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Special Treats for a Cocktail Party

Blueprint, September/October 2007

Want to say you really care? Spend a little quality time creating some truly homemade munchies or a bespoke beverage. For a more formal fete that's been weeks in the planning -- like an engagement party or a holiday gathering -- be sure to accent your offerings with a few of these showstoppers. And trust us: They're all easy enough for entertaining novices to tackle.

Elderflower Sour
Pour 2 ounces gin, 2 ounces elderflower liqueur, 2 ounces lemon-mint syrup (see recipe below), and a splash of club soda into an ice-filled glass; stir to combine. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the drink, then drop the wedge and a sprig of fresh mint into the glass to garnish. Serves 1. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur (grandwinecellar.com)

For lemon-mint syrup: In a small saucepan, mix 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 4 sprigs fresh mint, the zest of one lemon, and the zested lemon, cut into slices. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes. Strain syrup, and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 10 days). Serves 12.

Snack Ideas

Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Slice 16 diagonal 1/2-inch slices from a sourdough baguette. Brush one side of each slice with extra-virgin olive oil. Place slices, oil side down, on a cutting board. Divide 1/3 cup mango chutney among 8 slices. Divide 1 1/2 cups shredded aged manchego cheese among the remaining 8 slices. Carefully assemble sandwiches. Heat 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook sandwiches in batches, 3 to 4 minutes per side, adding oil as needed to keep the sandwiches from sticking. Slice each sandwich in half and keep warm in the oven. Major Grey Chutney (kalustyans.com)

Crunchy Garbanzos
Place racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drain two 15 1/2-ounce cans of garbanzo beans thoroughly. Divide beans between two rimmed baking sheets. Roast in oven for 30 minutes, rotating and shaking pans once. Let cool slightly. Toss with 1 teaspoon cayenne, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

Tortilla Pizzas 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place two 10-inch flour tortillas each on two baking sheets. (It's okay if they overlap slightly.) Brush each tortilla with 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Bake until slightly crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove tortillas from oven. Divide 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan and 4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves among tortillas. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, return to the oven, and cook until edges are golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove pizzas from oven and drizzle with white truffle oil. Break pizzas into palm-size pieces and serve. Bartolini White Truffle Oil (zabars.com)

Dry Jack Crisps
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Finely shred 6 ounces of dry jack cheese. Place heaping teaspoons of cheese 2 inches apart on two rimmed baking sheets. With fingers, press mounds gently. Bake one sheet at a time until mounds are golden, crisp, and slightly darker around the edges, about 5 to 6 minutes. Let cool 1 to 2 minutes; carefully transfer crisps to paper towels. Serve on a tray when crisps have cooled completely.

Roasted Almonds
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium cast-iron skillet, combine 2 cups whole blanched almonds, 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons peanut oil, and 2 tablespoons coarse salt. Place skillet in oven for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing occasionally, until almonds are light golden brown. Add salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.