Easy Entertaining for Beginners
Maple Heights Press
Readers don’t have to be gourmet chefs or nervous wrecks to host casual at-home entertaining. Beginners will have all of their questions answered, from what to serve to what to do. Included are 13 delicious complete menus with easy-to-follow recipes, full color photographs, ideas for music, activities and drinks. Checklists ease readers step-by-step through every phase of planning, preparation, and presentation. Readers will gain confidence and have a terrific time putting together successful celebrations.
MY FIRST COCKTAIL PARTY
When planning your first cocktail party, think simplicity. I learned a valuable lesson with my first cocktail party. I made too many different hors d’oeuvres (small bites or munchies). I was tired by the time my party started, and I overwhelmed my guests with too much. Live and learn. Now, when I host a cocktail party, I follow the rule of simplicity. Do a few things and do them well. The tone for the party is more relaxed, and so am I.
Twelve to sixteen guests are a good, manageable number for a first cocktail party. Start with one or two different cocktails, rather than having an open bar. This really simplifies serving drinks. Choose a cocktail recipe that you can make a couple of hours before the party and serve in pitchers. That way you are not spending all your time tending bar and can visit with your guests. Offer beer and wine along with two or three nonalcoholic beverages, and have bottled water available as well. Plan to serve six or seven choices of hors d’oevres, at about three or four pieces each per person.
A cocktail party doesn’t always need a special occasion, but it certainly is appropriate for one. A birthday, an anniversary, or even a promotion are all good reasons to throw a cocktail party. A beautiful table for the food will suffice for the extent of the decorations. I use one or two tablecloths and will sometimes put a large, sturdy box (such as one from a case of beer) under the tablecloth so the food can be placed at different heights. It is more appealing to look at than having one flat table with food on flat platters. You can always add some fresh flowers, herbs, fruit, or candles in hurricane lamps. (Be careful where you place candles, so on one can get burned when reaching for food on the table.) If you have any pretty serving platters, or even cake stands, use them.
On the menu are small bites of shrimp ceviche (pronounced say-vee-chay) served in glasses with tostaditos. A ceviche generally consists of raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice. The citric acid “cooks” the fish, which is served in a luxurious concoction of sweet and piquant flavors. We are using cooked shrimp for this recipe, and the flavors of tomato, lime, and avocado, along with the crunchy cucumbers and jicama, are quite delicious. The ahi tuna is marinated for extra flavor, seared on the grill or under a broiler, and served on crostini (toasted slices of French baguette) with a small dollop of Lime-cilantro Mayonnaise. The Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms are prepared in advance and are served warm. The rest of the menu consists of crudités (fresh, cut-up veggies) served with an artichoke dip, a cheese tray with assorted cheeses and crackers, and a selection of mini-desserts.
Follow the checklist and before you know it, your guests will be arriving. Seven o’clock in the evening is a great start time. As the host, be sure to introduce guests who may not know one another. It can be awkward to be the new person at a gathering when everyone knows each other well. You can encourage conversation when making introductions by trying to offer something your guests have in common. For instance, you could say, “Mary, I would like you to meet John.” “John, Mary was born and raised in your birthplace, New York City.” Or offer a conversation starter with something interesting from your guest’s life, such as “Mary works as a nurse at Memorial Hospital” or “Mary has run the L.A. Marathon two times.” You get the picture. These attempts can encourage the start of a conversation for guests who are unfamiliar with each other.
Offer drinks and let your guests help themselves to the cold hor d’oeuvres on the table. In 20 to 30 minutes, heat one or two baking sheets of the crosstini and assemble some of the hot ahi hor d’oeuvres. Pass the tray to your guests and in another 15 minutes make a few more trays. Repeat with the Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms. This way, your warm hor d’oeuvres can be offered intermittently throughout the evening. Enjoy yourself and have fun with your guests!