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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.

Green Apple Martinis

Blood Orange Punch

Cheese Balls Three Ways

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Lemon-Parsley Gougeres

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.

Shopping List

2 lemons and 2 limes

1 blood orange or orange

1 medium green apple

1 shallot

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

Pantry Items

Sugar and flour

Worcestershire sauce

Hot sauce,

White pepper

Cayenne pepper

Coarse salt

Comments (1)

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