Cocktail party confidence: Strategies to keep 'host hostility' at bay this December

Cocktail parties are ideal events for novice entertainers and well-practiced party throwers alike. There’s no pressure to serve dinner, and guests can enjoy the opportunity to talk with everyone at the party rather than just those seated to their left and right.

With every detail considered and unexpected luxuries scattered throughout, a cocktail party made for mingling is sure to make spirits bright this holiday season. What’s more, with a little preparation, hosts will enjoy the party as much as their guests and avoid the all-too-common, and dreaded, host hostility.

My family defines “host hostility” as the panic and frantic feeling I can exhibit on the day of a party I’m throwing. I’ve found that the best way to avoid this is to remind myself that the party I’m throwing is a gift to my guests, and that everyone who is coming wants to be there. This, along with working to keep things simple, tends to take the pressure off. Additionally, I aim to have all my prep done at least 30 minutes before the start time. Then I turn up the music and chill out while I get dressed.

Best guest approach

While it’s likely been a minute since you reconnected with big groups of your network, consider keeping your party to no larger than 15 guests. This intimate but merry-sized guest list ensures everyone will feel spoiled. Once you’ve determined who you’ll ask, take the time to personally invite each person or couple on your list. While formal invitations aren’t necessary, reaching out to each invitee individually sets a tone of pampering from the start. Next, set the atmosphere.

Holiday entertaining makes sense because our homes are generally spruced up and ideal for hosting this time of year. Hold the party in the area of your home that is most decorated. Doing so should limit the pre-party prep.

From the moment your company arrives, you can begin to thrill them. A simple and festive door swag and a playlist of favorite seasonal songs make for the most inviting welcome. I prefer a swag of greenery on our door as opposed to a wreath. I find them easier to assemble and more suited to our casual and cozy style. I was delighted when I found a set of Scandinavian-esque bells back in November. I squirreled the find away knowing it would add just the right jingle and splash of color to our door.

Your party might include guests who don’t know one another, or it might be a reunion of sorts for folks who haven’t been together in a while. Either way, a meaningful introduction of each guest is an excellent way to build the joy of the party. When the doorbell rings, we make sure to give a warm welcome with lots of “come-in, come-in” vibes. Then, I try to take a moment to announce the latest additions to the party: “Everyone, Graham and Sean are here. Don’t forget to ask them about the celebrities they did and didn’t meet this year.”

I also have a conversation-starter on hand. This can help kick things off in those first moments when the party is finding its groove. Questions of the festive variety include: “What is the best holiday gift you’ve ever received?” Or “Name one holiday tradition you just can’t get enough of.”

A well-stocked bar cart will be the center of your party. Witty conversation and laughter seem to go hand-in-hand with shaking up a cocktail. I like to include two signature drinks to serve beside beer, champagne and some nonalcoholic options. Before the party, I will mix up the liquor for three to four cocktails and leave it in a Japanese-style mixing glass. That way, revelers can get a drink fast simply by adding ice and a portion of the mix to a shaker.

Ginger Sidesleigh

The sidecar is one of my all-time favorite cocktails. Warming brandy and fresh lemon make it a great winter drink. Using ginger liquor makes this especially fitting for the season and earns this sidecar spinoff a holiday-themed name.

• 1 jigger of brandy

• 1 pony of lemon

• 1 pony of ginger liquor

• Dash of simple syrup

• Dash of orange bitters

Add ice to shaker, then ingredients and shake it like a Polaroid picture. Pour into cocktail glass and garnish with edible blossom.

You can make ginger liquor easily at home. Here’s what I do: Add 1 cup sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 cup brandy, 1 vanilla bean (cut open lengthwise), 7 thin slices of peeled fresh ginger and zest of 1 orange to saucepan. Bring to boil and allow to simmer roughly 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat, remove vanilla bean and add strips of orange peel. Then allow mixture to infuse 48 hours. Remove aromatics (ginger, orange peel), pour liquid through coffee filter and store in bottle with other liquors. This ginger liquor should be good for a year.

Bent Pipe

The story goes that in my husband’s childhood home, they didn’t have a traditional chimney. They woke one Christmas morning to find that Santa had gently bent a pipe to get his gifts under their tree. It’s that memory that I pay homage to when calling this drink “Bent Pipe.” The name has really nothing to do with the bourbon and amaro cocktail, but it is a great way to get conversat
ion about holidays past started. Feel free to rename the drink with a memory from your family.

• 1 jigger of bourbon

• 1 jigger of amaro

• Lemon strip

• 1 Toshi Amarena cherry (or similar)

• 1 large ice cube

Add single, large ice cube to double old-fashioned glass. Add bourbon, amaro, cherry and lemon strip. Stir gently and enjoy.

For glassware, I like a mix-and-match approach. Crystal glasses of various shapes and sizes all sparkle the same around the fairy lights on your Christmas tree or hung through your home.

Glasses I picked up early in my marriage from estate sales, or items we registered for, all come out this time of year. I don’t use them often and love being reminded how they delight me.

Coffee table canapes

I pile canapes on our coffee table using different heights of platters and plates. I use the dining table as a place for cookies. I aim for mostly single-bite canapes that are appropriately indulgent for holiday eating. My menu for this year’s cocktail party menu is:

• Smoked salmon and butter, served on European-style brown bread and topped with a sprig of dill

• Mini turkey meatballs served beside lingonberry sauce

• Loaded Tater Tots (recipe follows)

• Winter salad bite – a cube of feta, topped with a mint leaf and piece of cooked beet; finish with a drizzle of balsamic reduction

• Blue cheese, dried fig, pecan and honey endive spears

Loaded Tater Tots

These bite-sized potato cups are super simple because they use frozen tater tots. I top mine with bacon, crème fraîche and chives, but can imagine the tots being a foil for all manner of toppings – top with applesauce instead of bacon and the tots mimic Hanukkah latkes.

• 48 frozen tater tots (thawed)

• 4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled (turkey bacon works)

• 2 tablespoons crème fraîche

• 2 tablespoons chives, chopped

Defrost tater tots. Prepare mini-muffin pan with cooking spray. Place 2 tots in each muffin spot and press with fingers to create cup shape. Cook tots according to package directions. Remove from oven and quickly, but carefully, as pan is hot, reinforce cup shape using spoon. Top with crumbled bacon, crème fraîche and chives.

Ted Lasso Inspired Shortbread

Channel your inner Ted Lasso by preparing shortbread cookies inspired by the TV series. I did a bit of internet research and it seems the secret to creating cookies most like the fictitious character’s evening bake is the inclusion of almo
nd flour. Along with the shortbread, I’ll put out a variety of store-bought cookies and call dessert done!

• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1/2 cup almond flour

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1 stick unsalted butter, slightly softened

• 1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F and butter 8-inch-by-8-inch pan (glass if you have it). Add flours, sugar and salt to food processor and pulse several times to combine. Cut butter into cubes and add along with vanilla to food processor. Pulse mixture until it resembles coarse sand. Place dough into prepared pan and use pastry scraper or your hands to press into smooth, even shape.

Bake 30-32 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow shortbread to cool completely before cutting into rectangles.


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