Help my impending parties not suck
May 1, 2010 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be hosting a cocktail hour and a semi-fancy dinner for 50 people. I'm looking for your best simple-yet-elegant recipes for cold hors d'oeuvres and little desserts, as well as general cocktail-hour/party planning tips.

The cocktail hour will probably be attended by about 15-20 people. I'll be making all the food myself the previous day, and in terms of beverages we'll have wine and some kind of Spring-appropriate cocktail. The venue doesn't have a kitchen, so all the food needs to be served cold. I want a combination of vegetarian and non-vegetarian savory hors d'oeuvres, as well as at least one finger-food-type dessert. My cooking skills are decent, but as I said, I'll be making everything by myself the previous day (with the exception of things that can be prepped without a kitchen, like crackers topped with stuff) so it needs to come together relatively quickly. I'm aiming for "casual elegant," if that means anything -- e.g., pigs in blankets are too casual, caviar is too fancy, bite-size quiches are just right. Let's say my budget for ingredients is $100.

The dinner for 50 will be catered (thank god), but I'm in charge of buying beverages. I don't really drink, so I'm totally clueless about this. Budget for drinks: $400.

So I guess this boils down to a few questions:

1. What are some good "casual elegant" cold hors d'oeuvres and adorable little desserts that can be prepared a day in advance by a single person?
2. How does one go about choosing which foods to serve? Is there a logic to the number of different varieties of hors d'oeuvres to have, and the number of each to make? Is there some kind of hors d'oeuvre matrix where you're supposed to have one kind from each category?
3. How does one know how much alcohol to buy for a party? Is there a formula?
4. Er... anything else I should be asking about that I haven't? I've got a decent handle on logistical stuff (get plenty of ice, etc.), it's more the feeding-and-watering-large-groups-of-people part that's got me spooked.
posted by pluckemin to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Daniel Boulud has some good advice re: hors d'oeuvres.
posted by cooker girl at 6:29 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

One hors d'oeuvre I like: A small piece of black bread (or a cucumber), with a bit of smoked salmon and a dollop of creme fraiche on top (a teeny bit of garnish can be added, too). Yummy, and no cooking required.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:39 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider the flow when hosting 50 ppl. We keep the bar on the opposite end of the house from the food, and a pretty silver bucket of soft drinks in the middle. This allows people to move through and get refreshments without backing up.

Also, have lots of small bowls with nuts, wasabi peas and the like throughout, and plenty of cocktail napkins. Enjoy!
posted by mozhet at 6:39 PM on May 1, 2010

Mark Bittman's list of 101 appetizers in 20 minutes may be of use here.
posted by rebekah at 6:43 PM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

dolma is great cold
posted by k8t at 6:48 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use a general rule of thumb of 3 drinks per guest, per 2 hrs. This will usually cover the average of your heavy drinkers and your light drinkers. As to what drinks, that's up to your guests. How well do you know them? What's the general age range? Do you wish to have a full bar? Many choices of wine? Beer? I plan lots of parties at the liquor store I work at and these are a lot of the questions I ask. If you don't know anything at all about this group, shoot for about 40% spirits, 35% wine and 25% beer for the cocktail event. For dinner, change the ratio to about 60% wine, 30% beer and 10% spirits. Again, though, it all depends on the crowd. Please feel free to memail me if you have any questions.
posted by lizjohn at 8:02 PM on May 1, 2010

I just did a party for 50 for an art opening:

fruit and cheese platter
different breads with three dips (humus, Baba Ghanoush, red pepper & feta dip)
fancy cookies (bought)
pub mix and nuts

Estimate two drinks per person for the first hour and one drink per person for each hour after. Take a look here, or Google drinks per person. I think going with one drink per hour is fine too.
posted by fifilaru at 8:16 PM on May 1, 2010

I catered the nibblies for a stand up party for 40 and did it as follows;

- smoked salmon on black bread with wasabi creme fraiche (fresh wasabi is expensive but a little goes a long way - sub horseradish or dill)

- caramelized onion tart (gluten-free crust) - prebaked. Cut into wedges when cold, warm and serve on napkins

- chicken skewers (prebake chicken chunks with seasoning of choice, thread onto skewers when cool enough to handle, chill and then reheat when ready. Serve with dipping sauce.

- cheese platter (blue, cheddar, chevre and brie/camembert) with dried fruit or fruit pate (quince or fig is nice)

- vegetarian sushi rolls, made that morning, sliced into rounds, served with soy sauce for dipping

- chocolate fondue, served with strawberries, bananas and other cut fruit plus madeira cake squares and marshmallow, toothpicks on side for dipping

Other than the fondue and cheese platter which stayed on a side table near the drinks, everything was on trays and circulated. The combination allows something for just about every food allergy or requirement (vegan, kosher, gluten-free, carb-free etc) and it can all be made in advance. The warm things are easily heatable with either a microwave or small oven and are best done in small batches. Regarding quantities, I figured 6 pieces per person for the tray foods (thats total, not per option) and enough of the choc fondue and cheese platter to make an attractive show.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:00 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Roasted beets, cut into slices, and then use a cookie cutter to make the slices star shaped. Top with a dollop of creme fraiche and a smidge of caviar or fresh herbs. Pretty and delicious.

The recipe is from Martha Stewart Entertaining in the Champagne and Hors d'Oeuvres chapter but I can't seem to find it online.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 9:08 PM on May 1, 2010

Finger sandwiches! The day before, you can make the fillings and de-crust the breads. The day of, slather the filling on the bread, slap another piece of bread on top, and revel in how elegant you are. Some fillings:

- smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers
- watercress, green onions, cream cheese, butter
- curried chicken salad
- olives, blue cheese, garlic, cream cheese
- minced onion, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise
- pate
- cucumber, cream cheese
- finely minced mushroom cooked down with a bit of sherry

But I'm sure you can think of dozens more. I bet you could assemble them the day before even, and then just transport and cut them when you get to the site. They'll do fine without refrigeration for a while.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:31 PM on May 1, 2010

marinated cooked asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto
inner spears of romaine piped w/filling - cream cheese and pepper jelly is good (veg)
tartlets - caramelized onion and parmesan, spinach & feta, or tomato and swiss (veg)
rounds of baguette w/ horseradish mayo, roast beef
sourcream with brown sugar (lots) and apples, and strawberries to dip (veg)
posted by theora55 at 10:26 PM on May 1, 2010

Mixed nuts: adding premium nuts like macademia and cashew will make it seem fancier
Selection of olives (pitted) from your local grocery's antipasti bar with a bowl of toothpicks nearby
Cheese and cracker/bread board: add on honey, berries, grapes, gourmet crackers
Veggie chips (taro, etc.): Terra Brand looks fancier than it really is!
Fruit skewers (prep ahead of time using fruits that don't oxidize): I like throwing in more unusual ones like mango, pineapple, kiwi, strawberry, papaya.
Truffled parmesan popcorn: drizzle on truffle oil and grate cheese right before serving. Use pre-popped popcorn like Good Health Half Naked Popcorn and open bags at the last second.
Deviled eggs: prep ahead of time, serve cold, and pipe the filling into the egg white using a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off.
Steamed edamame: steam ahead of time, serve cold.
Pickle plate: compose a plate of different types of pickled vegetables. Cut larger ones into small bites. Additionally, look for more unusual kinds at the store like cheese stuffed olives, pickled green beans, okra, asparagus (my preferred brand is Rick's Picks which is available at Whole Foods)
posted by kathryn at 11:28 PM on May 1, 2010

Keep in mind that it's often better to have larger quantities of 4 or 5 types of hors d'oeuvres instead of smaller quantities of 7 or 8 or more different types. It makes preparation and serving simpler for you. And (speaking only for myself) it can be disappointing to taste a delicious bite of something and then find out that there aren't any more!
posted by harriet vane at 12:29 AM on May 2, 2010

Fail-proof and elegant dessert. Stem and quarter fresh strawberries. Marinate in a moderate quantity of Grand Marnier liqueur, some brown sugar and real vanilla extract. Serve in champagne flutes. Top with piped whipped cream flavored with vanilla. Best prepared same day but can hold twenty four hours. Enjoy the accolades.
posted by Muirwylde at 1:01 AM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I actually just did a search on the Tasty Kitchen site for appetisers and canap├ęs, here are some of the cold ones that caught my eye:

Prosciutto, Manchego & Strawberry Crostini
Mini Caprese Appetizers
Curry Chicken Salad Crisps
Cucumber Sandwiches
Calla Lily Sandwiches
Ahi Tuna Potstickers with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce

I also bookmarked the appetisers categories on Pioneer Woman and Tasty Kitchen.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:42 AM on May 2, 2010

This pepper-crusted steak with horseradish cream is by far the best hors d'oeuvre I have ever made. It would be perfect for your party because you can cook the beef and toast the crostini well in advance and whip up the horseradish cream an hour or so before serving.
posted by kevin-o at 9:38 AM on May 2, 2010

Endive Spears with Gorgonzola and Toasted Walnuts: Wash and pat dry 24 endive spears. Place 1/2 teaspoon Gorgonzola cheese on each spear and garnish with 1 large toasted walnut.

Cucumber Rounds with Sour Cream and Chutney: Slice English cucumbers crosswise about 1/4 inch thick. Top each slice with sour cream (or thickened/Greek yogurt) and 1/2 teaspoon purchased or pre-made chutney.

Sausage with Spicy Mustard: Take a favorite grilled or broiled sausage and cut into chunks or slices and serve on skewers, accompanied with your favorite spicy mustard. (The sausage can be enjoyed room temp.)

Orange and Fennel Olives: Combine 2 pounds good quality (kalamata or Nicoise) black olives rinsed of any brine, peels from 2 oranges cut into long strips with bitter pith removed, juice of 4 lemons, 3 to 4 Tablespoons fennel seeds, and 4 large cloves of peeled garlic in clean glass jars or containers, seal, and marinate overnight at room temperature. This can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Spiced nuts: while best warm, this sort of thing is delicious at room temp. too. Try Creole Pecans, Sugar-Candied Walnuts, Rosemary Cashews, Cayenne Peanuts, etc.

Ina Garten's Orzo with Roasted Vegetables and Feta is delicious at room temp and gorgeous. It's a lot of work ahead of time, but it can be made ahead.

Cold rice salads are a good idea in general--cook the rice gently, let it dry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and meanwhile make the other stuff to go on it--I like oranges with their juice, olives, and almonds myself. Apricot or sultanas work well too. You can Google around for dressing ideas. Marinated brown rice is another approach, and of course the crowd-pleasing taboule.

Dips are easy of course--black bean hummus, eggplant dips, muhammara, and tomatillo guacamole are my current faves.

Basic colorful summer bean salads are a good idea too--cannellini beans, black beans, corn, mango, avocado, etc.

You could make fruit salad and punch it up a notch with some minor unconventional touches--prosecco or champagne lightly drizzled over grapes and strawberries, brown sugar and lime over pineapple and kiwi, peaches mixed with tomatoes (maybe too soon for decent produce depending on where you are), toasted almonds mixed with peaches and raspberries, tequila and lime over papaya and mango, thyme and fresh orange juice and bits tossed with different colored plums, crystallized ginger over honeydew, blueberries, apples, and/or pears, basil with strawberries or nectarines. (These all come from Cook's Illustrated. Can you tell I am ready for summer parties?)

Composed salad platter is another sophisticated option--take some really nice sliced coldcut meats like soppressata or something, some cubed melon, slices of fresh mozzarella or peels of parmesan, and some tangy greens and arrange prettily on a big platter. Drizzle with tasty dressing. People can pick and choose what they want, and you could even have a stack of bread or crackers of some sort if they want to make an impromptu little sandwich.
posted by ifjuly at 12:02 PM on May 2, 2010

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