No matter how overwhelmed you might be, hosting a convivial holiday cocktail party is within anyone’s reach with a little preparation and a touch of inspiration: Throw together a few chic but simple homemade hors d’oeuvres ahead of time, supplement with some excellent purchased items to round things out, and stir up a good, strong punch. You won’t have to fuss too much with doing things one-at-a-time, and you’ll be clinking glasses in no time.
For an example of a simple-for-a-crowd nibble, these lamb bites are fantastically fragrant, with heady spices. But instead of making masses of individual meatballs, you can roll them instead into ropes and cut them into bite-sized pieces in a flash. And for a luxurious and well-paired dip, pureeing canned white beans and preserved lemon will make your lamb bites truly opulent.
This gorgeous radicchio tart is easy on the eyes as well as the cook—relying on a foundation of pre-made pizza dough that’s topped with sautéed radicchio, bacon (of course, it needs to show up somewhere), and nutty gruyere cheese. A whole pan can be cut into dozens of elegant little squares, meaning you can feed a whole lot of mouths in one fell swoop.
Then bolster the homemade bites with a lavish cheese and charcuterie spread. What really sets a cheese and/or meat plate apart (aside from the quality of the cheeses and meats themselves) is garnish. Get creative.
Arrange things attractively on big, grand platters with some of the tips below, and you’ll need nothing else. Except the cocktails themselves ofcourse. This distinctive, seasonal Spice Persimmon Punch (yet another thing you can prepare in a big batch) is sure to be a hit. With white wine and a hit of brandy, it’s almost like a wintry sangria. Good food, good drink, and good friends—what could be more festive?
Snack presentation ideas
- Tuck dried fruits in with your soft cheeses—figs and dates are always special. And if you can find some Champagne grapes, dot your cheese plate with some little juicy clusters.
- Drizzle your hard cheeses with nutty, fragrant oils like walnut oil or pistachio oil. A handful of whole toasted nuts to match the oil, strewn on the platter, are festive and welcome, too.
- Slice up about half of your salumi, pates, etc. and leave the other half whole with a knife nearby at the ready. Instead of crackers, make some savory little garlic toasts by slicing up a good baguette, toast them, and rub the slices with a split raw garlic clove.
- Cured meats, patés and rillettes cry out for good mustard. Splurge on a couple different high-quality varieties like a grainy German, a smooth Dijon, and a spicy English (not for the faint of heart).
- Amplify your charcuterie platter with some pretty store-bought antipasti bits like good artichoke hearts preserved in olive oil, or some well-made pickled vegetables, particularly if you can find an assortment like cauliflower, carrots, and celery.
- Scatter bowls of candied and/or spiced nuts place in strategic spots around the house so your guests can easily nibble while they sip and chat.
- A big bowl of homemade, flavored popcorn (or a good brand of something purchased), will disappear almost as soon as you put it out. Guaranteed.
Spiced Persimmon Punch
Makes 16 to 20 servings
1. Place the persimmon slices, star anise, and allspice berries in a clean jar with a lid. Pour in the brandy. Cover tightly and let stand at room temperature for 2 to 4 days.
2. At least 24 hours before serving the punch, fill a large bundt pan or bowl 2/3 with water. Freeze overnight.
3. In a small pot, combine the sugar and 1 cup water. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely.
4. When you are ready to serve the punch, turn the bundt pan or bowl upside down and run briefly under warm water to release the ice mold from the pan. Transfer the ice to a large punch bowl. Pour in the brandy (with fruit and spices) and wine. Stir in seltzer and sugar syrup to taste.
Radicchio Bacon-Cheese Tart
Makes about 4½ dozen pieces
½ pound thick-sliced bacon
1 onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 head radicchio, cored and cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 pound pizza dough, homemade or bought from a pizzeria (They’ll usually sell you some!)
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a rimmed jelly roll pan.
2. In a large skillet fry the bacon over medium-low heat until crisp. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Crumble into pieces.
3. Pour off all but 4 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the thyme and radicchio; cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 13- x 18-inch rectangle. Press into the prepared pan. Scatter the radicchio mixture over the crust, then top with bacon and cheese. Drizzle the top with oil. Bake until the crust is golden and cheese is melted, about 35 minutes. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Spicy Lamb Meatballs with White Bean Dip
Makes about 2½ dozen
For the lamb:
1 pound ground lamb
¼ cup finely chopped scallions
¼ cup plain dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon chili powder
For the dip
1 fat garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped, seeded preserved lemon (See Etc. below)
1 tablespoon orange juice, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
1 (14-ounce) can drained cannellini beans
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
For the dip
1. In a food processor, pulse together the garlic, preserved lemon, orange juice, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Add the beans, another pinch of salt, and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, adding more lemon, orange, or salt. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Drizzle with more oil before serving.
For the lamb
1. Preheat the broiler. Arrange an oven rack 3-inches from the heat. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush it lightly with oil.
2. In a large bowl, combine the lamb, scallions, breadcrumbs, cilantro, egg, garlic, salt, cumin, and chili powder. Pull off a large chunk of the lamb mixture and roll it, like a dough, into a 1-inch-thick rope. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining lamb. Cut each rope into 2-inch lengths. Brush with oil.
3. Transfer baking sheet to the oven and broil until meat is golden and firm to the touch, about 5 minutes. Arrange lamb fingers on a platter and serve hot with dip.
If you don't have preserved lemons on hand, try this simple yogurt dip instead: In a small bowl, combine ½ cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, ½ teaspoon lime zest, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 finely chopped garlic clove and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill, covered, until ready to use.
More things to nibble on: