Posts Tagged ‘party planning’

I make lasagna for parties and potlucks; I often make it for the first night of our annual girlfriends four-day Cambria road trip, but I’m fairly sure my honey has never had it for a dinner with just the two of us. Mostly because, in true Perry fashion, I only know how to make a batch for 10 or more guests. I’m sure you can make smaller amounts, but why? The leftovers are even better for lunch or dinner the next day and the rest freezes perfectly for that night you are just too exhausted to prepare dinner. So here you go – dinner for 10 – just add salad and garlic bread.

Good friends, a bottle of red & Red & White Lasagna

This lasagna uses both a red sauce and a faux bechamel/white sauce–it’s not a true bechamel because I don’t adorn an onion with whole cloves and steep it in hot milk for an hour. (That makes for a delicious sauce, yes, but I have a day job. And a life.)

Easy Red Sauce

1/2 small onion, chopped
1-2 tbls olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lg cans Italian stewed tomatoes (try to find Italian, they’re better!)
1/2 cup red wine (good wine, follow my mantra – if you can’t drink it, don’t cook with it)
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute*
2 tsp Trader Joe’s Pasta Seasoning Blend
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet; warm the olive oil (you want medium heat–olive oil burns if your heat is too high), then add onions and sauté until tender (about 3 minutes). Pour in the tomatoes and smash them until they’re in smaller chunks. Add tomato paste, spices and red wine. Simmer with a screen cover (so it doesn’t splatter all over your stove) for about half an hour. Salt and pepper to taste.

Easy White Sauce

1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1/3 cup flour
1 qt half and half
1 tbls Knorr Caldo de Pollo powder
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg (or to taste; sometimes I use more)

Melt butter in large saucepan until bubbly. Add flour and stir in; the flour should be absorbed. Stir for about 3 minutes; don’t allow to turn brown! Add wine and then the milk until the mixture is thick and starts to bubble (it might not take the full quart). Then add in the pollo de caldo powder. Last, turn off heat and stir in nutmeg.

Hazel’s Red-and-White Lasagna

Red and white sauces (purchased red is ok if you have a favorite, although I prefer my own)
1 package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formagio cheese mix
1 8-ounce package of sliced white mushrooms
1 small onion, halved and thin sliced
1 package TJ’s Italian sausage (Chicken)
Olive oil
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
1 tub Ricotta

Bring a large sauté pan to heat and splash in a couple tablespoons olive oil. Squeeze the chicken sausage from its casings and crumble into the pan. Sauté til cooked through, crumbling into big chunks. Remove from pan and add the sliced onions and mushrooms. Sauté til golden, then remove from heat.

In a large deep lasagna baking pan splash the bottom with olive oil, and smear over the bottom and sides of pan. Ladle in approx 1 cup of your red sauce and add the first layer of dry, uncooked lasagna noodles. Add another cup of red sauce to the top and spread roughly with flat wooden spoon. Sprinkle half your sausage over that layer. Add half the mascarpone by teaspoonfuls across this layer and then add about a cup of the cheese mix. Add another layer of noodles, this time covering with a cup of the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle this layer with half the onion-mushroom mix and the balance of the mascarpone and another cup of cheese mix. For the next layer, red sauce and the balance of the sausage and another cup of the cheese mix. For the final layer, cover with noodles, the last of your béchamel sauce and mushroom/oinion mix and the last of the cheese mix. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!


*Another WordPress blogger who is equally devoted to Trader Joe’s seasoning blends notes that Costco carries a similar product–in, of course, a much larger package. Check out Carrol’s comments in What I Crave here. I too run out of 21-Seasoning Salute all too often, so this is info I can use!


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The holidays may be over, but, as singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen observed some years ago, the party never ends. And you always need appetizers. Guests drop in, and it’s nice to have something special to serve with a glass of wine. I’m partial to palmiers, especially because I can make them when I have a free half-hour and stick them in the freezer. They’ll keep for a month, well wrapped.

I almost always have a package of puff pastry dough in my freezer (it’s a thin box and only sucks up a very small portion of that precious freezer real estate)

Choose Your Own Filling Palmiers
Roll out one square of the two in the package. If you wet your work surface with a damp sponge and cover with plastic wrap, this job is achieved with very little mess.

Rolling toward the center

I always layer my dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll it out so it becomes about two inches longer than it was when I started. Try to roll so the dough becomes more rectangular in shape.

Take off the top piece of plastic wrap and brush the entire flat piece of pastry with olive oil. Now here’s the fun part. Sprinkle with finely grated parmesan cheese and – you choose! I’ve used caramelized onions, olive tapenade, crumbled bacon, my honey’s smoked tomatoes minced fine, minced garlic – the variations are as big as your imagination. The only caveat: use only a couple ingredients.

Now, starting at the left edge, start to roll your pastry toward the center. Use your plastic wrap to help in this process. Once you have reached just to the center, do the same on the right side of your pastry. Your pastry should look like two small rolls lying next to each other, and they will be about an inch tall. Wrap it with the same plastic wrap that you just used for your counter covering. Put in the refrigerator for an hour and then stash in the freezer somewhere where it will be able to keep its shape. If it’s cold from the refrigerator, it won’t form ice crystals after it hits your freezer.

When you’re ready, pull the dough out and let thaw for only 10 minutes (make sure to keep it firm) and then slice to about 1/3 inch thick pieces. Lay the slices flat on an ungreased baking sheet about a half-inch apart. If you have time, you can let them rise for about half an hour at room temp. Pop them in a 400 degree oven till golden brown and serve hot. They’re crisp, delicious and easy!


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I am notorious for losing my wine glass at a party. I put it down somewhere so I can pick up a platter of appetizers, answer the door or take something out of the oven–and it’s gone. All too often, I pick up a glass I’m sure is mine and Hazel says, “Unh-unh–that one’s mine!”

So we started using wine charms to identify glasses. They can get pricey, however. And we like them to

Custom-made wine charms for the Queen of Hearts party.

coordinate with the theme of the party. For the Queen of Hearts party, we wanted Alice in Wonderland charms. They are not to be had, not even for ready money.

Laurel wanted to try her hand at making some. She downloaded some images and sized them to fit on tags, which she bought at Staples, and then inserted jump rings. I picked up earring hoops at Michael’s and used my needle-nosed pliers to bend back one end of each hoop, so it would stay hooked. We slipped the tags on hoops and, voila! Cute, unique and theme-coordinated wine charms. And we didn’t pay twelve bucks for eight of them, either.

You can find great photos for the step-by-step process of making your own here at Not Martha, an always interesting site.

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For some years now I’ve thrown a party for my friend Laurel’s birthday. She chooses the theme, and Hazel and I figure out how to execute it. The guest list has gotten smaller over the years but the parties have gotten more elaborate–despite the fact that each year we begin by saying, “Let’s do something simple.”

I don't think we'll have room for croquet--but we will certainly play games.

This year seems to be following that well-trodden path. Laurel requested a game night, with perhaps a dozen friends. We’ve done game nights for Laurel’s birthday before. They’re always fun. But because we have done game nights before, we’d like to do something fresh. You know, to make it more interesting for both the guests and the party-throwers.

Now, Laurel’s birthday is the day after Valentine’s Day, so it’s easy to slip into a habit of using hearts in the decor. And this time she said, “Maybe we could use the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland?”

Ah, the magic words that create the theme for a party: Alice in Wonderland. Hearts. Games.

We’re thinking hard. We’re finding inspiration everywhere–from the original Lewis Carroll books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, from the Disney film, from a delightful website Mel found called Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland, from many other places.

On Saturday morning Hazel and I browsed through the floral supply houses that surround and supplement the Los Angeles flower mart, taking notes and photos and periodically succumbing to an irresistible item: fabulous ribbon, the perfect glittery hearts for a centerpiece, a couple of items that we will turn into the perfect invitations….

Somehow, when Hazel and I collaborate, we don’t do simple.

This is going to be fun!


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When my guests walk in the door, I want to greet them with a hug and a smile, great smells of the meal to come and some low-key but always memorable music. We all have different tastes: top 40, rock and roll, oldies…you name it. There’s plenty out there. In our family we love most everything (okay, we do draw our lines in the sand, but I won’t cover those here). All of my brothers play an instrument or three, as do my sisters Amie, Della and Dee.

But if your parties don’t have live music available, your MP3 player can be your best friend. I make iPod playlists, but I also have stacks and stacks of CDs, so whatever suits me the day of my party works.

When I go to a party at my sister Hellen’s, the musical gamut is run because she has lots of younger folks in her house, so you can hear a Sublime CD right after Emmy Lou Harris, Tom Petty following Lyle Lovette or Robert Plant’s newest–all super choices, although they can get loud. My brother Sonny will get you anything from Motown to George Jones to Lightnin’ Hopkins. Della has introduced me to some super music, so you never know what you’ll get at her house, but you can bet it will be good.

Laurie leans toward classic Ella Fitzgerald but is always sensitive to her guests and the style of the party. Me? I’m fairly eclectic in my musical tastes, but for a party, I’m pretty stuck on my background music choices. If it’s my annual Wisteria Tea, I usually have Stephan Grapelli and Django Rheinhardt playing. If it’s a dinner party, you can often hear a mix of Grapelli & Rheinhardt, Charlie Bird, Eartha Kitt and Billy Holiday.

So instead of a recipe today, I’m giving you some jazz essentials for a dinner party. Music that is timeless and almost everyone enjoys; even your teens can find some redeeming qualities in it (OK, maybe it’s only my teen friends; I must admit to being thrilled when my 12-year-old niece Liv asked for a copy of an Eartha Kitt CD).

Great music for a dinner party.

So here we go:

Eartha Kitt – Miss Kitt to You or the Legendary Eartha Kitt
Billy Holiday – Jazz ‘Round Midnight (but there are plenty more!)
Charlie Byrd Quintet – Du Hot Club de Concorde
Miles Davis — Kind of Blue
Dave Brubeck – Time Out
Ella Fitzgerald – Dream Dancing is my favorite but you can’t go wrong with the Cole Porter Songbook or the Gershwin Songbook, but, really, the list of great Ella recordings is endless!
Django Reindhardt — Djangology
Nor can you go wrong with Great Ladies of Jazz and Great Ladies Sing the Blues, both compilation albums, and every song on them is a winner. These picks are all timeless and fun and most everyone will enjoy them.

Add to it with a few modern(ish) albums. I love Cover Girl by Shawn Colvin, Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis, Rosanne Cash’s Somewhere in the Stars and The Mavericks Music for All Occasions.

You can mix up your music, as I did for a Bunco Night fundraiser for 100 with a five-hour playlist to please every age, or you can tailor it to your smaller group. It is lots of fun making playlists but a lot harder to make a compilation that pleases everyone.


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Laurie and I have a theory that every good party starts in the kitchen. And in our family, most of them also migrate there during the course of an evening. Laurie has a great kitchen in that it’s open to the living room, with a breakfast bar between the two spaces. She always sets up her appetizers and drinks on the bar, so she can converse with her guests while putting the finishing touches on her meals. Her guests keep her company and usually help out–win-win! The same goes for my sister-in-law Vicki’s fabulous mountain kitchen. Mine’s a bit quirkier, more like a train station, but I like it.

Our Aunt Mary’s kitchen is a different story. It’s probably twice the size of our kitchens, but it still gets pretty crowded. We always try to have appetizers of some sort ready for guests as they arrive, but the day of our tea was drizzly and cool, so we all had champagne in the kitchen while everyone chatted, listened to music and kicked in to help make our afternoon tea.

While our hostess sat with her injured ankle wrapped in ice and propped up on a stool, Maddie assembled the trifle and Allisande made tea. Laurie and I made sandwiches, which was pretty easy, since we’d really done all the prep work in our own kitchens, where we were able to commune with our own food processors and favorite knives. Don’t get me wrong, Mary has all the right stuff–we just can’t find it in her enormous 1920s-era kitchen!

Barb artfully arranged fresh fruit on a crystal dish that she had foraged for in Mary’s butler’s pantry. (She forswears other desserts. Such virtue!) One of the fun things about Mary’s house is that her butler’s pantry is chock-full of antique serving dishes passed on by her and Phil’s moms and aunts. Dee and Ryan arrived late because they had to work late, so they missed out on the fun in the kitchen. But with everyone helping, we pulled together sandwiches for 10 in record-breaking time.

Let’s eat!


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The thing about afternoon tea–aside from any porcelain-collecting addictions–is that its original purpose was to provide well-to-do ladies with a little sustenance around 4:00 p.m. because they weren’t going to have supper until 8:30 or 9:00…or midnight. They had staffs to prepare the handsome three-layer cake and those dainty little sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

We are our own staff. We make that cake or trifle; we make the sandwiches; and then we sit down to eat it all, and we talk for hours. We skip dinner entirely. I love inventing those sandwiches. We usually like to have five different kinds of sandwiches. Only one is essential, the traditional cucumber. After that–well, this is a good opportunity to inspect the contents of the refrigerator and determine if there are leftovers that need to be used up. Tea’s really a very thrifty sort of meal. An ounce or two of smoked salmon, a little sliced turkey, a couple of eggs…hey, you’ve got sandwiches.

But this is a tree-trimming party, so it should be especially festive. We think we’ll have eight to ten guests, and we are thinking of what we’d like to do. I am an indefatigable list-maker. I start every day with a list (see, we all have our little addictions; I figure mine’s cheaper than most).

Here’s my preliminary list of sandwich ideas:
cucumber, of course
egg salad and watercress
smoked salmon and cream cheese on rye
Manchego and green-tomato chutney
Boursin and radish
mini BLTs on brioche

What else? Scones, naturally. We’ll give you a simple but fabulous recipe. How many desserts? Hazel’s gingerbread trifle, definitely. Will we want some shortbread? Possibly; it’s so good with tea. How about something Christmas-y to get us in the mood–maybe with peppermint? Oh, yeah, I guess we will be needing tea also. Earl Grey, anyone? Lapsang souchan?

Oh, I love afternoon tea!

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