Happy Wednesday everyone! It might seem a little early in the day to be talking about cocktails, but then again, it's never too early to start talking about cocktails! Ha. But I confess: I know NOTHING about making cocktails. If you put me behind a bar, I'd be clueless. I've made margaritas a few times (following a recipe), and once made a sparkling cranberry cocktail for the blog. And...that's about it. I've never served cocktails at a party, I don't have a bar, and rarely drink liquor. It's not that I have anything against mixed drinks – I love them when they're made well – it's just that I'm more of a wine girl. So when Tasting Table asked me to write a story called "How to Throw the Perfect Fall Cocktail Party," I knew I needed help.


I think most of you all know by now that I write a weekly "Everyday Entertaining" column for Tasting Table. I've always dreamed of having a column – and especially one about dinner parties and at-home entertaining! – so this has been a total blast for me. Though it's fun writing about my own dinner party highs and lows, what I really love is getting to interview entertaining experts, like cookbook author and food stylist Susan Spungen ("How to Throw a Last Minute Dinner Party"), Portland DJ-turned-bar-owner Kyle Linden Webster ("How to Create the Perfect Dinner Party Playlist"), and my friend and stylist Jenn Elliott Blake ("How to Create a Perfect Fall Arrangement").

Yesterday, I had the chance to interview my absolute HERO Ina Garten (a.k.a. Barefoot Contessa), about her new book Make It Ahead. I seriously had to do some deep breathing exercises to stay calm before the call, but she was absolutely lovely: so warm and funny. I learned so much from her just jotting down notes as we talked, and it took everything within me not to invite myself over to her house for dinner! I can't wait to share the story with you guys in a few weeks...stay tuned.


But back to cocktails. To help me out with this story, I called upon my friend Maria del Mar Sacasa, a total rockstar of a food stylist and author of the beautiful book Winter Cocktails (Quirk Books). She and I met last year working in the Bon Appétit test kitchens, and hit it off immediately. The girl's a fabulous cook, and just as adept at creating liquid concoctions. She loves throwing casual cocktail parties in the fall and winter, but instead of playing bartender all night, she makes festive punches, like Sweet Surrender, a Chamomile tea and bubbly combo, or Orchard Fête, an Applejack-spiked sparkling cider punch with rosemary and thyme – so guest can just serve themselves. (By the way, she said you don't need a fancy punch bowl: a glass salad bowl will work just fine!)

Talking to her, I learned how to make the perfect ice ring (use a Bundt pan), the basics to include in a bar set-up, and her all-time-favorite favorite crowd-pleasing appetizer (puff pastry-wrapped pigs in a blanket). By the end of our conversation, I was convinced that even I could throw a fall cocktail party. Read the full story here, or better yet, pick up a copy of Maria's awesome book! There are over 100 recipes, plus lots of practical tips for cocktail-party throwing. (And if you love this book, stay tuned for their Summer Cocktails book out next year...!)

(Photos by Tara Striano)