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Feeling lazy and uninspired -- need idea/theme for simple cocktail party

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We're having around 12 of my husband's co-workers over on Sunday afternoon for a casual cocktail party. I used to be so good at planning this type of thing, but somewhere along the way I lost my mojo. I'm worried that if I don't give it a little thought, it will end up a mish mash of things -- trader joe's finger food here, cheese plate there, focaccia over here, hard sausage and olives in the corner. You get the idea. I'll make it as complicated and expensive as possible for myself, when if I'd given it a little thought, I could have done something more thematically pleasing for less time and money. Care to help me think? I live in Brooklyn, so I could do something loosely middle eastern or even Indian. Not necessarily looking for a strict theme, of course, just food that matches in some way. What have you done that's worked well for you? Thanks in advance for giving my lazy brain and taste buds a break.

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  1. One of my most requested theme parties (The Kilted Cook is a Personal Chef) is a Night in Old Bali. I do a Riijsttafl - "rice table". Each of the toppings is simple and easy; and if you have a rice cooker, making the rice is a snap too.

    Make three rice "mountains" - white, saffron and "Forbidden" Black rice if you can find it (or Brown if you can't). Then make at least half a dozen toppings - in small amounts. Some are spicy, some sweet, some savory toppings.

    Plate the mountains on a large platter in the center of the table and place bowls of the toppings around the edges. Give each guest a "rice bowl", a fork and a napkin. Diners scoop up some rice(s) and a little of this and a little of that. Eat standing for more fun mingling.

    Some toppings:
    1. Hot-Sweet - tropical fruit cocktail mixed with hot chili powder or cayenne
    2. Chopped shrimp in a mango-basil puree (chilled)
    3. Catfish (Basa or Sutchi) nuggets in lemon coconut sauce
    4. Vegetable Sambal (sambal is like a salsa)
    5. Pork and Yam Cubes in orange sauce
    6. Beef strips stirfried in soy and ginger

    1. or a nice bruschetta bar (or is is crostini - not sure I knowthe diff). there are some wonderful and very diff. toppings that you could set up as kilted cook mentioned above. I did a recent new one that was fanstic: steakhouse bruschetta with the base being a mix of blue cheese, mayo, white vinagar and mustard then to that with diced tomatoes, steak (diced), olive oil, and basil chopped. It was fantastic.

      1. I love Trader Joes, and they have all the things you need to put together a Mexican Fiesta that is fun and upbeat. You can have a taco bar using mini tortillas. Make your own beef & chicken fillings in advance and you can have quick to assemble toppings like shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, sliced radishes, trimmed green onions. Add pickeled jalepeno/carrot mix and some salsas and chips. Trader Joes has carne asada that's quick to grill and chop, or carnitas that's just heat and serve. They also have guacamole kits that come with everything you need to make fresh guacamole: avocados, chilis, shallot, tomatoes. In the freezer section, they have tacquitos and empanadas that are heat and serve and very delicious. Serve with Margaritas, Sangria and Mexican beer and it's a PARTY

        1 Reply
        1. re: janetms383

          To me cocktail parties can be more hectic than just dinner. I always work off of a theme for inspiration. It just depends on how motivated you are, and what to balance as far as pre-fab and work. Any ideas on what direction you want to take? Then it will be much easier to brain storm items that will fall into work or not category.

        2. You could do a South Beach, Miami theme -- good jewish deli food in bright-bright containers. Since so many NYC citizens retired there, it's known for corned beef, knishes and the like. Serve it up with pink parasol drinks, plastic flamingos traipsing across the buffet table, etc.

          1. How about modernized 50's comfort food--deviled eggs, pigs in blanket, ambrosia salad, meatballs,...

            4 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              I LOVE this, but then again, that was my era! LOL!

              1. re: chowser

                I agree with this idea! 50's cocktail party, not even modernized! Fun, simple, themed Oh so retro!

                fairways in RedHook for shopping.

                1. re: Quine

                  Thanks to everyone for the terrific ideas! I feel inspired. I think the 50s cocktail party is especially good since my husband was a bartender for years and prides himself on his martinis. Thanks to all! PS -- the rice party sounds amazing and I plan on stealing it in the future. Just don't think I'm feeling quite that ambitious this weekend!

                  1. re: vvv03

                    If you are modernizing the 50s theme, there is an interesting recipe for lamb meatballs here on chow, I have not tried it, but plan to make it for xmas. I would also add the small cocktail 'weenies' in spicy ketchup, and don't forget the plastic toothpicks!

              2. Something I want to do soon is a fondue party. I had fondue for a Thanksgiving appetizer and it was a huge hit. I have had fondue parties in the past and there are so many options. My last party I had the following:

                2 Cheese Fondues (One Cheddar based, one Swiss based)
                1 broth based with a selection of veggies and pre-cooked meats
                2 Chocolate Fondues (One Milk chocolate and the other was a raspberry white chocolate)

                I also included sides of marinated veggies and a salad with a nice vinaigrette to help break up the fattiness of the cheeses.

                Good luck with your party I am sure it will turn out great!

                1. The NY Times had an cute article
                  'The Holidays Downsized: We’re Going to Party Like It’s 1929'
                  pitting a stylist against a tiny budget.
                  It's not exactly relevant to your problem, but it might provide some inspiration and amusement!

                  1. We once did a cocktail party that was themed on bread and butter.
                    Various artisnal breads and a variety of savory butters - including butters from markets which sold butters from other countries. There were a few veggie platters and cheeses but most of the plates were ... breads and butters. Everyone loved it.

                    All you need to do is thimk.....

                    1. I have just had two large cocktail parties and I had a ton of food - salmon gravlax, fish cakes, veggie tray, devilled quail eggs with salmon caviar, stuffed mushroom caps and a dessert table with white chocolate hazelnut cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake, fresh fruit, home baked cookies, mini meringues, crepes Suzette, etc, etc, etc.

                      1. You said casual, but perhaps this is TOO casual. Still, I'll suggest it, since I've used it a couple of times successfully. Buy a bunch of bags of English muffins. Lay out a table full (or counter full) of pizza toppings (you'll have to brown some ground beef and sausage in advance, but otherwise it's mostly a matter of chopping and grating and simply opening packages for prep work). Lay out some cookie sheets. Preheat your oven. And then sit back and let your guest do the work as they make their own mini-pizzas. Not only is it food for your guests, but it's an activity for them and a source of conversation.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: weem

                          I did this for my birthday party when I was a child. We used canned biscuit dough as the pizza crusts. It was so much fun! I guess I was a chowpup back then. (smile)

                        2. I love the 50s idea...especially the martinis! I noticed someone suggested fondue...I've had several of those and they're great fun and since I have two authentic fondue sets circa the late 50s, you might be able to combine the two ideas.

                          I often rely on a Spanish "theme" with marinated olives, some nice cheeses, salami and, of course, ham. Good rustic breads. If I decide to branch that out into more of a Mediterrean thing, I might add some hummus (homemade or slightly doctored from the grocery), maybe add some naan or fresh pitas, some frozen spanakopita. To make my life easier (I'm not so lucky as to have a former bartender in the house!), I also try and do a limited bar that complements the menu and usually do a "signature" cocktail for the evening. For the Spanish theme, I mix up a couple of pitchers of sangria - one red and one white - using killer recipes I pried out of the owner of my favorite local tapas place and those always seem to be a hit.
                          I'd love to hear how it goes and to see the menu you put together when it's all over. Have fun!