Here are some of my tips for planning the menu for a Festive Holiday Cocktail Party :
A Mini Meal
When I'm planning a cocktail menu, I like to think about it the same way I think about the menu for a dinner party. I start with the 'entrees,' typically proteins like seafood and beef, and I pick 2-3 options. Next, I think about side items - items that will compliment the entrees... cheeses, vegetables, starches. I like to have items that are both filling, and easily eaten in a bite or two.
Here is my formula for putting together a Cocktail Party Menu :
- Seafood (1-2)
- Meat (Beef, Pork or Chicken) (1-2)
- Cheese & Vegetables (2-3)
- Sweet (1-2)
Think Sauces, Not Salsa
As with a dinner party, everything on the menu should go well on a plate together and taste great with a glass of wine - even the sauces. Although tempting (and everyone does it...) try to avoid serving salsa type dips for the holidays - it doesn't go with much else than a margarita. That being said, if you're having a very casual Christmas Open House and there'll be kids and soda - then salsa and cheese dip it is. However, if you're having a festive Holiday Cocktail Party, stick to a menu that will be more complimentary with a cocktail. Glad I got that off of my chest. Whew! Moving on...
Not Hot, Not Cold, Just Right
Another thing to consider is how the food will be served and what temperature it will be at its best. Because I don't like the look of chaffing dishes, I like menu items that are best at room temperature. If I do want to serve something that is best hot, then I do them passed around on a tray right after they come out of the oven. It doesn't have to be a 'fancy' party to do passed hors d'oeuvres, you can think of it as a way to make the rounds to say hello to everyone and offer them bite of something special... I even do it at the most casual of events.
Holiday Cocktail Party Menu
Artisan Cheese Platter with Berries and Flatbreads
Crab Stuffed Mushrooms (passed) : These are so good! They are creamy - similar to a Crab Rangoon filling.
Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Canapes : Such a classic. They are a great filling option to have as your 'entree.'
Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce : Better than the classic. The roasting with salt and pepper gives it a rich flavor that is really nice with the Lemon Caper Cream Sauce (made with Sour Cream!)
Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Tartlettes : People love this. It is surprisingly simple with great flavor... it is also impressive looking.
Petite Cream Puffs topped with Fudge : Bite-size, store-bought with a little chocolate icing embellishment. Enough Said.