Tag Archives: Long Meadow Ranch

Setting up a home bar? Keep it simple!

Home bar elegance

10 Simple Tips for setting up your home bar for a holiday party.

Home bars do not have to be and, quite frankly, should not be complicated affairs. I mean, unless you’re a professional bartender, why go out and get all of those gadgets? Why stock bottles of alcohol and mixes that you don’t want or won’t use?

Twenty years in the restaurant business has taught me a thing or two about tending bar, but I keep all of my “tools” low and out of sight for parties. Okay – shot glasses and my wine opener are the exception, but do you know what happens if you put out those bartending gadgets on an “open” bar? They become an open invitation for one your guests to play bartender and start making complicated mixes (from memory). Likely as not, the drinks will be undrinkable and all you’ll have is a huge mess.

Years of experience has taught me that it pays to plan to make any party that much more enjoyable. Here are 10 simple rules for the bar to help you do just that:

  1. You simply do not want to ever run out of ice. There’s nothing that will kill the party mood faster than needing someone to make an “ice run”.   The general rule is one 10-pound bag of ice per every 4 guests. You’re probably thinking, wow – that’s a lot of ice. But, remember ice melts.
  2. Assume 2 drinks per guest per hour for the first 2 hours and 1 drink every hour after that. This rule works exceptionally well for prepared drinks like punch, cider, or mulled wine. Then add bottled wine, beer and sparkling water on top of that. Don’t get too crazy with the variety – remember, keep it simple.
  3. Got wine? Great. Uncork only a few bottles at a time. Put chillable wine (like Longmeadow Ranch Sauvignon-Blanc which lives in my refrigerator), champagne (Gruet Brut Rosé is always welcome at my home), and beer in a tub with ice. Got vodka? At my house there’s always a bottle of Ciroc or Chopin vodka in my freezer – where they belong!
  4. Have a “house cocktail” ready at the door to greet your guests on arrival. It sets the mood for the evening and tells everyone it’s going to be a real party.
  5. A few days before the party, plan what silver pieces you will want to use at the bar, get them out and polish them to a perfect shine. Nobody wants to see tarnished silver – it just looks dirty! And, while you’re at it, make sure all the glasses you have out are sparkling clean too.
  6. Think about different ways to raise some bottles or glasses off the bar top. The different heights create visual interest.  You can even use cake stands to display liquor bottles!  Put out saucers or small bowls to place loose caps and corks. It keeps the “work area” clean and gives you a place for those caps and corks so they don’t get lost.
  7. Consider your friends’ favorite adult beverages. You don’t need each one but there will always a few who’ll love Maker’s Mark whisky, Don Julio tequila, or Bombay Sapphire I always have those favorites on hand – your friends will be so happy you remembered.
  8. Make sure you have plenty of cocktail napkins. I love the cotton ones that I found here on Amazon. Not only do they come in a ton of colors but they’re real 100% cotton and can be washed and reused up to 6 times!
  9. Have some sprigs of fresh herbs in glasses of water – they add quiet elegance to any party. Add the sprigs to your mixed drinks (like the house cocktail). Think mint, thyme, basil – it depends on the mood and flavor you want to set.  It may sound like this isn’t keeping it “simple” but this one small touch will make all the difference.
  10. And, don’t forget non-alcoholic drinks for those who are driving or just don’t want alcohol – like hot cider, cocoa, or coffee. Try my favorites, the classic taste of Williams Sonoma’s Hot Chocolate (made from Guittard Chocolate) or any of the coffees from la Colombe. Have liquors around like Schnapps or Kahlua (et cetera) so that guests can add them to taste. Remember to have plenty of bottles of plain water on hand – at least one 16-oz. bottle per guest. Stay hydrated – one glass of water to one alcoholic beverage.

If you want to get very creative you can infuse a plain vodka with fruits in different clear bottles so that your guests can see the colors. They’re a fun way to add flavor.  Place the bottles in buckets of ice and they become part of your décor!

Never be concerned if you don’t have enough glasses that match or are the “right” size or shape for what you are pouring.  Unless your guests are serious wine snobs and will only drink certain grapes out of certain shaped glasses –all anyone wants at a party is to enjoy themselves and if that means drinking their favorite drink out of a juice glass they’ll be perfectly happy with what you have!

And, seriously, why have a party if having fun with your guests isn’t your goal. Right?

 

Healthier drinks for the holidays?

healthy choices for drinks

Two KEYS for healthier choices from your holiday libations.

I’ve been a home entertainer all my adult life. My friends have always thought of me as an expert at entertaining guests and throwing good parties – just ask any of them about my annual New Year’s Eve parties (when they reached over 100 guests I moved them to a restaurant!). It’s why I loved owning my restaurants for 20-plus years. Entertaining is in my DNA.

That’s why many people turn to me with their questions about how to set their home for a really elegant party. They want to know my “secrets,” like what to serve at a party: food, snacks, and drink. And pretty frequently, I get asked about “healthier” choices for alcoholic drinks at a party (whether you’re hosting or not). I have two keys that I think about, whether I’m a guest at a party or hosting my own.

The first KEY is to look at what and how you drink. It’s all about picking the kinds of drink you want and planning around your health goals, which naturally brings us to calories and carbohydrates.

Straight liquor is ‘healthiest’ if served “neat” (alone and meant to be sipped) or “on the rocks” over a little ice.  Clearer types of alcohol can be a bit easier on your body but oddly, the calorie count is very similar no matter if you drink vodka, tequila or bourbon.  Lucky for me they’re all about the same, for instance, one serving (typically about 1.5 ounces – a shot) contains about 97 calories and NO carbohydrates.

Depending on my mood and what I’m serving, I may reach for Chopin Vodka (I like potato) or Ciroc Vodka (made from grapes!). If it’s “taco night” with my girlfriends, I may look to Don Julio 1942 Tequila or Herradura Tequila (I like their Reposado; very smooth). But if I’m in the mood for a whiskey, it’ll be Maker’s Mark.  All no carbs and under 100 calories!   That’s the easy way.

The whole point is to drink as close to neat or on the rocks as possible, and sip and enjoy.  If you add mixers – even just ginger ale or juice – you’re adding not just a bunch of calories but also carbs and, depending on what you mix with it, it could be a significant addition.

If you prefer wine, a five ounce pour (a typical wine glass) will give you about 100-150 calories and about 5 grams of carbs. But maybe you’ve heard that red wine has some proven health benefits. It’s true. Various health studies have shown the healthy properties of antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol that are naturally found in reds (my favorites – the Cabernet Franc from Long Meadow Ranch or Zephyr from Davis Estates). Studies have shown that these antioxidants help lower the bad cholesterol and boost the good one.

However, if beer is your adult beverage of choice – you need to know that beer is NOT your friend. One bottle of your favorite IPA may have more than 130 calories and as many as 24 grams of carbs!  I guess you could go with a light beer, but you’re still consuming about 110 calories with a minimum of 5 grams of carbs. Plus, people tend to drink more than one bottle of light beer because they think “Oh, it’s only light so I can have another” so in the end you’ll consume way more calories and carbs than you planned.

The second KEY is pretty simple and it involves not only what you drink with your adult beverage of choice but also what else you put in your stomach during the evening.

Try to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink: one for one. It’s a good rule to keep. This can help you gauge how much you’ve had, if you’ve had “enough” and when you should stop!

This key also means never ever drink on an empty stomach. Drinking on an empty stomach will not only will enable you to get drunk faster and you’ll also drink more than you normally would as the night goes on.  Eat something before you go out or snack on something while you’re drinking, but not salty fried things – they will only make you want to drink more. Think about it – bar snacks are ALWAYS salty and fried – the bar will sell you more alcohol!  Stick to nuts, cheese, veggies, or even eat dinner before you go.

Having said all of that, moderation in all things is always the best way to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. And, personally, I think it’s more fun that way because then I can have “some” of everything I want.  So, enjoy those holiday parties – just be aware!

How to Prevent a Holiday Party Nightmare

Candle Holders from Pottery Barn

Five things you can do RIGHT NOW to prepare for any holiday gathering – for the rest of the year!

The whole group was coming to my party. I was so happy that I found myself literally grinning from ear to ear every time the doorbell rang. People were in such a great mood and everyone was engaged in conversation. The atmosphere in the room was lively, people were laughing, it couldn’t have been better. But then, to my horror, I realized that I wasn’t ready. Worse than that – nothing was ready!

I had no drinks to serve.

My dining room was a mess.

None of the food was ready.

I was in a complete panic. Then I suddenly realized something else that stopped me cold in my tracks. I was still in my swimsuit and I reeked of sun tan lotion! And, even worse than that, I had an inflatable swim ring around my waist? Whaaaaaat? Seriously? I don’t even sit out in the sun much less use suntan lotion or an inflatable swim ring!

That’s when I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed.  It was all a horribly bad dream. I laughed. Of course. If you’ve ever wondered what a nightmare looks like to a home entertainment expert, this would be it. I’d been so busy this summer. I’d been up north, back east and in between. With that kind of schedule, who has time to think about the holidays?

But now, I am. In fact, part of this blog was written right after that silly dream – well, let’s call it what it was – a nightmare, okay? Now, this is my warning to all my fellow home entertainers – the time to prepare is NOW.  The holidays are literally, right around the corner. As a friend of mine is fond of saying: The trick to preparation is getting prepared now.

There are FIVE simple things you can do – today – to get your home prepared for the holidays.

ONE: Start with easy-to-do accent changes: change out the couch throws for heavy knit ones and add a few accent pillows that say, “here come the holidays” like this pillow and this one from Crate and Barrel. You don’t have to start with the ‘jingle bells’ thing just yet, but nice warm colors will help set the mood just right.

TWO: Think about the “welcome beverage” you will be serving at your parties.  Bring everything into the seasonal spirit with sparkling wines; Gruet and Schramsberg are always favorites in my home! And don’t forget the pomegranate seeds. Then stock up on beautiful reds, like these bottles from Long Meadow Ranch or Davis Estates. Speaking of bottles, don’t forget to put your favorite vodka (Chopin anyone?) in the freezer.

THREE: Remember your candles. My summer setting is always ‘white and bright.’ It’s time now to change up to softer colors to match the couch throws and pillows. Keep those simple candles (for fall white or ivory) but change out the holders to pewter, silver or soft gold.  The softer color of metals create a softer light – like these from World Market or Pottery Barn.

FOUR: If you have a mantel or fireplace, change décor but keep it light and simple. If you have centerpieces or runners for your coffee table and dining table – it’s time for a change. Think “autumn leaves.” Like this basket setting from Pottery Barn.

FIVE: Maybe this is on the top of everyone’s mind, but the music list is always good to figure out long before the guests arrive. Time to put away Elvis and bring back Frank. Well, maybe it’s the opposite for some folks, but you get the idea.

Want to go the distance? I even change out some of my framed pictures – ones of my family and friends on easel backs and some on the walls. Store away the pictures of beach parties and put up the ones of camping trips in autumn and ski trips to the alps. You’d be surprised how this simple switch will change the “feel” in your home.

The point of this exercise – don’t wait until the week or days before the first holiday party. Start now and set the canvas. You can add the finishing touches later. Besides, you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about before your guests arrive. Everything you do now will look like you really took time to plan things out. Taking these steps now will also help you enjoy your party that much more and you won’t be waking up from a nightmare like I did!

Have fun!

My Favorite Secret Italian Sauce

italian tomato sauce

You’ll flip when you see how easy it is.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love all types of cuisine. But Italian cooking – that’s my absolute go-to favorite. Many of my favorite restaurants are Italian – in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Sfixo in Beverly Hills is still – hands down – my favorite local Italian. It’s really fabulous if you’re a fan of dishes that come from northern Italy.

Many people think that all Italian food is basically the same – pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.  But, there are real variations all along the entire country – traditional Italian cooking is strongly region-based. In northern Italy, you’ll find an emphasis on rich cream sauces, polenta and stuffed meats, Southern Italians embrace the Mediterranean diet with tomato sauces and lots of sea food with everything in between.

I travel to Italy as often as possible – at least once a year – and during each visit I make sure that I take at least one cooking class to learn “secrets” from great Italian cooks.  I follow several of them on social media – two have even become friends – Judy Witts Francini (@divinacucina) and Helena Kyriakides (@yummyyummyitaly).  It’s the only real way to understand a cuisine – take a class, tour an area of the country and eat the food!

The truth is, you don’t have to be a great cook to make a great dish – just understand some basic rules of the cuisine. All you really need is a sense of adventure. My recommendation, start small, and work your way up!

For instance, I was watching a post by Judy on how to prepare a simple Tuscan tomato dish (they’re in season right now) that you can use as a sauce, a side dish, or even as part of the main course.  And, in that post I learned a secret about olive oil and fresh garlic (by the way – true Italian cooks uses very little garlic – they prefer to let the fresh ingredients shine).

Ingredients

  • 1 Clove Garlic, sliced (add more if you’re cooking a lot of tomatoes).
  • Whole Cherry Tomatoes (I recommend organic). Use multi colored ones for fun or slightly larger ones that you can cut into fourths.
  • Enough EVOO – that’s “extra-virgin olive oil” to lightly cover the bottom of your frying pan or saucepan. I recommend Long Meadow Ranch Winery Prato Lungo Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It has just the right flavor for Italy.
  • Sea Salt (to flavor).
  • Fresh Basil (to flavor).

Preparation

  • Add sliced garlic to the COLD oil. Here’s the “secret” I learned from my friend: never put fresh garlic in hot oil – it will burn almost immediately and become very bitter. You’ll just have to throw the whole thing away and start over. By adding garlic to the cold oil, the garlic has more cook time in the olive oil adding flavor to the oil and will turn golden very slowly so you can remove any bits that start to get too dark.
  • Medium heat.
  • Sauté garlic till golden.
  • Add the tomatoes to the pan.
  • Add sea salt (to flavor).
  • Slowly cook down the tomatoes until tender and they begin to burst.
  • Add the fresh basil (cut into thin ribbons – chiffonade) at the end if you’re using the tomatoes on pasta.

As I mentioned before, this preparation is very flexible. You can use this as aside for a grilled steak or on top of pounded and sautéed (Paillard) chicken breast with some baby arugula. You can use it to dress up grilled fish, or as a simple sauce for pasta or over small noodles for a simple pasta salad. And personally speaking, the basil leaves are a must – for the aroma and the flavor.

See? It’s so simple. Doesn’t this make you want to jump up and cook?

Bring Napa Home and Let the Bottles Do the Talking

Fran's Wine

Bring stories home about the wine you love, #Napa #Winechat

I love wine from all over the world, but Napa is closest to my heart. Well, living in California is part of the reason, but back when I owned my restaurants, I visited there with friends and family as often as I could. I’ve collected so many wonderful memories from there.

You don’t have to go all the way to Napa to snag a beautiful bottle of cab. Go to your favorite store – I recommend one that specializes in wine like Wally’s Wine and Spirits in Beverly Hills, CA – and ask for a tour of the store’s favorite Napa selections. Listen to all of the great stories; every good vineyard has one. If only bottles could speak, right? But in a way, they do!

You wouldn’t believe how many great conversation starters there are in wine. I think that the stories make drinking wine so much more enjoyable. I’ll give you some examples.

Cabernet Sauvignon from winemaker Cathy Corison

What’s so cool about Corison.  To begin with, Cathy Corison, owner and winemaker, was one of only a handful of women winemakers when she began in the late 1970’s and only about 10% still are women. Cathy Corison calls herself “the gypsy winemaker” because she worked at several wineries, including Long Meadow Ranch, prior to finding the perfect “dirt” for her cabernet. She likes to keep her total production small, generally under 3,500 cases, because she can “stay close” to her wines.

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc

Long Meadow Ranch has some very long roots in Napa. Back in the late 1800s, the property was used to make wine, and they also grew apples, olives, and operated a goat milk dairy. Then Prohibition came, and the previous owners abandoned the farm.  The Hall family bought the property in 1989 and have been making wine there ever since. I actually keep their Sauvignon Blanc in my refrigerator as my “go to” white in the summer and I have several vintages of their Napa Valley Cabernet that I love to open when I’m looking for a big red.

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc from the Quintessa Vineyard

Agustin and Valeria Huneeus, both with long successful careers in the wine business, founded the Quintessa Estate in 1990.  Their philosophy is that their wine should be known for the terroir (dirt) and not the grape varietal.  Valeria has guided the estate from sustainable farming to organic farming and now to biodynamic farming.  I have visited this winery several times and I have to say it’s one of my very favorite places in the area.  Several years ago I was one of the lucky ones who tasted their Illumination (Sauignon Blanc) very early on and love this wine and personally – I LOVE their Quintessa Red.

Estate Proprietary Red, a Bordeaux blend from Continuum Estate

The winery was founded by Tim Mondavi, his father Robert Mondavi and sister Marcia Mondavi after the sale of Robert Mondavi Winery to Constellation Brands. It’s a real family-owned winery with family members sitting in key positions. Their focus for each vintage is on a single red blend premium wine based on Cabernet Sauvignon with a very limited production – typically around 1,300 cases per year.  Tim, one of the founders and the winemaker for Continuum was involved in the winemaking for Opus One.

Cabernet Sauvignon from the Behrens Family Winery

Les Behrens (from New Jersey) and Lisa Drinkward (a California native) started making wine in 1993 with Bob and Lily Hitchcock as their business partners under the Behrens & Hitchcock label.  Les, with absolutely no formal training has been the sole winemaker since its inception and Lisa, involved in every part of the winemaking, really takes over the vineyard management during harvest.  The Hitchcocks retired in 2005 and Les and Lisa became the sole owners – and the name changed to Behrens Family Winery.  The drawing on their distinctive gold label is of Les’ mother’s vintage KitchenAid. Owen Smith, a good friend of Les Behrens who shares his love of wine and art creates the beautiful labels on their bottles.  They produce only small lots of 6-7 wines per year – unfined and unfiltered – each a very hands on labor of love.

See? You don’t have to be a wine encyclopedia to get a conversation started. It can be a whole lot of fun just having a little information in your back pocket. And this is one of the best ways I know to bring a little of the vineyard home to your guests.

Cheers!