The holidays are celebration season, and while I love a good cocktail party as much as the next person, throwing one involves a lot of preparation. Obviously, you've got your drink offerings to consider—you can't have a cocktail party without cocktails, and deciding what to serve and determining how much liquor to buy should be your first tasks. Fortunately, we have a handy drinks calculator to help you figure out what your needs are, as well as some suggestions for inexpensive bottles that work amazingly well in cold-weather libations.
But drinks are just one part of the equation: As any decent host (not to mention anyone with a minimal understanding of how alcohol works) should know, you've got to have delicious snacks to complement the cocktails and satisfy the tipsy cravings that are bound to arise. A well-constructed crudité platter or cheese plate is always a safe bet—and very helpful when you just want to shop, unwrap, arrange, and be done with it, no cooking required. But for many of us, the holidays are a time to get fancy—whether a little fancy or a lot is up to you. These 15 recipes for hors d'oeuvres like Swedish meatballs, chicken liver pâté, and crispy fried artichokes will help you keep your guests happy, well-fed, and brimming with compliments.
Juicy and Tender Swedish Meatballs With Rich Gravy
Swedish meatballs aren't the height of cocktail-party fashion like they were in the '60s, but they're still pretty damn tasty and, these days, adorably retro. Ours are made with a beef and pork blend and flavored with onion, white pepper, and allspice. Mix the meat more thoroughly than you would for most meatballs to get a springy, sausage-like texture that holds up well on toothpicks.
Chicken Liver Pâté With Bourbon and Cranberry Gelée
Unless you, à la Frank Sinatra, had a very good year, foie gras pâté is too pricey to feed a large group. This silky pâté shows that the humble chicken liver can do an excellent job. For a seasonal flavor scheme, we add bourbon and apple cider to the pâté and top it with a cranberry gelée.
Easy, Ultimate Clams Casino
When you're hosting a party, any prep you can do ahead of time will make your job that much easier. These clams casino, made with a bacon-clam-butter compound and bread crumbs toasted in bacon fat, can be made up to a day in advance and popped into the oven once your guests arrive. Oh, and: Our technique makes these way better than the gritty and soggy versions you often find in restaurants.
9 In-Your-Face Deviled Egg Variations
Well-made traditional deviled eggs rarely disappoint, but the concept is so simple that it doesn't take much extra effort to put a special spin on it. Here are nine, count 'em, nine creative ways to fancy up your deviled eggs, including versions with Buffalo sauce and blue cheese, poached shrimp, and crispy chorizo.
Gravlax With Caraway, Coriander, and Mustard-Dill Sauce
Another classic Scandinavian appetizer, gravlax (cured salmon) looks and tastes deceptively luxurious, but is easy and relatively affordable to make at home. And it's great for feeding a crowd: Curing a two-pound salmon fillet with salt, sugar, caraway, and coriander for a couple of days will provide elegant hors d'oeuvres for between 10 and 15 people.
Plump and Tender Shrimp Cocktail
For perfectly cooked shrimp cocktail—tender on the inside, but with that satisfyingly firm, snappy texture when you take a bite—dry-brine your shrimp first in a mixture of baking soda and salt. To get them extra flavorful, poach them in a court bouillon made with the shells.
Black Olive Tapenade With Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies
For the modern, olive-forward tapenade that most of us picture when we hear the word, simply combine Niçoise olives, garlic, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and a small amount of capers and anchovies. Using a food processor saves time, but you'll get more intense flavors and better texture if you go the old-fashioned route with a mortar and pestle.
Traditional Provençal Tapenade With Capers, Anchovies, and Tuna
A more traditional tapenade recipe is much less olive-heavy than today's version, made from equal parts olives, capers, and briny fish (we use both anchovies and oil-packed tuna here).Those ingredients and a little olive oil are all you really need, but Dijon mustard, herbs like rosemary and marjoram, or even a dash of Cognac would be an authentic add-in.
Whipped Salt-Cod Spread (Brandade de Morue)
The appeal of salt cod—that yellow, desiccated, salt-crusted fish you might see in baskets at your local fish market—may not be obvious, but this delicious spread will make you a believer. There are innumerable ways to prepare it, but for a basic, cocktail-party-ready version, whip the soaked salt cod with olive oil and half-and-half. For a less overtly fishy flavor, fold in mashed potatoes.
Spanish Tuna-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers (Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos de Atún)
Despite their mixed reputation, some canned foods are good enough to practically be treated as delicacies—especially the Spanish kinds, like the piquillo peppers and bonito tuna used to make these pimientos rellenos. Stuff the piquillos with a tuna salad made with a garlicky, mayo-like allioli, then use the peppers to top baguette slices for a simple, hearty hors d'oeuvre.
Roman-Jewish Fried Artichokes (Carciofi alla Giudia)
Probably the most widely known dish associated with the traditional cuisine of the Roman Jews, these crunchy fried artichokes aren't your everyday appetizer, but they're just as compulsively munchable as potato chips. You can use either olive oil or vegetable oil for frying—the former will add more flavor, while the latter lets the chokes themselves stand out.
Spanish-Style Blistered Padrón Peppers (Pimientos de Padrón)
The Spanish are among the masters of the cocktail snack, and the simplicity of many tapas can be a huge advantage when you want to host a big festive event without too much fuss. These peppers, blistered in canola oil and then drizzled with olive oil, combine the elegance of tapas with a game of capsicum roulette—most Padrón peppers are as mild as green bell peppers, but about one in 10 is wicked spicy.
Baguette Toast "Crackers"
Store-bought crackers and toasts are convenient, but relatively dry and flavorless, and it takes just a few extra minutes to make baguette toasts that are far superior. Just slice a baguette very thinly, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake until crispy.
Warm Spanish-Style Giant Bean Salad With Smoked Paprika and Celery
If you're feeling the stress of having company over, take comfort and shave precious minutes off your total prep time with this super-easy bean salad. Start with cooked beans, then heat the dish just long enough to incorporate the tomato paste and soften the taste of the raw garlic. It all comes together in about five minutes—no joke.
Ricotta and Braised Leek Crostini
These simple crostini are made with fresh, creamy ricotta and braised leeks, with a little basil for added brightness. Most store-bought ricotta isn't worth your time—either seek out a good brand without artificial stabilizers (we like Calabro) or, if you're down for some extra fun in the kitchen, make your own.