Category Archives: Entertaining

Hosting a cocktail party? Follow these simple tips to make it a success

Throwing a party is the easy part – invite a few friends and it’s an event! Successfully hosting your gathering and making sure your guests are well taken care and entertained, is another thing altogether.

Below are a few tips to consider as you write your guest list and menu to ensure that you create both an unforgettable experience and lasting memories.

Know Your Audience

Most of us have different groups of friends. Our weekend ball crew for sporting events, family and friends for special events and backyard cookouts, work friends and colleagues and then there’s the swanky, after-hours cocktail crowd. Keep your party theme appropriate for your guest group with food, drinks, and music, setting the overall ambiance for the evening.

  • Music is one of the most important components of the evening. Keep it just low enough to encourage conversation and in relative theme of your guests likes and dislikes.
  • Stock the bar: Knowing in advance what your guests prefer goes a long way. Whether you are setting up a self-host bar with premade cocktail pitchers and their favorite beer and wine or you’ve a skilled bartender on hand, your guests will appreciate this small attention to detail.
  • Scheduling: If you’re scheduling an after-hours networking cocktail event, weeknights directly after work are preferred. If your event is pleasure only, weekends are best. Keep in mind if your event is late afternoon/early evening dinner hour, you should have foods heavier than light appetizers available. After 7? Appetizers and dessert items should be available.
  • Special Diets: Know your guests. Allergies? Vegetarian? Vegan? Dieting? If any of your guests are following a preferred diet, make sure there are delicious food options available. Again, this attention to detail makes an impression.
  • Time: Send out invitations within one week to 4 weeks before the party. Give everyone plenty of notice and touch base with your guests 2 weeks out and again a couple of days before your cocktail event.

The Menu

Keeping your guests happy and satisfied is key to a successful cocktail soiree. Everyone should feel welcome and well attended to. Mix, mingle and pull people into conversations.

  • Make sure you cater to everyone’s needs, including gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options.
  • Finger foods that can be taken in 1-2 bites are excellent options for cocktail parties.
  • Creating a beautiful and well-designed charcuterie board shows attention to detail, offers many flavor and texture combinations, and will be photographed often. If you have more than one room where guests gather, ensure food platters are sprinkled evenly throughout each room, are easily accessible and refill them before they reach ¾ empty.
  • If your party falls during mealtime, make sure you have some heavier alternatives on hand, serve with crackers and/or bread. 

The Bar

A fully stocked bar is essential.

  • Serve a variety of spirits including vodka, rum, tequila, and whiskey, as well as mixers like soda, tonic, fruit juices, and syrups.
  • Make sure you have a few bottles of wine on hand. White, red, or rosé. Your wines will taste as they should as long as they are served at the proper temperature. This is why a wine cooler or beverage center is a must-have! 
  • Always keep mixers and carbonated options on hand. You may want to get a kegerator – it keeps ice cold beer on tap and allows you to serve your guests efficiently.
  • Make a signature cocktail and give it a name.
  • Have plenty of ice! You can always buy ice bags from your local store and keep them in refrigerators or make your own with ice makers.
  • If you decide against a self-host bar and don’t wish to play bartender all evening, consider hiring a professional.
  • Non-alcoholic mocktails should be an option.

These minor details may seem insignificant, yet they have the biggest potential to make or break your celebration.

The Playlist

Setting the mood is crucial. Again, know your guests. If swanky, jazzy cocktail tunes are their preference, set your playlist accordingly.

  • Your playlist should be long enough to last the duration of your event, so it never repeats.
  • If possible, use a separate device to stream the playlist instead of your phone. 
  • Start with soft music and work your way up to the bigger bounce once the party gets going.
  • Include pop or retro songs that people remember and will sing along to, for later in the evening.
  • If you’re not sure you’re up to the task of creating a successful playlist, consider hiring a professional for the evening.

Create a Master Plan List

Creating a list will take a lot of stress out of party planning. The following list types will assist in keeping you on track:

  • Menu and food
  • Spirits, beer, wine and cocktail ingredients
  • Preparations, décor, etc.
  • Timeline: Shopping day, food prep day, décor, etc.

Flow and Set-up 

To ensure traffic moves with ease, keep the following items in mind:

  • Place potential bottlenecks away from each other. The bar and food should be in completely separate areas.
  • Seating should be moved to “clusters” for conversation and out of foot traffic areas.
  • Collection trays for plates, cups, glasses should be placed in several areas and emptied often. Discreet trash bins should be in multiple locations and again, emptied often.

Visual Cues

Creating a restroom sign for your guests is a small touch that makes a big difference.
If you’ve added foods for your guests’ diets, gluten-free, vegetarian, etc., make sure they are well defined. Small chalkboards are simple and can be altered and utilized event to event.


Create a great ambiance, circulate the room and chat with your guests often. Most of all, relax and enjoy yourself.

Content provided by: Wine Coolers Empire
Edited by: Karie Engels
This is NOT paid or promoted content, basil & salt magazine did not receive compensation in any form, payment or product for publishing this post.

Put Together a Mimosa Bar for Mom

Give Mom a relaxing Sunday morning “in” with this simple, delicious and customizable “momosa” bar.

DIY Mimosa Bar

  • Difficulty: simple and quick
  • Print


  • Santa Margherita Prosecco Superiore
  • Assorted fruits, sliced (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, etc.)
  • Assorted fruit juices (orange, mango, blood orange, lemonade, etc.)
  • 10 mint leaves, torn
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar


  • Blend cups of confectioners’ sugar, mint and lemon together in a blender until smooth. Chill in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  • Divide the mixture into glasses to add extra sweet flavor
  • Pour Santa Margherita Prosecco Superiore into each glass, stir
  • Top with selected juice. Garnish each glass with fruit.

Salmon Deviled Eggs and Crab Cakes in a Tangy Sauce

From the archives:

Crab Cakes with Mixed Greens and Tangy SauceWith Easter a tad further down the calendar than usual, we have a bit of extra time to prep, plan and create our menus. My traditional Easter menu has always included simple appetizers, ham and a decadent cake for dessert, however this year a change is in the wind. While I haven’t settled on a precise menu to date, I have been collecting ideas.

Art de Fete has an Elegant Easter Dinner on display on its site. The table decor is beautiful and festive, the menu is both exquisite and fresh. What caught my eye first were delightful little Crab Cakes with Mixed Greens & Tangy Sauce.

Ingredients List: Crab Cakes: Jumbo lump crab meat, red onion, bread crumbs, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, egg, lemon, dill, red pepper flakes, freshly ground white pepper and vegetable oil. Sauce: Sour cream, chives, lime, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Salad: Mixed greens, white wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Follow the link at the bottom of the post for full recipe and method.

RossiniA light Champagne or sparkling wine cocktail is on the menu for Sunday celebrations and gatherings. The cocktail of choice this year is the Rossini. It’s elegance, simplicity and fruitful combination of flavors is always a delight to guests. If there is another fruit you have in mind, simply nix the strawberry puree and substitute with flavor of your choice.


  • 1 ounce pureed strawberries
  • 3 ounces chilled prosecco
  • 1 fresh strawberry, sliced for garnish

Pour fruit puree into chilled glass and top with prosecco.

Deviled Eggs have made a comeback in a huge way, and we are loving the creativity, ideas and combination of flavors that recipe developers have been posting. Our showcase for today’s post is from Art de Fete, Deviled Eggs with Herbs, Salmon & Osetra Caviar. Caviar is not in everyone’s taste or budget, and can be substituted with salmon roe or simply left out all together.

Deviled Eggs with Herbs, Salmon and Osetra Caviar

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Print

Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Herbs & Osetra Caviar II


  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2 tsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tsp chives, chopped
  • 1 tsp tarragon, chipped
  • 1 tsp dill chopped
  • 1/4 cup smoked salmon, chopped
  • sea salt, freshly ground white pepper


  • chives, freshly chopped
  • 12 dill sprigs
  • 1 ounce Osetra Caviar
  1. Boil eggs, peel.
  2. Cut eggs in half lengthwise and carefully remove yolks. Set whiles aside. In food processor combine yolks, mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, salmon and herbs. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Blend to combine until smooth.
  3. Fill pastry bag with yolk mixture and pipe into egg whites halves, filling to 1/2 inch over surface.
  4. Garnish with chives, dill sprigs and *caviar

Please print me, I am here for you to keep!

*Caviar is not in everyone’s taste or budget, and can be substituted with salmon roe or simply left out all together.


A very special thank you to Svitlana of Art de Fete for today’s content. You can find her entire Easter Dinner Menu (including the crab cakes ) here.

Today’s cocktail is part of a series of 25 Celebratory Bubbly Cocktails at



meringues with sugared cranberries

Friends and family will love these elegant little holiday gems.

When piping, try and leave a small area or divet to cradle to the cranberries.
you can find our sugared cranberries recipe here.

meringues with sugared cranberries

  • Difficulty: simple and delicious
  • Print


  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • dash of salt


  1. Place egg whites in a medium bowl and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 250°.
  3. Add vanilla, cream of tartar and salt to egg whites and beat at medium speed until foamy.
  4. Gradually add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high after each addition until sugar is dissolved. Continue beating on high until stiff glossy peaks form, about 7 minutes.
  5. Pipe meringue (we use #32 star tip) about 1 1/4″ diameter, 2″ apart on parchment and bake for 40 – 45 minutes until firm to touch. Turn off the oven, leaving the meringues inside with the door closed for about an hour. Cool completely in oven to ensure crispness.
  6. Garnish with berries and greenery just before serving.

You can make meringues a day ahead and store in an airtight container.

sugared cranberries

These festive little gems are the perfect finishing touch for your holiday desserts.

Sugared cranberries are so simple to make, you can get the entire family involvled.

The recipe below is a basic sugared cranberry recipe. Feedback for this recipe has included the following:
“Superfine sugar is not necessary, we used regular sugar for rolling and it came out fine.

sugared cranberries


  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar

Note: if you can’t find superfine, create your own by adding granulated sugar to a food processor for about a minute.

Optional: A few grates of orange zest and 1 or 2 cloves or vanilla added to the syrup adds a deeper flavor. Tweak and twist it a bit to suit your flavor and make the recipe your own.


  1. Using a toothpick, poke at least one hole in each cranberry to ensure the sweetened syrup gets inside the berry, otherwise they tend to be a bit too tart.
  2. Combine sugar and water, sturring until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer, not a boil and remove from heat.
  3. Stir in cranberries, pour mixture into a medium bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Remove cranberries and drain in a colander over bowl, reserving cranberry simple syrup. DO NOT RINSE the berries. The syrupy coating is needed. Refrigerate the left over simple syryp for cocktails.
  5. Place superfine or granulated sugar in a shallow dish or rimmed baking sheet, add cranberries and roll to coat completely with sugar. Note: if some of your berries are too wet, blot lightly with a paper towel, being careful not to dry them completely. This will help to keep the sugar from “clumping”.
  6. Spread finished cranberries in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment. Let stand approx. 1 hour at room temperature until dry.

set up your own hot chocolate bar this holiday season

Temperatures are dropping and the snow is falling, it’s hot chocolate time!

Everyone has their favorite way to enjoy a mug of hot cocoa and when hosting small gatherings this winter, set up a hot chocolate bar for friends and family.

Toppings for your bar

  • marshmallows
  • toffee bits
  • coarse sea salt
  • mini chocolate chips
  • chocolate spoons
  • caramel spoons
  • marshmallow sticks
  • crushed peppermints
  • candy canes or peppermint sticks
  • whoppers
  • chocolate truffles
  • Pirouette cookies
  • whipped cream
  • dark chocolate syrup
  • caramel sauce

Use whimsical little jars and containers to display toppings, candies and syrup. Don’t forget the whimsical straws!

You’ll find our delicious peppermint hot chocolate recipe here. When preparing your chocolate bar, leave out the peppermint extract.

spirited holiday yule nog

As the temperature drops and with the holiday season in full swing, there is no better way to celebrate than with a traditional festive beverage. Eggnog, a spiked mixture of egg yolk and milk, has been around for centuries and is often enjoyed around Christmas time.

In the American North it is mixed with coffee or rum, a technique brought to the Northern coastal states of New England by merchants and pirates. The merchants would often trade spices for textiles like twine used for fishing nets. These spices, such as rum and coffee were mixed with the delicate smoothness of the creamy eggnog becoming a fan favorite. And of course we all know how the pirates handled their days and nights at port. ~ Wikipedia

This holiday season, Salt & Char located in Saratoga Springs, will be serving up a special eggnog cocktail—the Salt & Char Yule Nog. The cocktail includes real cream and eggs, along with, cognac, jagertee, sugar, cinnamon, and much more.  If you aren’t in the area to stop by Salt & Char and taste this dazzling delight in person, the mixologists have shared their recipe with us so you can sip this beauty at your next holiday cocktail party.

Salt & Char Yule Nog

Yields 12 glasses


  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 6 ounces cognac
  • 1 ounce jagertee
  • Orange and nutmeg to garnish


Mix egg yolks and brown sugar. Slowly add in milk and cream. Add vanilla, salt, white sugar, cinnamon, cognac and jagertee. Whip egg whites then fold into liquid mixture. Serve in chilled glass. Top with orange zest and nutmeg.

Whimsical Eggnog Cookie Gift Tags

A festive holiday idea for the entire family.

Why label gifts with a slip of paper when you can use cookies instead? This a festive holiday project the entire family can do together.

Mix food color and vanilla extract to paint designs on frosted, gift tag-shaped eggnog cookies. Then, thread a ribbon through the cookie, wrap it in a cellophane bag and attach to holiday gifts.

Another idea is to have each member of the family write a personal message and leave these whimsically detailed cookies on a plate next to a glass of milk for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Eggnog Cookie Gift Tag

eggnog-cookie-tagsServes: Makes 36 (1 cookie tag) servings
40 mins  Prep time  ♦   10 mins   Cook time


  1. Mix flour, salt and nutmeg in medium bowl. Set aside. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla extract and rum flavor; mix well. Gradually stir in flour mixture on low-speed until well mixed.
  2. Preheat oven to 325°F. Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness on generously floured work surface. Cut into 3×2-inch rectangles. Cut corners from one of the short ends of each rectangle so they resemble the shape of gift tags. Make a hole in between the cut sides of the cookies with a drinking straw. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges start to brown. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.
  4. To decorate cookie tags, frost with untinted Colorful Royal Icing. Place frosted cookie tags on cooling rack to dry. Meanwhile, prepare desired colors of Flavor Paints (see tip on Painted Sugar Cookies). Using small clean paint brushes, paint gift tag designs and messages on frosted cookie tags. Let dry.
  5. Insert ribbon through holes of cookie tags. Place cookie tags in small clear cellophane bags leaving ribbon exposed. Carefully seal bags closed with festive twist ties or smaller pieces of ribbon. Use exposed ribbon from cookie tags to attach to ribbon on wrapped gifts.

A big thank you to McCormick Kitchens for sharing their holiday recipes with our readers!

“We do a lot of celebrating – and eating – in December, so there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the seasonal flavors we look forward to all year,” said Chef Kevan Vetter of the McCormick Kitchens. “Make green ‘Christmas Tree’ waffles studded with chocolate candies as ‘ornaments’ and dusted with powdered sugar for the ‘snow.’ Or, mix popcorn with white chocolate, peppermint extract and red and green sprinkles for a party snack or edible gift.”  These these recipes will be featured this week. Stay tuned!

guests for the holidays? simple recipes could elevate your hosting reputation

The holiday season has arrived, which means it’s that time of year when guests expect you to bring them some figgy pudding – or any type of pudding for that matter.

After all, those guests likely subscribe to the idea that grabbing an extra slice of ham or overindulging in that box of chocolate-covered cherries couldn’t hurt the waistline all that much.

“Luckily, it’s also oversized sweater and sweatpants season,” says Chef Blakely Trettenero, who knows a thing or two about holiday main courses and desserts, and writes about her culinary adventures on her blog, Everyday Gourmet with Blakely 

And if you’re just as inclined as your guests to sneak yourself an extra helping of whatever delicious dish you dream up – well, she can relate.

 “I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas cookies because physically I can’t stop eating them,” Trettenero says. “In my family we especially love gingersnap cookies. We used to buy tins and tins of them and just go to town until they were gone.”

But Trettenero also knows that hosting at the holidays comes with pressures. Relax, she says. You don’t need to be the chef extraordinaire at a five-star restaurant to please the palates of the average relative or business associate who made your guest list.

She offers a couple of simple recipes that can help make holiday-hosting duties less painful so you can spend more time sipping eggnog by the fireplace.

Braised Short Ribs


  • 4 pounds bone in beef short ribs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves


1. In a heavy bottomed pan (or Dutch oven) heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Completely pat dry all of the short ribs. Put them on a paper towel to soak up any moisture
3. Heavily season the short ribs with salt, pepper, and garlic powder
4. Working in batches, sear ribs until a beautiful brown on every side. Put the browned short ribs on a plate while you work on the next batch
5. Once all short ribs have been browned, add the onions, carrots, and garlic to the pan letting it cook for a few minutes
6. To the vegetables, add the tomato paste, stirring to coat everything, and let it cook another 5 minutes to cook out that raw tomato paste flavor.
7. Add the red wine and stir everything, scraping up all of the browned bits on the bottom for flavor.
8. Add back in the short ribs, add the beef broth, rosemary and thyme on the top, and the bay leaves
9. Put the lid on and put the pot into the oven. Let cook for 2 1/2 hours.

Homemade Gingersnap Cookies


  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh-grated ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Extra sugar for coating


  1. In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugars until smooth. To that add the grated fresh ginger, egg, and molasses. Give it another mix to incorporate everything.
  2. To the wet ingredients add the flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, allspice, and cinnamon. Mix until well blended.
  3. The dough will be loose, but don’t worry. Put the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to let chill and set up for 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Once the dough has set up and chilled completely, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough and form about 1 inch balls. Roll them in sugar, and put on a parchment-paper-lined sheet tray. Leave at least 1 inch between each ball. Bake for 10-15 minutes. For chewier gingersnaps, bake 10-13 minutes and for crisper gingersnaps, bake for 14-15 minutes. Let cool and set up on the counter for about 1-2 minutes before serving.

About Blakely Trettenero

Blakely Trettenero, host of the  Everyday Gourmet with Blakely ~ and Hungry for Travels ~ websites, is a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Fla. She is a world traveler, having visited more than 30 countries, and is becoming a frequent guest on TV.

pair & pour: holiday appetizer and cocktail pairing by blakely trettenero

Blakely Trettenero’s simple holiday cooking tips

Keep the menu simple and pick recipes that you can prepare in advance before your loved ones arrive. You don’t have to make a 10 course meal for everyone to be happy so don’t push yourself too much by trying recipes you’ve never made before. As long as you keep the cocktails flowing, they will think anything you make will be delicious! Enjoy the spirit of the Holidays and relax! They go by fast.

Mushroom, Herb & Gruyere Puffs


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound baby bella (or crimini) mushrooms, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 sheets thawed puff pastry
  • egg wash for brushing

Instructions by Blakely

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F
  2. In a saute pan over medium high heat melt the butter and add the chopped onion. Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes, until cooked through
  3. To the onions add the minced garlic, finely chopped mushrooms, salt, pepper, and the chopped fresh herbs
  4. Cook until all of the moisture is out of the pan from the mushrooms, 7-10 minutes
  5. Sprinkle the mushrooms with the flour and stir to combine. Let it cook for about 2 minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor
  6. Add the white wine and Greek yogurt, mixing everything together
  7. Once everything is combined turn off the heat and add the shredded cheese. Stir to combine and set aside
  8. On a floured surface roll out the puff pastry lightly and cut it into squares. I got 12 squares per sheet of puff pastry
  9. Add a spoonful of the mushroom mixture to the middle of the puff pastry squares and brush the edges with the egg wash
  10. Fold the edges together, making little turnover shapes, and use your finger to crimp down the edges
  11. Add them to a parchment lined sheet tray, brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle with pepper and thyme leaves, and put into the oven
  12. Let them bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes

That’s it! Serve them while they’re hot and watch them disappear in SECONDS!

Cranberry Orange Champagne Cocktail


  • 1 ounce cranberry juice
  • 1 ounces Cointreau, or any orange liquor
  • sparkling wine
  • frozen cranberries (optional)

Instructions by Blakely

I love a good fancy cocktail for a special occasion! Makes everything seem festive with only a little effort. This cocktail is one of my favorites for the Holiday season and I know it will be yours too. In a champagne glass add the cranberry juice, orange liquor, and top with champagne. I like to add frozen cranberries or an orange peel to give is a festive look.

There you go! A delicious easy cocktail for any special occasion. Cheers!

About Blakely Trettenero

Blakely Trettenero, host of the  Everyday Gourmet with Blakely ~ and Hungry for Travels ~ websites, is a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Fla. She is a world traveler, having visited more than 30 countries, and is becoming a frequent guest on TV.


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