As the co-writer of Inspired Bites, it was my job to illuminate the Pinch Food Design philosophy, translating both food (Bob’s expertise) and design (TJ’s specialty) for the home entertainer. And bringing the book to life alongside TJ and Bob was a party in itself. (No, really, there was a lot of wine involved at times.) Though everything this duo does is insanely elegant and perfectly executed, there’s always a strong sense of humor and whimsy that runs through each presentation. As the title of the book says, the Pinch ethos is all about serving exceptional food in unexpected ways: hanging individual pizzas from copper racks, serving charcuterie on clipboards instead of plates, or even building multi-layered bites in real time on an interactive silicone-topped “chef’s table.”
Sound too ambitious for a humble at-home event? Not necessarily. Though Pinch works in the world of chic NYC galas, serving hundreds of hungry, well-heeled partygoers, everything in Inspired Bites has been scaled down to a manageable size. DIY enthusiasts will have a field day with the ideas and projects explored in Inspired Bites. If you want to go all out for Thanksgiving this year, you could create a long, boxed-in table runner filled with marbles, sliding plates up and down the table like they were on ball bearings. Or you could keep guests mingling before the meal with nibbles hung from ribbons and paper cones at eye level.
Though the book gives more than 100 recipes for party food that satisfies every appetite—from single bites to pass around and share to larger dishes for smaller sit-down dinners—my favorite chapter is (unsurprisingly) the one devoted to cocktails and bar snacks. I love a good happy hour and the mix of giddiness and expectation that always comes with the shift from day to evening. Even if you’re not feeling up to the task of pulling together a multi-course party, it’s damn near impossible to have unhappy guests when you stir up a big batch of cocktails. With Pinch-inspired serving options, like the so-simple-to-make paper cones, even boxed snacks seem a little more special. (Though I’ll vouch for the za’atar-dusted fried spaghetti from the book as a 5-minute no-brainer hors d’oeuvre.)
The following drink is inspired by one of the signature cocktails in Inspired Bites. The book version blends together a fall-centric lineup of pear, thyme, and ginger, but I’m switching things up with my favorite autumn beverage—apple cider—and woodsy sage. And in true Pinch Food Design style, it’s a drink you can prep easily in advance, then let your guests play bartender with a serve-yourself setup. (Enabler alert: if you’ve ever wanted to splurge on one of those cool faucet-style drink dispensers, now you have an excuse!)
Note: the cocktail mix might taste too strongly of vodka when you first stir it together, but remember that it’s designed to be served over ice—it dilutes down to just the right consistency when served.
Apple Sage Cooler
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Makes about 2 quarts (12-16 servings)
- 1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 4-5 sage leaves + additional sage leaves for garnish
- 4 cups (1 quart) apple cider
- 1 750ml bottle vodka
- 4 12-oz. bottles ginger beer
- wafer-thin slices of fresh ginger for garnish
Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves completely and the syrup comes to a simmer.
Stir in the sage leaves and remove from the heat. Cover and let steep for 1 hour to let the sage flavor infuse the syrup.
Remove the sage leaves from the syrup.
Stir the sage simple syrup, apple cider, and vodka together in a large (3-quart) pitcher or cooler-style drink dispenser. (The drink can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated at this point until you’re ready to serve.)
Add ice to the pitcher or dispenser. Set up a drinks station with highball glasses, additional ice, ginger beer, and the ginger slices and additional sage leaves for garnish.
Let guests fill their glasses with ice, serve themselves from the dispenser, add a splash of ginger beer to the drink, and garnish with ginger and sage.