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Hostess Guide: End-of-Summer Dinner Party

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In these dog days of the end of summer, hostesses like yours truly prefer dinner parties that are heavy on the style but light on the work. Think spritzy summer cocktails and wine, easy comfort food, and dippable desserts. That’s a perfectly appropriate menu for all that summer-vacation catching up you have to do with your friends.

Recently we gathered all of the New York Bitches—and what a team we have now—for an end-of-summer dinner party chez moi. The fare? Southern dishes with plenty of comfort. The cocktails? Spritzy pink gin drinks and by-the-glass light vino pours. The dessert? Chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Here’s how to plan the perfect dinner party to wrap up your summer.

The Cocktails

Milk the remaining days of August with plenty of spritzy, light cocktails. Before too long, it will be freezing outside, and we’ll be serving up warm whiskey drinks instead. If you’re a cocktail lover, I implore you to drink pink.

This summer, we’ve fallen for Gin Lane 1751, a classic London dry gin that is gorgeously rouge. Summer cocktails got truly girly with this liquor, whose pink color comes from bitters, not from artificial coloring or flavoring.

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And those bitters mean it doesn’t require intricate recipes to make this gin delectable. Simply combine it with ice, some soda, perhaps some lemon, and you’ve got a quick summer drink to pour for your guests.

The best part is the bottle itself, which makes for quite the centerpiece. Each bottle is individually numbered and reminiscent of something Victorian. Make sure you bring out your prettiest cocktail glasses for these drinks!

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Gin Lane Basil Smash

  • 2 parts Gin Lane 1751 London Dry Gin
  • 1 part fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 part sugar syrup
  • 8 basil leaves torn

Instructions

  • Add basil to dry cocktail shaker and muddle gently.
  • Fill shaker with ice and add remaining ingredients.
  • Shake and strain into coupe or martini glass.

Strawberry Cooler

  • 2 parts Gin Lane 1751 ‘Victoria’ Pink
  • 1 part Cointreau (or other Triple Sec)
  • 7 -10 fresh strawberries cut in halves

Instructions

  • Muddle the strawberries in the base of a cocktail shaker.
  • Add remaining ingredients, fill with ice, and shake vigorously.
  • Strain into an ice-filled highball glass and garnish with a strawberry.

The Wine

Steer clear from cocktails? If you’re hosting wine lovers at home and want to give them something to talk about, we found the perfect hostessing option. Enter Vinebox.

Consider it your party trick. It’s a simple way for guests to sample plenty of different types of European wines by simply selecting a vial from the pretty black box. Each box comes with background information on the wine vials. Be prepared to wow your guests—these are definitely not available at your local wine shop.

Or if you’re just naturally curious about different types of wine (like me), this is a great subscription option. You can have the boxes mailed directly to your house once a month for $25/month. Each vial offers a glass of wine, and a box includes three.

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But how on earth do they get the wine from the barrels or the bottle to these vials without spoiling them? I asked the founders, Matt Dukes and Rachel Vodofsky, and they said they used a closed-nitrogen environment to prevent wines from coming into contact with oxygen. So each vial retains its bouquet and flavor for up to three years.

We loved the summer rosé pack, which had a Monaciello Rosato from Piedmont, Italy; a Chateau Les Crostes, which was crisp and lean; and a Chateau de Saint-Martin, a classic Provence rosé that was dry and light―perfect for a dinner-party tasting.

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The Main Fare

With the cocktails and wine poured, it’s time to start dinner. For a stress-free dinner party where I totally avoid running around the grocery story the hour prior, I get the dinner ingredients and recipes delivered. Of course, you want to cook the food fresh at home (that makes a dinner party, after all), but sometimes it’s just easier to have it all arrive in a box, ready to go.

We’re not talking Blue Apron, though. For this summer evening, I opted for Martha & Marley Spoon’s comfort food. While recipe-delivery services are a dime a dozen in New York, Martha & Marley Spoon takes it to the next level. That’s because it was recently launched in New York by supreme hostess Martha Stewart and her culinary director partner in crime, Jennifer Aaronson.

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Martha & Marley Spoon takes a slightly different approach than the typical New York delivery-meal company. First, the food is all sourced from local suppliers—think Murray’s Cheese, Brooklyn Cured, and Hepworth Farms in the Hudson Valley. Second, the recipes are, oh, a tad more gourmet.

Most MS recipes require you to have some basics in your pantry, like eggs and flour. So make sure you pay attention when you’re ordering. And, you will definitely fine-tune your kitchen skills. I’ve never grated zucchini before our dinner party, but my sleeves were rolled up and ready to go when we got these recipes. Make sure you put your guests to work!

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Here are the recipes we tried, which you can absolutely make at home. For appetizers, go with a vegetarian pancake option that uses the last of the late-season harvest. For the main course, try two different types of protein, both packed with plenty of flavor. If you want to give Martha & Marley Spoon a shot, use the code MSBWB30 for $30 off your first box, valid until Sept. 30, 2017.

Zucchini and Corn Pancakes with Herb Sauce and Green Beans

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium zucchini (6–8 oz each)
  • 2 ears corn (10–12 oz each)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour (2.3 oz)
  • 1 lb green beans
  • 4 scallions (2 oz)
  • ½ oz fresh mint
  • ½ oz fresh cilantro
  • 2 limes
  • 2 large eggs
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil

Instructions:

  • Prep vegetables. Preheat oven to 450°F. Grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater directly onto a clean kitchen towel. Ring out liquid from zucchini, squeezing out as much as possible and place in a large bowl. Shuck corn (if necessary) and cut kernels from cobs. Add kernels to bowl with zucchini.
  • Make batter. Add flour, 2 large eggs, and 1 teaspoon salt to corn and zucchini; season with pepper. Mix well to combine and set aside while you prepare the herb salsa and green beans.
  • Roast green beans. Trim stem ends from green beans. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil on a rimmed baking sheet and season with ½ teaspoon salt and a few grinds pepper. Roast, shaking sheet halfway through, until blistered and tender, 10–12 minutes.
  • Make sauce. Trim roots and tips from scallions and thinly slice. Pick mint and cilantro leaves from stems and chop leaves. Combine all in a bowl and zest 1 of the limes over top. Halve both limes and squeeze into bowl. Stir in 3 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook fritters. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, add batter in heaping spoonful’s and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil if needed.
  • Serve. Serve fritters and green beans with herb salsa spooned over the top. Enjoy!

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Crispy Lemon Butter Chicken

This recipe highlights a smart cooking technique: crisp some shallot rounds in olive oil and reserve the shallot-oil for a salad dressing turned up a notch. And there’s a lot more to love here, from the tender chicken breasts basted in an addictive butter-lemon sauce to a nutritious radicchio and arugula salad. Oh, and those crunchy shallots scattered on top.

Ingredients:

  • 2 shallots (2 oz each)
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz butter
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • 2 oz baby arugula
  • 1 oz Parmesan
  • olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

  • Cook shallots. Trim and peel shallots and thinly slice into rounds. Heat ¼ cup oil in a small skillet over medium. Add shallot rounds and cook until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Remove shallots with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt. Reserve shallot oil.
  • Pound chicken. Meanwhile, place each chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or heavy skillet, pound each to ¼-inch thickness. Juice one of the lemons.
  • Coat chicken. Add ¼ cup flour and 1½ teaspoons salt to a shallow dish and stir to combine. Coat each chicken breast in flour mixture, shaking off any excess.
  • Cook chicken. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add 1 chicken breast and cook until golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Flip and cook until cooked through, another 1–2 minutes. Repeat with other breasts, adding 1 tablespoon of oil before cooking. Return chicken to pan. Add butter and lemon juice and cook just until sauce thickens and coats chicken, about 1 minute.
  • Make salad. Whisk together reserved shallot oil, champagne vinegar, mustard, and juice of half a lemon. Season with salt and pepper. Remove any wilted outer leaves from radicchio then cut into quarters, remove the core then roughly chop. Combine radicchio and arugula and toss with the vinaigrette.
  • Assemble. Serve chicken topped with salad. Shave Parmesan over salad and top with crispy shallots. Cut remaining lemon half into wedges and serve alongside. Enjoy!

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Sesame-Beef Ginger Stirfry

We wanted to recreate the flavors of a sizzling stir-fry without all the tossing and hard work. So we turned on the broiler and spread a mixture of broccoli, thinly sliced beef, and sweet onion onto a baking sheet. Make sure the beef is on the top layer and keep an eye on the sheet—you’re looking for browned bits and even a little char on the broccoli.

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup jasmine rice
  • 12 oz broccoli
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 12 oz sirloin beef strips
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 oz fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup tamari
  • 2 Tbsp mirin
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • coarse salt

Instructions:

  • Cook rice. Preheat broiler with rack 4 inches from heating element. Rinse rice in a fine-mesh sieve until water runs clear. In a small saucepan, bring rice, 1¼ cups water, and a pinch of salt to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered, until rice is tender and water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
  • Prep ingredients. Cut broccoli into thin florets. Peel, halve, and slice onion.
  • Make marinade. Peel garlic and ginger and finely grate (or finely chop) over a large bowl. Add tamari, mirin, sesame oil, and 2 tablespoons water and whisk to combine.
  • Coat ingredients. Add broccoli, onion, and beef to marinade and stir to evenly coat. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet. Make sure beef is on the top layer so it gets crispy (otherwise it will steam).
  • Broil. Broil, rotating sheet halfway through, until beef is sizzling and well browned in places and broccoli is charred and crisp-tender, 7–9 minutes.
  • Serve. Serve beef mixture over rice, drizzle with sheet juices to taste, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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The Dessert

No one wants a heavy cake during a summer dinner party. Instead, stick to fruits and add a sweet touch. We love the sweet spreads from Rigoni di Asiago, a family-owned business based in the Altopiano di Asiago, a mountain plateau in Northern Italy.

Travel to Italy, and you’ll notice the fruit spread on every table—Italians love it. I go for the chocolate, though, and dip fruit in the Nocciolata and Nocciolata Dairy Free hazelnut and chocolate spreads.

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Fun dinner party fact you can tell your guests over dessert: The company was one of the first in Europe to turn to organic farming in the early 1990s and merit the Certified Organic label.

Recipe? Just dip and enjoy.

BitchBiz: This post was written independently. Martha & Marley Spoon, Gin Lane 1751, Vinebox, and Rigoni di Asiago supplied products.

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