Anyone who hosts — or has the urge to host — knows the vision:
It’s a Saturday night and the most magical cocktail party is unfolding at Casa Yours. Drinks are in hand — in perfectly polished glassware. Hors d’oeuvres are being passed — on shiny platters. There are no spills, no stains, no kitchen flops, no bored early exits.
And with everyone laughing, clinking glasses and oohing and ahhing over your glamorous spread and gastronomical skills, it’s starting to look like a Crate & Barrel photo shoot in your living room. According to Instagram, your pad is the most lit place in town.
Of course, without the right planning, this vision implodes. Everyone is standing around holding empty plastic cups, the hors d’oeuvres are burning in the oven and — oops — you never had a chance to change out of your sweatpants/slippers/apron couture.
Alas, something will probably go wrong. But achieving a get-together that more closely resembles the first scenario is within reach with a little thought and preparation — start by making a list of everything that needs to get done and creating a realistic schedule for making it happen.
Minneapolis event planner Amy Zaroff helped us out with some other tips for plotting the perfect shindig and getting a head start on those oohs and ahhs.
Buy smart: Not much is worse at a cocktail party than running out of, you know, cocktails. Or booze in general, really — so plan accordingly. What’s the right amount? “My rule of thumb is usually one and a half drinks per person per hour and a half,” Zaroff said. “So think about that when thinking about guest counts and how long your party will last.”
Consider a signature cocktail: Providing one pre-made concoction — along with wine and beer — cuts down on chaos and costs that can come from bartending during the event, or giving your guests free rein of the options. Zaroff suggests hosts let a desired color guide the booze selection. For a golden cocktail, consider a rum or tequila-based drink; for a red cocktail, look to incorporate the likes of sweet vermouths or Campari.
“The colors really strike people,” Zaroff said. “And that theme can carry throughout the party.”
Create an experience: Cocktail parties don’t have to be of the traditional variety; hosts can forgo the mixology and opt for a tasting instead. Wine is the evergreen, but there are other options, including whiskey, other spirits, beer or sake. “It’s fun to expose friends to new flavors, especially in a really low-key atmosphere where it doesn’t feel pretentious,” said Zaroff.
Eliminate confusion from the start: If you don’t have time to whip up a cocktail beforehand, print a simple cocktail recipe, pop it in a picture frame, and lay out the ingredients on the bar for guests to do-it-themselves. And as with food, mark any drinks that could affect common allergies, such as nuts, dairy, gluten or eggs.
“It shows you’ve thought about everyone,” Zaroff said. “Being a host is really about taking care of your guests.”
Go nuts on glassware: Let’s be honest: Plastic cups kill at least a quarter of the joy of imbibing. But most hosts don’t have enough identical glassware to offer a crowd. No worries, Zaroff said. She likes to mix and match, shopping for single bargain glasses at stores like World Market and Target.
“If a drink is supposed to be in a coupe and you put it in a low-ball, big deal,” she said. “I think it’s fun to mix it up. If something feels good and looks good, go for it.”
Jazz it up and strike a pose: A social affair isn’t a party without some flair, so pick your spots for splurging or decorating beyond the basics. Zaroff suggests dressing up the bar or bar cart with bottles bearing attractive labels and gold and silver accents. Drinks can be rimmed with sparkly sugars and boosted by metallic paper straws. And don’t forget the garnishes: sprigs of herbs, bourbon cherries and citrus twists go a long way.
And keep photo opportunities in mind. Some hosts are even creating a hashtag for their event. “You have to think about everything these days as an unofficial style shoot,” Zaroff said. “All of your guests are going to want to share the love on social media.”
Don’t forget the food: Unless you want your evening fete to turn into a sleepover, you’d better give your guests something to munch on — and help soak up all that hooch. Zaroff recommends three to five passed hors d’oeuvres for a cocktail hour. If the party isn’t moving into dinner, a heavier cocktail buffet could feature starchier items, like mini sandwiches. For dessert, the guideline is three mini-dessert pieces (like chocolates) or one whole dessert.
If hosts don’t want to physically pass the hors d’oeuvres, they can set out a platter on a table. “But sometimes it’s fun just to walk around to socialize and make sure everyone gets a piece,” she said. “And it keeps people from hanging out in the kitchen or around a particular table.”
If all else fails, bring in the pros: Not much of a planner? You can hire someone for that. To save a few bucks, consider a student from the Minnesota School of Bartending. For food and wine pairings, many local chefs are now available for some private party functions — an option that’s getting more affordable. “It shouldn’t break the bank,” said Zaroff.
The Aged Pomegranate
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: From Amelia Rayno.
• 2 c. tequila
• 2 c. pomegranate juice
• 1 1/2 c. off-dry sherry, such as amontillado
• 1/2 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1/4 c. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
• 10 dashes bitters
• Fresh pomegranate chunks, for garnish, optional
• Fresh mint leaves, for garnish, optional
Combine the tequila, pomegranate juice, sherry, lime, Luxardo and bitters in a large pitcher or dispenser.
To serve: Shake each drink over ice, and strain, or add 3 to 4 cups ice to the pitcher or dispenser to properly dilute. Garnish with a pomegranate chunk on a skewer and the mint, if desired.
Nutrition information per each of 10 servings:
Calories 200 Fat 0 g Sodium 10 mg
Carbohydrates 14 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 9 mg
Protein 0 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 0 g
Spiced Pear Collins
Serves 6 to 9.
Note: This recipe includes a couple of make-ahead steps. Pear nectar can be purchased in the juice section at most grocery stores. Adapted from Saveur magazine.
• 1 1/2 c. pear nectar
• 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish
• 1 1/2 c. gin
• 3/4 c. Rosemary-Clove Simple Syrup (see recipe)
• 3/4 c. fresh lemon juice
• Fresh pear slices, for garnish, optional
Pour the pear nectar in a small pan and add the 3 sprigs of rosemary. Bring the nectar to a boil, then lower to a simmer for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow nectar to cool completely.
When ready to compose the cocktail, combine the gin, nectar, simple syrup and lemon juice, and stir. Strain over crushed ice to serve, and top with the additional rosemary and pear slices, if desired.
Nutrition information per each of 9 servings:
Calories 160 Fat 0 g Sodium 3 mg
Carbohydrates 19 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 18 mg
Protein 0 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 12 g
Rosemary-Clove Simple Syrup
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Note: You will need 3/4 cup of this for the Pear Spiced Collins. From Saveur magazine.
• 1 c. sugar
• 1 c. water
• 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
• 2 tbsp. whole cloves
Combine the sugar, water, rosemary and cloves in a small pot and bring to a boil, stirring well. Allow to cool completely, then strain.
Blini With Smoked Salmon
Makes 18 pancakes.
Note: In a pinch, use a pancake mix and follow the instructions on the box. To clarify butter: Melt unsalted butter over low heat while milk solids sink to the bottom. Strain through cheesecloth or fine-mesh sieve. Discard the milk solids. From Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa.”
• 1/3 c. buckwheat flour
• 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
•3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. milk
• 1 extra large egg
• 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, clarified, divided (see Note)
• 1/2 lb. smoked salmon
• 1/4 c. crème fraîche
• Sprigs of fresh dill, for garnish
Combine both flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and 1 tablespoon clarified butter. Then whisk mixture into the flour bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon clarified butter in a medium sauté pan and drop the batter into the hot skillet, 1 tablespoon at a time. Cook over medium-low heat until bubbles form on the top side of the blini, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook for 1 more minute, or until brown. Repeat with the remaining batter. Set aside.
To serve, top the blini with a piece of smoked salmon. Add a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprig of dill, and serve.
Nutrition information per each blini with salmon:
Calories 100 Fat 7 g Sodium 190 mg
Carbohydrates 6 g Saturated fat 4 g Total sugars 0 mg
Protein 4 g Cholesterol 30 mg Dietary fiber 0 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, ½ medium-fat protein, 1 fat.
Mini Avocado Toasts
Makes 12 to 24 mini toasts.
Note: Quail eggs can be found at some local co-ops and butcher shops; a slice of a small hard-cooked chicken egg can be substituted. From Amelia Rayno.
• 2 c. water, for boiling, plus 2 c. ice water for cooling
• 12 quail eggs, optional (see Note)
• 6 slices of any sandwich bread
• 2 to 3 avocados
• About 1 tbsp. salt
• About 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
• About 1 tbsp. red chile flakes
• About 2 tbsp. olive oil
• About 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
• About 1/4 c. fresh parsley
Bring the water to a boil and add the quail eggs. After about 2 1/2 minutes, remove the eggs and dunk them in ice water for 2 minutes, then remove, carefully peel away the shells, and set aside.
Toast the bread and slice it either in half or in quarters, depending on the size. Top with slices of avocado, mashing gently with a fork, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and chile flakes, and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.
Slice each quail egg in half — taking care to not let the yolk spill too much — and place 1 or 2 halves on top of each mini toast. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per each of 24 (without egg):
Calories 50 Fat 3 g Sodium 330 mg
Carbohydrates 5 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 1 mg
Protein 1 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, ½ fat.
Devils on Horseback
Makes 24 appetizers.
Note: From “The Martha Stewart Show.”
• 24 large dates, pitted
• 1/3 c. Stilton cheese or other blue cheese
• 12 slices of bacon, halved crosswise
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 24 toothpicks in a small bowl filled with water; let soak 15 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and fit with a wire rack; set aside.
Halve dates lengthwise, being careful not to cut all the way through. Place a small amount of cheese in the center of each date. Wrap a piece of bacon around each date. Secure bacon with a toothpick. Place dates on prepared baking sheet. Bake until bacon is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
Nutrition information per each serving:
Calories 45 Fat 2 g Sodium 90 mg
Carbohydrates 5 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 5 mg
Protein 2 g Cholesterol 5 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, ½ fat.