Entertaining: Starry Night


The Scene

Nothing sets the tone for a glittery outdoor party like candlelight. Line a path with luminarias and scatter lots of white votive candles everywhere. “They give off a really nice glow,” says party planner Heidi Perris of Agape Wedding & Event Professionals. If you have an outdoor fireplace, light a fire and place comfy cushions near the hearth. And set up a telescope—it’ll give your guests something fun to do when the stars come out.

Koutsoulis and Perris came up with music selections that fit our starry night theme. During cocktails, play the jazzy CDs Sunny Days, Starry Nights by Sonny Rollins; One Quiet Night by Pat Metheny; Dancing in the Dark by Tierney Sutton; A Little Moonlight by Dianne Reeves; and Paganini: After a Dream by Regina Carter. During dinner, downshift to soft classical music: Sometimes I Dream by Mario Frangoulis and La Luna by Sarah Brightman.

The Table

Jettison all your notions of a backyard barbecue—this is not the time for paper plates and plastic cutlery. Instead, get out your best snowy-white linens and elegant silverware. And for a formal touch, use place cards. Our party planners took a napkin, folded it in half, then in half again, tied it in a knot, and tucked a place card in the knot. “Place cards are a great way to mix up your guests,” explains Agape’s Kristel Herrera.

Make your own flower arrangements using masses of all-white flowers such as tulips, hydrangeas, calla lilies or sweet peas, which you can pick up at your local florist or supermarket—maybe even in your own back yard. 

The Food

Matt Woolston, chef/owner of The Supper Club, recommends a buffet menu that offers something for everyone, from meat lovers to vegetarians, along with dishes that you can make ahead of time so you can enjoy your own party. Woolston likes to prepare the main course—in this case, a trio of entrées that includes steak skewers, grilled bass fillets and barbecued chicken—on the barbecue. “Your guests can help out,” he says. “Somebody’s always happy to stand at the grill.”

Don’t feel like you must prepare everything yourself, says Woolston. You can buy crostini toppings, marinades and salads at your supermarket or gourmet takeout store, or have your favorite caterer prepare the main course for the grill. (Your guests will never be the wiser.)

For after dinner, Woolston suggests a “dessert bar,” featuring a lemon cake (buy it at your favorite bakery), tiny ice-cream cones, and strawberries macerated in sugar and a splash of Pernod, a licorice-flavored liquer. To make the ice-cream drumsticks yourself, cut the top off a regular-sized sugar cone, fill with a tiny scoop of your favorite ice cream and dip in melted bittersweet chocolate and chopped nuts, or order them from Gunther’s Quality Ice Cream (916-457-6646).

The Drinks

Set up the bar in the shade, using a galvanized tub filled with ice to hold bottled waters, Mexican beers and sparkling Italian sodas. With dinner, serve a fruity summer wine such as Sangiovese, Barbera or Grenache.

Woolston likes to offer a single cocktail—in this case, a Classic Lemon Drop Martini. “It helps get the party off to a good start,” he says. “The Lemon Drop is one of the most refreshing drinks—not too sweet, not too tart, not too high in alcohol.”

Light Fantastic

To jazz up your plain glass candleholders, create “slipcovers”: Cut a translucent, natural-fiber fabric to fit around the candleholder. Spray the fabric with starch and iron it until stiff. Wrap the fabric around the candleholder and secure the ends with two-sided tape.  

Classic Lemon Drop Martini*

Hors D’oeuvres
Asian Spiced Duck Confit on Belgian
Endive Spears
Grilled Thai Spiced Tiger Prawns
Crostini Three Ways: Eggplant Caviar, Tomato-Caper-Feta Relish and Jerusalem Artichoke Hummus

Dinner Buffet
Skewers of Skirt Steak Stuffed With Italian Herbs and Asiago Cheese*
Grilled Ancho-Crusted Bluenose Bass
Mahogany Chicken With Smoked Corn-Chipotle Salsa
Farfalle Pasta Salad With Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Roasted Sweet Peppers*
Grilled Vegetable and Polenta Napoleon
Salad of Mâche Greens

Strawberries in Pernod
Mini Ice-Cream Drumsticks
Meyer Lemon Polenta Cake

*Recipe provided

Classic Lemon Drop Martini

2    cups Citron vodka (chilled in the freezer)
1/2    cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2    cup superfine sugar
1    lemon, thinly sliced for garnish
Lemon drop candies for garnish

Place the first three ingredients into a cock-
tail shaker filled with ice. Shake lightly to combine and pour into frosted martini glasses. Garnish with lemon slices. For fun, add a lemon drop candy to the glass. Serves 4.

Farfalle Pasta Salad with Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Roasted Sweet Peppers

1    tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3    cup Champagne vinegar
2/3    cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
1    pound farfalle (bowtie) pasta, freshly cooked, rinsed and drained
1    small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch julienne
1    red pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch julienne
1    yellow pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch julienne
2    pounds asparagus, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces, blanched, drained and chilled
1    cup toasted pecan halves
1/2    cup capers, well-drained
4    ounces smoked salmon, sliced thin and cut into 1/4-inch julienne

Whisk the first four ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Add the remaining eight ingredients and toss. Serves 8.

Skewers of Skirt Steak Stuffed With Italian Herbs and Asiago Cheese

1    tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1    tablespoon fresh thyme,
roughly chopped
1    tablespoon fresh basil,
roughly chopped
2    tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
4    cloves garlic
1/2    cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2    pounds skirt steak, well-trimmed and pounded to
1/4-inch thick
1/2    cup grated aged Asiago
or pecorino cheese
1/2    cup fresh breadcrumbs
bamboo skewers
canola oil
In a food processor, combine the herbs and garlic, and pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a stream and process until the mixture reaches the consistency of pesto. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lay the pounded skirt steak out on a board and spread with the herb mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs, and roll tightly with the grain of the meat running sideways. Chill for 30 minutes. While the steak is chilling, soak the bamboo skewers in cold water for 30 minutes. Cut the meat into 1-inch-thick pieces. Run a skewer through each piece and brush with canola oil. Grill on a rack set over glowing coals for 2 1/2 minutes per side. Serves 8.   

More Tips

• Do not cut the grass or water the lawn on the day of your party—you don’t want your guests to walk in messy cut or wet grass.
• Have plenty of ice on hand.
• Make sure you have gas (or charcoal) for the grill.
• Use proper lighting so guests don’t trip or fall.
• Be prepared to move your party indoors in case of inclement weather.
• Stock your bathrooms with bug repellent for guests (just in case).
• Place a printed menu on the buffet table or label each dish, so guests with special diets know what they’re eating.
• Hire a waiter from your favorite restaurant to help serve and clean up.
• Avoid scented candles, including citronella—the smell interferes with the taste of food.
• For an easy buffet centerpiece, fill a glass hurricane with lemons and limes.
• Line the edge of your swimming pool with luminarias or place floating candles in the water. (Note: You’ll have to anchor the candles to the bottom, or they’ll all migrate to one end of the pool.)