Have Cuba Libre Party!

Fashion designer Anand Jon with one month old tiger cub on the runway during Animal Fair Magazine's 7th Annual "Paws for Style" celebrity pet fashion show benefiting Animal Medical Center of New York, held at CROBAR, Tuesday, April 4, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/Jennifer Graylock)
AP Photo/Jennifer Graylock
"In life, we always want what we can't have. These days, Cuba is the forbidden fruit, which of course makes it taste all that much better. If you can't go to Cuba, why not bring Cuba to you?"

That's just a little something that The Early Show resident event planner, Colin Cowie, writes in his book, "Dinner After Dark."

It's always fun to have a theme when you're entertaining. But that doesn't have to mean that you have to organize an elaborate costume party or create a time-consuming menu. Cowie shows how even a two-hour cocktail gathering will be more pulled together by recreating a fun and lively atmosphere with a Cuba Libre party.

This party is set up as a heavy hors d'oeuvres supper. All of the food is appetizer food. The idea is that you don't need dinner after a cocktail party like this. However, Cowie says you must inform your guests in advance that this is not a sit-down dinner party.

The set-up includes a long wood table with a market umbrella with a mosquito net behind it, making it more whimsical and dreamy. Cowie suggests hanging lamps inside the umbrella to create a little more of an intimate feel. Instead of using fresh-cut flowers, try baskets from Mexico lined with tropical leaves. On the table, set the drinks on one side with a tropical fruit centerpiece in the middle.

Use red to add a splash of color on the table. Cowie suggests red glasses and votives mixed with tropical prints. He likes to use extra-large tropical leaves, like monsterra leaves, banana leaves, and hanging haliconias that come from Hawaii.

Instead of a tablecloth, use potato sacking or jute. On the table, put glass cylinders filled with water, floating candles and banana leaves. Set up three round tables with wooden folding chairs so it's like a Cuban party. Colin says it gives it that extra "cha-cha-cha."

To really get into the feel, have your guests don colorful guayabera shirts and have a festive music selection.

Food and Drinks
Obviously, Cuba Libre is a drink (although it means "Free Cuba"), so set up a rum bar with five or six different kinds of rum. Cowie suggests showcasing your rum in a different way. Instead of having the bottles out, he says, pour the rum into snifters. To give this party real Cuban flavor, use little glass Coke bottles with wedges of lime. Cowie's Cuban party has a little '50s flair (thus the old-fashioned Coke bottles).

One of the things that makes this party a little more interesting than a traditional dinner party is that it's all appetizer food. If you want to have a great cocktail party from 7 to 9, this is the theme to use. And everything is so simple to do and make. Piccadillo in a cup, fried tortilla strips are really delicious, and everyone can do this. A lot can be prepared in advance. Also, the Mojito is a great fashionable cocktail right now.

For dessert, Cowie offers the following recipe for Fried Bananas with Caramel Sauce:

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup lager beer
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
6 large bananas (peeled and cut into 1-inch sections)
Confectioner's sugar
Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, egg yolks, beer, salt, and oil. Whisk together until a smooth batter forms with no lumps. Allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
  2. In another bowl, whip the egg white with a whisk and gradually add the sugar until the mixture forms soft peaks. Fold into the batter.
  3. In a large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, heat 3 to 4 inches of vegetable oil until it reaches a temperature of 350 degrees F. (Use a candy thermometer.) Using a wooden skewer or large toothpick, dip the banana pieces in the batter, add one by one to the hot oil, and fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Throughout the frying, be sure that the oil is at least 350 degrees F. but don't exceed 375 degrees F. Drain the browned bananas on paper towels. Sprinkle them with confectioner's sugar and serve with the caramel sauce poured on top or on the side for dipping.

Caramel Sauce
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Place 1 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Make sure the pot is large enough to avoid splashing; the sauce will bubble when the water is added. Melt the sugar without stirring until it turns a deep caramel color. (The sugar will color quickly; do not burn it.) Slowly add the water, stirring carefully so as not to splash.