Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Went to a Garden Party…

Army party

A reader asked what he might serve at this weekend’s cocktail party, “drinks that won’t wilt the guests” is how he put it (wish I’d written that.) What a thoughtful host.

I suppose that a drinks party menu will depend on several factors. The predilections and number of the crowd, the weather conditions, the time of day and how much the host or hostess will be involved in the preparation and serving of drinks and canapés all make a difference.

At the party Mrs. E. and I recently attended, the food was served buffet style and the drinks were prepared by a barman. To me, an ideal situation. By the time I’m finished buying the drinks and the food stuffs the budget has precious little room left to afford more than a jumbo bag of ice. (Always have several bags of ice stashed in coolers.)

If you’re to be outdoors in the summer, cooling drinks are most welcome. I’d make a pitchers of iced mint tea or lemonade for the non-drinkers. Cold beer, white wine (or rosé, it’s summer!), a light and fruity red and a sparkling are staples at our parties.

But, if you’re going to put the cocktails back into the cocktail party, there are a couple that will serve nicely. Again, this depends on your crowd. Ours isn’t shy about bellying up to the bar and I’ve noticed that most stay away from overly sweetened drinks (iced sweet tea aside.) A big seller here is the vodka/soda with lemon. I’ve got to add about a quarter of a lemon to make it palatable and as long as I’m half way to making a Rickey…

The Easy and Elegant Life Vodka or Gin Rickey
1 lump of ice (several cubes)
Juice of 1/4 lemon or 1/2 lime
1 glass of Vodka or Gin
Top with soda water garnish with a chunk of the citrus.

Cobblers are very old-fashioned and very American, particularly in the warmer states. You will recognize it as the “base” for a Mint Julep. As I said, most shy away from the sweeter drinks, but if you are so inclined, this is something other than the typical Margarita.

Fill a glass half full with cracked ice.
Add 1 teaspoon of powdered (Confectioner’s) sugar.
1 small glass of Gin, Whisky, Brandy, what have you.
Stir well and decorate with orange slice or pineapple chunk, if you go in for that sort of thing. You may need to add more ice as the cracked ice will dissolve somewhat on stirring.
Fill with carbonated water, leave the squeezed rind of the citrus in the glass.

If you are dubious about unlocking the liquor cabinet early in the day but still want to serve something with a little backbone, I suggest something that will get them to sit up and take notice:

The Easy and Elegant Life Americano (or the Acquired Taste Cocktail as it should be called.)
Fill a tall glass with ice
A shot glass of Campari
A shot glass of sweet Vermouth (the red jazz)
Twist of lemon
Top with soda water.

As for the menu… you want food that will stand up to the heat, is easily prepared, easily wolfed down and just enough to take the edge off. Here are a few ideas.

A bowl of steamed, peeled (tails left on) shrimp on ice. Cup of cocktail sauce made with catsup, horseradish, pepper, salt, lemon juice (Think Bloody Mary.)

Mini crab cakes, prepared using an ice cream scoop and broiled by the dozens. These are probably best passed on a tray and garnished with a dollop of tartar sauce or remoulade.

Tenderloins. Beef or pork, cooked, cooled, sliced and served with a mustard and a basil mayonnaise along with sliced rolls.

Thin crust pizzas, cut into wedges or squares. Or, if you prefer, caramelized onion and Gruyère pissaladière.

Wraps made of steamed spinach, feta cheese, red onion slivers and pine nuts. Cut into “roll ups.”

Ham biscuits. I am in Richmond… thin slices of country ham on White House/party rolls with a slathering of butter.

Chilled fruits (grapes are great.) Something sweet. I would say cookies, lemon bars, or brownies cut into bite size pieces.

Having written that, here is the recipe for that wonderful cheese dish that was the hit of the party.

The Architect’s Madras Cheese

Begin with 16 ounces Philadelphia Cream Cheese (no substitutes, please) and 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar – at room temperature; using cook’s best tools (clean hands) blend together the cheeses, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/3 cup cream sherry ( the cheap stuff is acceptable) and 1 tablespoon curry powder (best quality). Once combined, the mixture should be placed in a well oiled mold then allowed to chill in the ice box for 8 hours. (Drink the rest of the cheap sherry in a Baccarat tumbler while you wait.)

8 hours later: Turn the curried cheese out of the mold onto a green glazed majolica serving plate. The cheese should then be topped with my great grandmother’s dark *India Relish. You won’t be able to find any of my great grandmother’s relish (she’s dead) so you must either make the relish yourself (following the instructions offered in the Irma Rombauer’s The Joy Of Cooking; 1940 edition) or buy * chutney.

* An acceptable store bought chutney can be difficult to procure. Major Grey’s Chutney is easy enough to locate but quite bland in taste. That said, this brand can be made tolerable provided you infuse it with 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced, a healthy dash of pepper flakes and an entire jar of ginger preserves.

After topping the cheese with the chutney, toss 1/2 cup chopped roasted pecans, 1/4 cup coconut flakes and one chopped green onion over it all. This treat should only be served with thin, brittle ginger snaps; and great grandmother’s coin silver butter knife. (You don’t have it – because I do.)

Delicious. (But without the knife it’ll never taste the same)

11 thoughts on “Went to a Garden Party…

  1. I have three suggestions: Mint julips aren’t just for Derby Day. For the anglophile, don’t overlook the Pimm’s cup complete with cucumber garnish. And, a favorite island concoction is the simple bajan rum punch with just 4 parts in this ratio, “One part bitter (angostura), two of sweet (sugar), three of strong (dark rum), and four of weak (water).”

  2. CallMeAl, fine suggestions all. Pimm’s is good stuff to quench the thirst. As you know, rum is a rum fellow to me indeed.

    Aesthete, the Architect will be very pleased to hear it. It’s delicious.

  3. Thank you so much – you have just provided everything I need for a perfect summer evening cocktail party – celebrating several of us with birthdays in August! My guest list has swelled to 25, so this should be a wonderful evening!

  4. This all sounds fantastic! Do you typically arrange any help for a party like this–a server or two? A bartender?

  5. sounds wonderful! and I love the reference to the “ice box”-well known in our house!

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