Food from the Hart

Posts Tagged ‘cocktail party’

Entertaining Etiquette: How to be a Larger than Life Host in a Smaller than Most Space

In Features on April 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

Remain Calm

I know I have mentioned this before, but it’s true. Your mood sets the tone of the party.  Take time to enjoy the guests you’ve invited and the work you put into crafting a beautiful party.  Your relaxed and joyous attitude will radiate to your guests, ultimately making the party a great success.

Be Warm and Welcoming

Make sure every person feels welcome and at home. Greet all arriving guests with a smile and a hug – even if this means excusing yourself from another conversation. If you are co-hosting the party, one person should be in charge of greeting guests at the door while the other works the room and tends to guests needs.

You’re the Glue

Circulate among your guests.  Provide introductions to newcomers, try to offer more detail than just, “Bob this is Jim”. Point out any commonalities or shared interests.  Make sure to stick around long enough to help the conversation get flowing and then gracefully make your exit.

Keep an Eye Out

Stay on the look out for guests that might need a refill.  On the same token, watch out for anyone who has had too much. Rescue others from long, boring conversations and draw shy guests out of the corner.  Most importantly try to spend time with all your guests so everyone feels involved.

Make a Toast

Even if you’re simply having a cocktail party, it’s still nice to kick off the evening by saying a few words.  Don’t feel you have to deliver a long diatribe, but welcome everyone to the party, thank the chef (if it wasn’t you) and certainly thank you guests for coming.  If you are celebrating a special event such as a birthday or anniversary make sure to mention it.  Toasting turns any ordinary party into an occasion and is a great way to connect with your guests.

You’re the Leader

As a host, it’s your job to invite guests to sit down, start eating, begin another course and give directive to when the meal is over.

Be Appreciative

This is the most important!  Make sure your guests know you appreciate their attendance and tell them how much you enjoy their company (even if you don’t). Don’t forget to send thank you notes to anyone who contributed or brought a gift. It might seem old fashion, but a personal note goes a long way.




Hate Awkward Silences? Make the Most of Small Talk

In Tips on March 28, 2011 at 8:31 am

Entertaining guests in a small space can be fun and intimate, but there’s no avoiding the dreaded small talk! In larger venues it’s easier to navigate around the folks you don’t already know.  Not the case when you and your guests area all in one room.  Small talk can be uncomfortable especially if you don’t have much to go on besides the age-old topic of the weather.  Here are a few tips to help you rev up any conversation:

Know your Current Events

Keep up to date on whats happening on a local, state, national and international level.  This can be a simple as reading the front pages of your local paper and a national paper like New York Times.  The evening news will also do the trick.  While events and facts are good, try to avoid sticky topics like politics.  Stick to neutral issues. Nothing ends a conversation quicker than a divisive subject like politics or religion.

Know your Guests

Think about who you’ve invited.  Consider their jobs, hobbies, interests, and accomplishments.  This gives you an endless sea of things to talk about.  Ask questions and search for commonalities.  See if you can connect guests based on these things.  Trust me, your guests will be flattered by all the attention!

Questions, Questions, Questions

Everyone loves to give their opinion. Asking questions is the easiest way to get a conversation started. Bring up pop culture topics like celebrity gossip, sports, movies, etc and instead of giving your thoughts ask theirs. The flood gates will open and you’ll move from awkward small talk to full-fledged conversation.


Focus on the person you are talking to.  There’s nothing worse than chatting with someone who is looking around the room.  Give the occasional head nod, this lets people know you’re engaged and actively listening.  If you notice a situation that needs tending to, excuse yourself, but return and try to remember where you left off.  This will make guests feel you were truly interested in what they were saying (even if you weren’t).


While there are a number of great topics for small talk, these eight subjects should be avoided at all costs. If you find yourself in a situation where one of these comes up, gently steer the conversation in a different direction, or when in dire straights excuse yourself and go to the bathroom!

  1. Finance
  2. Politics
  3. Religion
  4. Death
  5. Age / Appearance
  6. Personal Gossip
  7. Offensive / Off Color Jokes
  8. Past Relationships

Tip of the Day: Closing Time, How to End a Party Gracefully

In Tips on March 12, 2011 at 9:49 am

All great things must come to an end.  Even great parties.  It’s always a good idea to have some exit strategies in your back pocket for guests who show no sign of leaving.  If you are ready to party till the sun comes up then this is not an issue.  But when you need to call it a night, follow these suggestions.

  • Close the Bar – Put away any liquor, beer and wine. Make sure you leave out plenty of water for those who might have overindulged.  They will appreciate the extra hydration before they hit the road.
  • Turn off the Music– This is usually a great way to break up a party. Once things quiet down, people will begin to filter out.
  • Start Cleaning Up– As the host, once people see you cleaning they will get the cue it’s time to get a move on.
  • Be Direct- For those guests who still aren’t getting the clue it’s closing time, try saying something like, “Look at the time! I have an early meeting (yoga class, doctors appointment,etc).  Let’s call it a night.”
  • Turn off the Lights- If all else fails, shut it down!

Wine and Cheese Party

In Celebrations on March 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Throwing a wine and cheese party is fun, casual and doesn’t require much space.  It’s a great way to get a group of friends together without all the fuss of a classic cocktail party.  Here are a few easy tips to get you started:

  • When you invite guests ask them each to bring a wine and cheese pairing (see the chart below for pairing suggestions).  Ask that they let you know what they’re bringing so several people don’t come with the same thing.  It’ll be more fun if you have a variety of cheese and wine with different textures and from different regions.
  • Before the party stock up on crackers, baguettes, and fruit like apples, pears, figs, grapes, melon.  The fruit will bring out the flavor of the cheese and wine and add an extra element for tasting.  You might also consider purchasing a selection of smoked meats like prosciutto, salami, speck and bresola to serve along with the cheese.
  • Have wine glasses, cocktail napkins, hors d’oeuvre plates and large platters on hand.  When guests arrive, plate their cheese selections along with fruit and meat. Use index cards or place cards to label each cheese and wine pairing.
  • If space permits, scatter the platters of cheese and wine pairings around the room.  This way guests won’t gather in one spot.  It will make mingling and tasting easier and more fun.
  • Even though this is a casual shindig don’t forget the ambience.  Dim lights, light candles, and make sure you have some soft music in the background to set the scene.


Country Wine Type Fruit
Bel Paese Italy Chardonnay Semi-soft
Blue Varied Strong, Red Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
Brie France Champagne, Merlot Soft Plum, Apple, Pears
Camembert France Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir Soft Plum, Berries, Apple
Cheddar England Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja, Chardonnay Hard Melon, Peach, Apple
Colby U.S. Riesling, Champagne, Cava Hard Apple, Peach
Edam Holland Riesling, Champagne, Pinot Noir Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
Emmentaler Switzerland Beaujolais Hard Pear
Gouda Holland Riesling, Champagne Semi-Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
Goat Cheese France / Varied Sancerre Soft Apple, Fig, Pear
Feta Greece Pinot Grigio, Sancerre, Beaujolais Soft Apple, Pear, Peach, Fig
Gorgonzola Italy Champagne, Cava, Prosecco Soft Pear
Grana  Padano Italy Barolo, Barbaresco, Hard Apple, Pear, Fig
Manchego Spain Rioja, Merlot Hard Pear, Melon
Mozzarella (Fresh) Italy Pinot Blanc, Light Reds Soft Melon, Peach, Nectarine
Muenster France Zinfandel Soft Melon
Parmesan -Reggiano Italy Chardonnay Hard Fig, Grape, Apple, Honey
Pecorino Italy Chianti Riserva Hard Fig, Grape, Apple, Honey
Swiss U.S. Riesling, Gewurztraminer Hard Apple, Grape, Pear
St. Andre Franch Fruity Rose Soft Apple
Port Salut Denmark / France Chardonnay Semi-soft Melon
Roquefort France Tawny Port Semi-hard Apple, Pear

Must Have Pantry Items for Impromptu Entertaining

In Features on March 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Entertaining is easy if you have a plan and time to prepare, but it’s those impromptu evenings that truly test your chops as a host.  Keeping a variety of pantry items on hand for these occasions will undoubtably take the stress out of entertaining unexpected guests.  If you keep at least a few of these things in the kitchen you can throw together delicious hors d’oeuvres or a meal in no time.

  • Plain breadsticks
  • Jars of olives, stuffed grape leaves, roasted red peppers
  • Mixed nuts
  • Cornichons or dill pickles
  • Jars of your favorite pasta sauce
  • Few types of pasta like penne, linguine, farfalle
  • Good crackers
  • Variety of chips like tortilla, pita, root vegetable
  • Jars of salsa
  • Jars of mustard (dijon, whole grain, honey)
  • Dried fruit like cranberries, apricots, figs, raisins
  • Chutney / honey
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Dried Italian sausage and salami
  • Biscotti / cookies

Great Finds: Mingle Plates

In Great Finds on February 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Cocktail parties bring up the eternal conundrum of how to eat, drink and shake hands all at the same time.  We’ve all been there.  You end up parking yourself at a table so you can eat and drink in peace, but miss out on the mingling fun.  These plates are so cool and the answer to this annoying problem!  Inexpensive and easy to store, they are small space entertaining must-haves.  Your guests can eat, drink and chat all at one time – no table needed!

To purchase check out:

Pottery Barn, 4 for $24.00

Mingle Easy, 12 for $11.99

10 Tips for Stress Free Entertaining

In Features on February 6, 2011 at 10:05 am

Entertaining often seems like a great idea until you realize how much you have to do to prepare and how little time you have to prepare in.  These 10 easy tips will help take the stress out of planning your next party – giving you more time to enjoy!

1. Make a Plan

Clearly define the occasion or purpose, number of guests, and dishes you want to serve.  Also choose a party format – cocktails, sit down dinner, potluck.

2. Write it Down

Once you have a plan put it on paper.  Seeing it visually will help to organize your thoughts and preparation. Detail what steps you need to take to execute each dish.  Start with what will take the longest and move from there.

3. Choose your Menu Wisely

Think about what is realistic in the kitchen space you have.  Try to mix do-it-ahead dishes with ones that need to be made day of.  Also think about cooking methods.  Don’t choose three baked.

4. Stick to What you Know

A dinner or cocktail party isn’t the best time to try out a new recipe.  Prepare something you’re comfortable with and save the recipe testing for another evening.

5. Lists are your Friend

Now that you have a menu, make a list of the ingredients to purchase.  Include the quantities of each.  This will save you time and ensure you don’t over or under buy.  Before you leave for the grocery store give your pantry a once over and check off anything you already have.  This goes for non-food items like paper towels, garbage bags, dish soap, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap as well.  Make sure you have enough before the party starts.

6. Clean as you Go

As you’re working through the prep list, clean! After each dish is complete wash what you’ve used.  You want to start the party with a spotless kitchen.  It’ll keep you sane as the party ramps up and will certainly impress your guests!  Everyone loves to believe even the most complex dinner was whipped up in mere minutes.

7. Empty the Dishwasher

Make sure that you have an empty dishwasher before the party starts.  There’s nothing worse than having to unload in the middle of courses while dirty dishes pile up in the sink.

8. Tidy the Bathroom

Empty the trash can, clean the sink, organize toiletries.  Leave extra toilet paper easily accessible and put hand towels out.  It’s also nice to light a candle in the bathroom.

9. Get the Music Going

Turn the music on prior to guests arriving.  It’ll not only help calm any last minute party prep stress, but will set the mood when guest come in.

10. Stay Cool

95% of the success of a party is the attitude of the host.  If you’re relaxed and having fun you’re guests will follow.  Remember, it’s just a party!

How Much Food Do You Need for a Dinner Party?

In Features on February 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Working out how much food you need for a party can be tricky.  I like to err on the side of having too much rather than too little.  There’s nothing worse than running out of food with hours left to go!  While estimating food quantities isn’t a science I think this easy table should help get you in the ballpark.

It’s also good to keep in mind who your guests are.  If you know you know certain individuals love salad or dessert, try to take that into account and adjust your portions accordingly.  The same goes for if you know people you’ve invited don’t eat a particular item like meat or cheese.

Another way to ensure you have enough to eat is to increase the number of choices you offer.  For example, for a party of 12, instead of doubling an entree recipe, make two different ones.  This is a great way to go if you know you have guests with dietary restrictions.

This table is based on recipes that serve 6 people.  However, you can adjust any recipe accordingly.  For example, if your recipe for a side dish has a yield of 4 and you have 8 guests coming, multiply by 1.5 to make the appropriate amount. And remember, it’s never a bad thing to have leftovers!

Number of Guests










Small Bites 

1x 2x 3x 4x
Dips & Spreads 1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 2x 3x 4x
Side Dish 

1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 2x 2.5x 3x

1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 2x 3x 4x

Valentine’s Day with Friends

In Celebrations on February 2, 2011 at 11:51 am

Image Credit: Cocktail party by Mike Jones

Valentine’s Day: the most romantic of holidays where swooning couples dote on each other over intimate candle light dinners.  Blah, blah, blah, this is great if you’re attached, but too many of us develop Valentine’s Day anxiety and opt to stay in alone rather than face a crowed restaurant full of pairs in love.  This year try something a little different.  Throw a Valentine’s Day Mixer!  Gather a group of single friends and have them invite their favorite singe friends and let cupid’s arrow fly.

With Valentine’s Day just two weeks away getting an Evite out now is crucial.  Make sure you explain that each person must bring a single friend of theirs.  This will ensure for an interesting night! You may also want to ask your guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine or a specific dish if you are going to for a potluck party.  Read on for more details about the food, drinks, and decor.

Get a Plan

Organizing for a cocktail party can sometimes be more overwhelming than a sit down dinner party.  Here are some thoughts to help you get started:

Photo Credit Logan Walker of ZumaPhoto Finger Foods are key.  Keep your menu simple and easy to eat.  The last thing mingling singles want is ketchup running down their face.

Set up food stations. Organize your party space so the food is dispersed and not all in one area.  This will help the flow of the party and avoid having 20 people crowded around the kitchen table.

Stay away from garlic or anything that can leave you with kickin’ breath.  Coffee, beans, and onion should also be avoided in menu selection.  No one wants to be running to the bathroom mid conversation.

Add a some aphrodisiacs to the mix. Use ingredients like apples, chocolate, honey, figs, lobster, and of course, oysters.

Consider a red theme. You want avoid making your party too kitschy, so instead of all the “be mine” hearts try developing a menu with red and/or pink elements.  You can use things like, tomatoes, strawberries, smoked salmon, cocktail shrimp, etc.

Try a Chocolate tasting bar. Instead of having a wine or cheese tasting, try with chocolate.  Ask all your guests to bring a unique bar of chocolate. Make sure you have a variety of milk, dark, and white along with varying amounts of cacao in each to keep it interesting. Then using place cards, write a little information about each kind and let people try.

Cookie decorating isn’t just for kids. Bake plain sugar cookies and frost with plain white icing.  Buy some edible ink markers and let your guests decorate their own cookies.  This could even be a quirky way for potential love connections to exchange numbers!

Forget all the prep and go potluck. Coming up with a menu and preparing everything might not be in the cards for you this Valentine’s Day.  If that’s the case, make your cocktail party a potluck.  But instead of giving your guests carte blanche to bring whatever they want, given them a theme to work off of like French cuisine or food from Tuscany.


Simple, chic food.  That’s the name of the game for a cocktail party. Here is a sample menu to help get your creative juices flowing:

Salmon Canapes

Prosciutto Wrapped Cheese Straws

Roasted Figs with Pancetta and Goat Cheese

Tortellini with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Chocolate Fondue

Drinks What’s a cocktail party without drinks?  It’s always easier and less expensive to offer your guests a signature party drink.  This should be something you can make a lot of and serve throughout the night in addition to beer and wine.  Here is a selection of my favorite festive beverages:

Queen of Hearts Sangria

Cranberry Cosmo Punch

Setting the Scene

Decor often times makes or breaks a party.  If the mood is right, people tend to relax and enjoy themselves that much more.  When planning a mixer, sending the right message through decor is paramount.  You want to make your space warm and inviting without overdoing it on the romance vibes.

Don’t overdo the hearts. You guests are all aware it’s Valentine’s Day.  Don’t beat them over the head with the heart and cupids.  Your space should feel festive, but forget taping giant red cut outs on your wall, keep it classy.  Try a simple red table cloth, maybe some red throw pillows.  You could even use red disposable plates and cocktail napkins.

Keep the music upbeat. Strive to create a lounge-like feeling.  Your music should be audible but not so loud that people are struggling to talk.  Stay away from the greatest love ballads of the 90’s and go from something current like MGMT or Kings of Leon.  It’s best to create a playlist or two before the party begins and as the night progresses the music should too.  Meaning, after a few drinks people might want to dance.  Make sure you have some tunes to accommodate.

Low lighting is your friend. Who doesn’t look better in low light? Without making the mood too romantic or sleepy.  If you have dimmers on your lights now is the time to get them going.  If you don’t, ditch the overhead lights and use lamps or floor lights.  They tend to be softer and less abrasive. Candles are also great to have going throughout – especially around the food areas.

Scatter conversation starters around the space.  Create your own or purchase Table Topics.  These are great ice breakers and a cool way to help your guests get to know each other better.  You will probably want to screen the questions before you put them out.  Stay ways from topics that involve divisive subjects like religion or politics.  No fighting on the day devoted to love!

Make introductions. Part of your job as the host is to help introduce people.  Try to include more than just names, but mention something each person likes or that they might have in common.

ENJOY! Happy Partying!!!

Tip of the Day: Instant Buffet

In Tips on January 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Having a bash but no room for a buffet? Try using sheet pans and place them face down on top of your stove.  You instantly gain counter space and a great place to keep your dishes warm while your guests enjoy.

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