When the weather outside is frightful, you throw a cocktail party. (I'm pretty sure those are the original lyrics to that song.) Last January when the other editors and I planned The Kitchn's Gatherings for the year, it fell to me to host our very last party of 2013 — a winter cocktail soirée with bubbly drinks and appetizers.
So with a Pinterest board full of glitzy party decor ideas and a menu of bite-sized indulgences, my husband and I set out to create a sparkly, slightly retro, cozy-glam evening for our friends, all of whom work very hard and deserve a night to dress up, get out, and get down with a good drink and a lamb meatball slider. Today I'll share the party plan and the full menu, which may or may not include chocolate cake bites, bacon-wrapped dates, and perhaps the greatest cranberry-ginger-rosemary punch ever. (Ok fine! Those are all included! I have a terrible poker face.)
The Party Idea: A Cozy-Glam Night for Hardworking Friends
Because I knew this party would be happening amidst stressy year-end schedules, I thought it important to host an evening that felt heightened and special, a retreat from the long hours and the deadlines and the ugh-is-2014-here-yet feelings. To do that we served three special drinks — a boozy punch, a sparkling wine bar, and a bourbon cocktail — and a table full of small plates, gold confetti napkins, and an array of treats, both savory and sweet.
The Party Menu: Cocktails and Appetizers
The question with cocktail parties is always: how much should you serve? We were starting the party relatively early (6:00pm), which meant our guests probably wouldn't have had dinner beforehand, so the food would have to be substantial enough to fill them up. We also wanted to have variety, but not too much to be overwhelming for us to make, and at least two of the dishes needed to be make-ahead to cut down on the stress. Here's what we came up with:
A Winter Glam Cocktail Party Menu
For 15 guests
- Lamb Meatball Sliders with Chimichurri and Crispy Shallots: Made 36, and had a few left over.
- Goat Cheese Ball with Chives, Cucumber, and Caramelized Shallot: Made two and served with whole grain crackers, radishes, cucumber, and blanched broccoli. Totally gone at the end of the night!
- Cheddar Olives: Made 75, but should have made 200! They were gone almost instantly.
- Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates: Made 40, probably could have made 10 to 15 more.
- Rosemary-Roasted Cashews: Made a double batch, just right.
- Chocolate Cake Bites: Made one batch of this cake topped with this ganache frosting, baked in a 13x18-inch half sheet pan, cut into 1-inch squares, and served on sparkly toothpicks. Since the bites are so small, we had a lot of cake left in the pan, which we gladly gave to friends and ate ourselves over the next week.
- Festive Cranberry Fizz: Made a double batch and used one as the boozy version in the punch bowl and one as a pitcher mocktail. We served these with Heidi Swanson's sparkling cranberries, which we also just put around the apartment for people to snack on — they're that good!
- Sparkling wine bar: A make-your-own sparkling wine bar, with one liqueur, one bitters, and one homemade syrup. We went with St. Germain, Angostura bitters and sugar cubes (for a champagne cocktail), and this Pink Grapefruit and Pomegranate syrup.
- Gold Rush cocktail, served up and garnished with a lemon peel.
The lamb meatball sliders were the main appetizer, something more substantial we hoped would fill people up. The cheddar olives and bacon-wrapped dates were quick pop-in-your-mouth bites —savory, salty, delicious! — while the cheese ball had a lighter side of vegetables. The chocolate cake bites were perfect decadent morsels, just enough to satisfy without feeling too rich, and so pretty, too. And the rosemary-roasted cashews and sugared cranberries? We put them around apartment for guests to snack on if they sat down anywhere.
The Party Look: Sparkly and Festive!
I decided to go with a lot of gold, pink, and sparkly lights for the decor, like New Year's before New Year's, relying on my Christmas tree and a big garland I'd hung on the door frame between my dining and living room to provide a wintry feel. I also strung globe lights in the dining room — the same ones I used in my spring vegetarian party back in Brooklyn, purchased for $12 at Target — and then hung hot pink and seafoam green crepe paper streamers across the lights. (Streamers are super cheap, like $1 each.)
I'd initially started out with six or seven colored streamers, including all shades of pink, yellow, lavender, and gold, but it ended up looking way too Easter, so I paired it down to hot pink and green. So much better!
For a little retro vibe, we decided to play records at the party instead of using an iPhone playlist. I gave my husband a record player for his birthday in September, but since our record collection is still pitifully small, we asked our friends Jed and Allison to bring a selection from their own stellar record collection and be our unofficial DJs for the night.
As is my habit now with parties, I hung a sheet of butcher paper on the wall and wrote out a cocktail list.
I also made little cards decorated with patterned gold washi tape for every item on the table. (Especially important so guests could differentiate between the alcoholic and non-alcoholic punch, since we had both.)
And to get the most out that gold and hot pink washi tape, I made little washi tape flags for the chocolate cake bites, seen here pre-skewering.
Look out for the full party reveal tomorrow, and more about the sparkling wine bar and the chocolate cake bites coming up later this week! Cheers to that!