The Sweet & Salty Factor

Wowing clients is a serious business. After all, it’s not everyday that someone will trust you with their budget and their taste buds.

I’m always on the hunt for the latest and greatest in food and design, but it seems there are always new techniques and gadgets to keep on top of. Just when I master one, another one comes along that I just gotta have.

When I find myself in overwhelm mode, I go back to basics and ask myself what flavor combinations get people coming back for more?  The answer is what I call the “Sweet & Salty Factor”. Yep, it’s as simple as that. Combine something sweet with something salty into a bite-sized niblet and your guests are guaranteed to be happy campers.

One of my favorite sweet and salty creations is an hors d’oeuvres I call the “Cheeseboard Crostini”. I discovered this while playing around my kitchen trying to find an interesting way to use up a bunch of leftover grapes and small hunk of blue cheese.

After roasting the grapes in olive oil and balsamic vinegar I topped them on a crostini smeared with blue cheese and sprinkled with crushed walnuts and honey. The sweet and tart flavor of the grapes was a delicious contrast to the saltiness of the blue cheese and walnuts. Sweet. Salty. Perfection.

Cheeseboard Crostini Recipe

makes 30 crostini

1 small bunch red grapes (left whole)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 T Balsamic Vinegar

Pinch salt

Dash of pepper

5 ounces blue cheese

¼ cup toasted walnuts (crushed)

1 small baguette

Honey for drizzling

Grape Preparation

Preheat oven to 400. Toss grapes in 1 Tablespoon olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pinch of salt. Roast on tin foil lined baking sheet for 10-15 minutes.


Preheat oven to 350/ Slice baguette into 1/4’ slices and lay out on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 until golden, about twelve-fifteen minutes. Grapes can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container for four days.


Smear blue cheese onto the crostini. Top with crushed walnuts. Add two grapes and drizzle with honey. Serve at room temperature.

6 Sizzling Summer Party Planning Tips

Summer is without a doubt a great time to throw a party. Having catered hundreds of parties I am often asked what makes for a great party. I’d like to say it’s delicious food, but the reality is that it’s the people that make a party. It’s the job (yeah, you can call it a job) of the host to create an atmosphere that will bring out the best in his or her guests. Here are some tips for creating a fun party:

1. Design a menu that emphasizes fun: Nothing inspires interaction (and excitement) amongst guests like a family style meal.  If you’re feeling daring create a meal by experimenting with a lesser known cuisine, like Moroccan food. There’s no better way to surprise and delight your guests.

2. Go natural: Summer is a great time to experiment with natural elements like earth tone linens or bamboo plates and utensils. Combine neutral shades with a pop of color, like hot pink peonies, for a casual, yet chic look.

3. Experiment with contrasting flavors: I’ve found that some of our most popular dishes are those that combine salty and sweet flavors, like watermelon and feta or brie and figs.

4. Remember that your guests want to have fun with you: try to organize all of your plates and dishes before the party starts, so that you can act the host and socialize with your friends. Serving room temperature dishes in the summer is a good way reduce futzing in the kitchen.

5. Allow your guests to be the party: set up food and drinks so that they accompany and compliment your guests, but don’t become the main focus of the party. If you put your guests into the spotlight, they will feel more at ease, have more fun, and will remember your grace and skill in creating a festive atmosphere.

Six Sexy Summer Sangrias

Who doesn’t love a cool, refreshing drink on a hot summer day? As sangria sees a return to popularity at catered events, we like to spice ours with non-traditional ingredients to keep our guests coming back for more. Here are six options for an edgier twist on the original, sweet cooler:

  1. Orange Sangria, for a start close to home. Try adding orange liqueur and a tart orange soda (like San Pellegrino Aranciata) to your classic sangria base.

  2. Crisp Fruit Sangria: instead of the classic mix of orange, mixed berries, and sugar, try green apples and lemon slices for a dryer, clearer concoction.

  3. To go entirely off-piste, try something with a sparkling wine base (Cava is best, but Prosecco or traditional Champagne will do) and build it out with peaches and lavender for a botanical, sweet delight.

  4. For a better white sangria, use blood oranges, kumquats, and mint to even out a balanced, beautiful evening drink.

  5. For the dryest twist, start with a mix of Cava and grapefruit juice, brightened and cooled with slices of fresh ginger (be sparing, it’s strong!), clean cucumber, and radishes.

  6. Finally, for an edgier, more rugged twist, try the popular Basque Cooler Kalimotxo: half cola and half red wine. You can spruce it up with a float of ouzo or an anise liqueur (for those who want something stiffer and less sweet).

Enjoy and stay cool!

5 Reasons Why You Need to Be Eating Kale Right Now

You may have noticed that kale has become quite popular in the last year or so. The attention, in my opinion, is deserved. Here are seven awesome things you can do with kale, a healthy, beautiful and delicious vegetable:

  1. Salad! Try substituting kale for romaine for your next Caesar salad. Chop the kale finely and toss it with a Caesar dressing to surprise your guests with a new twist. The kale will stand up more heartily to the dressing than romaine and is an exciting change to traditional Caesar.

  2. Soup! Try on Caldo Verde, a traditional Portuguese stew that has a flavorful, light broth, potatoes, sausage, and lots of kale. Of course it’s warm and comforting on a cold winter night, but it’s also light and fresh, and could be a great starter for a summer meal outside.

  3. Make your own kale chips! I’m sure you’ve seen kale chips in the store, but try baking your own. Experiment with flavor combinations like soy sauce and sesame oil for an Asian-inspired flair, or Parmigiano Reggiano, olive oil and garlic for Italian. You can play with herbs as well to create an exciting and healthy snack.

  4. Fold kale into an omelette for a healthy and colorful brunch, with feta cheese for salt and creaminess.

  5. Finally, experiment! Try substituting kale for other leafy green vegetables in your recipes. You can play with a Southern twist and cook kale as you would Collard greens (slow cooking and richly flavorful) or try even a simple sauté with onions or garlic that will bring out the brightness in the kale.

Try all types of kale: curly, Tuscan (also known as Dinosaur and Lacinato kale), and purple kale. You can mix varieties for color and presentation, and enjoy the delicious, healthy, and easily prepared delights of kale.

Three Tips to Craft the Perfect Party Menu

When planning party menus it’s key to stay relevant to the seasons, but what does this mean for basic flavors? Here are some fun ideas for presenting balanced summer menus both at home and at your next catered event.

  1. Mingle flavors by pairing bitter drinks with sweet snacks: a summertime classic drink that’s back in vogue is the Negroni (gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth). For sharp, balanced bitterness, serve it with the subtle sweetness of tea cakes, biscotti, or figs.

  2. Incorporate herbs and summer greenery: you can stray from the traditional by combining both herbal and botanical flavors. Herbal liqueurs like Amari, Cynar and Aperol are very popular right now. Try mixing these with gentler herbs like mint and basil for a bright summery cocktail.

  3. Play with mildness and intensity: talk to your caterer about ideas for a menu that involves a balance between bright flavors and mellower, longer ones that will round out your party and satisfy your guests. Classic combinations like fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes are a traditional example of this balance (the softness of the dairy, the sharpness of the acidity in the tomatoes). But for a more updated menu, try experimenting with various cuisines–like pairing kumquats with tangy yogurt and fresh mint.

These are just some ideas for creating the perfect summer menu for your next party.  Keeping your menu balanced and varied will keep your guests interested. Variation is the key here, the fun will follow!

Avoiding an Event Spoiler

So many factors go into creating a perfect event. Whether you’re hiring a catering company or planning it yourself you’ll need delicious food, helpful staff, complimentary decor, and last but definitely not least, a comfortable space. An event that would be perfect can be uprooted by the wrong location: all the aspects of your party need to align so that guests are at ease.

Here are some tips to finding the perfect location for your event:

  • Consider Atmosphere: Make sure that the location will allow your event to embody the mood you hope to achieve. If want an elegant, relaxed, summer-brunch affair, choose a location that offers plenty of natural light, open space, and enough room for guests to feel comfortable mingling, even allowing for a bit of breeze. On the other hand, if you want an intimate, cozy event, consider a space that will not allow your guests to separate too much.

  • Remember the Food: make sure that your location will accommodate the food you have planned. If you envision a large buffet, be sure to keep in mind the amount of space this takes up, so that you don’t have guests bumping into the buffet tables or catching their sleeves in sauce. If you want to have trays of passed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails circulating throughout, look at a space that allows for open footpaths, one that doesn’t force a crowd into a single, central area, blocking your guests from enjoying the deliciousness you’re offering them.

  • Finally, trust yourself! Don’t host an event in a space that doesn’t please your eye and your aesthetic. Your event reflects upon you, so it’s very important to find a location you love. Your guests will appreciate your event all the more if you are happy and having a good time yourself: make sure you want to spend time in the location for your party.

Choosing a location for your event can be the foundation for the other planning

5 Decor Tips for a Zen Summer Party

My main focus is always the food, but it can be hard to enjoy a perfect summertime lunch if the décor is staring you straight in the face and screaming “winter”. I like to make sure that the decorations surrounding the food compliment and agree with the mood of the meal and the season.

Here are some tips for keeping your events pleasing to the eye, as well as the palate:

  1. Keep your color scheme cool and simple: moss green and subtle off-whites will keep things calm, elegant, and acknowledge the hues of cool summer flavors like fresh herbs and rich, green vegetables.
  2. Keep things natural: use wooden accents and wicker baskets for a natural atmosphere and breezy look.
  3. Use light, thin glassware for a gentle, elegant feel to keep the mood and yourself cool.
  4. Choose colors that compliment each other: stick to pastels, natural hues, and shades that agree, so that everything feels in concert, and of nature.
  5. Decorate to match your food and drinks; a beautiful moss green decorating scheme can bump up the color of avocados, fresh herbs, or the subtle green in fennel. And have fun!

Keeping the decoration in line with the food makes guests feel more comfortable and allows them to enjoy a summer party in total harmony.

Sensational Summer Party Ideas

Summer is the best time to relax and enjoy friendships in (mostly) beautiful weather, and somehow the 9-5 doesn’t seem so bad in summertime. Summer is the best time for parties, so thank goodness there are so many things to celebrate! Here are some easy party ideas to help inspire you as we enter the season.

  • Great Gatsby Themed Party– Celebrate this new release by hosting a Gatsby themed party! Tell everyone to wear flapper and 1920s themed clothes, have a “speakeasy” bar set up, and play 1920s jazz. Keep the party large – the more, the merrier was always Gatsby’s motto for entertaining. One thing to have – plenty of champagne!

  • Memorial Day Block Party- Celebrate the end of May with a classic potluck style block party. If you live in the city and don’t have the yard to host a classic block party, opt for the roof instead! Invite neighbors, friends, and family. In each invitation, include whether they should bring an entrée, appetizer, salad, fruit, dessert or beverage to ensure a good variety. No RSVP needed since it’s a casual party. Start a tradition!

  • 4th of July Barbecue- No 4th of July is complete without an incredible party. One of the most important aspects of the 4th of July party is the space – escape from the city and host it by the beach or in the country, or even a nice yard will do. Fourth of July food should be quintessential summer mixed with a little campy fun – think red, white and blue popsicles and cupcakes. Have enough sparklers for each guest, and do some big fireworks (law-permitting).

  • Bastille Day Fête- Who said the party had to stop July 4th? The French celebrate their independence day on July 14th, and you can too! Capitalize on the French theme in menu, color scheme (it’s still red, white, and blue, so no problem there!), and mood. Serve mini-champagne bottles on ice for all the guests, string pretty lights along the space, and play fun French music. Stock plenty of good cheese and wine – just as the French do.

  • Summer Solstice Party- This year, the summer solstice falls on June 21st – why not host a party? Since this is essentially just a party celebrating summer, include every great aspect of a summer party. Host it outdoors towards dusk, and invoke nature by incorporating flowers everywhere, with centerpieces at every table. Host a classic summer activity, like roasting marshmallows over a fire. Use fresh summer ingredients for food like watermelon, strawberries, corn, and tomatoes.

  • Christmas in July-Everyone knows that the only thing winter has over summer is Christmas, so why not bring Christmas to summer? Everyone will get chuckles from a Christmas in July themed party. Tell guests to dress in luau-themed outfits plus Santa hats. Create cute Santa desserts using strawberries as Santa hats, and serve frozen hot chocolate. Play a mix of Christmas music and tropical music, and create a signature drink of red and green margaritas.

These fun party ideas should last you through the season! Enjoy!

Top 8 Catering Mistakes: Don’t Let These Happen to You

Catering is about more than just the food you serve at your event – it affects the overall atmosphere of the event. Rude servers, bad timing, or undercooked dishes can make your life a lot more stressful. We’ve rounded up some the top catering mistakes and tell you how to avoid them.

1. Miscommunication: Create a contract so that miscommunication will not be a problem for your event. Make sure the caterer has added detailed information on their proposal including the arrival time of staff as well as any special requests you may have asked for (ie–a gluten free entree option for your Uncle Mike).

2. Attempting “do-it-yourself” catering: Though it may seem like a great way to save money, doing your own catering for a large event or wedding will likely cause more stress than it’s worth. Sure, you could ask your cousin to bartend, but a good caterer will have well-trained staff who work together on a consistent basis. If you are concerned about cost, opt for passed hors d’oeuvres rather than a served dinner.

3. Not booking enough time: Make sure that you work closely with the caterer to ensure that you know exactly how many hours they will show up before the event and stay after the event. Most caterers will allow one hour for their staff to breakdown and clean up–so if you’re renting a venue by the hour or shift you’ll need to allow enough time for this to happen.

4. Not checking for guests’ allergies: The worse thing that could happen at your event would be an allergic reaction, so have everyone list allergies on their RSVP. Ask that the caterer include this note on their seating chart and menus used by their kitchen and waitstaff.

5. Booking a catering venue that is too small: Always err on the side of caution when booking a venue and always overestimate the number of guests who will arrive, especially to account for those who might bring an extra guest.

6. Not getting references: Ask your caterer for one or two references and be sure to contact them with specific questions that are of concern to you.

7. Dishes are too unfamiliar: Not all of your guests may be foodies, so keep the menu a mix of the familiar and the exotic.

8. Catering Menu isn’t seasonal: Be wary of caterer with menus items that are out-of-season ie–strawberries in January. Chances are this caterer doesn’t change the menu often and is using sub-par ingredients.

Top 10 Tips to Hiring a Rock Star Caterer

Hiring a caterer for the first time can be a little overwhelming. Sure, they say their food is great, their servers are impeccable, and that everything will go smoothly. But how do you know that you’re really getting the best deal? Here are some questions that everyone should ask their caterer, before the day of the event.

1. When can you schedule a taste sampling of the food? This is a critical question for determining whether you want this caterer to work for you.

2. Which items will the caterer provide, and which items do you need to provide? Be sure to ask about linens, table runners, tables, chairs, decorations, and table settings.

3. How many servers are on the wait staff, and how many does your event need? The wait staff needs to be highly professional, and your caterer should be able to provide details on the number needed for your event.

4. How accommodating will they be on special food needs, allergies, and vegetarian options? They should be willing to offer a variety of options for all your guests.

5. Can they show or provide you with sample photos of events similar to yours? Seeing professional photos taken of other similarly sized and themed events will help you gauge how your event will turn out.

6. Does the caterer provide a bar, or do you need to hire a separate bartender? Some catering services will not allow the client to provide his or her own beverages–so be sure to ask if this is a possibility.

7. Who are some of your previous clients? If you are planning a corporate event, seeing prestigious past clients will boost your confidence.

8. Who will be responsible for cleaning up and to what degree will the event be cleaned up? You don’t want to be left with a big mess on your hands.

9. What are the various pricing options and how can I save money? This is obvious! Make sure you’re aware of any extra set-up or take down fees. Your caterer should be able to provide you a clear idea of pricing.

10. Last but not least–Can you feel their passion? What separates the good from the great in any business–and especially in catering–are those that are the most jazzed about what they do. This will come through in their food and service. Inspired caterers will go the extra mile in making sure your needs are served. If you get the sense the passion isn’t there–move on!