New Zealand’s (hipper) answer to Martha Stewart, Annabel Langbein is stylish, fabulous, and full of great ideas on making entertaining fun, easy and delicious. We jumped at the chance to dress her for her recent trip to New York City—including a stop at The Today Show. She graciously offered a sneak peek of a party she threw for friends while she was there. Here’s Annabel’s diary of her gorgeous, glamorous, and (best of all) doable party—recipes included!
I love throwing a cocktail party. It’s such a fun event that’s easy to put together and always makes me feel glamorous. People dress up a bit, eat and drink delicious things, mix and mingle—it’s all so fabulous. Cocktail parties are also the perfect way to add new blood to your social circuit, bringing together friends, neighbors and business colleagues who like to have a good time. Recently I hosted this really cool cocktail party at a friend’s apartment in New York, to celebrate the launch of my TV series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook Simple Pleasures on PBS, and my accompanying cookbook of the same name.
We made cosmopolitan cocktails ready for guests to pick up on arrival and then offered a selection of chilled white wines and sparkling water to follow. For the food, I decided to go for Asian flavors and include some of the recipes from my cookbook—I’ve actually written 23 books now so there are lots to choose from! Everyone raved about the food, which we started serving about 20 minutes into the event, once all the guests arrived. We mixed it up so that each item came around a couple of times during the evening. (I thought you would all enjoy the Duck Rolls—recipe below—as it’s a great dish you can prep ahead of time and have ready to go in the fridge.) Half an hour into the event you could not hear yourself talk, the room was buzzing with conversation, laughter and this wonderful energy. I looked around at everyone having so much fun and felt like pinching myself.
This Kiwi gal was hosting a fabulous party sky-high in an apartment in Manhattan, meeting fascinating people, and having the best time.
It was all so easy to organize, and it made me realize the power of food and wine to bring people together. And of course a good frock always helps! At the end I served a big platter of baby meringues, strawberries and my famous Ultimate Chocolate Brownie—it’s an incredible recipe from my TV series and one people always ask for, so I’ve included it here.
My top tips for a great cocktail party:
Make your invitations informative
Specify the date, the location and the start and end time. Two hours is a great duration and if it’s mid- week, I usually suggest a 6-6:30pm start and 8-8:30pm finish. That way people can come directly from work but don’t feel like they’ll be out all night. Paperless Post is a nice option to create a bespoke invitation. Check out www.paperlesspost.com.
Theming the party always makes things fun. You could make it a white party, it might be a birthday party or an event to celebrate a promotion. Set a dress code, as people like to know what’s expected of them.
Set the scene
So much of throwing any party is setting the scene: decorate the room with fresh flowers and scented candles, compile a good playlist and have Champagne or a fun cocktail ready to welcome people.
I always make sure I have enough time to get ready. Just throwing on a pretty frock, getting a blowout and putting on some heels puts me in the mood for a party. I figure that if you feel good about your appearance, it gives you confidence. If you’re confident and relaxed, then your guests will be too.
Planning the menu
I work on the basis of five to six different items—some hot, some cold—and allow two to three of each per person. Sometimes I will offer one or two more substantial dishes served as individual portions— look for either bamboo or bagasse eco-friendly disposable tableware for these. It’s always a smart idea to stick to a flavor theme. I don’t like mixing up Asian and Mediterranean flavors, as it’s hard to make the tastes feel cohesive.
Make sure the food you’re serving is easy to eat and small enough to handle. You don’t want people worrying that the gorgeous little amuse bouche they just picked up is going to end up down the front of their outfit or on the floor. When serving food with toothpicks, bones, pits or shells, remember to provide receptacles for the leftover bits, and always have plenty of napkins available.
Leave a lasting impression
I always try to finish with a taste moment that people won’t forget!
Annabel Langbein’s Duck and Mango Finger Rolls
I make these rolls with roast duck from an Asian grocer. If there isn’t one near you, use roast chicken instead.
Makes 12 rolls
Time to prepare: 30 mins
- 12 small round rice paper sheets
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- ¼ tsp five-spice powder
- flesh of ½ roasted duck, shredded into bite-size pieces
- flesh of 2 mangoes, cut into finger-size strips
- 4 scallions, cut into long, thin slices
- baby spinach leaves, tough stems removed
- Fill a large, shallow bowl with very hot water. Wet a clean tea towel, squeeze out excess water and spread on a clean bench. Dunk a sheet of rice paper into the water for a couple of seconds, remove at once, shake off excess water and place on the damp tea towel. It will soften to a pliable texture.
- Fold down the top third of the rice paper. Mix oyster sauce with five-spice powder and spread a little in a vertical band down the center of the rice paper. Lay a little duck on top, allowing it to extend a little above the folded top edge and leaving a third of the rice paper clear at the bottom. Top with slices of mango, scallions and spinach. Fold the bottom of the rice paper up to enclose filling at the base, then roll up as tightly as you can from left to right.
- Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make the rest of the rolls. If not serving at once, arrange on a tray with a little space in between them and baking paper between layers, cover with plastic wrap and chill. They will keep for up to 6 hours. Bring the platter out 5 minutes before you serve to come to room temperature.
Annabel Langbein’s Ultimate Chocolate Brownie
Ask people what’s in this deliciously moreish brownie and they’ll never guess my secret ingredient—dates. As well as making it extra-rich and moist, the dates make it a whole lot better for you than the everyday brownie, adding a healthy quotient of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and essential nutrients such as iron. Some dates are much drier and harder than others so may take longer to soak and become soft.
Makes 30 pieces
Time to prepare: Ready in 1 hour + standing
- 2 cups chopped dates
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 6½ oz finely diced butter, at room temperature
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups superfine sugar
- 1 cup dark cocoa, sifted
- 1 cup flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 8 oz dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
- fresh berries, to serve
- Preheat oven to 325°F and line a 12 inch x 9 inch slice tin with baking paper.
- Combine dates, baking soda and boiling water in a large bowl. Add finely diced butter and stir until melted.
- Allow to stand for 20 minutes, then mash softened dates with a fork to break them up to a creamy consistency.
- Stir in the eggs and vanilla extract until well combined.
- Stir in the sugar, then add the cocoa, flour and baking powder and stir until smooth.
- Stir in the chocolate chips or chunks.
- Smooth into prepared tin and bake until it is set in the middle and begins to come away from the sides of the tin (about 50 minutes).
- Cool before cutting into small squares. Stored in a sealed container, it will keep for a couple of weeks. Serve on a platter with berries.
For more delicious Annabel Langbein recipes check out her informative site, annabel-langbein.com. Want more? Look for her show, Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook Simple Pleasures, this fall on a PBS station near you.