Rob Tannenbaum/The Martha Stewart Show
It’s been nearly 30 years since Martha Stewart’s first book, Entertaining, debuted. In honor of the book’s publication, Stewart has been sharing some of her best entertaining tips and ideas. We attended a recent celebratory taping where she raised a glass to the cocktail hour, an essential part of a good dinner party (drink, please?), alongside famed New York chef Daniel Boulud. And we’re sharing some of her party secrets with you.
Then a caterer, Stewart’s first book focused on special-occasion menus and images from some of the large dinners she put on in the '80s — like one Christmas party where she created a gingerbread replica of her then-home on Turkey Hill Road in Westport, Conn. Every window featured a leaded transom window, made of glass “sugar.”
Some 70 books later, and a television show, radio channel, and hundreds of issues of Livings and Weddings later, she’s at it again, with her latest publication Martha’s Entertaining, just published this October. Her new book is updated for modern hosts, and focuses on smaller gatherings that Martha herself has hosted for family and friends, like a breakfast in Maine inspired by the local blueberries, or a celebratory spring cocktail party amongst her lush gardens.
With a bird's eye view of the show's taping, we learned that when hosting a party, Stewart always serves a signature cocktail. It’s easy for the host, as there isn’t a full bar to stock (and then constantly clean up during the night), and allows them to add their own personal touch. After a recent dinner at Daniel, Stewart was served a White Cosmopolitan cocktail, a tropical flower-scented combination of St-Germain, white cranberry juice, and her favorite kind of vodka (Polish, of course) — Wódka. “If you like a drink, when you’re out, absolutely ask the bartender for the recipe,” Stewart suggests. What makes this cocktail stand out from the rest? It’s poured over a round ice cube (made with this mold) with a purple orchid frozen inside. Talk about a white cocktail that makes a statement.
So what does Martha consider the perfect hors d’oeuvre? Something small, that can be eaten in one bite. One of her favorites is Boulud’s cheesy gougères (goo-jayre), served warm, in a basket, fresh from the oven. Boulud was first served them when tasting white burgundies in France. “When you’re drinking wine at 10 in the morning, they’re the perfect complement,” adds Boulud. They’re fairly simple to make, and a festive appetizer for the holidays.
While food and drink are important components of a party, so too is how you set the scene. According to Stewart, the easiest and most inexpensive way to create a welcoming, festive ambiance for guests is by using lots of candles. While there are an array of shapes and sizes of candles available on the market, from votives to pillars, Stewart prefers undyed, unscented beeswax tapers from Creative Candles. She suggests trimming the wicks to a height of ¼ inch, and likes to pre-burn the wicks before guests arrive, so they don’t look brand spanking new. And never use polyester tablecloths, Stewart adds. “I’d rather use paper towels than poly! But of course, linen is the best.”