Friday, January 1, 2010

What the Bleep's Guide to the Perfect Cocktail Party

I'm sitting here, basking in a glorious day-after-hosting-a-perfect-cocktail-party glow. I LOVE to entertain. I love to bust out my mismatched platters and stock the bar and make finger foods. I also love little smokies, so any excuse to eat them is awesome. For me, entertaining comes easy, but I understand if its not easy for everyone. That's why I'm writing this guide for you. As long as you get creative and remember to have fun, you can also have the perfect cocktail party and help me bring them back into routine entertainment for our misguided generation.

For your party food, make main 2 items and then serve a couple of snack platters. (Like a cheese plate or chips and salsa.) Making a huge variety of food is not necessary for a cocktail party: its not a dinner party. You only need basic accompaniments for your guests to munch on while they imbibe. And making too many items is going to stress you out at the last minute when you should be getting dressed. I know this for a fact when I had a total What the Bleep moment with curlers in my hair, profusely cussing out my stuffed rosemary potatoes and throwing things.
What to prepare... what to prepare... I know this sounds weird, but you can't go wrong with little smokies. I'm serious. Cocktail weenies in a basic sauce of ketchup and grape jelly served up in a crock pot is a total crowd pleaser. If you think it's white trash, then I'm here to tell you that I've officially dubbed it as being back in style and full of spunk. People will laugh and love it.
For your other main item, make little ham and gruyere puffs sandwiches... they're super easy and your guests will freak. Ina Garten, also known as The Barefoot Contessa, also known as my hero, can take all the credit for this recipe. Here's what to buy:
A package of puff pastry dough from the freezer department at the grocery store
A package of black forest ham sandwich meat.
Gruyere cheese, shredded
Dijon mustard
One egg

Puff pastry is a super buttery, flaky dough that, when you bake it, tastes and feels like a croissant. A box should have 2 squares of dough. Let them thaw in the refrigerator, and then take one piece and set it out on your counter. Spread a few tablespoons of mustard on the puff pastry, leaving about an inch of room at the edge of the pastry.
Put a layer of ham on top of the mustard, again, leaving about an inch at the edges.
Top the ham with a thin layer of gruyere.
Beat the egg with a few tablespoons of water and brush it on the edges with your finger or a pastry brush. This is called "egg wash" and its the glue to hold the top layer of puff pastry on. So after you've painted a layer of egg wash on the border, take the other piece of puff pastry and set it on top. Press down on the borders just to make sure its sealed, but try not to leave finger marks.
Bake this at 400 degrees for however long it takes for the puff pastry to get really golden brown. And no, I don't know exactly how long that is because everyone's oven is different. Lets make it a ballpark figure of 15-20 minutes. But if its not really brown by then, leave it in until it is. You're the boss, not the oven timer. Always remember this: you are higher on the food chain than your oven timer.
Once you've pulled the puffed up goodness out of the oven, let it cool for about 10 minutes and cut it into little squares to serve. A serrated knife will work best.. if you saw with the knife, it will give you a cleaner cut that won't ruin the pastry. Saw, saw, saw... let the knife do the work for you.

Provide beer and wine, or liquor. Don't feel like you have to stock a full bar with tequila, gin, scotch, and vodka options. Buy some wine, a variety of beer (a dark and a light), and some mixers. Let your guests know what you're offering- if they happen to enjoy drinking Rusty Nails, chances are they'll know you don't have a big bottle of Drambuie waiting for them and they'll bring their own.
I had a fanfreakingtastic New Years Eve cocktail party this week and I let my guests know that I was providing beer and wine. If they wanted liquor, they could bring their own and I would have mixers for them. It was a smashing success because everyone knew exactly what would be at the party. And as long as you keep everyone in the know, no one will be disappointed.

This is a special touch that people don't think about. It also helps out if there are stragglers... if worse comes to worse and you have to physically escort them out, at least they'll have some free loot to take home that will distract them from the fact they just got kicked out. Think of things that fit in with the theme of your party. If its around Valentines Day (blech... I hate that day), give them a little bag of conversation hearts and candy. For New Years, I gave little hangover kits: a bottle of water with an Emergen-C packet, and a party noisemaker. The noisemaker wasn't necessarily for the hangover, but I'm sure it was used while the guest was creating said hangover. Be creative and remember you don't have to spend a lot of money. You can even find cool stuff at the dollar store.

If you plan on having everyone gone by midnight, let them know that the party is over at midnight before they get to the party. Include that on your evite, text message, phone call... whatever method you used to invite your guests. Again, this is so that there's no surprises, and so that no one talks naughty about you after the fact on their Facebook statuses.

Door prizes are a great way to get rid of crap. Seriously... its like a cocktail party and a garage sale are the same thing. If you have some gently worn household objects that want to give away, call it a door prize and draw names out of a hat. I did this will all my Christmas presents that I didn't want and it was a HUGE success. I'm not even joking. You can't make this up.

I don't think that most of my fellow Gen X-ers know what proper hosting etiquette consists of. I'm not saying you should bust out any Good Housekeeping etiquette guidelines from 1954 or anything, but you can still be gracious. Offer to take people's coats/purses. Or at least have a place to put them besides the floor behind the door. Look around... are people's drinks starting to get low? Go get them a refill- it'll make them feel like they're actually a guest in your home and not at a frat party where people have to forage the fridge for beers. Do people know each other? Introduce them pete's sake... not everyone has the skills to walk up to a total stranger and strike up witty conversation, so make it easier on them. These are very simple things that are a lost art. Lets make sure they don't disappear like Phil Collins' career.

Have any other tips that I've forgotten? Make sure you leave comments. I'm interested in your feedback on this one.


Erin McGuire said...

According to Amy Sedaris, cheese balls are back in too. I guess retro snacks are always fun and make people a little more relaxed. Hers is covered in smokies too, so double win!

Tricia Reisch said...

Amy Sedaris is my hero. If I wasn't already marrying my fiance, I'd want to marry her.