Cocktail Hour is really about the food

Cocktail hour. In my house it begins promptly at 5 pm. and I mean promptly. Even if dinner isn’t until 8, I’m in the kitchen getting dinner prepped and ready to go and then I begin working on food for the cocktails. In all honesty, I find dinners to be simple; there’s a protein, some salad or vegetables, a few small sides, a carb which constitutes a normal dinner formula. That’s easy. It’s the cocktail hour that I find the most challenging and fun because you need to keep yourself on your toes and guess what people may or may not drink and then find some accompanying tastes of food. I say tastes because it’s almost like a tease of the food, not quite enough to be a meal, but enough to satisfy you so the alcohol doesn’t sit in an empty stomach. It’s a careful balance.

Cheese is always good. The tasting assortment of morsels that one eats with drinks should be curated to the season and be an anticipation of what people would order at a restaurant with their drinks. Hummus is always good. Especially for women; I find hummus to be go-to because it’s healthy (which is really isn’t because it has tahini which is about as thick and fatty as your blood if you eat too much hummus) and it pairs well with wine or a mixed drink. Men, on the other hand, tend to go for the simple tastes; cheese, olives, sundried tomatoes, assorted pickles; much more of a substantial filling for hard alcohol served neat. The formula I have for my plate is very simple, but it is by no means the only way to conduct business so you can really follow this as strictly as you desire.

Start with a carb. I find crackers to be a great way to accomplish the carb qualification because its not as filling as actual bread (even though I have served spelt focaccia or manaeesh). Crackers are also good because its finger food that can be layered which people like. Next, I always serve sundried tomatoes and pitted olives because people who have a true aversion to sweet things or are on a diet should be able to be catered to. Usually, the olives I get from the salad bar at ShopRite and I usually taste one there to make sure they are still good. The olive oil or salt brine the come in is only to keep them more preserved so I always them in cold water vigorously until they are cleaned. If I happen to go to an Italian market that has imported or house cured, I always grab those because aside from being better quality they taste better. But this is only cocktail hour, nobody gives a shit about the quality of your olives so no reason to spend a paycheck on olives imported from Calabria.

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Moving toward the pickles, I usually err on the side of two pickled items simply for variety. Personally, my house has always loved the pickled pepperoncini which can be seen as the small round red and orange chilies that have been seeded. These are also attainable from ShopRite’s salad bar and are kept in vinegar. These are really popular because they are very sweet because of the pickling process but also pack a tiny kick akin to black pepper at the most. For this plate, I chose dill pickles which were found at Casels in Margate, NJ (which is where I call home). However, if I see them on the counter, my absolute favorite pickles are from McClures Pickle’s because they are hands down the best fucking pickles. In the two ramekins are usually spreadable items. If I am not serving bread I will use one spreadable and one thing that shouldn’t be touching everything else because not everyone likes it.

The first spreadable is always preserves. The sweetness from this will cleanse the palate of anything the eater may not have enjoyed so much and when being served with cheese; it’s the shit. Find a good brand if you can because it’s not the kinda thing you spread on toast usually because it’s enough sugar in these high-quality ones to give you diabetes and jars are smaller to inhibit that process. In the other ramekins is roasted garlic in oil courtesy of ShopRite’s salad bar. These were not washed off because the garlic is soft and should not be broken. For those looking for more punch, this is what they may choose as the strong garlic and the fat from the oil can coat the mouth and add much more depth to those drinking wine or those desiring unkissable breath. Last is to add the flair, find something you want to eat, something guilty, something unhealthy and put it on the plate. The night before we had Indian for dinner which came with a few Samosas. They are the pyramid shaped fried finger food filled with potatoes and other spiced things from vegetables to lamb. I reheated this in the countertop oven at 300*F for about 15 min. or until the outside was crispy again. It was then sliced thin and placed on the plate in a way that exposed the inside. Surprisingly, this left the plate before anything else. This can be substituted for anything but whatever it is, try to slice it thin and arrange it on the plate in a way that fills space and adds a heightened visual element.

The night before we had Indian for dinner which came with a few Samosas. They are the pyramid shaped fried finger food filled with potatoes and other spiced things from vegetables to lamb. I reheated this in the countertop oven at 300*F for about 15 min. or until the outside was crispy again. It was then sliced thin and placed on the plate in a way that exposed the inside. Surprisingly, this left the plate before anything else. This can be substituted for anything but whatever it is, try to slice it thin and arrange it on the plate in a way that fills space and adds a heightened visual element.

If it hasn’t become apparent yet, its pretty obvious that I’m not writing this blog in an academic format. There is no pretty structure and I basically write how you would hear me talk which gives me some creative freedom and not have to worry about censoring myself. I mean come on, were all adults here… And while cocktail hour is great, I will make two arguments; that cocktail hour shouldn’t be limited to only an hour and second that cocktail hour isn’t really about the cocktails. Its fun to sit at a bar and have a drink with friends, but it doesn’t have that same inviting feeling that I get when I’m home with family or friends and people eat something. Maybe its just the foodie in me, but I notice when someone eats something they like and don’t like. The little signs, the twitches, the widening eyes or pursing lips, I see those things. So to me, having a great cocktail is really nice, but seeing someone really enjoy what they are eating even if they don’t know why they enjoy it makes me enjoy food even more.

Remember, it’s not rocket science, its food porn, bruh.

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