Christine and I hosted a mini “hotel party” last weekend. I know, we’re not 17 anymore (and it’s not the 1980’s either). Funny story actually. Last year when Christine purchased her Christmas tree she entered a raffle, hoping for a TV or maybe some money. How about a manicure or a massage? These are all reasonable thoughts when one enters a raffle of a local organization. Well, she won and her prize wasn’t any of those things. Instead, she won a night at the local Hawthorne Suites. Huh? What use does a local girl have for a night in a local chain hotel? Since said prize was about to expire, and we all deplore wasteful ways (don’t we?), we decided to throw a petite soirée before heading out for our annual birthday dinner with the girls (our birthdays are one day apart–quelle coïncidence!) After we got the jokes about mad dog 20 20 and Peach Schnapps out of the way (one must), we settled on a delightfully tasty beverage inspired by the new osteria in town–the Aperol Spritz. Have you heard of it? Well take a look. It’s light, festive and refreshing, with just a tinge of bitterness (Aperol is related to Campari after all), though not quite as bitter–I said just a tinge— mind you. And, it’s easy as can be if you can remember 3,2,1: three parts Prosecco (we used pink!), 2 parts Aperol, 1 part club soda. Add a twist of orange and you’ll be impressing your guests in no time flat.
These tasty aperitifs called, of course, for some equally tasty, and slightly impressive (if I do say so myself), little nibblies. I provided a crock of Ina-inspired Herbes de Provence Roasted Cashews, along with tiny little crackers topped with Pastoral’s Raclette cheese and Fig and Black Tea preserves. A combination made in Heaven, for which we have our far-flung friend Deryn, otherwise known as most creative (and thoughtful) gift-giver ever, to thank. These little gems disappeared quickly. If you want to recreate something similar, look for some fig jam or other sweet chutney, any jam really, and pair it with some white cheddar, or gruyère, on a sweetish cracker. They look and taste more elegant that they should.
Finally, our little aperos menu was rounded out nicely by Christine with her sister’s pineapple-shaped (!) bacon-cream cheese spread, covered with almonds, and garnished with a sprig of pine. Lucky for us that our little suite had a fireplace and comfy seating area to enjoy before and after our dinner out. They do say (don’t they?) that the best things in life are free.
Herbes de Provence Roasted Cashews
adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris, 2004.
1 7 oz. container whole cashews
1 tsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp. brown sugar.
Roast the cashews on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for about 5 minutes or until they are golden. Meanwhile mix the melted butter with the spices and sugar. When the cashews are done, cool for only a couple of minutes (to avoid burning the herbs) and invert into the butter/spice mixture. Mix and serve warm, if possible.
You might want to double this recipe for a large group. Though these are a perfect nibbly to accompany before dinner cocktails, they’re also good the next day. Unable to wait, I should admit, I ate the rest with breakfast.