Entertaining 101 for 2011
A good place to start when planning a successful dinner party is with special cocktails, specifically a vintage cocktail which is both glam and delicious. A little nostalgia always works and vintage cocktails set the stage for an evening of surprises culinary and otherwise. You could consider Gin Fizz, a Brandy Alexander, or even a Hemingway Daiquiri (white rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and fresh lime juice). Memory- lane cocktails as professional bartender Brian Van Flandern explains in his new book Vintage Cocktails (www.assouline.com) capture an earlier time, the era of the Rainbow Room and the Stork Club. His book is crammed with recipes from the 30s and 40s when bars were smoky and bartenders wore tuxedos.
If you think your usual cocktail glasses are too pedestrian for a vintage cocktail, consider Michael Egan's "Marbletini" art- glass goblets, Their shape is somewhat reminiscent of more classic shapes, but each glass has a grid pattern of round air bubbles that appear to float when the glass if filled. They are available from www.artfulhome.com, a terrific source for unusual and sparkling new items. Another great place for glassware is Simon Pearce, a Windsor Vermont- based company founded in 1971 that still makes the best and most classic handblown glass goblets. The Cavendish goblet, a typical Simon Pearce classic is suitable for either water or red wine. It is also strong and solid enough also for daily use. Order by calling 800-230--2484 (www.simonpearce.com).
Stylists are quick to tell you not to be carried away by too much simplicity when you're setting a table for guests. Placemats are an ideal way to add color and experiment with a new look. New York's Museum of Modern Art has eye-catching, solid colored, woven mats made by Chilewich which can also be ordered online (www.chilewich.com).
Kim Seybert, a well-known New York City stylist, has some of the best looking lacquered wood- beaded place mats for anyone drawn to minimal lines and looking to achieve something striking and unusual. But not everything needs to be sleek and modern. It's the unpredictable elements that create a kind of curated space on the table. For that, Seybert's glitzy napkin rings fit the bill.
Utilitarian, however, does has its place which is why the Italian company's Vietri (www.vietri.com) is such a good source for dinnerware. This company's Incanto style was inspired by French Provencal antiques. The shapes are curvy, sensual, and there's nothing as successful as white to contrast with whatever you are preparing as long as it is not filet of sole or some other white main course. Avoid white on white and seek both color and texture when you present your culinary efforts. When it comes to art studio porcelain, who can compete with Daniel Levy who works only on commission. Recently, he made an entire service for Oprah Winfrey, one of his many celeb clients. Another, an owner of a new Lear Jet, asked Levy to create a particular color for his plane's new dinnerware. From ideas, to molds, to special liquid clay--- every step of the way is designed and controlled by Levy personally in his porcelain studio on 29th Street in New York City. His newest dinnerware, Inca, has either platinum or 22k gold rims. (www.daniellevyporcelain.com 212-268-0878).
Some good entertaining ideas are in the current batch of new cookbooks. Ina Garten, who like Julia Child, loves anything with butter and cream, has received a few mixed reactions to the super rich ingredients she favors. But that shouldn't detract enthusiastic cooks and hearty eaters from enjoying her new book Barefoot Contessa, How Easy is That? (www.clarksonpotter.com). Garten can be relied on to help you get an appetizing dinner on the table - think lamb provencale - with a minimum of stress and fuss. Heart of the Artichoke and other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis (www.workman.com) is a good read as well as the place to go for help planning incomparable menus. Sarabeth Levine's Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours (www.assouline.com) includes many favorites such as the pumpkin muffins served at her various restaurants in New York City.
Classic Home Desserts, A Treasury of Heirloom and Contemporary Recipes (www.hmhco.com) by Richard Sax can be considered a memorial to the well-known cookbook author who died several years ago. What's wonderful about this compendium of old and new is that you will find everything from simple fruit cobblers to fancy cakes with good, clear directions. The book could have used more photos, but the recipes have clear instructions and little personalized notes and quotes that make for good reading as well as baking. Sax knew "national treasure" Edna Lewis, one of the best-known and most talented southern cooks, He includes her famous chocolate souffle with hot chocolate sauce which is worth the price of the book alone.