Though Lela Rose is best known for whipping up unabashedly feminine clothes lavished with pretty details like lace and sparkles (and favored by many a Hollywood starlet, from Nina Dobrev to Selena Gomez), she also has a knack for throwing a killer party. Chic, quirky, and most of all fun, Rose chronicles her adventures as a hostess into a new book, Pret-A-Party ($27; amazon.com) that's brimming with ideas for creative entertaining. We recently sat down with the newly minted author to get some pointers on throwing a family-friendly Halloween fete in advance of the coming holiday.
Know the fundamentals of any good party. "There are two really important things to remember to make sure everyone has a good time," Rose says. No 1: a specialty cocktail, which according to her not only gets people feeling relaxed, but signals that as the host, you've thought through all the details and that you're in control (one of her favorites is below). No. 2: "You've got to make it fun for yourself—it's miserable for all when the host is stressed out," she says. To that end, throwing a party that's easy to execute is essential.
Make sure there's a hands-on activity for the kids. The kind of Halloween party that Rose has in mind embraces nostalgia and good old-fashioned fun. To jumpstart the evening, "I'd have people bobbing for apples right when they walk in," she says. "It's a game that reminds me of my childhood, and anything involving apples just feels right for the fall." It satisfies Rose's easy-does-it attitude, too—just fill a bucket with water and apples and let people have at it. Another idea: cover your dining table with black chalkboard paper. Doodle partially finished Halloween images like jack-o-lanterns, cat silhouettes, and witch faces, and scatter chalk all over the table so kids can fill out the rest. The result is an engaging "centerpiece" that's a lot less work than arranging a bunch of bouquets. Another idea: set up a station where people can make their own popcorn balls (another throwback to Rose's youth). Spread freshly popped popcorn all over the table and have lots of bowls of syrup and toppings like pumpkin seeds or sprinkles that people can roll together to either eat on the spot or take home as party favors.
Make food fun (and easy). Despite labeling herself a food snob, Rose has a weakness for Frito Pie, a nod to her Texas roots. Start with a big batch of chili. (Rose serves a homemade turkey version that's heavy on tomatillos and cilantro.) Hand out individual packages of Fritos, and cut off the tops and serve chili directly into each bag. Put out classic chili fixings (sour cream, chives, grated cheese) and let friends help themselves, and eat their "Frito Pie" spooned straight out of the bags.
And as for that signature cocktail? "I'd do an Apple Snap," she says, referring to a cocktail recipe from her book that's spiked with hard cider and bourbon. "It's just divine." Get the recipe below.
Spiced Apple Snap
3 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
4 whole cloves
4 star anise
3 whole allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 quart apple cider
2 cups hard cider
1 cup Snap liqueur ($25; winewisegreenwich.com)
1 cup apple brandy (Rose suggests Calvados, $18; holidaywinecellar.com, or Armagnac, $24; wineanthology.com)
8 lemon twists for garnish
For the Cider Syrup
1. Combine the spices in a spice grinder and pulse on and off until coarsely ground.
2. Pour the cider into a large wide pot; add the ground spices and bring to a boil over high heat.
3. Simmer until reduced to about 1 cup (the consistency should resemble maple syrup), about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let the syrup cool completely. (The cider syrup can be made up to 1 month ahead; pour into a bottle or jar, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.)
For the Cocktail
1. In a medium pitcher, combine the cider, lemon juice, cider syrup, Snap liqueur, and Calvados for the cocktail base. (The cocktail base can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover and keep at cool room temperature.)
2. For each drink, measure 3/4 cup of the cocktail base into a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour the drink into a rocks glass, along with the ice from the shaker. Garnish with a lemon twist.