When it comes to hosting a cocktail party, the latter is the operative word. The host shouldn’t be stuck in the kitchen while others revel in delicious bites and good company. The trick to throwing a stress-free holiday cocktail party is creating a menu of hors d’oeuvres that can be easily made ahead of time, leaving only an hour or two of prep on the day of your event. This tried-and-true trick will save you time and frustration, according to the pros at Grace & Grit.
The boutique Southold catering company, best known for its creative takes on seasonal-inspired and locally sourced fare, suggests simple-to-make appetizers that still deliver a wow factor for the ultimate DIY cocktail party.
“We try to make sure there is a good variety,” said owner Jennilee Morris. “We offer a vegetarian option or a vegan option so there is a little something for everybody. You also want to make sure there is a good match of heavy and light; for example, tomato and mozzarella for a quick bite with a beef slider that will fill people up.”
Setting out appetizers on tables away from the main dining area and the bar cart prior to guests’ arrival not only sets the tone for guests to mingle, it eliminates the need for the host to navigate a busy room with trays of food. For an intimate group of 20 or less, Morris suggests serving the next course about 45 minutes after the party starts.
“It is the right amount of time for people to get comfortable and relax,” she said.
Grace & Grit executive chef Adam Kaufar recommends serving three to five cooked appetizers supplemented by two simple (read: low-to-no prep) starters, such as a shrimp cocktail and a cheese platter. Each guest should get three bites of each appetizer, he noted.
Grace & Grit’s top picks for a holiday party are potato bites, Brussels sprout lollipops, and squash and sweet potato latkes. These three recipes are the perfect combination of classic winter flavors and eye-catching presentation, plus each is served at room temperature, limiting time in the kitchen.
“The best part is that all these recipes are easy to do at home, they just sound fancy,” Kaufar said with a laugh. “Nothing has to be warmed up, which is the beauty of it, it’s nothing too difficult.”
New Potato Bites
• Crème fraîche or sour cream
• Red or white new potatoes (bite-sized)
• Chives, finely sliced on bias
• Caviar (optional)
Boil red or white new potatoes in heavily salted water until cooked through. (This can be done a day or two before and stored in the refrigerator). Slice a small flat spot on one side of each of the potatoes. Then, on the opposite side, slice off a quarter. This is the side you will scoop. A melon baller works great to make a small cavity. Warm the potatoes in a 350° oven to bring to room temperature. Fill cavity with crème fraîche or sour cream before service. Top with chives and caviar.
Squash and Sweet Potato Latkes
• 2 sweet potatoes
• 2 butternut squash
• 1 white onion
• 3 large eggs, beaten
• All-purpose flour
• Oil for frying
Grate the sweet potato, squash and the onion using the largest hole size on a box grater. Mix ingredients together with beaten eggs, add enough flour to form cakes that stay together. Salt and pepper to taste. Add oil to frypan over medium-high heat. Fry cakes on one side until golden brown then flip and cook until that side matches. About 2-3 minutes per side.
Brussels Sprout Lollipops
• Small Brussels sprouts
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• Balsamic glaze
• Crushed peanuts
Clean sprouts by trimming the end and removing loose leaves. Put oil and balsamic vinegar in a shallow pan and turn the heat to medium, add the sprouts and enough water to cover a third of the sprouts. Cover pan and let cook until water evaporates and sprouts are cooked through. (This can be done the day before.) Skewer sprouts at bottom. Put crushed peanuts on plate, drizzle skewered sprouts with glaze. Use glaze to stick the peanuts to the sprouts.