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Easy-Peasy Hosting Tips

Looking ahead to fall and the holidays its crazy to think that 2017 is wrapping up and my calendar is already booked!  Still when the holidays come around, I get the bug to get my friends and family together over food and fun. Growing up, my Mother taught me a lot about how happiness and memories can become attached to things like eating together. Every effort put forth to make a meal ‘special’ was always acknowledged.  Along the way, I picked up a few quick and effortless tips that I use time and time again. These tips are meant to show my guests how much I appreciate them.  So with the help of some old school tricks from my Mom paired with the genius hacks of Pinterest (check out our Party Board), here are some dinner party secrets that will make hosting a breeze.

Keep your Liquor Bottles, ALL of them
Piggy backing on the mason jar trend, old bourbon, tequila, and scotch bottles make for great variety and décor on a table top. 

Keep it Simple and and Natural
There is nothing like the fragrance of fresh flowers and greenery from the yard. Yep, even if you don’t think you have pretty bushes, you do! With the help of some candles, ALL (yes, all) greenery livens up a table top. Bring the outdoors inside whenever you can. Setting the tone with earthy additions to your décor is trendy and familiar.

Don’t get Overwhelmed
I love either stocking up on readymade family dinner items from the grocery store or catering for a get-together. I have found that catering from a restaurant that you may think is expensive can often times be cheaper than eating there.  Make a budget and get a few quotes, I think you will be surprised.  Bear in mind that by outsourcing the cooking you stay focused on the decorating and presentation of the meal. Hosting a potluck is another great way to use food as an excuse to bring people together — and cut down the effort you need to put in!

Borrow Don’t Buy
I have made the mistake for years of buying decor for my dinner and cocktail parties, but now I have done away with a stash of decor that I have used over and over again.  I borrow items like chargers, runners,  and vases from friends and even scoped out a local antique shop that was cool with me renting a few trays for centerpieces (it can’t hurt to ask…right?)

Going the Extra Mile Without Losing your Mind
For a dinner party, I take the extra 5 minutes (literally 5 minutes) to print out the menu onto paper. Then cut the printed paper into narrow sheets, and tape them around the napkin to create a more formal feeling to the evening. Labeling the food is a quick way to feel fancier and show your guests you made an effort.

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The combination of glass bottles, earthy accents from the yard, a proper table setting, and relaxed atmosphere is truly the backbone for a perfect evening. Sometimes, I will hire a bartender and created a signature drink for the evening. Speaking of, if you have not tried a French 75 yet, I highly recommend ordering it on your next date night. We used the recipe from Epicuious to get the party started.

I know hosting can seem overwhelming when you decide to do it. Making a list of things to do and crossing one thing off a day, you won’t need more than two weeks to comfortably throw a fun dinner party where you can focus on the most important thing of all: time with loved ones.

Cheers,
Rina

Chick Picks:

Compliments to the Chef!

The chicks have been busy trying to approach blogging from all angles, so when we had the opportunity to meet with food bloggers and enjoy the creations of a Le Cordon Blue trained Executive Chef, we naturally jumped at the opportunity.

Chef Jarvis Belton had meticulously designed our five course dinner with all our senses in mind.   NOTHING was left behind — we truly ate with our eyes, nose, ears, tongue, and fingers!  During this exclusive dining experience for bloggers and photographers only, Chef Belton considered not only the preparation of the meals, but also the presentation.

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Having trained at the international Le Cordon Blue culinary institute in Mallorca Spain, he learned the hard way that it takes a ton of patience to cook a rice pudding and the how much team work is required to build dishes with ingredients from all over the world.  With creative ingredients, he put a spin on a traditional dishes such as a pumpkin ‘mashed potato’ paired with a mouthwatering peach chutney (who knew!?!) or a crostini with garlic, fig, and fennel (yum!)

Paired perfectly with wines from all over the world, this dinner had us in sensory overload.  After enjoying a salad with a chocolate jalapeno balsamic drizzle (you read that right) and our main dish, we were advised to wash our hands for dessert.  Hesitantly, we returned unsure of what was in store.  Chef Belton meticulously built out desserts on top of our hands with a hand churned whip cream, fresh fig, and caramel drizzle which we ate with a spoon right off our hand.  Just delightful and different.

Having an intimate dining experience where you can interact with the chef directly was a truly unique experience.  The casual conversations with others who also enjoy documenting what they eat was also really fun.  Learning about what people are up to over a delicious meal will always round out a perfect chick-tastic evening.

Thanks Chef!

Your Party Chick,

Rina

Packing The Perfect Picnic

Let’s be real, eating out is the BEST; it’s a meal that I don’t have to cook…woohoo!  When the weather gets warmer, I’m always up for finding a way to combine my love of ‘not cooking’ with the outdoors.  Wait for it…a picnic!  Yay, ok now that you love the idea, take a deep breath and accept that the planning is totally worth it.

Growing up, my mom would throw some PB&J sandwiches, potato chips, and Coca-Cola’s into a backpack with a few towels and call it a picnic and as fondly as I remember those times, I have NOT been to or had a picnic like that in years!  As a mindful eater and a mother, making EVERY meal into an opportunity to do right by my family keeps these meals a little more balanced and creative.

The essentials are still the same — something to sit on, something to eat, and something to do!  So grab a blanket, (check out these super trendy and beautiful ones by Boho Street), try out some of our favorite bites, and throw in a frisbee, kite, soccer ball, or our personal favorite, Bananagrams and head out!

One of our favorite family recipes is my mom’s semi-homemade ‘3 Bean Salad’.  With less than 10 ingredients and in just 5 minutes, you can wow your taste buds on the go!  To see more recipes like this, like us on Pinterest and check out our ‘Picnic Basket’ board for more ideas.

The baskets that we use include reusable utensils and dishes and although it may seem like you’re doing more harm than good, the utensils are also eco-friendly so you can enjoy your meal, guilt free. Be sure to pack some wipes to wipe off the dishes before you pack them and keep a couple of disposable grocery bags for garbage.

For larger potluck style picnics which may include kids, an effective tool that we have used is a Google Doc for tracking who is bringing what. Here is a peek at what that form looks like and lucky you, it’s already set up as a template!

With the summer vibes kicking don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen, this Aromaflage perfume has a built in bug repellent that you can’t smell, its wonderful and made from aromatic essential oils made from botanical extracts.

I hope that this inspires you to get out sooner because if you are anything like me, later never comes.

Have fun!

Your Party Chicks,

Rina And Sonia

 

Chick Picks:

Picadilly Basket
Basket for 4 With Blanket
Wine Stakes for the Beach!

Costco Haul

 

I get asked ALL the time what I buy from Costco because I’m there at a MINIMUM once a week.  It’s the food version of Target for me.  Everyone is at peace; I stock up on the essentials we need and the kids know the food court is part of the rotation – a win-win.  I was a Costco-lover even before we had children because I found great pleasure in having a stockpile of toiletries and paper towels.   I still have PTSD from running out of toilet paper in my house when I was growing up.  I vowed that would never happen to me as an adult.

Costco also has a pretty strong selection of organic produce, meats and dairy.  I’ve found that their produce lasts longer than the local grocers’.

So, without further ado, here are the top 10 items I purchase from Costco:  Even if you don’t have a need for these items, it’s helpful to know that Costco carries them, and typically at a much better price than its competitors.

Pesto – delicious imported Italian basil pesto to put on pasta, wraps, chicken and quesadillas! This is the #1 preferred pasta topping in our home.  It’s phenomenally quick and far from tastes like a two-ingredient meal.  The kids devour and ask for seconds, without fail.

Kodiak Pancake mix – if you like to make pancakes or waffles, this mix is sent from the griddle gods themselves.  It’s foolproof with its 1:1 water to mix ratio and it promises to deliver consistently fluffy results every time.  And if that weren’t enough, this mix is packed with 14g of protein per serving and only contains the most natural of ingredients!  (a gluten-free version is available on amazon).  You can get creative with the mix, which if you ask me, is always the best part of making batter.  And with this mix, you can get straight to the best part of mixing.  I’ve added shredded coconut, sometimes chocolate chips and have even used buttermilk versus water when feeling especially deserving.

Sweet Kale salad – You never knew you liked brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and broccoli all in the same RAW salad until you’ve tried this prepared sweet kale salad.  It comes with pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and a poppyseed dressing, which I could eat by the spoonful.  You can also make your own salad dressing and customize your toppings if you prefer, but for all of the shredding, dicing and chopping that goes into it, it can be an excellent base to your “homemade” salad.

Roti – These were an accidental discovery while trying to find uncooked tortillas.  Amazingly fresh tasting, these bake in minutes if making large quantities or puff up in a frying pan (no oil needed).  They are incredibly soft and can be used in lieu of tortillas.  Try them with burritos, quesadillas, fajitas, wraps – their uses are endless and they taste fresh because they are!

Contigo Water Bottles – Costco carries a rotation of seasonal Contigo water bottles.  Whether a 3-pack of BPA-free adult-sized water bottles, a double-pack of stainless steel water bottles, kid-sized bottles or thermal mugs, be sure to check your Costco’s inventory before purchasing online or from another retailer.  I’ve found them to be significantly less expensive at Costco.

PT’s (Organic) Coffee – beautiful, robust coffee free of pesticides.  Just grind up the beans before you leave (yes, Costco has a coffee grinder for our use) and you have an aromatic bag of caffeinated deliciousness ready for your machine or bullet-proof coffee!

Frozen Mango…. frozen cherries, frozen berries, frozen pineapples….Their frozen fruit selection is beyond amazing and super convenient if you like to make smoothies and yogurt parfaits, bake with fruit, or simply have fruit on hand.  Do you want to peel mangos, work around the pit and chop them up into perfectly cubed pieces?  One prophetic quote comes to mind: “ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!”.

Maple Syrup – Costco carries 1L of 100% pure Grade A maple syrup at a cost you can’t beat.  If you know how maple syrup is sourced, you’ll have great appreciation for the value offered.  We sweeten oatmeal, pancakes, even coffee with this delicious elixir.

La Croix – the Costco I frequent carries a 24ct. variety-pack of LaCroix.  They also carry a solely lime flavored case.  If you want to increase your water intake in a novel way, or if you’re trying to break your diet coke/coke habit, try La Croix.  The can and tab opening mimics the cracking open of a carbonated sugary drink without all of the bad stuff.

Individual Hummus packs – these are amazing on-the-go snack items and a great source of protein for your kids’ school lunches.  Pair with fresh vegetables, pretzel snaps or chips (all sold at Costco )

All this and I didn’t even touch on their selection of cheeses, but you have to go in person to be a believer. Whether shredded, sliced, hard, soft, in stick form, wheel form, or wedge form, keep Costco in mind when planning your next cheese board crowd pleaser.

Hope to see you in the Costco aisles soon!

Yours truly,

Brainy Chick Serene

Chicks Picks:

Hosting An Outdoor Cocktail Party

Finally…weather we can enjoy!  After hosting indoors for the last six months, this Spring weather starts giving us the bug to get our friends together and host an outdoor cocktail party.  When it comes to hosting, it doesn’t matter if there are 6 people coming over or 26 there are a few easy things that you can do to get the good vibes flowing and host a fun party.  Hosting outdoors can be tricky without the convenience of the kitchen nearby; plus, there is always the chance that the mosquitoes may be hungry too!  So, here are a few things to help set the mood and create a perfect (stress free!) evening.

Plan Ahead – With us, food and liquor are everything. If you can get those two things right, then everything else seems to fall into place.  If possible, cater. If not…it’s time to run out to Costco and round up about half dozen finger foods.  Some of our favorites include: Meatballs on toothpicks, Veggies in Ranch (served up in a shot glass), Organic Tortilla Chips and Salsa (duh!), Pita and Hummus, and Samosas with Chutney are our usual go-to’s.  Sonia’s favorite is a Caprese Salad, either layered or on a toothpick.  Creating a bar menu can also be super cute, see how we make an authentic and memorable Sexy Sangria that you can make ahead of time.

Set the Mood – Often times, setting the tone outdoors with good lighting is key.  Fireside is always a good look but if you can pair it up with these super affordable bulb lights, it’s just picture perfect.  After the general ambiance has been set, set the table.  On occasion we rent printed table cloths from a local party rental shop, but for the most part, over the years, we have accumulated a collection of tablecloths of our own and we share them.  We don’t look too far for centerpieces and gather decor from around the house to create an eclectic and romantic atmosphere. In the spring, we cut fresh blooming sprigs from bushes around the house and stick them in vases and in the fall we utilize sticks from our trees to create a really beautiful rustic look to dress up a table.  Little table accents and a quick tablecloth can take your dinner or cocktail party to another level.

Use the Fancy Dishes – Ok, ok, hear me out: for more intimate gatherings of 10 people or less, we are thrilled to have the opportunity bring out the wedding china that never gets used. BUT, for an outdoor party, these amazing faux china dishes are our go-to.  Guests feel terrible throwing these away every single time.  Don’t feel too bad when you use these – they are easy and disposable. And no dish washing required. Get we get an AMEN?

Don’t Forget the Music – It took us a few times to figure out what exactly was missing the first couple of times I hosted at our new house….then it dawned on us: MUSIC!  With the pool in the backyard, it was hard to hear using portable speakers like the Beats Pill. They just did not seem good enough. After a little trial and error, we installed some outdoor blue tooth speakers create ambient sound even when the pool is on.  It’s amazing how music can make people more fun and relaxed. Fast music makes people move quicker, talk faster and be more energetic; more instrumental music in the background creates a more laid-back environment. Pandora has entire playlists for dinner parties, our personal go to is Tropical Lounge.  Figure out what you are going for and round out the party with the right music. 

Check the Weather – Now this may seem obvious but having an alternate plan or a rain date are a must unless you are great on the fly — in which case, you don’t even need this post!  If you are like us and love the outdoors, it can be disappointing to bring the party inside. Consider setting a rain date, I know it can be inconvenient, but unfortunately that is the risk you take when you planned for the gathering in the first place.

Consider Unwanted Guests – If it is seasonal for mosquitoes to be out, be prepared. Use candles. we recently went to a party where the host put out repellant bracelets for guests to use. That way, if the guests are having a problem with bugs, they can slap on a bracelet that gives them bug protection wherever they go — they don’t have to be limited to the scope of a candle.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST Be present, people came to see you!! I know you want to make sure that the food is still hot and that everyone knows where the restroom is, but grab a glass of wine. Throw on a smile and hang out with your friends. It’s supposed to be fun and, with the right kind of planning, it can and should be fun for the host too.

Happy Hosting!

Cheers!

Your Party Chicks, 

Chicks Picks: