Why not try a new take on the old cocktail party? By stocking the pantry and making hors d'oeuvres ahead of time, you can pull off a festive affair in only an hour or two. This easy-for-the-hostess menu is ideal for an impromptu after-work party that's tucked between booked weekends. Start with one idea, such as a signature drink, and build on it. An appletini inspired our fresh-apple version. Cheese balls are a retro nod as well. One base recipe and some add-ins later, you have three enticing variations: cheddar and cranberry, Roquefort and walnut, and goat cheese and scallion. We have also updated bacon wrapped dates with tart apricot and salty pistachios, and stirred up a beautiful orange punch. Savory lemon-parsley gougeres and crisp radishes with salt and olive oil for dipping round out the flavor-texture canvas. Have best-quality breadsticks, olives, and nuts ready to supplement the menu in case your guest list grows at the last minute.
Holiday Cocktail Party Cook's Countdown
A Week Before
Shop for groceries. Make cheese balls and freeze them. Prepare gougere batter, pipe into rounds, and freeze. Stuff dates, wrap in bacon, and then freeze.
A Day Ahead
Freeze blood orange slices. Fill ice cube tray with blood orange juice, and freeze.
A Few Hours Before
Juice apple and make syrup for martinis; prepare punch. Roll cheese balls in coatings. Bake gougeres and wrapped dates.
2 lemons and 2 limes
1 blood orange or orange
1 medium green apple
1 bunch scallions
1 bunch fresh curly-leaf parsley
1 English cucumber
10 ounces pitted dates
Dried apricots and cranberries
Whole pistachios and walnuts
1 jar prepared chutney
1 package water crackers
1 bag root vegetable chips
2 bottles (25 ounces each) blood orange juice
1 six-pack natural orange soda
Unsalted butter and eggs
3 packages (8 ounces) cream cheese
8 ounces sharp orange cheddar cheese, 6 ounces Roquefort cheese, and 8 ounces goat cheese
1 pound bacon
Vodka, best-quality light rum, brandy, bitters
Sugar and flour