Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday ideas from the vine...

Hello all,

Well its that time of year again. The Holiday season brings with it so many wonderful traditions but at the top of my list....Holiday parties! So, with budgets being cut and everyone watching there pennies how does one throw an amazing party without breaking the bank? Well I have two words for your ... Wine Tasting!

I am sure you are thinking I am crazy. Purchasing wine for all of your guests in an assortment of brands and styles can cost a fortune. However, lets bring a classy twist to BYOB! Trust me, it can be done.

Most of us party hosts know the money is in the booze. A huge budget chunk of any adult gathering is always allocated for wine, beer, and spirits. But what if we could avoid that bill without appearing cheap? Could it be possible for guests to bring their own libations and not feel like they are attending a college frat party? My answer to this is yes!

So here's how... Host a wine tasting competition. Here are a few simple guidelines to keep this gathering inter sting without breaking your bank.

1. Set a price range. Challenge your guests to stay within a certain budget. Guests may go as cheap as they like up to a specific per bottle cost. We use $25 but it depends on how high you think your guests may go. You will be shocked at how many of the $4.99 per bottle wines actually win these competitions.

2. Set a per couple bottle allotment. Depending on how large your gathering is you will ask your guests to bring a minimum of two bottles per couple. If your party is larger than 50 I would suggests you request your guests to bring three bottles. Sounds like overkill but you will understand why so many bottles in a second.

3. Set down some rules. Ask all of your guests to bring one bottle wrapped and another unwrapped with there name on it. They must bring multiple bottles of the exact same wine. If you have requested three bottles your guests will need to wrap two of the three bottles. Leaving again one bottle unwrapped. The wrapping should cover all markings of brand or type of wine. Also, make sure to let your guests know if this is a red wine competition or a white competition. I have in the past seen dual competitions at one party but it always seems like red wine is brought far more often than white. I find it best to just clarify to your guests if it is a red wine competition or a white depending on the season (red = colder months and white = warmer months).

4. Decide a time frame for tasting. Usually 30 minutes after the official start time of the gathering. I would give yourself at least one hour.... 90 minutes if you have more than 20 couples attending.

5. Make sure to provide appetizers and cheese to keep your guest from getting too tipsy and also for pallet cleansing purposes. The appetizer choices will need to vary based on white or red wine competitions. Please email me if you would like some suggestions.

OK, now that the parameters are set here is where your job as a host/hostess come into play. Before the party begins make sure to get yourself a set 0f note cards and a bunch of pens/pencils. You will also need a sharpie marker and sampling glasses. I would also keep some wrapping on hand in case a guest or two forget to wrap their bottle/bottles for tasting.

I am always asked what type of glasses should I use. It honestly doesn't matter. I have seen acrylic shot glasses used. If you have enough wine glasses or feel like renting them that is fine too just make sure you get a wine charm set so your guest can label their glasses. Heck, I have even seen holiday themed Dixie cups used. It just depends on how fancy you want to make your function.

So enough talk about it, here is how the competition works. When your guest arrive make sure to take their unwrapped bottle off to a private room. The other one or two bottles that are wrapped are taken to the main area for sampling. Make sure to assign the sampling bottle/s with a number and mark the unwrapped and wrapped bottles with the same number to keep track of them. Keep an index card privately of all of the numbers and corresponding guests names'. As the guests are arriving take all of their bottles and give each of them an index card and pen or pencil. After all of the guests have arrived and/or the sampling time has hit, open the floor for sampling. Place whatever glassware/Dixie cup/whatever out next to the bottles and let your guests have at it. Using their note cards they can make note of which they like or dont and/or comments etc. This is the time for you to mingle and enjoy the wines yourself. It is amazing how sharing a glass of wine will bring back memories of a great vacation, or memorable moment. All of your guests should mingle well whether or not they ever new each other before.

At the conclusion of the sampling have all guest rank their top picks and place them into a box. Remember there can only be one winner to really make this interesting. Using your note card talley the votes to find your guests' top pick. Once you have picked your winner it is often fun to start your announcement with the least favorite wine. Start by giving your thanks to all guests for coming and ask who had bottle number ???? (the one having the fewest votes). The person will most likely jump for joy thinking their wine was the winner. Then congratulate them for having the worst wine and bringing in the least amount of votes, you can even give them back their unopened bottle of wine as insult to injury. This should give a great laugh and make for a great party story later. Lastly, announce the winner and tell them what they have won. This is the beauty of the whole thing. Remember all of those unwrapped bottles you have stored in a back room? Yep... you guessed it.... that couple or guest just won all of those bottles. Keep in mind the larger the group the larger the pot. One of my favorite parts of this is often times the $6.99 bottle of Yellow Tale takes home a pot of $300 worth of high dollar wine...yes this did happen at one of my gatherings. In fact, I even voted for that wine... Yikes!!! The other great part is that each bottle has been labeled with the guest or couple's name who brought the wine. This will remind the winner of all of the guests attending as well as a future gift idea!

So enough of hosting, here is where the fun really begins. The end of the sampling does not mean the party is over. After all, you still have plenty of open bottles of wine that will go bad unless consumed shortly! Remind your guests of their duty as wine critics to continue to sample the open bottles until all opinions have been discussed :-).

Trust me, its a great time that will become a guest favorite. Leave the wine choices up to the guests but if you would like any appetizer ideas let me know!

Good luck and wine critics unite!!!

Brad Taylor

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Welcom, Welcome, Welcome!!!!

I thought it only fitting to start this blog on Thanksgiving. This is the largest home holiday of them all. People across the US role up their sleeves and try their hands at being a chef and/or event coordinator. The running joke in my immediate family is that we simply work for free on Thanksgiving as it is tradition my sister or my mother host this feast in style. Being in the catering biz is quite useful this time of year. We bring our chaffing dishes, rod iron displays, and creative nature to the whole family and usually host a minimum of 40 people in our homes. So... here are a few ideas we use to make this a little simpler.

First of all... location, location, location. Many people ask me, "Where in the world do you put 50 at one table people in a home?" Well its quite simple... we don't! Its not common here in Arizona but back east people host Thanksgiving in a basement or a garage. I know it sounds strange but a three car garage properly decorated and situated hosts a massive banquet table quite well. We choose to situate the table in an I formation setting guests in all available areas. Owning the 6ft banquet tables and linens most definitely helps however they can be rented for about $9 per table. Linens are more expensive coming in around $13 per linen however this can easily be solved if you are willing to use plastic or paper. When its cold the garage doors stay closed, on warmer years we simply open them. Trust me, in Arizona 50 people in a three car Garage creates plenty of heat to be comfortable.

So now that we have freed up space in the house, we have ample room for a very impressive buffet! Using the dining room table for a buffet is the easiest means for space, however if you have a large enough island make use of it! Now we have space... so how do we make our buffet look amazing? This is one of the most common questions I get asked. "If I don't have all of the decorative risers like a professional does, how can I make it look nice?" Trust me is a really quite easy. Start in the center of the buffet and work your way to the ends. Levels are the most appealing thing to the eye when you go through a buffet. So, start with a milk crate, box, anything that you can cover with a linen that is sturdy enough to hold a flower arrangement. Once you have covered the riser with your linen or topper or whateve,r place a tall floral on top. You have now created two distinct levels on you buffet, people will love it! Maybe a few candles along the base of the flowers for some class and then work your way to the ends of your buffet. The serving platters and dishes should now provide you with additional heights and levels for the remaining of the tabe. I always prefer to start low at the beginning of the buffet and build up a large height in the middle where my main course will be served and then taper back down as guests make their way to the dining area.

Lastly, an easy tip to keep the dish load at a minimum. Party city has a very nice selection of acrylic dishes that come in clear, black, or white. They are heavy and actually look pretty nice. Use those for your dessert plates. At the end of the meal the last thing you want to do is spend the rest of the evening at the sink doing dishes, trust me... its my job at Thanksgiving. Nobody will even thing twice about the acrylic plate as desserts are usually eaten extremely fast and not at the main table. This simple switch will save room in your dishwasher for all of the other dinner dishes created during entree service and will really make clean up the following day a ton easier!

Well, I hope this helped and gets the ball roiling. Any questions you may have about anything event related, please ask!

From my family to yours...Happy Thanksgiving!!!