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Five Hors d'Oeuvres Add Up to Dinner

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Create a festive party for sixteen with a variety of small bites

After years of catering and entertaining, I’ve learned one thing for certain: Nobody eats before a cocktail party. “Just a few hors d’oeuvres” (as every host likes to put it) ends up being dinner for most party guests. So rather than fight it, I’ve learned to plan a cocktail party menu as if it were a bite-size dinner. Like any other meal, you need a variety of tastes, textures, and ingredients.

To me, the key to a successful cocktail party is to prep almost everything ahead and save the most critical steps for the last minute. Just start the party with an anchor—an item that’s totally ready to go when your guests walk in the door. A beautiful basket of crudités with a creamy dip, for example, ensures that they have something to nibble on  while you put the finishing touches on the other hors d’oeuvres.

Download a pdf  of this menu, including all recipes, shopping list, and timeline.

Menu Timeline

Up to two days ahead:

  • Make and refrigerate the tart dough (you can also make it up to a month in advance and freeze it; just thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using).
  • Make the soup; let cool and refrigerate.
  • Make the Roquefort dip (but wait until the day of the party to add the garlic—otherwise, its flavor will become too strong).

The day before:

  • Prep the vegetables for the crudités and refrigerate in separate sealed containers.
  • Assemble the stuffed mushrooms and refrigerate (hold off on drizzling them with olive oil until just before baking).
  • Choose serving platters, baskets, and glassware and decide where you’ll put them out.
  • Cook the onions for the tart; cover and refrigerate.

A few hours before guests arrive:

  • Roll out the tart dough.
  • Arrange the vegetables on a large, shallow basket or platter and refrigerate.
  • Reserve some of each vegetable for replenishing.
  • Stir the garlic into the Roquefort dip.
  • Arrange the endive on a platter and cover with a damp paper towel. Slice the salmon and chives, put the crème fraîche in a piping bag or squeeze bottle, and cut the lemon. Refrigerate.
  • Open the wine.

Half an hour before guests arrive:

  • Remove the stuffed mushrooms from the refrigerator.
  • Use a spray bottle to lightly mist the crudités with water to keep the vegetables looking fresh. Set out the crudité platter.
  • Gently reheat the soup.
  • Heat the oven and spread the onions on the chilled tart dough, fold the edges, brush with the beaten egg, and pop the tart in the oven. Set the timer.
  • Assemble the endive leaves, drape with plastic, and refrigerate.

During the party:

  • Set out the filled endives.
  • Ladle the soup into the cups, garnish, and pass the cups on a tray lined with a napkin (to keep them from sliding).
  • Transfer the onion tart to a cutting board, slice, and serve.
  • Increase the oven temperature, drizzle the stuffed mushrooms with olive oil, and bake. Transfer to a platter and serve.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 1 lb. broccoli
  • 1 lb. small or medium carrots (preferably with green tops)
  • 1 bunch celery (about 1-1/4 lb.)
  • 1 medium head radicchio
  • 1 medium fennel bulb
  • 8 radishes (preferably with green tops)
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 5 medium shallots
  • 4 medium yellow onions
  • 1-1/2 lb. celery root (about 1 large)
  • 35-40 cremini mushrooms (1-1/2 to 2 inches wide)
  • 4 large heads Belgian endive
  • 1 bunch fresh chives
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 head garlic

Meat, Eggs & Dairy:

  • 1/4 lb. thinly sliced smoked salmon
  • 1-1/2 oz. pancetta
  • 1 egg
  • 3 sticks (3/4 lb.) unsalted butter
  • 3 cups crème fraîche
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • 1/2 lb. Roquefort
  • 1 block Parmigiano Reggiano (enough for 1/4 cup grated)

Other Groceries:

  • 2/3 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs (from day-old rustic French or Italian loaf)

Pantry Staples:

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch dried red chile flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns

The Menu


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