2016 has been fun but I am SO looking forward to 2017. If it is anything like the past year has been, it’s going to be great. I have to give a shout-out here to a company that I feature on here often, this time it’s not about their wine though. Winc sent out this great card to fill out as a 2016 year in review. This is a great way to really look back and contemplate what went right during the year instead of focusing on the negative.

This year, I wanted to do something different than going out to an expensive event in DC. What better way to ring in a brand new year than with friends and several Ina Garten recipes for a cocktail party? Honestly, you don’t need a new year to host a cocktail party – they’re fun when you just want to be casual and have friends over for some food and drinks.

I decided to make two appetizer recipes and two cocktail recipes from Back to Basics to serve. I started with the cocktail recipes which can be made early in the day or even the night before and be stored in the refrigerator. I love that Ina made the cocktails in batches so you can just have a pitcher full on the ready instead of having to make each one individually. This gives you, the host, time to socialize instead of constantly mixing up cocktails.

The pomegranate cosmopolitan was my favorite of the two. The pomegranate juice, cranberry juice and the lime juice really give the drink a lot of complexity.  The Juice of a Few Flowers sounds fancy but it is literally citrus juice and vodka. It is incredibly easy and also customizable. Say you don’t prefer grapefruit, you can leave it out and add more orange juice. Since the recipe called for sugaring the rim of each glass, I actually decided to add 1/4 cup of sugar to the mixture instead. The sugar scales the tartness back and saved me from having to put sugar on each glass before the party.

For apps, I made the Bruschetta with Peppers and Gorgonzola and Roasted Shrimp Cocktail. Now, I have to admit – I took a major shortcut with the shrimp cocktail. Ina includes a recipe to make your own cocktail sauce, however I took a note from her and said you know what….store bought is fine. Honestly, cocktail sauce from the store is just as good as making your own and WAY easier. The shrimp itself is easy to make, especially if you get shrimp that are already peeled and deveind. Roasting the shrimp gives it such great flavor and it only takes about 6-8 minutes in the over with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. I opted to make half the shrimp at the beginning of the party and kept the rest on stand-by in case we ran out then I could just throw it in the oven for a few minutes and have some fresh shrimp ready to go.

You can also take some shortcuts with the bruschetta and get ahead of the game. I sliced the baguette and toasted the pieces ahead of time and sauteed the peppers. Just before the party, I assembled the bruschetta by layering the peppers with the Gorgonzola on the baguette pieces then just bake for a few minutes to heat and melt the cheese and done.

The party ended up going really well, and it was pretty easy to throw together. Definitely something that I learned was that it is OK to take shortcuts. Your guests won’t notice too much if you use store-bought cocktail sauce or didn’t peel and devein the shrimp yourself. I also took an easy DIY shortcut with identifying the dishes for my guests. Instead of buying place card holders, I made some using old wine corks. Simply slice one in half right down the middle to create a flat surface. Then cut a slit in the top without going all the way through to the bottom which leaves an opening for you to put your place cards. You can get them at a craft store or office supply store.

I hope everyone had a great start to 2017! See you soon!

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Pomegranate Cosmopolitans
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 41
Servings
drinks
Ingredients
Servings
drinks
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients (except the limes slices) in a pitcher. Refrigerate for several hours to chill. When ready to serve, pour into a martini glass and garnish with a lime slice.
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Juice of a Few Flowers
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 37
Servings
drinks
Ingredients
Servings
drinks
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combine all the citrus juice and sugar in a pitcher and whisk to combine until the sugar is dissolved. Add the vodka and refrigerate to chill. Pour into martini glasses with a fresh spring of mint as garnish and serve immediately.
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Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 38
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Dry the shrimp off with paper towels and place them on a sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil, salt and pepper then mix to combine. Be sure they are in one layer on the pan - use 2 if you must. Roast for 8-10 minutes just until they are cooked through. Serve with cocktail sauce on the side.
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Bruschetta with Peppers and Gorgonzola
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 48.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
appetizers
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
appetizers
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add all the peppers and saute for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender. Sprinkle with the sugar and saute for 2 to 3 more minutes. Stir in capers and basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, arrange the bread slices in rows on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Brush each slice lightly with olive oil and toast for 7 to 10 minutes until lightly browned.
  4. Top each toast with a spoonful of the pepper mixture. Dot each with Gorgonzola cheese. Return to the oven for a minute or two to melt the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and serve.
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