10 tips for a Fabulous Cocktail Party!

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” – Mark Twain.

So, Chris and I go out every Friday night. It is OUR time, sans kids. Sometimes we might mix it up and add Thursday and/or Saturday night as well, but definitely on Fridays. It is our religion, and we’re pretty religious about it :-). The other Friday, we didn’t have a sitter, and decided, spur of the moment, to have people over for cocktails and nibbles. I texted a bunch of friends to drop by if they’re free. That afternoon,

Chris asked: “so how many people are coming over tonight?”

Me: I don’t know.. I kinda lost track

Me: let’s see.. x with 4, y with 5, z with 3, a with 4, b with… etc, etc.. (Not sharing names for their sake)

Chris: What?!! That’s 42 people.

Me: ruh roh big cheesy grin

Anyway, there were ~40 people + 1 dog (even I didn’t anticipate the K9!). And it was a BLAST. I love friends, I love cocktails, and I LOVE impromptu. I didn’t make anything (except kids’ dinner, which was 3 types of pasta – marinara w/ veggies, w/ pesto, and plain; all from jars — so, you see, no real labor was put in!). People brought a lot of appetizers to share, and every one was well fed. It feels amazing to be part of a community, and I’m so grateful for an amazing evening. It took 10 years since moving to California, but I can safely say I have a loving, caring, and beautiful village that I call my tribe.

So, cheers to family, friends, and friends who are family!

Here are some easy ways to impress your guests with minimal effort:

ONE: Set up two self-serve stations of food and drinks (I always have a Champagne/ Prosecco set up) to allow your guests to spread out. You know how the party always ends up in the kitchen? Well, this is a sure shot way of making the kitchen/ living room less cluttered. Make sure flutes glass are set up close to drinks.

img_1928-1img_5906TWO:  Crudités – easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

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THREE: Say Cheeeeese. BUY GOOD CHEESE. My absolute favorite Brie: Brillat Savarin Triple Creme Brie. It is divine!!

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FOUR: Serve cheese with good sliced salami and baguette instead of crackers! They’re bland and you can appreciate cheeses’ taste WAY better. (Pro tip: have the baker slice them for you for even beautiful rounds). Deli dept. will also slice salami based on your preference.

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FIVE: Layer it up. Use baskets, cake stands, plant-pots under plates, cupcake holders, which gives the impression of a polished and ‘put-together’ look.

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SIX: Open that jar! Pictured below – olives (green and kalamata), smoked salmon, capers, marinated mushrooms, baby chokes all came pre-packaged. I arranged it with some freshly sliced radishes, lemons, and an aioli (yes, from a jar), dressed with fresh cut chives.

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SEVEN: Serve ‘posh’ dips. Or posh-sounding, but super simple to make. Here’s a tomato bruschetta with balsamic vinegar and olive tapenade (recipe below), served with toasted baguette at 400F for 5-10 mins. It’s now a “make your own bruschetta” party!

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EIGHT: Have a STAR (aside from you, dah-ling). Sometimes, it’s a dish I made, other times, it’s a special Spanish ham or French cheese or wine that’s I want to showcase. You don’t have to make it from scratch, but if  you have the time, and inclination, here’s gorgonzola pecan bruschetta (very very easy; recipe below):

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NINE:  Two words: Frozen Meatballs. OMG, I can’t even tell you how many times these have saved the day for me. They’re hearty and filling, and you can dress them any way, depending on your party theme! I’ve used marinara sauce, teriyaki sauce. Just pour over meatballs, and throw them in a 375 degree oven for 30 mins. After 30 mins, turn on lowest setting to keep warm until guests arrive. Add fancy toothpicks, and Viola!

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TEN: Don’t be shy to ask your guests to contribute. Even when I don’t say anything in the invite, close friends always text me to ask what they can bring? TELL them what you need. There’s no shame in that. It’s easy to pick up a pie, or a baguette. I’ll often ask a friend (sometimes two) to come an hour early to help open jars :-), or arrange bruschetta (in this case). Serve them wine, start the ‘party’ early. They’ll feel special to be that special person you asked for help – trust me!!!

ELEVEN: Okay, so I lied, there are 11 tips – but here’s my final and most essential tip: YOU are more important than the food, the drinks, the table setting, flatware, etc, etc. Your guests are coming to see you and hear your stories. So, remember, so don’t strive for ‘perfection’, use paper plates and napkins, plastic cups, or whatever else makes your life easier, and have FUN!!!

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Recipes:

Black Olive Tapenade With Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies Recipe:

  • Makes 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound pitted mixed olives.
  • 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed.
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced.
  • 2 tablespoons capers.
  • 2 to 3 fresh basil leaves.
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Directions: Pulse in a food processor a few times until you get desired consistency.

Crostini with Gorgonzola, Honey and Pecans; recipe adapted from Bon Appétit

  • Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 12 1/3-inch-thick diagonal baguette slices
  • 3 oz blue cheese (such as Gorgonzola , Roquefort, or Maytag blue), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup  toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts), coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Honey
Directions: Preheat oven to 400°F. Place baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet. Toast in oven until golden, about 8 minutes. (Can be made 4 hours ahead.) Spread blue cheese on baguette slices. Sprinkle toasted nuts over each. Drizzle each slice lightly with honey.
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