Monday, December 1, 2014

Sneak Peek - A Game of Thrones Birthday Party

Sometimes you turn 30. Sometimes you want to leverage that into a reason to throw a big, nerdy party and hope people will come because it is your birthday.

Sometimes you have the best friends ever and they will all come and indulge you by enjoying a party themed entirely after Game of Thrones. Oh my goodness, was this party fun to plan. I tried my hand at mild crafting, there were pretty obscure references in the form of centerpieces and butter shaped to look like House Stark's direwolf sigil.

These details, and more, coming to you in a special blog post several months in the making.

In interim, please enjoy this photo of a wine bloodbath.

Hosting tip of the day: if you are going to stab a bladder of wine with a chef's knife to pour into a beverage dispenser, make damn sure you have it fully over the dispenser before you do so.


At least bloodbaths are thematically appropriate.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Happy Hour - The Griffith, LA's Official Cocktail

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

It may be mid-November, but you wouldn't be able to tell here in sunny (permanently, permanently sunny...) Los Angeles.

While other places in the country embrace warm sweaters, fireplaces and mulled drinks, it is still the tail end of patio season here in sunny LA. This has its benefits in the form of an extended season for my favorite parts of Summer - things I imagine people have in mind when thinking of Los Angeles this time of year: not needing to bring more than a light cardigan when going outside, having friends over to enjoying so bright and sunny Sundays and spending time at gastropubs with dog-friendly patios.

One thing you may not know, though, is that we have official LA cocktail that is reminiscent of all of this - the Griffith.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Willow the dog gives it 4 barks!

Named after the famous Griffith Park and submitted by Angeleno Josh Lurie, the Griffith is a bright citrus drink made with lemons and cucumber, accented with simple syrup. What is the main liquor ingredient, you ask? This cocktail is made specifically with organic botanical-infused vodka and Grand Poppy liqueur straight from Greenbar, a distillery thriving within the city of Los Angeles. Oh yes, you can't get more LA than that.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

I first learned of Greenbar Distillery at a craft soda mixology event where my friends at Los Angeles Ale Works were pouring their sodas. The spirits for said cocktails were all provided by Greenbar and, let me tell you, they were extremely well received. The folks were friendly and walked us through their lineup, which felt pretty much like the embodiment of Southern California -  hand crafted, organic spirits and a selection of craft liqueurs. My favorite, easily, was the Grand Poppy liqueur - this aperitif is like a more mellow Aperol (which you know I love) made from California poppies (our official state flower), California herbs and local citrus.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

Flash forward some time, and I am seeing more and more of the Greenbar bottles appearing in friends' home bars and stocked and showcased in Whole Foods (just when you think it can't get any more yuppie LA!). I started buying some different bottles and it really is amazing what a difference these spirits make. The rum and vodkas in particular just taste 'fresher' than the big brand equivalents, in a bottled water versus tap water way.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

While deep into trying out new cocktails for this blog (what I go through for you loyal readers...). I knew I wanted to support this local distillery. I reached out to see if they had a favorite cocktail they would like me to write about specifically, and this is how I learned about the Griffith. This cocktail is designed around ingredients that are locally grown in Los Angeles, from the lemons to the spirits themselves. I gave the drink recipe a whirl and, one sip in, was smitten.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

Enthused about sharing this drink, the fine folks of Greenbar were even kind of enough to give me some bonus bottles to help me share with friends (class act!). Yup, pretty much the coolest ever.

So let's cut to the drink.

7 Reasons Why I Love the Griffith

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

1. It looks great served in any glass. Coupe, mason jar, you can have it all. It is like Pinterest in a glass.

2. I like to garnish this drink with some fresh cucumber, which gives it a very 'spa water' vibe. Except so much better because it can give you a lovely buzz.

3. It can be served up for a nighttime treat, or over crushed ice for a daytime beverage. I have made this on many football Sundays (today included), and it is a perfect day drinking cocktail.

4. You can prep the elements ahead and transport. In the past, I have made the simple syrup at home, juiced some lemons and sliced some cucumbers, packing them up in salad dressing tupperware. Bring this with the spirits, borrow a shaker and a muddler and bam, cocktail. Easy peasy. If you were so inclined to flex your mixology muscles on a picnic, this is the drink for you.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

5. It adheres the pound cake school of measurements. As someone who can never remember proportions, this is a breeze - 3 cucumber slices and an ounce of the rest.

6. While great for patios, the Griffith is not just a Summer drink. The Grand Poppy liqueur embodies a lot of what I love about Autumnal / Winter drinks - a floral, sweet taste that quietly accents a drink earthy side. The vodka, infused with botanicals, gives it an herbaceous element and balances out the citrus by contributing a savory undertone. Oh yes.

7.  It smells freaking amazing.

There is one drawback... on about three separate occasions I got so excited to make (and, er, consume) the Griffith, I forgot to take step-by-step photos. Oops. The good news is I got to cozy up one night, cue up the BBC miniseries North & South on Netflix and take a leisurely series of cocktail photos. Come join me.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Start by cutting 3 slices of cucumber. Look at that moisture by the cut - the definition of fresh.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Put them in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
...until you get a nice pulp.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Grab a lemon.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Juice an ounce. This will take about one small lemon.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Add the lemon juice to the cucumbers in your shaker, along with one ounce of simple syrup.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Add your Greenbar TRU garden vodka and Grand Poppy liqueur.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Add ice to the shaker. Shake shake shake.

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Pour into a coupe glass and serve up. (Or, for a more casual vibe, pour into a mason jar over crushed ice).

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
Garnish with a slice of cucumber. Voila!

The Griffith - LA's Official Cocktail |
You have a tasty cocktail that embodies everything awesome about LA.


1 oz Greenbar Tru garden vodka
1 oz Greenbar Grand Poppy liqueur
1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
3 slices fresh cucumber

Tip: Make your simple syrup about 10 minutes before preparing your cocktail, to allow for cooling time.

In your cocktail shaker, drop 3 slices of fresh cucumber. Muddle. Add lemon juice and simple syrup, then the two spirits. Shack with ice, and strain into glass. Garnish with cucumber slice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Home Yoga Practice with Dooley

Dooley the Golden Retriever Practicing Doga |

In the last year or so, I have been discovering the joys of yoga - a surprisingly effective workout that makes me feel flexible(ish), relaxed and nicely stretched out.

Another fan of yoga is Dooley.

...and by fan, I mean a fan of of laying on my yoga mat and helping me.

...and by helping me, I mean thwarting every pose by laying on top of me or crawling underneath me.

Dooley the Golden Retriever Practicing Doga |
"You don't need to see the video, I'll demonstrate."

Many of you may be familiar with the ‘hip new trend’ - “doga.” No one I know practices this, of course, but word on the street is that many folks love it.

Doga is the practice of yoga with one's dog. You pose them, integrate them into your practice, and so on. The videos you find, such as the above, feature people bending their dogs as if they were furry yogis, naturally skilled via innate canine zen.

Dooley the Golden Retriever Practicing Doga  |
"Hi, ma!"

In my case, Dooley likes to give me a crazy look before squeaking away on a toy in my ear or squirming up to my face and belching on me.

This particular video sums my experience pretty splendidly.

If I am going to continue living in Los Angeles, Dooley and I had better get our act in gear. As it stands, I am pretty sure we would get thrown out of a lululemon on sight.

Has anyone tried one of the professional doga classes? If so, was it helpful or a comical farse?

Dooley the Golden Retriever Spreads Out  |
"OK, that's enough. I'm tired."

Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

As a diligent fan of food and entertaining blogs, I am always looking up recipes. I love trying new things, and keep aggregating appetizer recipes to try. Cookbooks line my shelves, full to the brim with earmarked pages of adorable canapes and small bites with delicate garnishes that I have daydreams of serving at upcoming parties.

You know what, though? Sometimes you just don't have any time to cook.

When those times happen, you can look to one thing to keep your party food looking inviting and well-thought-out - presentation.

Paying close focus to presentation can be one of the most best ways to show your guests that you have thought about their needs and put in extra effort to make things look desirable to them. It is what separates a weeknight family dinner from an actual dinner party.

More often than not, adjusting a meal to have a little extra pizazz and attention to detail will not take much extra time. This can be done by plating on your food on a beautiful platter, paying attention to garnishes, laying food out in a way that is accessible to all - or all of the above.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess
Presentation skills can be used to easily upgrade store-bought dips, in fact, creating a beautiful appetizer spread for your guests when you do not have time to cook. In this post, I will take two of my favorite store-bought dips and apply my favorite presentation tricks to upgrade simple fare into a lovely, party-ready repast.

Hummus Served with Snap Peas and Baby Carrots

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

I am not sure if this is an LA thing or a yuppie thing, but hummus is easily the most omnipresent dip at the parties I attend (or host, for that matter). Creamy, savory and just healthy enough to (somewhat) justify eating way too much of it, this superstar is endlessly modifiable to satisfy every craving.

For this example I am using plain old hummus from Trader Joe's, and serving with pre-prepped bags of baby carrots and snap peas.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Selecting the vegetables is as simple as buying a bag of baby carrots and a bag of snap peas, pre-washed. You can easily swap out for a variety platter of vegetables, sliced red peppers, endive leaves, celery or whatever you have on hand.

The presentation upgrade here is how you lay the vegetables out. Grab a platter or large dinner plate, on which you will divide the vegetables 50/50.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Pour your first vegetable out on the first half, and tidy them up so they are all facing the same direction. This isn't as fussy as it sounds, and will take you maybe a minute tops. Do the same with the second set of vegetables.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Then, take your hummus and put it in a bowl. I like to take a spoon and swipe in a circular motion to look 'rustic,' then wipe any extra hummus from the rim of the bowl with a paper towel to make it tidy.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

The real magic here is with the garnish. To add color and a little extra flavor, I drizzle a little olive oil over the top, give the bowl a tap or two of smoky red paprika and add a few pine nuts, if I have them on hand.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

See the difference? With five minutes of extra effort, you gain so much value in presentation. The diversity of color is very pleasing to the eye, and makes the food look that much more desirable.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Guests will not be able to resisting diving right into this tempting treat.

Bruschetta Dip Served with Baguette Slices

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

As previously established, I am crazy for Trader Joe's dips. This is in large part because I stumbled onto this savory-yet-slightly-sweet bruschetta dip. It has a fruity taste of the tomato mixed with the pungent taste of olive oil and Italian seasonings.  Served with baguette slices, you pretty much can't get an easier appetizer.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Start by slicing a baguette, making each peace uniform. I like my slices to be about a centimeter thick.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Lay the pieces out on a platter in tidy rows.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Pour the dip into a bowl - I like to use the same style bowl as the hummus for a streamlined look - and spoon off any excess olive oil that drifts to the top. Then, add a few taps of dried Italian seasoning, oregano or basil.

This won't add too much to the overall flavor if you use a light hand, but adds a nice color contrast.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Serve alongside your bread slices.

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

Overall Presentation

After you have both sets of appetizers ready, lay them out on your table. Depending on where people will be sitting, be sure that they have an easy reach to both dip and dipping vehicle (read: bread or vegetables). 

How to Transform Store Bought Dips into a Beautiful Spread | Noble Hostess

If you have a fair amount of people and there is not an easy way for them to enjoy both, consider putting out small salad plates or napkins so guests can grab several at a time and bring back to their seat.

There you have it! With several extra minutes, you can present store bought dips and spreads in a beautiful manner, while saving yourself heaps of time. These little additions show a caring touch and interest in presentation, making your guests feel appreciated.

Do you have favorite store bought dips or presentation tips? Leave them in the comments below!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Happy Hour: Aperol Spritz (A Love Song to Aperitifs)

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess

Aperitifs are a beautiful thing. I first discovered Campari in my early twenties, lured by events the Campari Group would host at art galleries. At these evenings, there would be a bartender crafting cocktails starring Campari's line of tart, bitter liqueur cocktails. My friends and I would enjoy trying out all the permutations - the Negroni, the Americano and, my favorite at the time, La Stella Grande. Sure, it was great to feel cultured at galleries but, if we are being honest, we were nurturing a fetish for the cocktails.

At home, my roommates' and my favorite drink became Campari mixed with orange juice, champagne and a touch of sugar to take the bitter edge off. Eventually, our tastes skewed away from the heavy, sweet drink and, unfairly, we set aperitifs to the side.

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess

So what is an aperitif, exactly? Specifically, it is an alcoholic drink meant to be consumed before a meal as a sort of 'liquid appetizer.' Many different types of drinks roll up under this category but, for this example, I will be focusing on my favorites - Campari and Aperol.

If you do not know what to expect from either of these liqueurs when you take your first sip, you very well may want to spit it out. The flavors are essentially a tart equivalent of a spicy habanero chili or sugary sweet Pixy Stick - that is to say, the pinnacle of its flavor profile.

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess

Where Campari is very strong, herbal-tasting and higher in alcohol content, Aperol (part of the Campari Group family), comes in sweeter, lower in alcohol content and milder in general. It is a great "intro to aperitifs," as it were. Both are amazing additions to cocktails and, after you inevitably fall in love with the taste, delicious to sip on their own.

There are a host of other differences more experienced palettes can discern (certainly those with better palettes than mine). These differences are brilliantly explained by the folks at Post Prohibition.

Outside of the taste, one of the most noticeable characteristics of these liqueurs is the brilliant colors they possess. Aperol has a bright, blood orange red color that adds a shock of boldness to any drink.

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess

You may wonder, if they are so smoothly added to cocktail recipes, why did I shun them for being so sweet? Short answer - I used to add them to already-sweet cocktails and cocktail mixers that brought out that character. Recently, I have been revisiting this love in the much more mellow Negroni or the Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth and an orange twist). Then, on one warm Summer day, my friend Christie introduced me to the Aperol Spritz.

Having just come back from her honeymoon in Italy, she was sipping a beverage that had the characteristic red coloring of this family. The Aperol Spritz, she told me, is the go-to sipping drink of Italy. Made with Aperol and chilled prosecco, this drink is refreshing on a warm day and a slow sipper. The Aperol adds a layer of flavor that makes you want to truly savor your cocktail. When served in a champagne flute or a coupe glass, with its red coloring shining through, it is undeniably romantic.

Speaking of romantic, a quick note on Campari Group marketing and branding - this is a case where advertising undeniably works on me (albeit I was already a fan). The classic, painted ads for such brands as Campari and Aperol were turned into wall hangings favorited by female twentysomethings worldwide.

Campari Ad | Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
1921 Campari Ad - Capiello

Campari Ad | Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
1920 Campari Ad - Dudovich

Aperol Ad | Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
1988 Aperol Ad - Mattotti

In recent years, the advertising remains brilliant and colorful, focusing on sexy photography that captures the bold colors and nature of the drink. I am a fangirl all around.

Campari Ad | Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
2015 Campari Calendar Featuring Eva Green - Behind-the-scenes

Back to the drink! The Aperol Spritz is SO simple that you can very easily whip up a batch to serve at a party. Picture a tray set out with champagne flutes filled with the pre-measured amount of Aperol. Guests can grab a glass and top themselves off with sparkling wine and soda water (or heck, even just sparkling wine if you want to keep it very simple). Easy elegance!

So let's learn how we make this...

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
Grab your Aperol and prosecco (or other sparkling wine).

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
You can buy Aperol at Bevmo, or other big box liquor stores.

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
As mentioned, the classic Aperol Spritz uses prosecco. I only had Cava around - so Cava it shall be!

Aperol Spritz | Noble Hostess
Add 2 parts Aperol to your glass, then top with 3 parts prosecco or sparkling wine. Top with 1 part soda water.

Oh yes, friends. It is that easy.

If you are an aperitif newbie, leave a comment about your first experience!



3 parts prosecco (although you could use any sparkling wine - I used Cava)
2 parts Aperol
1 part soda water (sparkling water is the same thing)

Mix in the glass you are serving. Viola!