For informal entertaining there's just no simpler way to go than the cocktail party. With some careful planning and plenty of manageable finger foods, the host or hostess is almost always assured a success. The warm weather days of summer make early evening gatherings of friends and family especially convivial.
If your plans for casual entertaining this month include a salute to the bride and bridegroom, make it a cocktail party. Today, with renewed interest in simplified, yet elegant, ways of entertaining, the cocktail party lends itself well to unharried entertaining. You'll want to give yourself plenty of preparation time, though, working out every detail to avoid last-minute emergencies. In many cases you can make some of the hors d'oeuvres in advance, omitting the final stage of assembly, which can easily be completed just before the guests arrive.
In "Bride's Lifetime Guide to Good Food and Entertaining" (Congdon & Weed: $25), hosts will find other advice on formal as well as informal entertaining. Chapters include discussions of etiquette, menu and wine planning, decorating suggestions and recipes. Use the book's guidelines for planning cocktail parties, listed below. Then, choose from our accompanying recipes for appetizers, or experiment with ingredients of contrasting color and texture and create imaginative hors d'oeuvres with both eye and palate appeal. Arrange these bite-size morsels in baskets or on wicker trays with fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers for a festive presentation.
--Invitations to a cocktail party are usually written and sent out two to three weeks in advance.
--The usual hours for cocktails are between 5 or 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Guests may come and go as they please.
--Plan to serve one or two different kinds of mixed drinks and an assortment of hard liquors with mixers. Wine and beer, as well as non-alcoholic beverages, should be served.
--If space permits, set up miniature bars in different rooms so guests can prepare their own drinks. If you do not have the space, pre-mix the drinks and pass them around on trays with cocktail napkins or reserve pitchers of pre-mixed drinks so guests can help themselves.
--Because people will probably be standing and mingling, make sure the food is easy to eat with fingers. Cocktail foods can be hot, cold or both. Cheese platters with a variety of crackers or small breads, crudites or raw vegetables cut for dipping are suitable, as well as the quintessential cocktail food: canapes or other hors d'oeuvres.
--Hors d'oeuvre trays can be passed around or set up in convenient areas of the room.
--Be sure to provide ample napkins and wood picks and arrange small bowls of other nibbling foods throughout the house.
SMOKY FRANKFURTER BITES
1 pound frankfurters
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons aromatic bitters
1/4 teaspoon onion salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
Slice frankfurters into 1-inch pieces. Heat butter in skillet and stir in bitters and onion, garlic and celery salts. Add frankfurter pieces and stir to coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until pieces are dark brown and crusty. Spear with wood picks and serve hot. Makes about 40 pieces.
24 unbaked (3-inch) tart shells
3 cups shredded Swiss cheese
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 large onions, chopped
3 cups half and half or milk
1 teaspoon salt
Whole pimiento slices
Fill tart shells with cheese. Heat butter in skillet and saute onions until tender and transparent. Do not brown. Divide onions among tart shells. Beat eggs with half and half and salt, then divide mixture among tart shells. (At this point tarts may be frozen, then wrapped tightly and stored until ready to bake.) Bake tarts at 350 degrees until puffed and brown, about 25 to 30 minutes (35 to 40 minutes if frozen). With tiny heart-shaped biscuit cutter, cut hearts from whole pimiento slices and place on top of tarts. Serve warm. Makes 24 tarts.
CHEESE AND CAVIAR ROUNDS
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
1/4 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon onion salt
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
32 round crackers
1 jar red caviar
Mash cream cheese in bowl until softened. Beat in milk and onion and celery salts. Refrigerate until chilled or ready to serve. Spread cheese mixture on crackers and top with caviar and parsley. Makes 32 canapes.
PIQUANT HAM CANAPES
2 (4 1/2-ounce) cans deviled ham
1/4 cup pickle relish, well drained
1/4 cup catsup
12 slices bread, crusts trimmed and cut into triangles
Combine deviled ham, pickle relish and catsup in bowl. Refrigerate until chilled or ready to serve. Spread mixture on bread triangles and garnish with parsley sprigs. Makes 24 sandwiches.
2 cups shredded Jack cheese
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped green onion
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 slices dark rye bread