City Harvest Potluck

The Cookstr Zokos potluck to raise money for City Harvest was a big success!  Over 70 people were in attendance and we collectively raised more than a 1000 dollars for City Harvest.  The dishes were phenomenal, the photos were wonderful and we all had a great time.

The food blogger who won the audience award for best dish was Michael Munoz from The Gay Gourmet.  Second Prize went to Will Levitt from Dorm Room Dinner.

The winner of the photo contest was Melody Han from Rendezfoods with the stunner below (of the winning dish no less).

Thanks so much to all of the wonderful bloggers who participated, and our wonderful sponsors who helped make the night a blast.  We’ve posted a few more photos on check Facebook, click here to see them!

Entertaining Exchanges: Jessica Guzik

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We’ve whipped up another Entertaining Exchange featuring the chief chef of Curated Tables, Jessica Guzik.  On top of being a wonderful host she’s got a great blog of her own that investigates the elements of impromptu social bonding over food.

Zokos:  Think back to the most recent dinner party that you hosted or attended. What was the best part of it?

Jessica:  The most recent dinner part I hosted was, coincidentally, my first Zokos dinner party.  The best part of it was sharing the discovery of a hole-in-the-wall taco joint with my friends.  When I stumbled upon El Pique I was blown away by the sheer variety of tacos: everything from chorizo and chicken to beef tongue and tripe, all served in a double layer of corn tortillas with a scattering of cilantro and onions.  But El Pique is in a pretty rough part of town, and it’s essentially a tienda with concrete floors and two plastic folding tables.  You can’t bring a group to El Pique.  So I brought El Pique to my group of friends.

Zokos:  Explain how the most recent dinner party you threw was different than the first dinner party you ever threw. What has changed since you first started throwing dinner parties? Why?

Jessica:  My motives have changed: I threw my first dinner party when I was 18 in the painfully naive hope that my spinach dip and hosting prowess would seduce a particular guest.  It didn’t.  Now I throw dinner parties just for the sake of cooking a particular dish, catching up with old friends, or introducing new ones.

Zokos:  What are the top two items – not ingredients- at your house that you find yourself using over and over at your dinner parties?

Jessica:  The first item would be mason jars.  Rare is the beverage that does not taste better from a mason jar.  They also double as candle holders and as vases for hand-picked flowers stolen from other people’s gardens.  The second item would be a corkscrew because I’m an unapologetic wine freak.

Zokos:  Where is your dream place to host a dinner party?

Jessica:  I’ve been having this reoccurring fantasy about hosting a dinner party at someone else’s lavish, local pad booked through AirBNB.  It seems like such a great way to have people over for dinner if your own home isn’t big enough to accommodate a crowd, and you can split the cost of renting the place among your friends.  And who wouldn’t get a voyeuristic thrill out of poking around a stranger’s luxury apartment, crudités in hand?

Zokos:  You can invite any four people to a dinner party – who are they?

Jessica:  I’d invite Matthew Inman, creator of the web comics site The Oatmeal, and ask him to doodle something on a napkin for us to remember the evening by.  Neil deGrasse Tyson would be there and he’d get us all worked up about astrophysics because he’s so unabashedly passionate about the subject.  My favorite advice columnist, Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post, would guide us through our most personal dilemmas in between courses, while comedienne Megan Amram would add levity with her morbid sense of humor.  Also, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte would serve us.  Shirtless.

Zokos:  What’s your ideal number of people for a dinner party and why?

Jessica:  Six, because that’s how many chairs I have.  And by chairs I mean friends

Persian Parties with Louisa Shafia of Lucid Food

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We’re back with the second installment of our Entertaining Exchanges series. We are delighted to feature Louisa from Lucid Food.  Check out her blog and her amazing cookbook! Also, as you’ll see below, she is an expert in Persian cuisine, so get excited for her book on Persian cuisine coming out early next year (2013).

Zokos: Think back to the most recent dinner party that you hosted or attended. What was the best part of it?

Louisa: The best part of my last dinner party was when my friend’s boyfriend went for round three on the food. I love it when people truly enjoy what I cook for them (although he had taken part in the five-borough bike tour that day, so maybe he was just really hungry).

Zokos: Explain how the most recent dinner party you threw was different than the first dinner party you ever threw. What has changed since you first started throwing dinner parties? Why?

Louisa: I have a few more serving dishes now, and I also know my limits. At my first party ever after I moved to NYC from Philly, we had about a dozen people over. By the time we got to dessert, there was barely anything left to eat with. Since there weren’t enough bowls to go around, we ended up passing around one big bowl of tofu chocolate pudding, and everyone took bites with their own spoon.

Zokos: What are the top two items – not ingredients- that you find yourself using over and over at your dinner parties?

Louisa: The Soda Stream — we like to make fancy water when people come over — and the ambient internet station Groove Salad. It’s like elevator music for young people who need to relax. I love it.

Zokos: Where is your favorite place to host a dinner party?

Louisa: Living in the city with no backyard, I’m a big fan of the picnic. On summer evenings when it’s warm enough outside to wear nothing but a t-shirt on top, I like to bring friends together at a park. Everyone brings their own plate, fork, glass, and napkin, and a dish or two to share. If we’re lucky, we find a picnic table to set up on, and that can fit about ten people. It’s such a good feeling to be outside breathing fresh air while you enjoy a meal with friends. There’s no big clean-up involved, and you get to taste lots of different creative dishes, you just have to make sure there’s enough for everyone. Be well behaved, and cops will even look the other way at your badly hidden wine bottles.

Zokos: You are writing a book about Persian food- what are a few words or ideas that sum up the Persian style of entertaining?

Louisa: A few rules:

Do not under any circumstances show up on time. That would be very un-Persian. It’s polite to be about an hour late for an invitation to a meal.

Leave your shoes at the door, it’s all about being casual and making yourself at home.

Prepare to eat a lot of food, all at once, in a couple of different rounds. There are no courses at a Persian meal, everything comes out at once and you just fill your plate with fragrant stew, rice, meat, yogurt, pickles, and tahdig: the crunchy, golden rice at the bottom of the pot that is the pièce de resistance of any Persian meal. After you inevitably overeat, you need to recover with a few glasses of black tea. After that, you’ll be ready for dessert. After more tea, you’ll be ready for another go at the food.

Don’t schedule anything else that day. A Persian meal, especially on a Sunday, goes all day long. Frankly, it’s unheard of to leave in under 6 hours. That’s because there’s a lot to do, between catching up with everyone, playing backgammon, chasing the kids, and eating, of course.

Zokos: Tell us about cooking for fifty plus people for Norooz! What made it so much fun?

Louisa: For Persians, Norooz (the New Year celebration that falls on the spring equinox), is connected to childhood memories, family, and the ancient traditions of Iran going back at least 2500 years. To talk about the customs of the holiday in front of this big group of New Yorkers — some Persian, but most not — and have people be interested and excited felt like a big hug, especially at a time when Iran is not exactly our best friend. It was also the first time in a long time that I’ve cooked a meal in a restaurant, and it was exhilarating to work with a team again, rocking out plates and courses under a time constraint and pulling it off (mostly) smoothly. Against all odds, we even managed to make perfect tahdig! Like at any good Persian meal, our guests rolled out the door, overstuffed according to the rules of hospitality.

Summer… Meet Zokos

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Summer is finally here which means trips to the beach and grilling in the back yard. The team at Zokos has been working hard to get ready for BBQ season and has put together a short list for a guaranteed good time:

  • Be ready for weather.  Whether it’s a tarp, or a back-up plan – have one.
  • Remember the Veggies.  Not everyone’s a carnivore.
  • Be original.  Whether it’s a new drink or new people, keep things fresh.
  • Let friends help out.  Reduce your stress by having friends lend a hand.  
  • RSVP!  Be a good guest and let the host know if you’re coming.

Additionally, we’ve been working hard to build some features to make your life even easier.   Here are a few of our favorites that we think you’ll love:

  • Feeling Potlucky?  RSVPed guests can now add a dish to the menu.
  • Flexible RSVP: Now you can set the RSVP deadline to any day and time which means that you can host same day events.
  • Improved Sharing:  It’s simple to share your event using a custom link.
  • Zokos Anywhere! You canuse Zokos anywhere in the world with an address.

Let’s do Lunch

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You may think Zokos is all about fancy dinner parties but it can really be used for any kind of food get-together no matter how casual or small.  In fact, some of our favorite zokos have been Friday family-style lunches with co-workers and friends.  It’s quick and easy to do and takes almost no effort.  It also prevents those awkward “where should we go for lunch” conversations.  Here’s all you have to do:

  • Create an event either the day before or morning of.
  • Set the RSVP deadline to an hour or two before you plan on eating.
  • Invite your friends or co-workers to attend by sharing the link or using the invite-guest feature.
  • Once the spots get filled or the RSVP deadline passes, pick a restaurant and place an order using a site like GrubHub or Seamless.  (It’s best to give them an hour or two if you have a larger order)
  • The food will magically be whisked to your office door and you’ll be hailed as a hero by your peers while those who missed have to settle for fantastic smells and views of all of the cools kids getting together for a great meal.

Our lunch last Friday filled up lickity-split with over 20 people who were excited for a chance to meet some of the other people around the office. It sure beats that bologna sandwich or heading to Subway by yourself.

Zokos Pro-tip:
If you’re feeling really savvy, you can try negotiating with some of the local restaurants.  Many of them will cut you a deal or throw in some free appetizers if you’ve got a larger order.

The Art of the Dinner Party

We have all heard horror stories about dinner parties gone awry. Guests staggering in at different times, not having enough food for everyone, meals that aren’t planned and prepared properly. Entertaining can be difficult if you don’t know how to do it right. Not to worry, you don’t have to be Emily Post to host a dinner party that your guests will remember.

On July 10th, we are hosting a class entitled the “The Art of the Dinner Party” with our friends at Gojee.com and Terra Fossil Wines at our very own office space in NYC,  Projective Space LES.  Come join the dinner party pros and learn the some of the key elements to throwing a successful dinner party. From inviting your guests to picking your menu to pairing your wine, the experts will show you the ins and outs of throwing an awesome dinner party and avoiding the simple mistakes that make for unhappy guests.

$10 bucks gets you entry to the event, light food and drinks provided by Mexicue and Terra Fossil Wines, and the knowledge of how to throw a kick ass dinner party!

To RSVP, please use Eventbrite by clicking here

Lesley Tellez – Party Mexico DF Style

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Zokos is excited to announce a new series of blog posts that explore how some of your favorite food bloggers like to entertain.  What do they like to serve?  What is the vibe around their table?  We are honored that Lesley Tellez of The Mija Chronicles is our first hostess to talk with us and share a little more about her Dinner Party Style.

Zokos: Think back to the most recent dinner party that you hosted or attended. What was the best part of it?

Lesley: I think the best part was what Mexicans call the “sobremesa” — my friends and I sitting around after dinner, talking, nobody in a rush. The concept doesn’t really exist in the States, but it’s what turns dinners into three- or four-hour affairs here. My second favorite part is when my girlfriends come into the kitchen and talk to me while I’m finishing a dish. It feels really personal and intimate to share both the kitchen and the food with them.

Zokos: Explain how the most recent dinner party you threw was different than the first dinner party you ever threw. What has changed since you first started throwing dinner parties? Why?

Lesley: I don’t really remember the first dinner party I threw, but in the early days (after my husband and I got married and I suddenly wanted to have lots of people over) I remember feeling nervous and anxious. What if people didn’t like my food? What if I messed up somehow and my food tasted awful? What if we all couldn’t fit comfortably around the dinner table? I’m more relaxed now. My only worry is that we won’t have *enough* food. But I’ve sort of gotten over that the food/menu/decor has to be perfect. It’s more about just being there with my friends and enjoying the moment. As my husband says, “If there’s no more food, we’ll go out for tacos.” That makes me feel better.

Zokos: What are the top two items – not ingredients- at your house that you find yourself using over and over at your dinner parties?

I have a plain white rectangular-shaped platter that I bought at Target maybe in 2007. I use it all the time. It works well for appetizers, a showy meat with some sauce on it (like pork loin) and it’s great for stacking up tamales. I also really love cloth napkins. I tend to buy them when I travel, and it makes a nice memory later.

Zokos: What is your biggest Mexican food horror story?  Give us the gory details!

Lesley: Oh god. One day after I’d first moved to Mexico, I decided to “experiment” and make a tortilla casserole for lunch with a guajillo chile sauce. I used one of Diana Kennedy’s recipes as a guide, but I didn’t read it through all the way. (Note to everyone: NEVER skim DK’s recipes! They have lots of extra steps that will come out and bite you.) I was hungry, but the recipe just kept getting longer and longer. Finally I decided I’d skip the rest of the steps and just throw the thing in the oven. When it finally came out — at 4 p.m., two hours after we normally eat lunch — it was barely edible. I forgot to salt it, and the tortillas were dry and tough because I hadn’t made enough sauce. I think I cried.

Zokos: What are your favorite markets in Mexico City to shop for ingredients for your dinner parties?

Mercado San Juan in the Centro is great if I’m doing something fancy. Their candied and syrup-drenched fruits make perfect, easy desserts, and they tend to wow people. Plus I love the stand that sells hard-to-find upscale Mexican cheeses. (Still thinking about an intense, creamy Cabrales-style cheese from Hidalgo that I tried there once.)  If it’s a normal weeknight thing or something I’m throwing together at the last minute, I go to the Mercado Medellín in the Roma, or the tianguis — an outdoor weekly market — in my neighborhood. Both are more informal and inexpensive. I rarely shop at the supermarket because the produce there always looks tired.

Zokos: When is the best time to serve Tequila to your guests?  What about Mezcal?

Lesley: Anytime! We drink mezcal in our house because it’s of a higher quality than most tequilas you can find here. And we really drink it anytime — before dinner, with dinner, after dinner. I’ll leave you with a popular saying in Spanish:

Para todo mal, mezcal

Para todo bien, también

Y cuando no hay otro remedio, tómate un litro y medio

Translation: “For everything bad, mezcal. For everything good, mezcal. And when you don’t have any other recourse, drink a liter and a half.”

BREAKING NEWS: RSVP does NOT mean “Refreshments Served Very Promptly”

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Dear Friends, RSVP does not mean “Refreshments Served Very Promptly.”

In the late 18th century, French tradition mandated that guests “RSVP” or répondez s’il vous plaît, (“please respond”) to events as a polite gesture to help the host know how many people to expect.  This tradition spread outside of France and continued to be used through to the 20th century when expert-on-etiquette, Emily Post, formalized the concept writing that not responding to an invitation was “inexcusably rude.”  For the better part of the century, the rule held firm be it for a wedding, birthday or dinner party.  Not responding wasn’t really an option and changing your response was something that would only happen in the case of rare, if not drastic, circumstances.

The  “I probably won’t come but want to show my support as your friend while leaving my options open” Button

As the times have changed and paper invitations have been replaced by emails and electronic invites, the meaning of the RSVP has diminished to the point where the majority of people don’t even bother responding at all.  Part of this has to do with the overwhelming amount of information online, but it also has to do with the fact that we’ve become a last-minute, non-committal society.  Smart phones allow us to constantly survey the world for our ‘best option’ at the last possible moment be it in the form of a text, phone call or tweet.  We’re always afraid to RSVP in advance in fear that something a little bit more exciting might arise. We’re confident that we can easily look up the new address or cancel out on the event we were supposed to go to thanks to the hand-dandy computer in our hand.  The 21st century has also given rise to the “I probably won’t come but want to show my support as your friend while leaving my options open” button disguised as a “Maybe.”

From feast for a few to appetizers for almost no one

Unfortunately, these changes have left out one very-important consideration – other people.  We expect that a host can quickly adjust their event if we decide to come or not come minutes before.  We don’t even consider that they might have spent a decent amount of time calculating how much food to purchase or who would be sitting where.  Sure, one person here-and-there doesn’t make or break a party, but when our entire society adopts this philosophy, a party can swing from 5 people to 25 people in a matter of minutes.  A well-planned party can quickly appear like a haphazard event when a feast for a few people turns into appetizers for almost no one.  Likewise, a large get-together can quickly become an under-attended event with a ton of wasted food and underwhelmed guests.

Think like the host

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t think people are blatantly rude.  We just think they haven’t looked at things from the host’s perspective.  Unless you’ve hosted a party recently, there’s really no reason why you’d think twice about making a decision five minutes before the party.  When we talk to friends about their philosophy on RSVPing, most say they just planned on showing up the day of the event. They say it’s become the norm, or that if they aren’t 100% sure they will be there they just don’t respond at all.  As a result, hosts are now forced to cast a wide net by inviting way more people than they’d like to assure they hear back from a few.  Studies show that for each added guest, the rate of hearing back decreases since guests feel like the personal invite is instead an advertisement causing the dangerous cycle of not responding to invites to continue and for the problem to only get worse.

More is less

As sociologist Barry Schwartz says in his book “Paradox of Choice”, it’s a misbelief that choices make us happy.  If our original choice doesn’t work out well we kick ourselves for not picking another option.  If it does go well, we’re left wondering if one of the options wouldn’t have been even better.  While it may be true that TOYWO (Text on your way over) is the new form of “RSVP,” We’d like to at least think there’s still a fighting chance for the lost art of making a choice and sticking to it.  Next time you get an invite in your box, why not take a few seconds to help the host out by responding?  Believe us, they’ll appreciate it

Food Revolution Day Potluck!

Thanks to everyone who came to the Food Revolution Day Potluck on Friday.  

Congratulations to the winners Dan Kohler (Renegade Kitchen) and Justin Schwartz (JustCook NYC) Both of them have posted their dishes on their blogs, so follow the links!

Thanks again to our Judges, Sarah Maine from Recipe Relay and Mike Lee from StudioFeast.  They did a great job!

Also, thanks again to all of the other bloggers who came out and participated: Hungry in Brooklyn, Appetite for China, Savory Sweet Living, ABCD’s of Cooking, Artful Gourmet.  The food was amazing!

Check out photos here: Facebook Photo Album.  Cookstr and Zokos look forward to hosting another fun food blogger potluck soon!

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