Food from the Hart

Posts Tagged ‘party guides’

Ultimate No-Cook Cocktail Party

In Features on February 25, 2011 at 10:51 am

Having a party is fun but can also be a lot of work. The reality is most of us don’t have the time or space to organize an elaborate spread.  Don’t let that stop you from inviting friends and family over for a get together.  Here are some ideas for easy and delicious hors d’oeuvres that you can whip up in mere minutes – even in the smallest of kitchens.

Artichoke Dip

Drain a can of artichoke hearts and roughly chop. Mix with Boursin cheese.  Microwave in 45 second increments, stirring in between, until warm.  Serve with pita chips or tortilla chips.


Slice a baguette 1/2 inch thick pieces. Rub with a piece of garlic and brush with olive oil.  Toast in the oven on 250 degrees. Dice plum tomatoes and basil.  Mix with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Serve on top of the garlic toasts. Garnish with fresh parmesan cheese.

Caprese Skewers

Push a cherry tomato, boconccini (small ball of mozzarella), and a folded basil leave on a skewer.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with good extra-virgin olive oil.


Antipasto Skewers

Think antipasto platter favorites served on a skewer.  This is one of those hors d’oeuvres you can really customize.  Try a combination of roasted red pepper, provolone cheese, salami, and an olive. Or marinated artichoke, feta and proscuitto.  Whatever the combo might be, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.

Cream Cheese Spread

Cover a 5 oz block of plain cream cheese with your favorite jelly or chutney. Serve with crackers or apple slices.


Cut a baguette in 1 inch slices.  Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Then toast in a 250 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Cover the pieces of bread with assorted toppings like salami and ricotta, pesto and mozzarella, white beans and capers, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The possibilities are really endless so be creative!

Endive Leaves

Fill leaves with a store-bought olive tapenade, roquefort cheese, hummus or goat cheese and walnuts.

Tortellini Skewers

Cook fresh, store-bought tortellini according to the directions on the package. Drain and push one or two tortellini on skewers.  Serve with a warm Marinara or Alfredo sauce.


Heat store-bought sausage in a sauté or grill pan.  Slice and serve with spicy or Dijon mustard.

Salmon Pinwheels

Spread a thin layer of cream cheese over a piece of smoked salmon. Roll up – jelly roll style and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm then cut in 1/2 inch thick slices.  Serve on a toothpick or skewer with pieces of cucumber.

Prosciutto and Melon

Cut melon into 1 inch cubes and wrap a piece of prosciutto around each.  Serve with a toothpick.


Elevate this classic by adding some unique veggies to the usual suspects like carrots, celery, bell peppers, green beans, tomatoes, etc.  Try jicama, sugar snap peas, edamame, radishes, orange, green or purple cauliflower.  When putting together the tray, think about contrasting colors.  Put celery next to carrots and radishes next to purple cauliflower.  Avoid putting all the green veggies next to each other.  Serve with a dip of your choice.


Host an Award Worthy Oscar Party

In Celebrations on February 9, 2011 at 10:16 am

The biggest night in Hollywood is right around the corner.  Celebs will be decked out in their most chic attire ready to celebrate the night away.  Don’t leave all the party fun to them!  Pull out all the stops, roll the red carpet out and host an award winning Oscar Party for your friends and family.

A Night in Old Hollywood

Just like every film has a theme a party should as well.  The Academy Awards are a long standing Hollywood tradition dating back beyond the years of movie greats like Grace Kelley, Audrey Hepburn and Clark Gable.  I love the idea of paying homage to the glitz and glam of Old Hollywood by using that as a theme. Here’s how:

* Work from a color palette of black and white with pops of gold, sliver and red. 

* Consider using simple white tablecloths, black tableware and accenting with touches of gold, sliver and lots of luscious red flowers.

* Purchase a large piece of red felt / carpet from any local party or craft store and actually “roll the red carpet out” for your guests.  Put an entrance hallway or foyer.

* Fill the room with classic black and white movie posters.

* Create large, glamours centerpieces out of red roses and decorate around with miniature gold trophies .

* Dim the lights and flood the room with candle light.

* Scatter throw pillows and blankets on the floor to create additional seating for guests.

Here are some great places to score Oscar Party accessories that won’t break the bank:

Party City

Party Supplies Hut

Hollywood Mega Store

Movie Inspired Menu

I’m a huge fan of creating a menu that isn’t only unique but easy to execute.  You want to actually watch the Oscars and not spend the whole night in the kitchen.  This menu is completely inspired by this years Best Picture Nominees.  It’s always full of great do-it-ahead items.

Toy Story 3
Not so Child-like Finger Foods
Oven Fried Chicken Fingers
Pig-in-a-Blanket Lollipops


The King’s Speech
A Main Dish Fit for a King
Beef Short Ribs

The Kids are All Right
Family Style Sides
Mustard Mashed Potatoes
Garlic Kale
Glazed Carrots

Black Swan
Opposites Attract
Black & White Cookies
Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Icing

The Fighter

Good Ole’ Irish Gulp

Guinness Beer

Whiskey High Balls

Movie Fun

A little friendly competition never hurt anyone.  Having an Oscar Pool is a great way to get all your guests involved in the party.  It’s always a good idea to warn your guests of this when you send the Evite or Paperless Post.  You want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to see the films nominated if the choose.  Raise the stakes a little more bit more and charge your guests $5 to $10 for each ballot.  At the end divide the money between first and second place winners.

Here is a great pool sheet you can easily print out: Oscar Ballot

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!!!

Wonderful Winter Brunch

In Celebrations on January 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

Sometimes you don’t need a reason to have a celebration.  A brunch is a great way to get friends together on a cold Sunday and beat the winter blues.

Set the mood

Having a party isn’t just about a guest list and a menu.  Ambiance is key.  When planning a winter brunch, you want to make sure the inside of your home reflects the feeling outside.  If it’s snowy afternoon, light candles, dim the lights and create a cozy warm feeling inside.  If it’s a cold sunny day, open the shades, let the natural light in.  Music is another important feature to your brunch. Ditch the holiday music, opt for something calming and instrumental.


Setting a beautiful table can be simple and make everything you serve taste better.  Try a simple white tablecloth, white flowers, mirror centerpiece trays and lots of candles.  The white is clean and classic for winter and will allow the food to be the star. Here are some great resources to help you create a wonderful winter table:

White Table Cloth, $24.95

Centerpiece Mirrors, 6 for $7.74

Pillar Candles, prices vary


Winter menus lend themselves to hearty ingredients.  But for a brunch you don’t want to overdue it on heavy food. This menu combines some seasonal ingredients that balance nicely without leaving you feeling like you need a nap.  It’s easy, inexpensive and will certainly brighten even the most hard to impress urbanite.

Mixed Greens with French Vinaigrette

Frittata with Swiss Chard, Italian Sausage and Feta

Cranberry and Orange Scones

Orange-Scented Hot Cocoa

Throw a Winning Super Bowl Party

In Celebrations on January 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Even if you don’t love football, throwing a Super Bowl Party can be a fun way to spend a cold February evening with friends and family. Take a look at some of these super suggestions and you’ll be on your way to throwing a party that will be a touchdown with your guests!


  • Use the NFL teams’ colors as your guide.  Pull them into every aspect of the scene from the plates, cups, napkins, and table cloths.  Keep it simple and use only disposable items. Super Bowl food tends to be messy.
  • Use big pillows and throw blankets to create additional seating on the floor.
  • If you want to take it a step further, there are a number of cool websites that offer fun football novelties to make your party even more festive! Here are some inexpensive favorites:

Football Field Table Runner, $2.50,

Football Condiment Dish, $9.99,

Field Goal Football Cooler, $22.05,


When planning a menu for a party it’s always good to pick a mix of items you can do ahead of time.  You and your guest will thank you when you have more time to spend with them and less in the kitchen!  Here are some thoughts on a simple and budget friendly Super Bowl menu.

Pre-game Cocktails

Warm Spiced Cider

Kick-Off Hors d’oeuvres

Gimme More Guacamole

Dallas Sweet and Spicy Wings

Half Time

3 Alarm Buffalo Chili

Post Game Sweets

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding


Game Day Activities

You can still enjoy Super Bowl Sunday even if you don’t like football.  Here are some amusing ways to get all your party goers involved in the game day festivities.

Ad Bingo – Download blank 5×5 bingo cards.  Then pick 25 generic things you would likely see in Super Bowl ads (i.e. pick up truck, horses, talking animal, celebrity spokes person).  Randomly place each item in a box. Use beans or pieces of candy as markers and let your guests compete for bingo as the commercials air.  For a competitive twist offer prize for the winner.

Super Super Bowl Pool- Download a blank pool template. Decided on a fee and charge your guests a small fee per square. Number 0 -9 on each axis and let everyone chose their squares.   At the end of each quarter of the Super Bowl, the last digit of both NFL teams’ score is compared to the grid to determine a winner.  You can also have an grand prize winner by doing the same thing with the final score.




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