One of my favorite hosting tasks is cookoffs or mixology competitions. You know why, right? Because I don’t have to do all the work. I only have to provide a space and my own little entries. Even the cleaning takes care of itself, since most guests will bring their own dishes or something disposable. It’s also a fun way to get rid of things you have too much of. For example, the whiskey my husband drinks kept trying to push honey whiskey on us by attaching mini-liquor bottles to what we wanted. We built up quite the collection. What we were going to do with that? Drink it? No. We were going to have a competition instead. Here’s how to do it:
Pick an Easy Theme
Don’t ask your guests to do anything too specific unless you know they have all the ingredients, or you’re going to purchase everything for them. If someone invites me to an eggroll cook-off, I might go, or I might just order Asian and watch TV on my couch. Of course, if you’re only going to invite professional chefs, go ahead and call for that Top Chef Quickfire challenge game. Who am I to stop you? I’ve held appetizer competitions, chili cook-offs, and martini and hors do’oerves pairings to name a few themes. Those are both pretty broad. Even your non-cooking friends can probably whip up a dip or something.
Keep the Guest List Manageable
I keep these really small. I don’t have a lot of time to make up fancy invitations, figure out which group of friends would be best for this, or figure out some miraculous time when none of my intended guests have anything planned. This way I can do it on the fly. Now, if you and your friends are childless, mostly childless, and/or all work Mon-Fri, 9-5, that’s a different situation. In that case, you could easily turn this into a big shindig. But what I really like about keeping it small is if I see an opening one weekend, I can easily dial up a friend or two and act like I’m having a fancy theme party, when what I’m really having is a potluck.
Have the Right Equipment for Cook-offs or Mixology Competitions
What theme did you go with? Was it anything to do with mixed drinks? If so, you need the right bar equipment. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect your guests to bring pre-made food, but should they really be mixing a drink before they get to your house? Probably not, unless you like all your drinks served warm and/or watered down. My husband picked up this set when he was in a mixologist phase, and it hasn’t steered us wrong. It’s got everything your basic drink needs, plus it doesn’t take up too much room.
This should probably go without saying, but folks, also make sure your microwave is working if you want people to bring over precooked food. If you’re okay with being a little environmentally unfriendly, I’d also go ahead and get some paper plates and cups. It’s going to make cleanup so much easier. I do reuse mine for each entry, if that makes you environmentalists feel any better.
To Judge or Not to Judge?
I’m calling these cook-offs and mixology competitions, but I’ll be honest here – we don’t actually judge anything at my house. We say we’re going to, and we certainly all have our favorites, but no one is competitive enough to need to declare a winner. Scratch that. We’re all too competitive – it’s quite possible we’d battle to the death to win. This is all about fun! You know your guests better than I do. Designate a judge if you want, or just spend the day patting each other on the back for your creativity.
That’s about it. This is such an easy way to entertain! It’s almost like tricking people into believing you’re them a party, when really they’re doing just as much work as you are. This actually seems so easy, I feel like sharing a little recipe from my honey whiskey competition I mentioned at the beginning. Here’s the “winner” we selected – long after the party was over, of course, when I asked which one I should post. Thanks to my sister, the trained bartender, for concocting this one. It’s based on this amazing appetizer recipe we like, so feel free to serve with bacon!
Honey Whiskey Pear Drink
1 part pear liqueur
2 parts honey whiskey
2 parts Sprite or Club Soda
- Pour pear liqueur, honey whiskey, a sprig of thyme, and soda into shaker.
- Fill shaker with ice (3/4) of the way full, add top and strainer, shake.
- Pour drink through strainer to glass; add pepper to taste.