Cocktail parties are everywhere during the holidays, but bookmark this post for later, because entertaining never goes out of style. If you’re planning to host a gathering large or small for drinks and celebration, you should also offer some food to subdue the effects of the spirits and fill the stomachs (and hearts) of your guests.
Cocktail party food can seem intimidating to many, especially if you have a neighbor who constructs intricate canapes that look like they belong in a museum. Sometimes, you need to throw a party that’s memorable and entertaining without the hassle and stress of a complicated menu.
Make ahead appetizers that can be served at room temperature are your best bet for high quality entertaining with low effort. A couple days before your party, go to the grocery store. First, visit the deli and meat counter and ask for their suggestions for charcuterie, prepared meats that are often smoked, cured or salted. A variety of cured sausages, pate, thinly sliced deli prosciutto and salami make wonderful party snacks.
Next, you’ll want to find the olive bar, popular at most grocery stores. This is a great way to add a unique and colorful twist to the appetizer table, and olives keep well in the refrigerator. Get a variety of olives and serve them in small dishes, or a serving dish with a few compartments. Pitted olives are easier on your guests, but if you choose un-pitted olives, it’s a good idea to have a small receptacle nearby for guests to dispense with their napkins and pits.
The cheese section is the next stop. Depending on your preferences, grab a few blocks of gourmet cheese, unique “stinky” cheese and classics like cheddar or gouda. A variety of cheese options ensures your timid and adventurous eaters alike find something they enjoy. You can serve the cheese on a slate board and write the name of the cheese in chalk, use toothpicks and paper to make cheese flags or let the guests inquire and impress them with your newfound knowledge of Camembert. (Some grocery stores will have workers with a background in cheese, so they can suggest options or explain the cheeses with which you’re unfamiliar.)
The little extras at the party make a big impact, so look for a variety of crackers your guests can use as vessel for all the wonderful charcuterie and cheese you gathered. Whole grain mustards and fruity jams make excellent compliments; try a spicy mustard and a fig jam for unique flavors that will delight your guests. They will go well with your cured meats and cheeses and allow an endless variety of cracker-fig-cheese-meat combinations, which will stimulate lively conversation by the food table.
Now, the perfect addition to the table is a homemade touch. You want to offer something you can make in advance, so a cheese ball will fit the theme perfectly and have guests begging for the recipe. Bring a printed copy of the recipe with you to the grocery store or pull it up on your phone to make sure you get all the ingredients necessary. This Curried Cheese Ball will be delicious with those crackers you just picked up, and it comes together quickly in a food processor.
The last thing on your list is champagne, the New Year’s Eve staple that seems to attend every celebration throughout the year. Champagne can be (surprisingly) affordable and allows guests to serve themselves quickly and easily, without a ton of ingredients and with virtually no mess. (Just don’t let crazy Uncle Larry pop the cork!) If you want to add extra flair to the champagne station, you can offer a variety of liquors and fruit for guests to add to their flutes. Berries and pomegranates look particularly festive in a glass of bubbly.
The day before your party, chill the champagne and set up your appetizer table, choosing your plates and serving utensils and laying them out with post-it notes to detail what goes in each place. This step is optional, but it’s helpful for space planning and a lot of people do this for big holiday parties. You don’t want to end up with a beautiful appetizer table and no room for the prosciutto! Flowers and berries and greenery can dress up the table if you have space, and you can easily mix and match serving dishes by staying in a general color scheme or theme. Gold, silver, beige and white work especially well for New Year’s Eve. The day before the party is also a great time to make your cheese ball, so you won’t get stuck rushing it the day of.
The day of your party, slice the meats and lay out the cheese, olives, spreads and crackers. Set up the bar with chilled champagne, glasses and any fruity add-ins. Set out toothpicks and pretty napkins, and proudly display your pre-made cheese ball on a small dessert stand
Then, before the guests arrive, pour yourself a well-deserved glass of bubbly and pat yourself on the back. You’ve planned a stunning party that is sure to impress, without having to do a whole heck of a lot – and that’s something worth celebrating.