Monday, June 13, 2011

Tabletop and the Single Guy

A single guy looking to entertain... Sure, he knows how to have his buddies over and watch TV, and no one is expecting the annual Super Bowl party to turn into high tea at Buckingham Palace, but sometimes he may want a bit more. Maybe for someone special, or maybe because he's just tired of beer and delivered pizzas whenever his friends come over.

I've had several friends ask about what the single guy is supposed to do. They want to have their friends over and entertain at home, and they'd like it to be a bit more than a college keg party. But they also don't want it to be fussy. They've checked online and that's what they've found: fussy.  Dinner party do's and don'ts from party planners supposedly aiming at these guys with menu planning and three day prep-schedules. But this isn't realistic, and it would probably be a bit of a disaster if undertaken.

If cooking isn't your thing, than try cocktails. Having people over after work for some drinks is a great way to entertain. It's casual, there are no great food expectations, and the rules are pretty open-ended.  There are tons of resources online for mixing drinks, but the best (and most fun) thing to do is to hang out at the best bar in town and watch. Bars can get pretty busy, but sit at the bar. A good mixologist usually is happy to talk cocktails with their customers. Ask questions, watch and learn. Not that you want to become a bartender, but it will help you understand how to mix a drink. If you end up finding a cocktail that you really like, zero in on that and watch how they make it. For a great time with friends, all you need is one really good mixed drink to serve, and it might as well be one that you like!

Now, some tips:

1. The one thing that I have learned is top-shelf liquor really does make a difference. Use what the bar uses in the drink you want to serve- after all copying is the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes, there is more than one ingredient with alcohol, and yes they are equally important. You may not think it matters about Cointreau or St. Germain (liqueurs that are trending now in many drinks), but it does. The subtle flavors in the drink that you like didn't come from a generic bottles of hooch.

2. Anther key is fresh juices as mixers and the proper garnish, whether herb, fruit, or both. You can perfect a great margarita, but if you use a bottled sweet-and-sour mix, you're going to kill that expensive tequila. That is one thing that you can do a few nights before- buy a bag of produce and juice it. If you don't have an electric juicer, you can always get a wooden reamer or just use a fork. Room temperature fruit juices better than cold fruit, and you'll want to roll the fruit with your palm on the counter to start releasing the juices before cutting it in half (remember, you'll also want to strain off the pulp). Keep a couple of clean glass bottles around to store the juice in in the refrigerator. If the bartender you've been watching slaps a sprig of mint for your favorite drink in his hand before putting it in your glass, it is to release the oils that hit your nose first, and then flavors your drink. If it's in the drink you're serving, have a bunch of the herb in a glass with water ready to go.

3. And speaking of sweet: simple syrup is probably the easiest thing to make yourself, and it's key ingredient in a lot of cocktails. Google how to do it. Of course, you can always buy it in the liquor section of some markets, but ounce for ounce, it is more expensive than the gas you put in your car, and after all, it's just sugar and water. If you have a plastic squirt bottle, it keeps it handy in the fridge.

4. If the cocktail you love can be made in advance, make it in a quantity. I tend to favor this. If there is something that may go flat in the drink, like a mixer, I'll leave that out and have it handy for people top-off their own.  Of course it is hospitable to hand a guest at least their first drink and then let them loose on their own. I use a large glass covered jar I found at Target which was meant for storing flour, but with a ladle, it makes an inexpensive punch bowl. It holds a lot more than a pitcher or cocktail shaker, and only cost me about $8.00! Or, you could set up a serve-yourself bar with all the ingredients handy and a large card telling how to make the drink. There is something cool about the interactive aspect of this. And what can happen is guests start experimenting with the ingredients and making new discoveries. They key is having it all laid out. Either the jar/punchbowl or bottles with the mixer(s) and garnish(es) in bowls or cups, glasses, and a quantity of ice handy nearby (a cooler works if you don't have an ice bucket, but if you don't have an ice bucket- go to the hardware store and buy a galvanized pail. Clean it out and tie a bar towel around it. These also make great, inexpensive wine coolers, too! Or clean out your sink and use that!). I also have a small scoop, but you can use a small cup, as well, for scooping the ice- and if you have something handy, people will use it.

5. If you can, use real glassware- this doesn't have to be expensive, but it can separate the men from the boys... If there is a crowd and you'll never need 50 glasses again, they are easy and inexpensive to rent. Also, along with glasses, have small paper cocktail napkins. They are at every market, and again, will help raise the bar for you. If color or pattern choices are overwhelming, choose white- you'll never be wrong!

For food, all you need are some bowls of nuts- think what they had at the bar you were at. Some bowls of good chips also work, and there are a ton of interesting chips on market! But remember, you're not feeding the masses! This should be the easiest part of the gathering for you, so don't sweat this. Try doing this with some friends before you head out to dinner or the movies. Frequent test runs will help you with your game.


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