Cocktail Party: Elevated Basics
You'll get a standing O for whipping up these puppies from scratch -- and no one has to know you put in only minor effort (and just one trip to the grocery store). A few everyday ingredients and a little inspiration make up the menu for a housewarming, a birthday bash, or any other advance-notice affair that you don't have a ton of time to cook up.
Prosecco with Ginger (far left)
Stir together 1 cup ginger juice and 3 tablespoons honey in a small pitcher. To serve, pour 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a Champagne glass. Fill with Prosecco. Place 3 slivers of crystallized ginger in each glass. The Ginger People Ginger Juice (amazon.com), Val D'Oca Extra-Dry Prosecco (internationalcellar.com), the Ginger People Crystallized Ginger Chips (amazon.com)
Prosecco with Apricot and Cranberry (middle)
Stir together 1/2 cup cranberry juice with 1/2 cup apricot nectar in a small pitcher. To serve, pour 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a Champagne glass. Fill with Prosecco. Garnish with a thin slice of red apricot. Looza Apricot Nectar ( amazon.com)
Prosecco with Blood Orange (far right)
To serve, shake a few drops blood-orange bitters into a Champagne glass. Fill with Prosecco and garnish with a twist of orange. Stirrings Blood-Orange Bitters ( stirringsshop.com)
Green Bean Crudites (top row, left)
Make an ice-water bath and set aside. Rinse 12 ounces of fresh green beans, trim off ends, and steam beans for 3 to 4 minutes, until bright green. Drain, plunge beans into ice bath, drain again. For lemon mayonnaise: Mix together 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, the zest of 1 lemon, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, and 1 cup mayonnaise.
Fig, Thyme, and Gorgonzola Tarts (top row, right)
Prebake 36 mini pastry shells according to package directions; set aside. Set oven temperature to 350 degrees. Divide 1 cup roughly chopped dried figs and 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola among pastry shells, then sprinkle 2 tablespoons thyme leaves over the cheese and figs. Bake for 5 minutes; serve warm. DuFour 1 1/2-inch pastry shells ( dufourpastrykitchens.com for stores)
Shrimp with Spicy Cocktail Sauce (middle row)
Boil, peel, and devein 1 pound of fresh medium shrimp. (Or thaw frozen cooked shrimp according to package directions.) For cocktail sauce: Stir together 1 cup ketchup; juice and zest of 1 lemon; 2 tablespoons horseradish, drained; 1 finely chopped whole jalapeno; 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce; and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Mix well. (Sauce can be refrigerated, covered, up to three days.)
Cantaloupe Slivers (bottom row, left)
Cut one ripe cantaloupe in half; scoop out seeds. Remove rind, and cut flesh into bite-size shards. Sprinkle with cracked pepper and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Spear each shard with a toothpick. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Warm Olives (bottom row, right)
Place 2 cups of assorted drained olives (such as Kalamata and Cerignola) in a small saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat, drain olives, and return them to pan. Add 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil; 3 fresh bay leaves (or 2 dried bay leaves); 1 teaspoon fennel seeds; 1/2 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced; and 3 orange peels (2 inches long). Place over medium heat, and simmer for 12 minutes. Spoon into a dish and serve.