In her inspiring new book, Food with Friends ($14; amazon.com), author Leela Cyd explores the question: What is the art of hanging out? The winning formula, she says, is a just-right mix of tasty bites, pretty touches, and delightful company. “After a visit and laughter with pals over a drink, the world feels complete,” she says. An easy predinner gathering, like the one she maps out here, is all it takes. Keep scrolling for her foolproof guide.
1. ADD A TOUCH OF NATURE TO THE TABLE
Whether you’re in the throes of party planning or are just looking to zhoosh up your living space, Cyd’s au naturel decorating tips will help you exude an effortlessly refined vibe with minimal effort. Simply follow her lead and add a few strategically positioned accents. Get her tips here.
2. SERVE AN INVENTIVE COCKTAIL
Cold weather got you down? Shake off single-digit forecasts with a cocktail that'll make you feel like you're sunning on a tropical island. Cyd recommends adding a lime wheel garnish for a look that says "casual yet sophisticated." Keep a bottle of Jura whisky ($46; winewisegreenwich.com) and Aviation gin ($25; winewisegreenwich.com), along with a bowl of citrus and fresh herbs, on hand so your guests can muddle their own concoctions. Since everything but the seltzer can be mixed in advance, preparation is a cinch. Get the recipe here.
3. OPT FOR UNEXPECTED APPETIZERS
Hummus is always a crowd-pleaser, but if you really want to step up your dip game at your next party, try labneh, Greek yogurt’s creamier, tangier cousin. Not only does it pair wonderfully with roasted garlic, spices, and herbs, it also adds a subtle layer of smoky spiciness to fresh veggies. Though really, it's so good, you could eat it on its own. Get the recipe here.
4. Broccolini Ricotta Toasts with Preserved Lemon
Okay, this one takes longer than 30 minutes start to finish, but take one bite into the ricotta, baked broccolini, and—for an unexpected twist—preserved lemon-topped toast and you'll see why it's worth the relatively minimal hassle. We recommend making at least a few batches if you want leftovers because these babies are going to go fast. Get the recipe here.
5. SEND THEM HOME WITH SOMETHING TO REMEMBER
This easy-to-prep popcorn recipe will ensure that your guests remain satiated all night long—and maybe even longer, too. "It's a simple gesture that makes a lasting, thoughtful impression," says Cyd. She keeps a stash of extra supplies to give edible gifts extra polish, like bright Japanese washi tape for sealing or labeling (pictured above on pink bag, $14; amazon.com), and stylish paper bags to quickly wrap up something delicious ($10; restaurantware.com), like this addictive appetizer. Get the recipe here.