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Help with a holiday cocktail party!

So the man and I are having about 20 people over next weekend for a holiday gathering and I need some suggestions for the food. We don't want to do dinner since we don't really have room for everyone to sit but need to find some appetizers and desserts that can be munched on with drinks. What are your suggestions and favorite recipes?
Thank you!

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  1. Do you want things that are finger food/canapes or more sort of buffet things?

    Either way, I think grav lax is lovely to have, particularly this time of year, and has the bonus of needing to be made ahead of time. I've posted the recipe I use here somewhere, and am happy to find it if you are interested.

    1. You might consider only one thing that needs to be served hot, right out of the oven--otherwise, you'll be spending a lot of time in the kitchen and not with your friends. Pull that one, initial pan out of the oven, when it's gone, it's gone, and the rest of the nibbles can be warm or room temp.

      1. A Manchego cheese wedge with a shallot cherry confit, served with baguette rounds
        Hummus dip with pita chips and sliced fresh veggies
        Warmed green olives with cumin seeds and orange peel
        spiced nuts like cashews and rosemary walnuts
        warm shrimp cocktail with orange basil dipping sauce
        spicy samosa wontons
        side of poached salmon with accoutrements ( or beef tenderloin or a smoked ham)
        spicy Thai avocado soup shots
        mini Yorkshire puddings with seared flat iron steak & horseradish creme fraiche
        foie gras pate with fig jam on brioche toasts

        Any of these will work together in a buffet / passed h-d situation, depending on how much you want to do ahead, and make at the time of the party. Let me know if you're interested in any of the above & I can provide you with the recipes.

        Good luck!

        6 Replies
        1. re: Phurstluv

          Oooh, I'd love a recipe for the mini Yorkshire puddings! I am assuming the foie gras is...just foie gras?

          1. re: E_M

            Yes, the foie gras I used for that app for a party last summer was a pate that I ordered from Dean & DeLuca. All I had to do was unwrap it. It was delectable.

            The mini yorkshire puddings comes from Chef Govind Armstrong, a local LA chef, and his book is "Small Bites, Big Nights".

            Mini Yorkshire Pudding
            1 ½ cups all purpose flour
            ½ tsp salt
            1 ½ cups whole milk
            3 large eggs, beaten
            4 tbsp canola oil

            Preheat the oven to 400.
            To make the Yorkshire pudding: mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl, then gradually add the milk, stirring until smooth. Add the eggs, and incorporate thoroughly. Allow the mixture to rest for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

            Pour a thin layer of the canola oil in the bottom of a mini 2 inch muffin tin and place in oven until really, really hot. Pour in the pudding mixture about a fourth of the way (it will puff up) in the muffin cups and bake in the hot oven for about 20 minutes, or there’s no uncooked batter and it’s golden brown.

            1. re: Phurstluv

              :: wiping drool off the keyboard ::

              Will I find the seared steak and horseradish creme fraiche there too?

              1. re: E_M

                I can send it to you right now. Here's the whole recipe, it was wonderful!

                Seared Beef Filet on Mini Yorkshire Pudding / Horseradish Cream

                Serves 8

                Mini Yorkshire Pudding
                1 ½ cups all purpose flour
                ½ tsp salt
                1 ½ cups whole milk
                3 large eggs, beaten
                4 tbsp canola oil

                2 tbsp prepared horseradish
                ½ cup heavy cream, whipped to semi-stiff peaks

                Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
                1 tsp canola oil
                10 oz flat iron steak
                ½ bunch chives, chopped

                Preheat the oven to 400.
                To make the Yorkshire pudding: mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl, then gradually add the milk, stirring until smooth. Add the eggs, and incorporate thoroughly. Allow the mixture to rest for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

                Pour a thin layer of the canola oil in the bottom of a mini 2 inch muffin tin and place in oven until really, really hot. Pour in the pudding mixture about a fourth of the way (it will puff up) in the muffin cups and bake in the hot oven for about 20 minutes, or there’s no uncooked batter and it’s golden brown.

                Fold in the horseradish to the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

                Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add the grapeseed oil. Season the beef with salt and pepper and sear the beef to medium rare, or about 3 minutes on both sides. Allow the steak to rest on cutting board for 10 minutes, then slice into bite-size pieces.

                Lay out the Yorkshire pudding, place slices of beef on top, add a dollop of the horseradish cream and garnish with chopped chives.

              2. re: Phurstluv

                Oooooh, this is a very good idea. Have you ever tried doubling the recipe? Have you ever tried it in the teeny muffin tins (I think they are smaller than 2 inches, or not?). I'd like them to be really small. Any further advice? Thanks so much.

                1. re: waver

                  I did double it since it was for a party of 15. It worked fine. I used mini muffin tins, don't know if they measured 2" or not, but they cooked in about the time he states. If you use something smaller, I would cut down on the time, since they will dry out if overcooked.

                  As far as the steak goes, if you are using the tiny muffin tins, just be aware you will need to cut up the slices of steak very, very small, and it may not be as pretty. You can probably get away without two steaks, since you will have a lot of scraps, after cutting them so small. Good luck.

          2. Here's a frustrating answer: it depends. Elegant or casual? Plates or napkins? Standing up or plates on laps? Enough to make a meal, or just little tidbits? Kids?

            2 Replies
            1. re: Tatania

              Thanks for the suggestions so far! As far as more clarity there will be no kids, most people will probably be standing up so we are thinking more along the lines of finger foods, we have small plates and napkins and we are somewhere in between upscale and casual. Thanks! I would love some more ideas of things that I can prepare ahead so I am not in the kitchen all night!

              1. re: lmuller

                Ah, ok. So I can throw some ideas into the mix:
                -Mini spanikopita (make ahead, flash freeze, reheat from frozen)
                -Assorted great stuff on crostini - goat cheese & olives, caramelized onion & mozz, etc (assemble ahead of time and warm at party)
                -Room temp chicken or beef satay w/peanut dip
                -Shumai w/dipping sauce
                -Cookies, cake & fruit

            2. What about a beef tenderloin or ham that you prepare ahead of time. You could slice it, arrange it on a platter, and have a basket of mini catering rolls along with some interesting spreads (gourmet mustards, horseradish sauce, etc.) on hand.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Whinerdiner

                We're going to try a roast this year. Slice it, provide small buns, horseradish etc AND the mini yorkshire puddings above. Last year we did something similar with pulled pork (except we used turkey), coleslaw and buns and it went over well.

                1. re: waver

                  Those mini yorkshire puddings sound terrific. Definitely printing that recipe.

              2. It may help to come up with a theme. I did a retro theme one year, updating deviled eggs, my mom's crab and English muffin appetizer, pigs in blankets, etc.

                Last year was a housewarming for 60. I did a lot that was warm but that could be made ahead of time, frozen, and then just thrown in the oven as needed. I did braised hoison pork cigars in filo, mushroom and blue cheese turnovers in puff pastry, gougeres, prosciutto and gruyere palmiers, Mongolian beef bites, olive and roasted red pepper dip, soft caramels, and chocolate covered grapes.

                2 Replies
                1. re: katecm

                  sounds like terrific suggestions - could you share some recipes? I have two for gougeres but neither of which I have yet tested so I would appreciate that one, as well as the pork cigars

                  1. re: smilingal

                    I'm afraid I don't really have any. The gougeres I made were from the Gourmet cookbook. This looks close, but I make them bite-sized, so they cook very quickly. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                    With the pork, I got boneless country-style pork ribs, but any fatty pork would work for braising. Off the top of my head, I seasoned with salt, pepper, and five spice powder, then browned. The liquid was ginger, hoisin, orange juice, apple juice, garlic, sriracha and chicken broth. I braised until it was super-soft and shredded it. Then I rolled it up in strips of filo and froze. I placed them straight from the freezer onto the baking sheet and cooked until brown and hot. I served with a mix of thai chili sauce and a dash of hoisin (I hadn't planned a dipping sauce, but was worried about them being dry, so just mixed that up at the last minute).

                2. For years I have always had a large pot of soup on the stove, a salad / veg or two, and antipasta with bread. I use mugs to serve the soup in, it works great. I have done a tortellini soup, a bean and pasta soup, one year I did gumbo. I know some people like to do chili like this.

                  1. I used to do an annual open-house for about 50 people, with very little help. One dish I always made was this shrimp "salad". I did 4-6x this recipe and served it heaped in a big crystal bowl with toothpicks along side, so guests could spear their own mini-skewers. It was always a big hit and made the shrimp go a lot further. The first time I did it, I worried that people would just pick out all the shrimp, but that never happened.

                    1 lb. 21-25 shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked (I cut them in half length-wise, to make them go further)
                    1 pint grape tomatoes
                    6 oz. whole, pitted olives (you need smallish ones, whatever kind you like)
                    1 can sliced water chestnuts
                    8 oz. Mushrooms, cut in half if large
                    ½ head cauliflower or broccoli, broken into bite-size flowerets (discard stems)

                    2 Cups Mayonnaise (I think I used less)
                    ½ C. well-drained horseradish
                    2 tsp. dry mustard
                    Juice of one lemon
                    1-2 tsp. salt
                    Mix and refrigerate 1-2 hrs. (or more) before serving

                    1. I just hosted a holiday cocktail party for forty this weekend and the items that went the quickest were (in order of popularity):
                      crab rangoon
                      bacon and cheddar croquetas
                      beet-pickled deviled eggs
                      hummus bar (I prepared plain hummus and provided mix-ins)
                      potato samosas
                      lumpia shanghai
                      lamb kibbeh
                      In the past I've also had great success with boureki as well. I was surprised to find that cold items like cheese and dip didn't go very quickly, however items with something a little out of the ordinary like the bright red deviled eggs went like hotcakes.

                      1. I'm obsessed with these stuffed mushrooms I made up. They're vegan, but don't let that stop you from making them - they are amazingly good! Photo: http://www.whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010...

                        Stuffed Mushrooms with Pecans

                        3/4 cup freshly made bread crumbs from whole wheat bread (just throw a piece of bread in the food processor
                        )1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
                        1 tablespoon olive oil
                        1/3 cup finely chopped onion
                        2 cloves garlic, minced
                        1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
                        3 to 4 ounces extra firm tofu (1/4 of one package)
                        1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
                        1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
                        1/2 teaspoon salt
                        1/4 teaspoon pepper
                        12 ounces baby bella mushrooms (about 16)

                        Place the bread crumbs and pecans in a large bowl. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onions and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the oregano, tofu, yeast, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and mash with a fork. Cook for 3 minutes, then add to the bowl with the bread crumbs. Pull the stems from the mushrooms, which should leave a small cavity for filling. Press a spoonful of filling into the mushroom, mounding it a bit on top. Place the mushrooms on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until the tops are browned. Serve immediately.

                        Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

                        1. A simple thing that people love to much on is roasted chickpeas. There are a million recipes out there, but I'm partial to the one I made up recently - with Chinese five spice powder and cayenne. And there's just no simpler thing you can make for a party! Just put out a bowl of them like I did, and they will be gone really quickly. http://www.whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010...

                          Spice-Roasted Chickpeas

                          1 can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed and thoroughly dried

                          1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

                          1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more to taste


                          1/4 teaspoon salt

                          1/4 teaspoon black pepper

                          2 teaspoons olive oil

                          Toss everything together and spread on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until completely crunchy.
                          (Note: some recipes call for cooking them only 20 minutes, but I found they needed 40. Check them halfway through and see what you think. If they are still chewy in the center, keep cooking!)

                          1. Fire-Roasted Corn Dip with Crispy Flour and Blue Corn Chips

                            4 medium ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked (or use frozen roasted or regular corn –one bag)
                            2 tablespoons olive oil
                            Freshly ground black pepper
                            1 tablespoon butter
                            1 cup minced onions
                            1/4 cup small diced red bell peppers
                            1/4 cup small diced yellow bell peppers
                            1 medium jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and minced
                            1 tablespoon chopped garlic
                            1 cup mayonnaise 1/2 pound grated Monterey Jack Cheese 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese 1/3 cup fine Kraft Parmesan Cheese 2 tablespoons Worcestershire 1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, (green part only)
                            6 small flour tortillas, quartered
                            6 small blue corn tortillas, quartered

                            Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rub each ear of the corn with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place the corn either on the grill or either on an open flame. Cook the corn for 1 minute on all sides. Remove from the heat and cool. Using a sharp knife, remove the kernels from the cob. If using frozen corn, just unthaw. In a large saute pan, melt the butter. Add the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the corn and continue to saute for 2 minutes. Add the jalapenos and garlic. Continue to cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Turn the vegetable mixture into a mixing bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise and half of the cheese. Mix well. Stir in the green onions. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a greased 6 cup oven-proof oval baking dish. Spread evenly and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until bubbly. If you have a deep fryer use it, or fill a large pot with vegetable oil and heat, fry the tortillas in batches until crispy, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly for overall browning. Remove and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm with the chips. You don't have to make your own chips.... it also tastes great with any other tortilla chips or wheat thins. I know you asked for a simple recipe... sorry I have no simple recipes :) but it's worth it and I am almost sure you will not stop eating it, its a crowd pleaser .... enjoy! Eva from Boulevard Haus Restaurant Dayton
                            Eva Brcic Christian

                            1. My favorite "centerpiece" for apps/hors d'oevres is baked goat cheese. I get a wide flat ramekin (the kind that is useless for creme brulee) and put half of a goat cheese log in it, toss some roasted garlic (homemade, or available at your grocery store's olive bar) around it, and top with some olive oil. Serve it with a little cheese knife thing and sliced pieces of baguette. To this, I have also added mushroom caviar(chop up cheap mushrooms into tiny bits, cook til browned w/ some garlic and thyme, then add creme fraiche and simmer til extra liquid cooks out), olive bar marinated roasted cherry tomatoes, fig jam (WIN), artichoke dip, olive tapenade, etc. Then people can mix and match to make their ideal crostini. Another crostini that has made an appearance at a couple family get-togethers lately is roast beef (from the deli counter) served with a dollop of horseradish, or tuna tartare atop a crostini smeared with wasabi mayo.

                              You could also go comfort-food style with macaroni and cheese bites, those awesome grape jelly and pepper meatballs, etc.

                              People still seem to adore cupcakes, though individual tiramisu cups/bowls can be made ahead and display nicely. A lemon tart makes a great way to cut some of the more rich items (though it's pretty rich itself!) You could also do another riff on the crostini concept with graham crackers spread with nutella and a bit of marshmallow fluff and broiled, lemon curd smeared cranberry scones, etc.

                              Man, I need to throw a party soon!