Mother’s Day, like most of the national holidays, could always use a shake-up.
Whether your mom is a baby boomer or a millennial, a traditional gal or a thoroughly modern women, she will appreciate a spirited twist to her celebration, and we’re not talking about a Bloody Mary with brunch.
Muddle up a refreshing, seasonal elixir and serve it with an array of big-flavored small bites during a festive cocktail party, and she will forgive you almost anything. Plus, she won’t have to take a nap in the middle of the day.
Chef Julie Steinfeld, a mother and kitchen manager for Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma, loves to throw casual cocktail parties for her friends. During a Spring Cocktail Party class last month, Steinfeld shared a few timeless tips and provided an array of appetizer recipes that could be prepared in advance for a spring party.
“It’s the season to entertain as the weather warms up,” Steionfeld said. “Cocktails are a great way to entertain casually. You’ll just need some glasses, some fun cocktail napkins and a few platters in different shapes, sizes and colors.”
The class drew both couples and groups of BFFs, who mashed together a Spicy Margarita Punch and a Strawberry Balsamic Smashed Cocktail while creating a decadent array of small bites, from Smoked Salmon and Herbed Crepe Pinwheels to Hickory Bacon and Roasted Corn Gougeres.
“I consider myself an expert on margaritas because of how many I drink,” quipped Jana Fiorito of Sonoma. “Maya (restaurant in Sonoma) makes the best margarita in California. It’s fresh, with just four ingredients, and they serve it up in a martini glass.”
Steinfeld’s Spicy Margarita gets its punch from resh lime and orange juice, plus a thinly sliced jalapeno and cucumber. She makes the Strawberry Balsamic Smash Cocktail with lime, cucumber rounds, strawberries, simple syrup and balsamic vinegar, muddled together, then mixed with a splash of vodka or gin.
Some of the students, such as Inger Latreille of Napa, had already asked their spouses to throw them a cocktail party for Mother’s Day. Others were planning ahead for other holidays.
“We host an annual Christmas party for 100,” said Amy Goleno of Napa. “And we make all the appetizers and bite-sized desserts ourselves.”
No matter what time of year you throw your party, Steinfeld suggested including a mix of seafood, meat and vegetables, to please all palates.
“I love to have a variety of tasty little bites,” she said. “It’s the same reason I love tapas and dim sum ... and it’s nice to have a balance of hot and cold.”
If you want to enjoy your own party, it’s also wise to prepare some of the bites in advance, then store in the fridge or freezer before slicing and heating at the last minute.
Steinfeld likes to pass the hors d’oeuvre on platters that are lined with grape leaves so they do not slip around.
“You can do plates, but picks and napkins will suffice much of the time,” she said. “I always have a stationary table for a dip with fresh vegetables too, plus olives and nuts.”
As an bonus, Steinfeld shared her recipe for Chile-Lime Cashews, a dangerously addictive nibble that pairs perfect with the Spicy Margarita.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Chardonnays that deliver
Chappellet, 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.1% alcohol, $35. ★★★★
This is a concentrated and complex chardonnay with a silky texture. It’s got notes of lemon curd, brioche and ripe apple, and yet it’s balanced. Lingering finish. Impressive.
Landmark Vineyards, 2016 Damaris Reserve, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 14.3%, $35. ★★★★: This chardonnay is a standout because of its layered flavors buoyed by bright acidity. It has notes of pear, brioche and honeysuckle, with bright minerality. Finishes crisp.
Gary Farrell, 2015 Olivet Lane, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.6%, $45. ★★★★: A tasty, full-bodied chardonnay with notes of apple, vanilla bean and lemon zest. Nice length.
Robert Mondavi Winery, 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.5%, $24. ★★★★: A lovely chardonnay with notes of ripe apple, pear and lemon. Lightly toasted. Full-bodied, yet balanced. Well crafted.
La Crema, 2016 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 13.5%, $23. ★★★1/2: A smart chardonnay with bright fruit and layered flavors. Notes of apple, lemon and mineral, with a hint of caramel on the finish. A steal for the price.