Food from the Hart

Archive for the ‘Celebrations’ Category

Halloween Fun: Turning the Dial Up on Your Classic Spook Fest

In Celebrations on October 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Halloween is often brushed aside as a children’s holiday. Though as we get older it gives seems to give us license to be someone or something else for one evening.  As children, black and orange, witches and goblins, chocolate and lollipops are enough. For most adults, free candy is simply not reason to embrace the holiday.

This year take your typical garish and goolish fright-fest and turn it into an elegant and evil soiree.  A couple easy cocktails, festive hors d’oeuvres, and a lot of black fabric is all your need to turn your small space into a something far from friendly.

It Begins with an Invite

The devil is really in the details when throwing a successful party.  The tone and feeling of the event begins the moment guests receive an invitation.  You can always go the route of sending paper invitations, but and are easy, cost-effective and earth-friendly.  Each site has a number of Halloween-themed designs to choose from. Remember, this isn’t a child’s party.  Pick a theme that matches the scene you are trying to set.

Set the Scene

Halloween is all about over-the-top theatrics. Don’t be afraid to really play up the ambience. Here are some easy tips for creating the perfect Hallows Eve look:

  • Use black as your base color and work from there, adding tiny pops of dark orange, white and gold.
  • Purchase inexpensive black fabric from a craft store and use to cover table tops and wrap lamp shades for a dark and dramatic look.
  • Place groupings of black taper candles along with smaller tea candles around the space. Use as a main source of light once the party begins.
  • Create creepy tableaux out of old books, skulls, crystal balls and apothecary bottles filled with water and orange food coloring.
  • Raid the party supply store for black leaf garland and cobwebs to drape over lamps, bookshelves and tables.
  • Check out the local flower market for black tulips, burgundy calla lilies, and black roses. Use together in flower arrangements to place around.
  • Turn on televisions and have old black and white films playing on mute.  Anything Hitchcock would work brilliantly.
  • Create a spooky music mix with the help of one of I-Tunes pre-set playlists or pick your favorite Halloween jam and plug into Pandora.

What to serve

Let your menu take a cue from your setting.  Small bites, cocktails and devilish desserts are all your need to round out the evening. Here are a few menu suggestions:


Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Chicken Leg Lollipops

Skeleton Fingers

Roasted Potato Moons


Monster Eyeballs

Brain Cookies

Bowls of Assorted Candy


Dark and Stormy

Blood Orange Martini


No-Cook Memorial Day Menu

In Celebrations on May 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Whether you are hitting the road or staying at home, who wants to spend memorial day weekend in the kitchen cooking? These recipes can be made in a flash and don’t require heat of any kind!  If you’re having a bash or just a quiet weekend at home, stay out of the kitchen and enjoy the kick-off to summer.  It’s easy-peasy!

Grapefruit, Watermelon and Scallop Ceviche

Yellow Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Panzanella Salad

Prosciutto Baguette with Pesto, Mozzarella, and Roasted Red Pepper

New-England Lobster Rolls

Celebrate Mother Earth: Host a “Green” Earth Day Party

In Celebrations on April 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Global warming, deforestation, melting-glaciers, there are a million reasons to honor our earth everyday before it’s only a version of what we know. This April 22 will mark the 41st Earth Day celebration and a great time to think about all that mother earth provides.

As time has past, and environmental awareness is an increasingly publicized issue, organized public parties / events are promoted around the globe.  Join in the earth-loving fun and host one of your own and celebrate all that mother nature gives to us.

Getting the Word Out

  • Keep it “green” and send out an Evite or Paperless post to invite your guests.
  • Encourage your guests to be thoughtful in their mode of transportation to your party.  Offer suggestions for easy public transport or try to set up a carpool.  Walking or biking would be good to if it’s feasible.

Setting the Scene

  • There’s no need to go over board and “paint” the room green. But green, white, and brown are great colors to help you decorate your table.  These are earthy, clean colors that should reflect the different color elements of the earth. Aim for a simple white backdrop with a white table cloth and white napkins.
  • If you’re opting for disposable flatware and plates go for Bamboo.  It’s organic, biodegradable and actually looks great on a table. Check out this past post to find out where to purchase.
  • Use a variety of green and white flowers to decorate the center of the table.  Make an effort to check out your local farmers market for what is available locally.  Some of my favorites that are available this time of year are, white tulips, delphiniums and hyacinths.  You can always supplement the white with green leafy branches or leaves.
  • If you don’t have vases, try washing out old condiment jars, wrapping in brown or white paper.  It’s a great way to recycle and makes a great rustic tablescapes.
  • Ditch the bottled water, invest in a Brita if you don’t already have one. Break out the old wine bottles and fill with table water.
  • Candles are always a must, white tea candles down the center of the table gives a beautiful glow.


Just as the party is a celebration of taking care of the earth, the menu is full of healthy and sustainable food to take care of your body.  Check out farmers markets and purchase local and organic produce.  It does make a difference not only in taste but buying local reduces your carbon foot print.

Small Bites

Turnip Chips with Paprika and Lime

Popcorn with Mustard-Herb Butter

Roasted Chickpeas

Main Event 

English Pea Soup with Mint

Fettuccine with Peas, Asparagus, and Pancetta

Meringue Towers with Almond Whipped Cream and Seasonal Fruit


Cucumber Martini

Organic / Biodynamic Wine

  • Montinore Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Oregon, $19.99
  • Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010, New Zealand, $11.99

Organic Beer

  • Peak Organic Ale, Maine
  • Bison Brewing, California

Wine and Cheese Party

In Celebrations on March 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Throwing a wine and cheese party is fun, casual and doesn’t require much space.  It’s a great way to get a group of friends together without all the fuss of a classic cocktail party.  Here are a few easy tips to get you started:

  • When you invite guests ask them each to bring a wine and cheese pairing (see the chart below for pairing suggestions).  Ask that they let you know what they’re bringing so several people don’t come with the same thing.  It’ll be more fun if you have a variety of cheese and wine with different textures and from different regions.
  • Before the party stock up on crackers, baguettes, and fruit like apples, pears, figs, grapes, melon.  The fruit will bring out the flavor of the cheese and wine and add an extra element for tasting.  You might also consider purchasing a selection of smoked meats like prosciutto, salami, speck and bresola to serve along with the cheese.
  • Have wine glasses, cocktail napkins, hors d’oeuvre plates and large platters on hand.  When guests arrive, plate their cheese selections along with fruit and meat. Use index cards or place cards to label each cheese and wine pairing.
  • If space permits, scatter the platters of cheese and wine pairings around the room.  This way guests won’t gather in one spot.  It will make mingling and tasting easier and more fun.
  • Even though this is a casual shindig don’t forget the ambience.  Dim lights, light candles, and make sure you have some soft music in the background to set the scene.


Country Wine Type Fruit
Bel Paese Italy Chardonnay Semi-soft
Blue Varied Strong, Red Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
Brie France Champagne, Merlot Soft Plum, Apple, Pears
Camembert France Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir Soft Plum, Berries, Apple
Cheddar England Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja, Chardonnay Hard Melon, Peach, Apple
Colby U.S. Riesling, Champagne, Cava Hard Apple, Peach
Edam Holland Riesling, Champagne, Pinot Noir Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
Emmentaler Switzerland Beaujolais Hard Pear
Gouda Holland Riesling, Champagne Semi-Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
Goat Cheese France / Varied Sancerre Soft Apple, Fig, Pear
Feta Greece Pinot Grigio, Sancerre, Beaujolais Soft Apple, Pear, Peach, Fig
Gorgonzola Italy Champagne, Cava, Prosecco Soft Pear
Grana  Padano Italy Barolo, Barbaresco, Hard Apple, Pear, Fig
Manchego Spain Rioja, Merlot Hard Pear, Melon
Mozzarella (Fresh) Italy Pinot Blanc, Light Reds Soft Melon, Peach, Nectarine
Muenster France Zinfandel Soft Melon
Parmesan -Reggiano Italy Chardonnay Hard Fig, Grape, Apple, Honey
Pecorino Italy Chianti Riserva Hard Fig, Grape, Apple, Honey
Swiss U.S. Riesling, Gewurztraminer Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
St. Andre Franch Fruity Rose Soft Apple
Port Salut Denmark / France Chardonnay Semi-soft Melon
Roquefort France Tawny Port Semi-hard Apple, Pear

“Big Easy” Mardi Gras Bash

In Celebrations on March 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm

The holiday season is long gone and the winter blues have officially set in.  Instead of sitting around anxiously waiting for spring, throw down like you’re in the Big Easy and host a killer Mardi Gras party.

Folks in New Orleans party for two months, beginning January 6 thru Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras day, which falls on March 5.  All of this leading up to Lent, the season of reflection and restriction. While two months of partying and indulgence is only a fantasy for most of us, this easy-to-follow guide will help pack all the Carnival season fun into one day!

How to Decorate
  • Decorate your space with classic Mardi Gras colors of Green, Purple, and Gold.
  • Use balloons, streamers,  and crêpe paper to cover walls and surfaces.  Try to replicate the feeling of Mardi Gras floats. If you have a stairwell leading up to your apartment hang some decorations leading up to your door.  Create some excitement for your guests as they make their assent.
  • Pump classic New Orleans brass band music, called Zydeco, into the room.
  • Have plenty of Mardi Gras beads on hand.  Deck your guests out in them as they come thru the door and use whats left over to amplify your decor.
  • Move any furniture to the perimeter of the room.  Your might even consider covering sofas and chairs with green, purple and gold fabric.
What to Wear?
  • Ask guest to come dressed in their most gaudy and lavish outfit. The more color the better.  Anything goes here – sparkles, boas, jewelry, hats you name it!  The louder the better.
  • Masks are famous Mardi Gras accessories.  Either give masks to your guests as party favors or ask each person come with one on.  You could even hand out an award for the guest with the most creative mask.
  • Classic costume ideas include: jesters, kings, queens.

Keep your menu as simple as possible.  The key to this party is the decor and dress. This menu is best served buffet style. If space is an issue check out this earlier post to easily create and instant buffet.  Forget small apps and hors d’oeuvres with all the drinking hearty food is best!

Classic New Orleans Hurricanes

Seafood Gumbo

Red Beans and Rice

King Cake

Host an Award Worthy Oscar Party

In Celebrations on February 9, 2011 at 10:16 am

The biggest night in Hollywood is right around the corner.  Celebs will be decked out in their most chic attire ready to celebrate the night away.  Don’t leave all the party fun to them!  Pull out all the stops, roll the red carpet out and host an award winning Oscar Party for your friends and family.

A Night in Old Hollywood

Just like every film has a theme a party should as well.  The Academy Awards are a long standing Hollywood tradition dating back beyond the years of movie greats like Grace Kelley, Audrey Hepburn and Clark Gable.  I love the idea of paying homage to the glitz and glam of Old Hollywood by using that as a theme. Here’s how:

* Work from a color palette of black and white with pops of gold, sliver and red. 

* Consider using simple white tablecloths, black tableware and accenting with touches of gold, sliver and lots of luscious red flowers.

* Purchase a large piece of red felt / carpet from any local party or craft store and actually “roll the red carpet out” for your guests.  Put an entrance hallway or foyer.

* Fill the room with classic black and white movie posters.

* Create large, glamours centerpieces out of red roses and decorate around with miniature gold trophies .

* Dim the lights and flood the room with candle light.

* Scatter throw pillows and blankets on the floor to create additional seating for guests.

Here are some great places to score Oscar Party accessories that won’t break the bank:

Party City

Party Supplies Hut

Hollywood Mega Store

Movie Inspired Menu

I’m a huge fan of creating a menu that isn’t only unique but easy to execute.  You want to actually watch the Oscars and not spend the whole night in the kitchen.  This menu is completely inspired by this years Best Picture Nominees.  It’s always full of great do-it-ahead items.

Toy Story 3
Not so Child-like Finger Foods
Oven Fried Chicken Fingers
Pig-in-a-Blanket Lollipops


The King’s Speech
A Main Dish Fit for a King
Beef Short Ribs

The Kids are All Right
Family Style Sides
Mustard Mashed Potatoes
Garlic Kale
Glazed Carrots

Black Swan
Opposites Attract
Black & White Cookies
Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Icing

The Fighter

Good Ole’ Irish Gulp

Guinness Beer

Whiskey High Balls

Movie Fun

A little friendly competition never hurt anyone.  Having an Oscar Pool is a great way to get all your guests involved in the party.  It’s always a good idea to warn your guests of this when you send the Evite or Paperless Post.  You want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to see the films nominated if the choose.  Raise the stakes a little more bit more and charge your guests $5 to $10 for each ballot.  At the end divide the money between first and second place winners.

Here is a great pool sheet you can easily print out: Oscar Ballot

Valentine’s Day with Friends

In Celebrations on February 2, 2011 at 11:51 am

Image Credit: Cocktail party by Mike Jones

Valentine’s Day: the most romantic of holidays where swooning couples dote on each other over intimate candle light dinners.  Blah, blah, blah, this is great if you’re attached, but too many of us develop Valentine’s Day anxiety and opt to stay in alone rather than face a crowed restaurant full of pairs in love.  This year try something a little different.  Throw a Valentine’s Day Mixer!  Gather a group of single friends and have them invite their favorite singe friends and let cupid’s arrow fly.

With Valentine’s Day just two weeks away getting an Evite out now is crucial.  Make sure you explain that each person must bring a single friend of theirs.  This will ensure for an interesting night! You may also want to ask your guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine or a specific dish if you are going to for a potluck party.  Read on for more details about the food, drinks, and decor.

Get a Plan

Organizing for a cocktail party can sometimes be more overwhelming than a sit down dinner party.  Here are some thoughts to help you get started:

Photo Credit Logan Walker of ZumaPhoto Finger Foods are key.  Keep your menu simple and easy to eat.  The last thing mingling singles want is ketchup running down their face.

Set up food stations. Organize your party space so the food is dispersed and not all in one area.  This will help the flow of the party and avoid having 20 people crowded around the kitchen table.

Stay away from garlic or anything that can leave you with kickin’ breath.  Coffee, beans, and onion should also be avoided in menu selection.  No one wants to be running to the bathroom mid conversation.

Add a some aphrodisiacs to the mix. Use ingredients like apples, chocolate, honey, figs, lobster, and of course, oysters.

Consider a red theme. You want avoid making your party too kitschy, so instead of all the “be mine” hearts try developing a menu with red and/or pink elements.  You can use things like, tomatoes, strawberries, smoked salmon, cocktail shrimp, etc.

Try a Chocolate tasting bar. Instead of having a wine or cheese tasting, try with chocolate.  Ask all your guests to bring a unique bar of chocolate. Make sure you have a variety of milk, dark, and white along with varying amounts of cacao in each to keep it interesting. Then using place cards, write a little information about each kind and let people try.

Cookie decorating isn’t just for kids. Bake plain sugar cookies and frost with plain white icing.  Buy some edible ink markers and let your guests decorate their own cookies.  This could even be a quirky way for potential love connections to exchange numbers!

Forget all the prep and go potluck. Coming up with a menu and preparing everything might not be in the cards for you this Valentine’s Day.  If that’s the case, make your cocktail party a potluck.  But instead of giving your guests carte blanche to bring whatever they want, given them a theme to work off of like French cuisine or food from Tuscany.


Simple, chic food.  That’s the name of the game for a cocktail party. Here is a sample menu to help get your creative juices flowing:

Salmon Canapes

Prosciutto Wrapped Cheese Straws

Roasted Figs with Pancetta and Goat Cheese

Tortellini with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Chocolate Fondue

Drinks What’s a cocktail party without drinks?  It’s always easier and less expensive to offer your guests a signature party drink.  This should be something you can make a lot of and serve throughout the night in addition to beer and wine.  Here is a selection of my favorite festive beverages:

Queen of Hearts Sangria

Cranberry Cosmo Punch

Setting the Scene

Decor often times makes or breaks a party.  If the mood is right, people tend to relax and enjoy themselves that much more.  When planning a mixer, sending the right message through decor is paramount.  You want to make your space warm and inviting without overdoing it on the romance vibes.

Don’t overdo the hearts. You guests are all aware it’s Valentine’s Day.  Don’t beat them over the head with the heart and cupids.  Your space should feel festive, but forget taping giant red cut outs on your wall, keep it classy.  Try a simple red table cloth, maybe some red throw pillows.  You could even use red disposable plates and cocktail napkins.

Keep the music upbeat. Strive to create a lounge-like feeling.  Your music should be audible but not so loud that people are struggling to talk.  Stay away from the greatest love ballads of the 90’s and go from something current like MGMT or Kings of Leon.  It’s best to create a playlist or two before the party begins and as the night progresses the music should too.  Meaning, after a few drinks people might want to dance.  Make sure you have some tunes to accommodate.

Low lighting is your friend. Who doesn’t look better in low light? Without making the mood too romantic or sleepy.  If you have dimmers on your lights now is the time to get them going.  If you don’t, ditch the overhead lights and use lamps or floor lights.  They tend to be softer and less abrasive. Candles are also great to have going throughout – especially around the food areas.

Scatter conversation starters around the space.  Create your own or purchase Table Topics.  These are great ice breakers and a cool way to help your guests get to know each other better.  You will probably want to screen the questions before you put them out.  Stay ways from topics that involve divisive subjects like religion or politics.  No fighting on the day devoted to love!

Make introductions. Part of your job as the host is to help introduce people.  Try to include more than just names, but mention something each person likes or that they might have in common.

ENJOY! Happy Partying!!!

Wonderful Winter Brunch

In Celebrations on January 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

Sometimes you don’t need a reason to have a celebration.  A brunch is a great way to get friends together on a cold Sunday and beat the winter blues.

Set the mood

Having a party isn’t just about a guest list and a menu.  Ambiance is key.  When planning a winter brunch, you want to make sure the inside of your home reflects the feeling outside.  If it’s snowy afternoon, light candles, dim the lights and create a cozy warm feeling inside.  If it’s a cold sunny day, open the shades, let the natural light in.  Music is another important feature to your brunch. Ditch the holiday music, opt for something calming and instrumental.


Setting a beautiful table can be simple and make everything you serve taste better.  Try a simple white tablecloth, white flowers, mirror centerpiece trays and lots of candles.  The white is clean and classic for winter and will allow the food to be the star. Here are some great resources to help you create a wonderful winter table:

White Table Cloth, $24.95

Centerpiece Mirrors, 6 for $7.74

Pillar Candles, prices vary


Winter menus lend themselves to hearty ingredients.  But for a brunch you don’t want to overdue it on heavy food. This menu combines some seasonal ingredients that balance nicely without leaving you feeling like you need a nap.  It’s easy, inexpensive and will certainly brighten even the most hard to impress urbanite.

Mixed Greens with French Vinaigrette

Frittata with Swiss Chard, Italian Sausage and Feta

Cranberry and Orange Scones

Orange-Scented Hot Cocoa

Throw a Winning Super Bowl Party

In Celebrations on January 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Even if you don’t love football, throwing a Super Bowl Party can be a fun way to spend a cold February evening with friends and family. Take a look at some of these super suggestions and you’ll be on your way to throwing a party that will be a touchdown with your guests!


  • Use the NFL teams’ colors as your guide.  Pull them into every aspect of the scene from the plates, cups, napkins, and table cloths.  Keep it simple and use only disposable items. Super Bowl food tends to be messy.
  • Use big pillows and throw blankets to create additional seating on the floor.
  • If you want to take it a step further, there are a number of cool websites that offer fun football novelties to make your party even more festive! Here are some inexpensive favorites:

Football Field Table Runner, $2.50,

Football Condiment Dish, $9.99,

Field Goal Football Cooler, $22.05,


When planning a menu for a party it’s always good to pick a mix of items you can do ahead of time.  You and your guest will thank you when you have more time to spend with them and less in the kitchen!  Here are some thoughts on a simple and budget friendly Super Bowl menu.

Pre-game Cocktails

Warm Spiced Cider

Kick-Off Hors d’oeuvres

Gimme More Guacamole

Dallas Sweet and Spicy Wings

Half Time

3 Alarm Buffalo Chili

Post Game Sweets

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding


Game Day Activities

You can still enjoy Super Bowl Sunday even if you don’t like football.  Here are some amusing ways to get all your party goers involved in the game day festivities.

Ad Bingo – Download blank 5×5 bingo cards.  Then pick 25 generic things you would likely see in Super Bowl ads (i.e. pick up truck, horses, talking animal, celebrity spokes person).  Randomly place each item in a box. Use beans or pieces of candy as markers and let your guests compete for bingo as the commercials air.  For a competitive twist offer prize for the winner.

Super Super Bowl Pool- Download a blank pool template. Decided on a fee and charge your guests a small fee per square. Number 0 -9 on each axis and let everyone chose their squares.   At the end of each quarter of the Super Bowl, the last digit of both NFL teams’ score is compared to the grid to determine a winner.  You can also have an grand prize winner by doing the same thing with the final score.




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