When life gives you lemons, I recommend throwing in ice and serving Smirnoff Tuscan Lemonade. I was recently selected as 1 of only 10 proposals to receive a stipend by Smirnoff and Foodbuzz to host a summer extravaganza. The theme could be any of my choosing, as long as the delicious Smirnoff beverage was the star.
My friend recently purchased a 6 bedroom house in the hills overlooking Pittsburgh. His expansive front porch, warm dark brick, and beautiful wicker furniture made for a perfect location to host an intimate gathering of friends. Rather than sticking to my classic flavors served in crisp white dishes, I opted for a more rustic fair. My goal was to weave the warm and comforting flavors of Tuscany throughout the evening menu. Ultimately, I wanted my guests to leave with their bellies full and memories of a wonderful time.
This event posed a couple of unexpected challenges that I welcomed with open arms. The party would be hosted beyond the walls of my perfectly configured “test kitchen”, aka my own kitchen that I know so well I could cook blindfolded in, so I knew the menu had to be easy to transport and could be assembled on site. It was amazing how much I agonized over the thought of traveling across town with sliced meats and cheeses in my trunk. Plus, my friend only purchased the house a month ago with a kitchen that is… hmm… shall I say…a fixer, of which he agonizes over too. A few people I know have asked in the recent past if I would be interested in catering dinners or small events at their house, but I have always respectfully declined out of fear of the time commitment required to successfully cater for pay. This event was a good test and practice, to see if I could handle the pressure.
Over the next several posts I will be sharing with you the details of the fabulous event that I lovingly named, The Party on The Porch. Make sure to subscribe to my posts so you don’t miss a single moment of the moans of satisfaction from the Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Dates, to the disappearing act of the absolutely gorgeous Antipasto Platter that was piled high with meats, cheeses and roasted peppers. In the mean time, here are some highlights from the evening.
Smirnoff Tuscan Lemonade: As expected, this beverage was a huge hit. Many of my guests had never tired it before and it was great to see their reaction. I loved it as the host, because it’s a ready-mixed cocktail that only needs to be chilled and poured in a pitcher with big slices of lemon and ice. My favorite moments with this perfectly blended combination of flavors were when everyone would randomly stop and shout out a toast together, “Thanks Smirnoff Tuscan Lemonade”, as they raised their recycled cups, called BARE by Solo, and sip from the yellow nectar.
Panzanella Salad: Who would have thought that rustic grilled croutons with farm fresh vegetables would be such a huge hit? I have never seen any of my salads eaten so fast before. I loved how the tangy vinaigrette soaked into the crusty bread cubes that contrasted well against the crisp vegetables. The glass bowl I scavenged from a random kitchen cabinet was the perfect serving vessel.
Antipasti Platter: The look of slice meats, cheeses and roasted baby bell peppers piled high on a cutting board was a fantastic focal point as people gathered around the large lounge table. It was an ideal menu choice because I could prepare all the ingredients at home and quickly assemble the platter just before the party. To contrast against the stripes of the board and to add a touch of green, I used lemon leaves as a base. Brent even said it was one of the most beautiful platters he has seen me create.
Marinated Artichokes: Inspired by a local Pittsburgh Italian restaurant, I served a heaping bowl of artichokes with roasted red peppers for color and spicy red pepper flakes for a little heat. My original recipe called for frozen artichokes that would be roasted in the oven before being tossed in the lemon vinaigrette. However, I couldn’t find the frozen variety at a reasonable price. While the canned version was merely a substitute, their texture actually gave the dish a nice contrast against the rest of the meal.
Even More Food: Would you believe I served even more food? As I mentioned, I wanted my guests to leave the party with their bellies full and memories of a wonderful time. A second course of Grilled Caprese Pizzas, Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Dates and Raspberry Lemon Bars were also served. I’m looking forward to sharing those recipes with you in future posts.
As the sun began to set across the tree-lined horizon, the candles flickered like tiny dancers moving to the melodic beat of our conversations. I sat back, took a sip of my Smirnoff Tuscan Lemonade, and smiled. I thought to myself how fantastic it was to have such a wonderful group of friends that knew how to eat and have a great time.