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Salute the season with a festive cocktail party

Elfin Magic

Elfin Magic

This may be the cocktail party’s moment.

“They are a great way to entertain in hard times,” says Leslie Brenner, independent editor and writer in Los Angeles. “You can do something really fun that looks like and tastes like a million bucks for a fraction of the cost.”

The cocktail party is back in a big way and the holidays are a perfect time to host one, says David Tutera, event planner in New York and author of “The Party Planner,” (Bulfinch Press; 2005, $29.95).

The problem is, people get excited about entertaining and then “bail out” when they wrestle with what to serve, Tutera says.

This season, don’t scrap your entertainment plans; follow this guide for a swanky soiree. From budget-friendly ideas to savory treats and delectable drinks, you can throw a party with panache.

First, forget the full bar.

Offer a few specialty beverages, says Colleen Mullaney, author of “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere: The Global Guide to Fabulous Cocktails.” (Sterling Publishing Co. Inc; 2008, $17.95). A few cocktails, beer and wine is fine, she says, and have juices and flavored seltzer on hand for nondrinkers.

Aim for three types of cocktails: liquor-forward, fruity and refreshing, says H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir, a certified green bar in San Francisco, and founder of CocktailAmbassadors.com.

Make pitchers of drinks ahead of time; pay careful attention to recipes.

“The difference between a bad drink and good drink is often a small tweak in the way it’s made,” Ehrmann says. “If food calls for 1 teaspoon of salt and you put in 1 tablespoon, you’ve dramatically altered it, and the same goes for a cocktail.”

Plan to serve three or four drinks per guest, Mullaney says. Try fresh-cut pineapple for garnish.

When it comes to the food, plan for four hors d’oeuvres per person the first hour, three for the second and two for every additional hour, says Jon-Paul Hutchins, executive chef at Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona.

Fillers – such as nuts, dips and gourmet chips – can be set around the room to keep people circulating, he says.

An inexpensive appetizer is an assortment of hummus. Make a large batch then divide it in half: add sun-dried tomatoes to one, cilantro and cumin to the other, Hutchins says.

Remember: You’re serving bites, so a little food goes a long way. Don’t serve anything messy or anything that requires both hands because one hand will be occupied by a cocktail, says Hutchins.

Regardless of what you serve, have fun. That is what a cocktail party is all about.

“Cocktails are little personalities in a glass,” Mullaney says.



2 cups mayonnaise

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups roasted red peppers, coarsely chopped

2 (6.5-ounce) jars of artichokes, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

8 ounces feta cheese

4-6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix mayonnaise and cream cheese until blended. Add roasted red peppers, artichokes, seasonings and feta cheese. Place in a casserole dish. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until mixture bubbles. Serve with crackers and French bread. Serves 12-15.

Source: Juliana Goodwin, Gannett News Service


1 pound ground beef

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon pepper

3/4 of (10-ounce) jar of Durkee Famous Sandwich and Salad Sauce

1 package of 60 wontons

Oil for frying

A bowl of water

Cook ground beef with garlic salt and pepper. When done, add Durkee sauce.

Cool mixture. (You can make this a day in advance and then fry wontons the day of the party).

Add 1 tablespoon mixture to each wonton. Dip your finger in bowl of water and run your finger around the rim of wonton. Fold over and seal.

Keep wontons covered with a damp paper towel while you work.

Heat canola or vegetable oil in pan over medium heat.

When oil is ready, fry wontons until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Remove from oil and drain on paper towel. Serve warm. Makes 60 wontons.

Source: Juliana Goodwin, Gannett News Service


1 (8-ounce) can Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations

1 cup fig preserves

3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out crescent creations and pinch together to seal any perforations.

Brush fig spread all over crust.

Crumble cheese and bacon over fig preserves, leaving a 1-inch perimeter around the crust so filling does not spill out when rolled.

Roll up like a jelly roll and bake for 14-18 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into 16 pieces. Serve warm. Serves 16.

Source: Juliana Goodwin, Gannett News Service


1 (12-ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Assorted store-bought shortbread cookies



You can make this fondue in a slow cooker. Turn it on at the very beginning of the party and it will be ready within 30 minutes.

Combine chocolate chips, heavy cream, cinnamon and cayenne in slow cooker. Heat until melted.

Serve with bananas, pretzels and store-bought shortbread or butter cookies. Serves 12.

Source: Juliana Goodwin, Gannett News Service


8 ounces firm feta cheese, cut into cubes

2 tablespoons dry sherry

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 teaspoons capers

Zest of one-half lemon

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

1 cup pitted kalamata olives

1 teaspoon olive juice from kalamata olive jar

one-half cup green Manzanilla olives

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

Serve mixture with crackers and bread. Serves 10.

Source: Juliana Goodwin, Gannett News Service


8 ounces vodka

4 ounces orange juice

4 ounces pineapple juice

4 ounces mango juice

Splash of lime juice

Pour all ingredients into a large shaker filled with ice and mix well. Strain into ice-filled glasses. Garnish with lime wedge. Serves 4.

Source: “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere: The Global Guide to Fabulous Cocktails” by Colleen Mullaney (Sterling Publishing Co. Inc; 2008, $17.95).


5 ounces warm hard apple cider

1 ounce Southern Comfort

Green candy cane or cinnamon stick for garnish

Pour warm cider into glass mug. Add Southern Comfort and garnish. Serves 1.

Source: “The Party Planner” by David Tutera (Bulfinch Press; 2005, $29.95)


1 1/2 cups Southern Comfort

3/4 cup cranberry juice

Juice of 1 lime

Cracked ice

Maraschino cherries or cranberries

Place all ingredients except cherries into a jug and stir well. Strain into martini glasses and add a cherry or cranberry to each glass. Serves 4.

Source: “The Best Christmas Ever” by Pamela Westland (Anness Publishing, 2000)


8 ounces Absolut Vanilia vodka

4 ounces Kahlua

Chocolate syrup to decorate glasses

Chocolate shavings for garnish

Pour vodka and Kahlua into a cocktail shaker, fill with ice, and mix well.

Drizzle chocolate syrup on the inside of 4 martini glasses. Strain into glasses and garnish with chocolate shavings. Serves 4.

Source: Adapted from “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere: The Global Guide to Fabulous Cocktails” by Colleen Mullaney (Sterling Publishing Co. Inc; 2008, $17.95).


1 tablespoon honey

4 cups cranberry juice

3/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 12-ounce can lemon soda

Ice cubes

In small bowl, stir honey with a little warm water to dissolve. In a pitcher or punch bowl, combine the cranberry juice, lime juice and honey mixture and stir until well blended. Add lemon soda and stir gently. Fill tumblers half full with ice. Pour punch over ice, garnish with lime and serve at once. Serves 12.

Source: “Holiday Entertaining” by Williams-Sonoma. (Oxmoor House, 2007, $34.95)


1 33-ounce jar chilled guava juice

4 cups chilled strawberry flavored sparkling water

Fruit to garnish

Pour guava juice into a pitcher. Top with strawberry flavored sparkling water. Stir gently. Add fruit and serve. Serves 12.

Source: Juliana Goodwin, Gannett News Service

Tips for greening your gathering

Don’t let your holiday celebration leave an ecological footprint on the earth.

A “green” party starts with electronic invitations, says Trey Granger, public relations manager for Earth911.com, an online recycling guide.

If the idea of the e-vite doesn’t appeal to you, create a custom-designed invitation (as you would if you were mailing it), save it as a PDF, and e-mail it, suggests Danielle Venokur, president of dvGreen, a sustainable events design company in New York.

When shopping, buy in bulk to cut down on packaging, says Granger.

Buy as many local products as possible, says Melissa Dallas, professor and department head of the Hospitality and Restaurant Administration at Missouri State University. The university’s student restaurant recently went green and Dallas says home cooks can incorporate similar principles into their kitchens.

Here are a few ideas our experts suggest:

• Trade in paper towels for wash cloths and switch to green cleaning agents and sanitizers.

• Don’t preheat the oven any longer than necessary.

• If you have to use disposable tableware, choose those that are biodegradable or made from recycled materials.

• At the party, set up recycling bins and clearly label them.

• Burn soy or beeswax candles.

• Purchase LED holiday lights.

• Look outside and get inspired. Nature offers free decorations in November and December from pinecones and chestnuts to squash and greens. Make garlands from natural greens and use fallen leaves to accent buffets and tabletop decor.

Chocolate Martini

Chocolate Martini

Bay Breeze

Bay Breeze

Nonalcoholic Guava Strawberry Spritzer

Nonalcoholic Guava Strawberry Spritzer


Cocktail party tips

A cocktail party should last 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Be sure to note the end time on the invitation, says Leslie Brenner, independent editor and writer in Los Angeles.

• Greet guests with a drink when they walk in, says Colleen Mullaney, author of “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.”

• Small ice cubes dilute drinks quickly. Instead, use big cubes and chill ingredients such as juices in advance, says H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir, a certified green bar in San Francisco, and founder of CocktailAmbassadors.com.

• Vodka is the most popular spirit, so offer it in a cocktail, says Ehrmann. Consider offering tequila or bourbon as a second spirit – two is enough.

• Save money on the mixtures by infusing your own simple syrup with herbs and spices instead of buying prepared syrups, says Ehrmann.

• Create your bar away from your food buffet. “That will spread people out across the area so there is no congestion,” says Jon-Paul Hutchins, executive chef at Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona.

• Surprise guests by bringing food out in waves, Hutchins says.

• Burn a candle in the bathroom for atmosphere and fragrance, Brenner says.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

• To make the most of your holiday cocktail party, plan out your buffet areas the night before, says Hutchins. “Lay out exactly where everything is going to be the next day. Lay out the dishes and then put a Post-it on each dish to tell you what’s going in the dish,” Hutchins says.

• Buy prepared foods such as frozen meatballs and add your own sauce, says Mullaney.

• Serve only one dessert. Chocolate fondue is easy and fun, says Hutchins.

• Serve equal amounts of hot and cold appetizers, but make many ahead of time, Hutchins says.

• A slow cooker is a great way to keep something warm without fuss, says Annette Flores, test kitchen manager for Williams-Sonoma.

• Purchase extra cheese and bread in case you run out of food, Flores says.

• Solicit a friend or family member to help at the party, Hutchins says. Or hire a college student from a culinary school or bartending program, suggests Brenner.

• Don’t worry about every detail. If you plan well, you should be able to sit back and enjoy the party, Flores says.

Decor on a dime

David Tutera, event planner in New York and author of “The Party Planner,” (Bulfinch Press; 2005, $29.95), offers these tips for adding ambience without breaking the bank.

• Choose one color scheme – such as red – and mix and match shades and patterns for a dramatic effect.

• Create dinner chargers to frame serving plates by wrapping thick magazines or phone books with fancy wrapping paper. Using various heights will add pizzazz to your table setting. You can also serve food directly on the homemade charger.

• Use holiday tags to label drinks so guests know whether drinks are alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

• Buy jingle bells and use a ribbon to tie them on the glass instead of wine charms.

• Turn down the lights and illuminate the room with votive candles and holiday lights.

• Give take-home gifts such as holiday cookie cutters. Hang gifts on the tree as ornaments.


On the Web

www.earth911.com, plug in your ZIP code to find out about recycling in your area.

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