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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stylishly simple spring parties

Colin Cowie , who gives parties for a living, shared some of his food, drink and decorating ideas for spring and summer in a dazzling presentation for food writers, who surrounded him like a group of star-struck girls when he was done.

The South African born Cowie came to this country at the height of apartheid, naively intending to "do something" in Hollywood. "I had $400 and two suits to my name," he recalled.

Strictly by accident, he encountered the people planning a wedding for Playboy's Hugh Hefner. "It was awful," he said of the concept. " The world's most eligible bachelor should be heralded with trumpets and fanfare, champagne and caviar instead of a taco bar." He told them his ideas, and the rest is history.

Since then he's put together events for the rich and famous, including one party that cost more than $10 million to give. Last week he was in Washington. D.C. at the height of the Cherry Blossom Festival putting together a party for the ambassador to Abu Dhabi.

His slide show clearly showed his concepts of food as theater and keeping things simple so the host and hostess can enjoy their guests rather than be confined to the kitchen. He showcased a gazpacho party for summer in which guests select their ingredients from glass bowls and pour the gazpacho over them from a pitcher.

His attention to detail and knack for making a celebration into something personal was clear in the advice he offered. "Seating is important, too," he said. "Keep your chatty Kathy at one end of the table and your librarian at the other. Separate husbands and wives."

Common sense is often overlaid with fantasy.

"There's no such thing as too many candles," he said. "Start with the best ingredients and you can't go wrong."

The following recipe certainly marries form with function and is simple besides.

A Checkerboard of Roasted Peppers

2 each large red, yellow and green bell peppers
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 2-ounce can flat anchovies, drained and cut in halves lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons capers
Preheat broiler. Arrange peppers, in a single layer, on a large baking sheet or roasting pan. Run peppers under the broiler, turning frequently with tongs, until the skins are blackened all over. Using tongs, transfer the peppers to a brown paper bag. Close the top of the bag and set aside for 15 minutes. Remove peppers from bag and peel, stem, halve and seed them. Place peeled pepper halves in a shallow dish .In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and oil, whisking to a blend and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the peppers. Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight.. Remove the peppers from the marinade and trim the edges to make squares of equal sizes. On a large flat platter, arrange the squares, alternating colors, to create a checkerboard effect. Crisscross the anchovies diagonally over the peppers to make a lattice pattern. Place an olive half at each junction of 4 peppers. Sprinkle the arrangement with the garlic and capers. Cover the peppers with plastic wrap and refrigerate them until ready to serve. Let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
His Website has more recipes and photos.

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