Reawaken the Cocktail Party

Dare we call it the payback party? That trivializes the important notion that reciprocating the invitation of friends with a special, flashy fete is one of the joys of entertaining.

If you live with Catholic guilt like I do, you will understand this feeling well: As you bask in the love and hospitality of all your nicest friends, mellow with the memories of wonderful meals at their tables, a slight discomfort seeps insidiously into the picture: “But I HAVE to repay their kindness!”

So you’ve grabbed the bull by the horns in acknowledgement that it is time you returned the courtesy. Still, you might find that in coming out of hibernation to celebrate spring with friends, the house is a mess, the children are feral, life is too busy and it is all too hard. Don’t be put off.

Here is an idea to consider. Have a party off site and eliminate the whole problem of putting the house in order. If space is an issue, and you want to include a whole swathe of friends long overdue for an invitation, what are the options available to you? Perhaps you live near a community hall not used on a weekday evening? How about your bachelor work-mate living in a loft with no furniture, who’s away for the weekend? Borrowing their space will mean clean-up on only one end of the event. A neat pile of yummy leftovers in their fridge and your flowers might be all the thanks they want in exchange. Or how about your favorite local art space? Approach the person in charge and you just might find they’d be happy to lend or rent the space.

A cocktail party with a variety of interesting and satisfying home-made hors d’oeuvres is certainly a worthwhile and heartfelt gesture of thanks to your friends. Here are some easy and delicious little morsels that you can prepare at home; in fact, why not rope in an extra pair of hands? The time will fly and a task divided could be a task enjoyed.

The important mantra for this project is ‘keep it simple.’ Choose food items like the ones suggested here that are just as good served at room temperature so you won’t have to scurry back and forth to a warming oven while your guests are mingling. After all, the whole idea is for you to catch up with your invited friends, not to be in a back room fiddling with messy finger food. Pack your glasses in old wine boxes beforehand to take to the party location. The cardboard dividers work just as well for glasses as they do for bottles.

Keep the drinks simple: Beer, wine and champagne, mineral water and a couple of juice options will cover the fussiest guest. Try an alcoholic punch. A variation of the sexy Brazilian Caipirinha cocktail is sure to be popular, with its tropical flavors of cane sugar and lime. Easily achieved: Just combine, in a punchbowl, 2 cups of freshly squeezed lime juice, 2 cups of fine cane sugar, 2 cups of cachaca liqueur (sugarcane rum) 2 liters soda water and 1 cup of lime slices for garnish. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and watch this drink disappear quickly!

Plenty of pretty cocktail napkins are all you need for these straightforward finger foods, but if you insist on a plate and fork, no one will bat an eye if you opt for throw-away plastic, especially if your party is away from home.

Whatever’s on the menu for a cocktail party, I always put out some bowls of crystallized ginger cubes mixed in with macadamia nuts. I came across this delicious and simple combination at an elegant reception many years ago and have shamelessly made it my own. Having bowls of nuts and olives stationed around the place takes the pressure off you to keep the prepared food circulating steadily.

The food items I have chosen to share are picked for visual appeal, and to please a variety of palates. Galloping Horses is an incongruous name for a delicious, sweet-salty Thai hors d’oeuvre. The main ingredient is ground pork, and the cooked and cooled mixture is spooned on to segments of fruit such as carambola (star fruit) and oranges or stuffed into lychees. My version is no fuss — I use separated endive leaves, the pale green and white colors making a pretty vessel for the meat.

The balsamic shrimp has an exotic and fragrant dash with the addition of Chinese five spice powder, available in the spice section of any large grocery store. Choose fresh, large shrimp for best results.

Chicken bites on skewers is an old favorite not to be overlooked. Cooking it on a barbeque produces the best smoky flavor, but failing this, you can always pop the chicken under your kitchen broiler. The accompanying chutney can be made and stored up to three days in advance, and its pale green color is a pretty sight on a spring platter.

Antipasto is no new idea either, but jazz it up and please vegetarians too with the inclusion of lemon flavored curried mushrooms, white asparagus spears with parmesan flakes and black pepper, and juicy, slow-roasted tomatoes. Arrange attractively on a dark wooden tray to serve.

Baked polenta diamonds topped with mascarpone cheese infused with sun-dried tomato is a simple, elegant taste. Top with capers for a hint of green, another sweet reference to the season.

A party like this one should be easy to manage, leaving you with time to enjoy the company of gathered friends. Cheers!

RECIPES:

Spicy Chicken Skewers with Cool Mint and Yogurt Chutney

Galloping Horses

Lime & Balsamic Vinegar Shrimp

Antipasto with Lemon Curried Mushrooms and Slow-Cooked Tomoatoes

Baked Polenta Diamonds

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