IT’S hard to deny that notable things come in twos: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, shoes, the Olsen twins, for example. Why go with one when you can double your entertaining fun? See how likely and unlikely party pairings can add a punch to dinner and lunch.
There’s a reason Panera’s “You Pick Two” is so popular. “The flexibility of being able to pair to your liking puts you in the chef’s hat,” Chef and Panera Bread food team member Tom Sadler (www.panera.com) said.
Apply the “pick two” philosophy to your next party by offering an easy assembly line. Create a homemade soup and salad bar. Make a two-bowl salad base—one with romaine lettuce, the other full of mixed greens like spinach, arugula and kale.
Make summer linger just a while longer by incorporating seasonal berries, almonds and feta cheese in small bowls. Provide an array of salty delights by setting out Kalamata olives, peperoncini and even diced pickles. Don’t forget olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and include a light, delicious homemade light dressing like Honey Poppy Seed (see www.simplyscratch.com).
Guests will go gaga for a cold cucumber gazpacho or watermelon soup made with lime juice and a sprig or two of mint and basil (see www.organicavenue.com).
For a delicious summer slant, swap rolls or biscuits and offer guests homemade squash bread and whipped butter (see www.allrecipes.com).
Take inspiration from Barbara Werner, author of Musical Pairing: The Art of Harmonizing Music to Your Meal (www.musicalpairing.com), and add literal lively notes alongside meals. Werner treats guests to the best in melody and meal pairings in steakhouses across the nation. “Musical pairing is a technique of properly pairing music with food and beverages, using a simple mathematical formula,” Werner said.
“Some of my favorites: A simple, vanilla crème brulée with Harry Connick Jr. singing ‘It Had to Be You,’” Werner explains, “and a dark, rich, gooey, chocolate lava cake paired with Coolio’s ‘Gangsta Paradise.’”
“While I’m sure it is unlikely that Coolio has ever sung that song with dark chocolate lava cake in his mind,” Werner said, “I guarantee that once guests slap on headphones and listen to that song while they’re eating, they’ll never eat dark chocolate lava cake again without thinking of him.”
TV personality and culinary and lifestyle expert Parker Wallace, author of Eat Rich, Stay Skinny: A Girl’s Guide to Holiday Feasting, knows all about pairings with personality. In the spirit of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Wallace suggests seafood-beer pairings like lobster rolls with hefeweizen, fried calamari with Helles lager and grilled tuna with IPA.
“As a fun addition, serve fruit out of a watermelon shark,” Wallace said. “Take a large watermelon, and cut one end into a mouth with sharp teeth. Use black olives for eyes and stuff the shark’s mouth with cut up fruit.”
“Dress your dinner table in a simple blue table cloth with a fishing net ‘runner’ accented with shells,” Wallace said. “Add nautical table-top terrariums: glass bowls and/or square vases filled with sand, succulents, coral, starfish, shells and maybe even a shark tooth!”
SWEET AND SALTY
Why simply have something sweet or salty when you could have both? Dedicate a party that highlights sweet and salty favorites. As host/hostess, serve a main sweet/salty entrée, such as Strawberry Balsamic Pizza with Chicken and Applewood Bacon (see www.thecafesucrefarine.com), Emeril Lagasse’s Chicken Smothered in Rhubarb or Pork Tacos with Avocado Crema and Peach Salsa (see www.taste.com).
Assign other guests to a sweet and salty beverage like the actual “Sweet & Salty” containing Bacardi, lemon, salt, Coke and Squirt (see www.drinkoftheweek.com); an appetizer like cranberry-goat cheese turnovers, coconut shrimp with pineapple dipping sauce or homemade baked sea-salt, sweet-potato chips; and dessert of chocolate potato chip pie, Parmesan chiffon cake or avocado popsicles—sky’s the limit!
Don’t stop with simply pairing sweet and salty dishes; get creative by integrating the duo into décor. Set an elegant table with your finest china, but add a salty/sarcastic tone by flanking plates with plastic silverware and Solo cups. Or, add a mixture of gorgeous bouquets with tacky real-or-faux taxidermy animals adorned with party hats as table centerpieces.
Place sweet and snarky framed quotes throughout the event space: “There’s no place like home” and “Insert Frilly Inspirational Quote here.”