Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Bites and spirits to charm your new community
By Fanny Slater
Gone are the days of dropping off a casserole to get a good peek at your new neighbors. Nothing brings strangers together like a nosh sesh—and I’ve got plenty of culinary tricks up my sleeve to charm your surrounding community. If you’ve just landed in a fresh neighborhood, throwing a laidback shindig featuring funky cocktails and munchable goodies is your ticket to mingle-town. Thanks to the majority of these drinks and dishes involving make-ahead components, you’ll be able to chat and chomp instead of being bound to the kitchen.
If you’re planning on more of a sit-down gathering, I’d suggest offering one of the cocktails below when your guests arrive, pairing each course with wine, and throwing in an easy dessert. For a more casual crowd, I’d tack on a charcuterie board, keep the full boozy lineup, and skip the pasta so the spread is made for picking.
Let’s take a walk through the menu.
Nothing says summer lovin’ like a cocktail in a coconut. All recipes are tailed to about a dozen, but if your headcount happens to grow—feel free to skip the tropical vehicle and go for highball glasses instead. The St-Germain gives the exotic libation a bright, fragrant hint of elderflower.
Though brown coconuts, pictured here, are pretty—opt for young coconuts instead. They’re easier to open, boast more water than brown ones, and are a deeper vessel (more alcohol—yay!). If brown coconuts are all you can find, use high-quality canned or bottled coconut water to make up for the difference in liquid. Never broken into a young coconut before? Take the heel of a large knife and, carefully, strike down several times on the top—making a circle that cracks through the shell. Wedge your knife into one of the deep slices, twist the blade, and peel back your newly-made coconut lid.
To keep the beach theme going strong, pair these with the poke below.
Makes 1 cocktail
1 fresh young coconut
Several fresh torn mint leaves, plus more whole leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 1/2 oz. gin
1 oz. St-Germain
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons pineapple juice
Lime slices and cocktail umbrellas for garnish
Cut an opening into the top of the young coconut (as described above) and reserve the coconut water—straining if necessary, to get out any solid bits.
In a cocktail shaker, combine the torn mint leaves, coconut water (about 1/4 cup per cocktail), agave, gin, St-Germain, lime juice, and pineapple juice with a handful of ice. Cover and shake vigorously until chilled and lightly frothy. Add crushed ice to the inside of the empty coconut and strain the contents of the shaker over top. Garnish with lime slices, a generous sprig of mint, and cocktail umbrellas.
Dirty Chai White Russian
Instead of switching on the coffee when the yawn monster surfaces, try whipping up this spiked, homemade dirty chai (technically made “filthy” by the addition of booze). Brew the sweetened tea and toss together the spice mix the day before, so when it’s game time—all you’ve got to do is shake, froth, and garnish
Makes 1 cocktail
1 tablespoon Chai tea leaves (or 1 Chai tea bag)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces vodka
1 tablespoon Kahlua
1 shot espresso
2 tablespoons frothed milk or half-and-half
Cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, for garnish
Quick Chai Spice Mix (recipe follows)
In a small saucepot over medium-low heat, simmer the Chai tea leaves, honey, and vanilla
with 2 tablespoons water. Steep for 10-15 minutes and then strain the mixture through a
fine meshed sieve.
In a cocktail shaker, mix the Chai-spiced simple syrup, vodka, Kahula, and espresso with ice
and shake vigorously. Fill a glass with ice and strain in the cocktail. Top with the frothed
milk and garnish with the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and Quick Chai Spice Mix.
Quick Chai Spice Mix
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar
Blood Orange Dragon Pearl Punch
Punch is a party-thrower’s best friend. While rattling around a cocktail shaker is an excellent form of entertainment, a vat of alcohol and a ladle provides just as much pleasure to the partygoers (and gives the host a brea
Instead of just emptying rum into a deep bowl—here’s the secret for taking this concoction to the next level. When guests ask why your punch has such a punch—get ready for the conversation-starter-of-the-evening when you answer with the words: oleo-saccharum. A complicated name for a wildly simple concept—oleo-saccharum is nothing but a homemade sweetener made from citrus peels and sugar. As the two dry ingredients interact in a plastic bag, the sugar extracts the citrus skin’s essential oils. The result? A super concentrated citrus simple syrup (blood orange, in this case) with extraordinary depth of flavor. The jasmine tea (prepared in advance along with the syrup) adds floral notes to the fruity rum bomb.
Serves 10 – 12
Blood orange oleo-saccharum (citrus oil simple syrup—see below)
1/2-liter silver rum (about 2 cups)
1/2-liter dark rum (about 2 cups)
3 cups jasmine green tea, chilled
1 1/2 cups fresh blood orange juice (about 4 oranges)
1 cup fresh lime juice
Blood orange and lime wheels for garnish
Using a vegetable peeler or a pairing knife, peel the skin from two blood oranges (avoiding the white bitter pith as much as possible). Place the peels in a large plastic bag with about 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Rub it together with your hands so that the peels are coasted in sugar, and then allow this to sit for several hours. Add warm water to the bag until the sugar begins to dissolve. Snip a hole in the corner of the bag and strain the syrup into a bowl. Keep some of the peels for garnish.
In a large punchbowl, mix together a few tablespoons of the oleo-saccharum with both rums, jasmine tea, blood orange juice, and lime juice. Taste for sweetness, and add additional oleo-saccharum if necessary. Chill before serving, and then add the blood orange and lime slices. To serve, pour over ice-filled glasses—garnishing with the citrus wheels and peels.
Ahi Poke Lettuce Wraps with Peanut-Ginger Sauce
As I mentioned earlier, skip the tuna casserole.
Instead, platter up these ahi poke wraps for an interactive Hawaii-ish small plate that your new friends will be raving about for weeks. The marinated tuna—laced with salty soy, nutty sesame oil, and garlicky spring onions—gets loaded into tender lettuce cups and topped with fresh herbs and a zig-zag of creamy coconut-peanut sauce. Though ahi can be pricey, the cucumbers and avocadoes bulk up the poke, so you’re not buying entrée-size portions. For an additional zip, quick-pickle some julienned veggies like carrots and daikon radishes
Serves 10-12 as an appetizer
1 1/2 pounds sushi-grade ahi or yellowfin tuna, diced into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons Sriracha (or chili paste)
Juice of 2 limes (plus lime wedges for serving)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 avocados, diced
1 seedless cucumber, diced
Small bunch scallions or spring onions, light and green parts only finely sliced
2 – 3 heads butter or Bibb lettuce, rinsed and leaves separated
Small bunch fresh mint leaves, gently torn (for garnish)
Sesame seeds (for garnish)
Pickled Veggies (optional garnish)
Peanut-Ginger Sauce (recipe follows)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha, lime juice, and brown sugar. Add the tuna to the marinade along with the cucumber, avocado and scallions and gently toss. Allow mixture to marinate for 15 minutes.
Fill each lettuce cup with a small mound of the tuna mixture, and then garnish with the mint leaves and sesame seeds. Serve with the peanut-ginger sauce and pickled veggies.
Coconut Peanut-Ginger Sauce
Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter, thinned with a few tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 medium clove garlic, grated
In a medium bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, coconut milk, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, ginger, and garlic until smooth and season to taste with salt.
Lemony Roasted Garlic Kale Caesar with Sesame Croutons
Bright acidic lemon, mellow roasted garlic, and tangy Worcestershire fuse to create a dressing that your guests will want to eat with a spoon. Countering the cocktails with a bowl of greens is always a good idea, and kale’s sturdy texture is fantastic for sopping up every last drop. The unexpected crunch of homemade sesame croutons adds some substance to this salad
Serves 10-12 as a side
4 cups torn crusty Italian bread (crouton size)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
12 cups thinly sliced lacinato kale leaves, ribs removed (about 2 bunches)
Lemony Roasted Garlic Dressing (recipe follows)
1/2 cup shaved parmesan cheese
Cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Spread the torn bread on a baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, melted butter, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper and pour over the bread, tossing with your hands to combine. Bake until the croutons are golden and toasted, 12 to 14 minutes. Reserve the sesame seeds remaining on the bottom of the baking sheet.
In a large bowl, mix the kale and croutons with several tablespoons of the dressing at a time, tossing to combine, until the salad is coated to your liking. Garnish with the shaved parmesan, cracked black pepper, and reserved sesame seeds.
Lemony Roasted Garlic Caesar Dressing
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 head roasted garlic (see instructions below)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 2 lemons
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for the roasted garlic)
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
For the roasted garlic:
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Slice off the very top of the garlic head so that the cloves are exposed. Drizzle the cloves with oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap the entire head in foil and bake until golden and tender, 50 to 55 minutes. Allow the garlic head to cool and then pop out the cloves by gently squeezing them out of their shells.
Using the flat side of your knife, mash the roasted garlic until it becomes a paste.
In a deep bowl, combine the roasted garlic paste, mustard, Worcestershire, parmesan, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Slowly stream in the olive oil and, using a whisk or a blender, blend well until the dressing is emulsified and thick. Whisk in the yogurt and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
Linguine with Clam Sauce
Pasta is a no-brainer for a bigger group, and this summery linguine requires nothing more than a handful of fresh ingredients and a good ear for when the clams pop open. With a savory broth of white wine, lemon juice, fresh clams, and garlic, this light, buttery dish will leave you with a round of applause—and everyone feeling like they just took a dip in the ocean.
Serves 10 – 12
2 pounds linguine
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 pounds fresh clams (such as Manila or littleneck), scrubbed
1 cup dry white wine
Juice of 4 lemons
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
12 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Cook the pasta according to package directions, and reserve about 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water before you drain it.
In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add 6 tablespoons of the oil. Add the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until lightly golden, about 45 seconds. Add the clams, and stir until coated with the garlic oil, about 1 minute. Turn the heat to medium high, add the wine and lemon juice, and cover the pan. Simmer until the clams open, about 8-10 minutes, making sure to discard any that don’t open.
Remove the clams from the pan, and set them aside to cool slightly. Remove about 3/4 of the clams from their shells and set the meat aside. If your clams are big, rough chop the meat into smaller, bite-size pieces.
Reduce the cooking liquid by about half its volume, and then whisk in the butter. Add in the pasta, starchy cooking water, salt, pepper, shelled clams, parsley, and 8 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Toss to coat, and season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
Divide the pasta, clams, and sauce among bowls and top with even amounts of the remaining clams in their shells, olive oil, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.