The Right Way to Throw a Cocktail Party, Potluck or Buffet
For "lively," you need to invite plenty of people, since a cocktail party should have a nicely buzzing kind of energy. There's no magic number of guests; it depends on the personalities and the space. Fifteen may feel crowded and boisterous; 40 may feel sparse. You just don't want it to feel empty.
"Short" means set a beginning and an end time—4 to 6, say. This makes it easier for guests to commit, and for you to say goodbye graciously when the mood starts to wane.
- A cheese board with Manchego, San Simón da Costa, and Tetilla cheeses (or substitute Gouda, Camembert, and Gorgonzola)
- Assorted Spanish olives
- Marcona almonds (large, crisp, salty Spanish almonds)
- Dried apricots, figs, and plums
- Roasted pepper and goat cheese empanadas
- White wine sangria with summer peaches and strawberries
When planning a potluck, your job is to make certain that you do not wind up with 12 baguettes for dinner and nothing else. Divide the meal into categories—appetizer, drink, salad, vegetable, bread, fruit, dessert—and assign one (or more) to each guest. Be clear but not controlling. Do not, for example, tell your neighbor to bring the exact white bean salad that appears on page such and such of a certain cookbook.
One very nice bonus of a potluck is that it allows you to splurge on great ingredients. You might not spring for a whole tenderloin of beef if you are also providing appetizers, wine, side dishes, and dessert for your guests. But $90 doesn't seem so extravagant when it's the sum total of your tab.
The other hidden benefit is that your guests will feel invested in the outcome of the party. Instead of showing up wanting to be fed and entertained, they will arrive prepared to contribute to the meal's success, and there's no better way to ensure that everyone has a great time.
Grilled tenderloin of beef with fresh herb vinaigrette
- Vegetables for grilling
- Bread and cheese
- Tossed green salad
- White bean or grain salad
- Fresh fruit
- White and red wine
- Soda, water, juice
The food—fresh gazpacho, salmon with corn salsa, pound cake—can all be made ahead and served at room temperature, so you don't have to greet your friends with a wooden spoon in hand, onion bits in your hair, and something burning in the background.
The meal is colorful, too, allowing you to keep table decorations to a minimum; a handful of flowers and a pretty tablecloth are more than enough.
A midday party feels particularly indulgent because it allows your guests to pause and savor good food and pleasant conversation at the exact time of day when they are usually at their busiest. This kind of party is an especially generous gift for you, the newly confident host, to offer your by now growing list of well-fed admirers.