Parties come in all styles and sizes, and the best are memorable for guests while still enjoyable for hosts. As the holidays arrive many of us want to pull off the perfect gathering despite the hustle and bustle of the season.
Rather than serving intricate meals and hiring live musicians, a simple get-together with snazzy cocktails, savory appetizers and a custom playlist on the iPod could be the answer. Throw in some innovative style and this simple scenario can go a long way.
Party planner Josephine Atluri of Esenjay Events knows how to add that extra touch to make a party memorable.
“Add a twist, something fun and amusing for guests that they wouldn’t have expected,” she suggests. In this spirit, our expert has devised an homage to New Hampshire’s settlers and a seasonal celebration to remember — the Colonial Cocktail Party.
Though the first hard-working colonists probably didn’t have a lot of spare time to throw a model soirée, Atluri has plenty tips for setting this rustic scene and bringing the idea to life.
With a few touches, the Colonial theme can come through with the décor you use. Here are a few ideas:
• On tabletops, layer crisp white linens over yellow, orange or red toile; roll flatware in toile napkins tied with a berry sprig.
• Garnish the table with natural materials, such as berries harvested from the outdoors.
• Use a crock for centerpieces or a wine chiller.
• Scatter lanterns or single candles with pewter handles about the area (beeswax candles will add to the authenticity). Massed pillar candles among berry sprigs and other outdoor materials would also work.
• Though you won’t need much seating for a cocktail party, a few benches with colorful cushions would be appropriate.
For food you’ll want something easy to hold and eat while mingling. Crusty artisan breads, locally produced cheeses, vegetable spreads and marinated root vegetables are great for nibbling, while hearty vegetable soups or chowders served in shot glasses or martini glasses with a bit of raffia trim make an easy meal. Set appetizers up on a sideboard, with soup served from an earthenware or pewter tureen.
And of course, don’t forget dessert. Remember that finger foods will work best — for instance, small squares of bread pudding served with a brandy sauce or cut pumpkin bread into small pieces.
What would a Colonial cocktail party be without the drinks? Have some mulled wine or hard cider on hand, served in Mason jars. Or shake up some cranberry martinis garnished with a cinnamon stick.
Music can be as simple as popping in a CD or plugging in your iPod. Just make sure the tunes are going to add to your theme — perhaps some lively fiddle or hammered dulcimer, like you hear in Green Hill Productions’ “Early American Melodies.”
Giving your guests something to take with them, such as foodie treats they can enjoy at home, is a nice touch. Small jars of jam, flavored butters in small crocks or mulled spices in a burlap sachet are thoughtful and tasty.
Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup
Makes about six 8 oz. servings
Or 32 1.5 oz. "sips"
3 pounds tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. fennel bulb, cut into 8 pieces
4 cloves garlic
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbs. fresh tarragon, chopped
2 tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds, scraping them out with your fingers if necessary. Coat the tomatoes and fennel with olive oil and place them cut side down on a foil-lined baking pan. Roast for 30 minutes. Add the whole garlic cloves and roast another 25 minutes until the tomatoes, fennel and garlic are very soft. Remove them from the oven and let cool. The tomato skins should slip off easily.
Place the skinned tomatoes, fennel and garlic into a food processor and blend until smooth.
Place in a saucepan and add 2 cups of stock, the tarragon, parsley and balsamic vinegar. Simmer over low heat until hot. (For a smoother soup, pass it through a food mill.)
Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped tarragon. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
Pewter tureen, napkin rings, cups, plates and bowls, salt and pepper shakers are by Old World Pewter; Redware plate by David T. Smith. Brick House Antique Reproductions. Gilmanton, (603) 267-1190 www.brickhouseshop.com
This article appears in the November 2005 issue of New Hampshire Magazine