How-To Tuesday: Throwing A Smashing Cocktail Party

Not to toot my own horn but I know how to throw a successful party.  Phil and I share a love for entertaining, so we try to throw at least three to four parties annually. 

I know my parties are good because our RSVPs are always through the roof.  We invite a ton of people, make loads of good food, provide ample libation - a great time is had by all.

Having an entertaining party isn’t difficult, but a little planning can make your party better and stress-free.  Once the guests arrive, I want to be able to mingle, laugh with my friends and enjoy the fruits of a few days' labor.

Saturday, I threw my first Valentines Day Party.  It was kind of spontaneous - many times, those are the best affairs.  I invited my nearest and dearest, planned a tasty menu and the rest just fell into place.

I wanted to serve enough food to consider it dinner, but through lots of hot appetizers.  Lets face it, everyone loves appetizers!  And, unless you plan on providing a chair and place setting for each guest, no one wants to eat anything too cumbersome standing up.  So, I decided to make a menu of my MVPs.  You know, those dishes you know come out great and always disappear when you have a party.  Deviled eggs, spanakopita, some salads and my mom’s stuffed mushrooms.  They are so good.  They are easy to make, freeze well (I always make them a week in advance) and so easy to pop in your mouth between cocktail party banter.

Here are also a few of my tips for an A+ Affair:

  1. Plan your menu a week in advance and shop all non perishable items
  2. A few days before, buy perishable items and prep as much as you can before the big day
  3. The day of, start early and rotate dishes into the oven as you get close to party time.  An hour before guests arrive, get everything heated up and ready to serve.  People are hungry when they show up.  Don’t make them wait.
  4. As soon as your guests arrive, start putting out the food.  No one wants to eat anything piping hot anyway and if it’s on the table, people will dig in as soon as they settle in with their first drink.
  5. Set up a ‘serve yourself’ wet bar, so you don’t have to be making drinks all night. People like mixing their own cocktail and perusing your wine selection.  Let them help themselves.  But remember to be a good host, offer to top off wine glasses and make sure to keep bar fruit fresh and the ice bucket filled.
  6. As you walk around, pick up empty dishes and glasses so the party and food area always looks clean.  Replenish dishes if food runs low and make sure you encourage guests to eat and serve themselves seconds.  Sometimes, people get shy.
  7. Most importantly, enjoy yourself, mingle, eat your great food and have fun - you are NOW the host/hostess with the most!

Nonna Gina’s Stuffed Mushrooms


Prep time:         Total time: 

3 ½ lbs large mushrooms, stems removed and reserved
2 lbs Italian pork sausage (spicy or sweet), casings removed
2 cups Ritz Cracker
1 egg
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
2 small yellow onions, chopped
¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  2. In a large saucepan, add 3 cups of cold water.  Bring to a boil and add sausage links, allow them to cook through, about ten minutes.  Drain of all water and put in food processor.  Grind until sausage is crumbled.  Empty sausage into a large bowl.
  3. In a large sauté pan, melt butter and olive oil.  Add celery, onion, parsley, salt and pepper and mushroom stems.  Saute until the vegetables have softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. While vegetables are cooking, empty two sleeves of Ritz Crackers (about 2 cups) into the food processor and grind to fine crumbs.  Add cooked vegetables and pulse to a chunky paste.
  5. Add cracker/veg mixture to bowl with sausage and mix until fully incorporated.  Set aside and prepare mushroom tops.
  6. Place mushroom tops, upside down on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzled with olive oil.  Sprinkle the tops with kosher salt.
  7. Add a tablespoon of stuffing to each mushroom.  Drizzle the filled mushrooms with extra virgin olive oil. 
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until filling is golden brown and mushroom is soft to the touch.

Buon Appetito!