Summer House Party

Creative parties at home, with help from the pros


Ask local chefs and bartenders the ingredients for a perfect warm-weather party and they’ll suggest lively music, fresh ingredients, lots of cocktails and maybe a signature dish or two. Here’s how they do it.

Keep it fresh

JOEL FINSEL, a bartender at Manna and author of Cocktails & Conversations, said warm weather makes him think about fresher and lighter creations made with ingredients picked right from the source. “By going garden fresh or ‘farm to glass,’ bartenders can reconnect modern cocktails with their medicinal roots born out of apothecaries,” he said. “The results are better tasting cocktails which leave you in the best position possible to still run tomorrow’s half-marathon. I’m not saying there’s a cure for cancer in my Blue Grass Mojito, but there are a high level of anti-oxidants which improve circulation and prevent urinary tract infections, as well as a stomach soother that helps reduce cholesterol, and digestive preventing flatulence and cramps.”  It’s a recipe for a cocktail you can feel good about, in more ways than one.




Blue-Grass Mojito

7-10 blueberries (improves circulation)

2-3 blades of chopped lemongrass (stomach soother)

2-3 mint springs (not given away after dinner everywhere without reason, known to prevent indigestion, cramps, flatulence and upset stomach)

2 oz. organic rum

1 oz. demarera (or natural brown sugar) simple syrup

2 oz. sparkling mineral water

In a mixing glass, muddle the blueberries, mint and lemon grass in 0.5 oz of rum.  Add ice, remaining rum and simple syrup.  Shake for 10-15 seconds. Add mineral water. Strain over fresh ice into a tall glass. Garnish with 2 blueberries and un-chopped blade of lemon grass.  


Lavender Citrus Blossom

 1.5 oz. organic vodka

1 oz lavender syrup (scent is calming, soothing and sedative. See below.)

0.5 oz. fresh lemon (defends against harmful bacteria and viruses)

1 oz. fresh orange (blood purifier, anti-inflammatory)

2-3 dashes Orange Bitters

Combine all of the above into a mixing glass with ice. Shake for 20 seconds and strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh or dried Lavender Flowers.

Tip: Lavender syrup is made using dried lavender flowers, steeped in hot water, with a 1-to-1 ratio of water to sugar.

Serve by the pitcher

DARREN MULVENNA, a bartender at Caprice Bistro and The Kitchen, said that one way to make parties easier on the host is to serve specialty cocktails in pitchers. Most any drink can be made in larger quantities; the recipes are forgiving and ingredients can be adjusted to taste. Here, he shares a recipe for a refreshing and creamy drink that uses almond milk, which won’t separate like heavy cream can, he said. This one will serve 3-4 people.

Key Lime Fizz

Juice from 3-4 Key Limes

3-4 oz. limoncello

3-4 oz. Pinnacle Whipped vodka

4-5 oz. almond milk

3-4 oz. soda water

Combine ingredients except for soda water in a pitcher with ice. To serve, pour into daiquiri glasses finished with a graham cracker rim. Top the cocktail with soda for a fizzy effect. Add whipped cream and a lime wedge, if you’d like.


Match the mood

KYLE LEE MCKNIGHT, of the forthcoming Swim with the Fish restaurant, is a big believer in local ingredients. But he also likes to add some exotic touches to parties. For this easy, but festive and flavorful, gazpacho recipe, he suggests background sounds in the form of lively flamenco music. (Although when he’s hosting, it’s more likely to be reggae or ’90s hip-hop.)

Watermelon-Ginger Gazpacho with crab garnish

1 large watermelon, peeled, seeded and chunked
3 TB ginger, peeled and small diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/4 cup toasted almond (reserve 4 to 6 pieces to shave as garnish)
2 shallots, peeled and diced
3 TB key lime juice
2 TB extra virgin olive oil (try Spanish olive oil for its spice over fruit taste)

Toast almonds in a 350 oven for 5-7 minutes with a little olive oil until golden brown. Cool to room temp. Begin peeling and chopping remaining ingredients for gazpacho. In batches, add all ingredients to food processor and puree until smooth. Cool in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Gazpacho can also be made a day in advance to obtain optimal flavor.

Lump crab salad garnish

½ pound local lump or backfin crab, picked free of shells
1 TB mint, chopped
1 TB cilantro, chopped
1 TB chives, chopped
Zest of one lemon and one lime
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Mix all ingredients in bowl and season. Chill for at least 2 hours to let flavors marry.

To assemble, peel one small cucumber and dice fine. In a chilled salad or soup bowl, ladle 6 oz of gazpacho. Using a spoon, decoratively place a small portion of crab salad in center. Position diced cucumber into a line pattern across the bowl. Using a microplane or cheese grater shave a little almond on top. Drizzle on a little olive oil and serve.


Add your signature

COURTNEY MATHESON, sous chef at Elijah's restaurant, said that when she and her husband (a bartender) entertain, they usually go big. “My house is generally the ‘hub’ for entertaining for our large group of friends,” she said. “We have hosted engagement parties, our annual Christmas parties, cookouts as well as our annual thanksgiving feast.” She admits that when it comes to warm-weather parties, chocolate truffles aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. “But these are what I am known for and my friends love them and usually expect them at our social functions.” When she prepares for parties, she goes all out and makes five or six kinds of the chocolate goodies. “It’s challenging to come up with new flavors. I have used everything from chili powder to bacon flavored Monin syrup.” Here’s her signature chocolate truffle recipe, and a favorite guacamole dip that’s a guest favorite.

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles

1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup of your favorite liquor, such as Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua or Chambord
9 ounces of high-quality bittersweet chocolate (60% cocoa or higher)
dash of sea salt
unsweetened high-quality cocoa powder for coating and rolling, such as Dean & Deluca

Bring cream and liquor to a simmer in heavy saucepan. Remove from heat cool to lukewarm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, use a metal whisk to stir 7 ounces of the chocolate in a metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water until smooth.(You can also use a double boiler.) Remove chocolate from heat and add the remaining 2 ounces of chocolate and sea salt. Stir until smooth. Slowly whisk in the cream and liquor mixture. Chill truffle base until firm enough to roll, at least 3 hours.

Line rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper. Roll 1 ounce of truffle base with melon baller or miniature ice cream scoop. Transfer to prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining truffle base. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. Keep truffles chilled until ready to serve. Roll in cocoa and serve.


2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium red onion, fine diced
1/2 red or green bell pepper, fine diced
1-2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and fine diced
salt and pepper to taste
4 small/medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 TB chopped cilantro
1 tsp ancho powder (optional)

5-7 avocados

Juice of 1 lime

Mix all ingredients, except avocado and lime juice thoroughly. If the avocados are ripe enough, remove shell and incorporate flesh with a fork. (You can also dice the avocados and then add to vegetable mixture.) Add the lime juice and fold the mixture a few times and serve.

Tip: Don’t use a metal bowl; it will cause the avocado to turn brown. 


GREG MATHESON, bar manager at City Club at de Rosset, recommends taking cocktails seriously. He has travelled to famous cocktail destinations, like New Orleans and New York, to research his craft and delve into antique bartending books for inspiration for his Throwback Friday evenings devoted to classic concoctions. Of course, he also believes in giving them his own twist. His Dram Tree Rum Swizzle, for example, is a refreshing mix of lime juice, rum and his house-made falernum (an almond-spiced syrup). If you’re mixing at home, it doesn’t hurt to do a little research, too. Here, in his Wilmywood Cocktail inspired by the classic concoction called the Movie Lot, he uses Kronan, a unique and historic spirit that has been revived in recent years.


Wilmywood Cocktail

1 oz. white grape juice

½ oz. Kronan Swedish Punsch

1 ½ oz Hendricks Scottish Gin.

Splash of Muscato d’Asti

Seedless white grapes, for garnish

Shake the juice, Kronan and gin together with ice. Pour into a 7 ounce martini glass and top with the Muscato. Garnish with skewered grapes and serve.