfortable when they walk into the party.
Suzy Chase: Two weeks before get your sparkling wine and bar staples. Then two days before, bake the cheesecakes and refrigerate. Start to stage the buffet by blocking out space for each item. That's so smart.
April: Yeah. I know. I think that ... It's such a great idea because you don't want to get to the table and figure out that all your stuff doesn't fit on it.
Suzy Chase: The day before, make the lamb balls and pesto sauce. Does this mean that we should prepare the lamb balls raw? Or should we prepare and cook them and then heat them up the next day?
April: Well, either is fine, but since those meatballs only take about 10 minutes to bake, you can leave them to bake the day of the party. But of course if you're worried about adding that to your list of things to do that day, then it's perfectly fine to bake them the day before. Just store them in your refrigerator and pop them in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes, the day of the party.
Suzy Chase: Three hours, put out the snacks in their serving vessels. Two hours, set out the floral arrangements. So where would you suggest we put our floral arrangements? Like near the food, not near the food?
April: I always try to put a small arrangement near the food. If you have something that's too big, then it can be a little bit crowded or overwhelming. You definitely don't want petals or pollen or anything to fall into the food. But if it's something like a pie arrangement of small, it's great to have something on the food table. I always think it's a good idea to have a small arrangement near the front door where people will be walking in, because it's often times the first thing that they'll see. It's just such a warm, welcoming element to have something like that waiting for them. And then, maybe there's one other spot in the room that you're in that you want to add a little bit of flowers. Maybe it's the mantel, or it's a side table. But I found that having small arrangements in more than one place can really create more of a cohesive feel throughout your entire home.
Suzy Chase: So, we have one hour left. Top the cheesecakes with cherry sauce. Twenty minutes left, make the punch. Put out the blinis. And five minutes, set out the last refrigerated items. Light the candles and start the music. The best part is if you're at a loss for anything, there's a huge resource section in the back of the book. Talk about that.
April: Absolutely. I love this resource section. It's super helpful. I think we have over 100 different vendors and stores that we talk about. We give options for places to find invitations, desserts, bar items, coffee and tea, even cheese and prepared meats. Then we also have a section devoted to décor and specialty party items that you might need to buy. Really, if you don't have a great place around where you live and you're kind of at a loss where to look for some of these items, this resource section is just super handy. Most of these places if not all of them, will deliver food through the mail, or deliver the products that you might order for décor. It's something that can be used all over the country, no matter where you are.
Suzy Chase: Tell us a little bit about the chefs and taste makers that contributed recipes to this book.
April: We feature recipes from lots of chefs and taste makers all over the country. Some of them are Alex Guarnaschelli. She was on Chopped and Iron Chef America. Josh Habiger is featured in the book. He is a chef out of Nashville at the Pinewood Social. Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth's Kitchen is in the book. She's a James Beard award winner for her outstanding pastries. Another Iron Chef America contestant, Marc Forgione, is in the book. We also feature Frank Falcinelli, and Frank Castronovo. He wrote the book, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen.
So really, we have a wide breadth of just talented chefs who have contributed recipes to make this book amazing. We also have just a couple of taste makers. Dona Kieren, he's a fashion designer, contributed a recipe. And Alexis Bittar, who makes jewelry who also contributed her recipe. A wide range of people and a wide range of chefs that they've included to make this book really have something for every one and every occasion.
Suzy Chase: Where can you find the InStyle Parties book on the web and social media?
April: So, the book can be found on Amazon.com, and then also whatever bookstore is around you. It's sold at Barnes and Noble, Book-a-Million, really wherever great books are sold, you can find our book. Then on social media, @tinybooks is our handle across all of our social media platforms.
Suzy Chase: Thanks April, for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast. Here's to a Happy New Year.
April: Thank you Suzy. It was great to be on.
Suzy Chase: Follow me on Instagram @CookerybytheBook. Twitter is @IamSuzyChase, and download your Kitchen Mix Tapes, music to cook by on Spotify at Cookery by the Book. And as always, subscribe in Apple Podcasts.