Throw Your Best Party Ever

Want to host a festive fête that keeps spirits high and stress levels low? Take cues from Colorado foodies, who divulge their favorite recipes—for appetizers, cocktails and desserts—and best-kept entertaining secrets.

Savory Starters

Cookbook author Eugenia Bone grew up in the company of high-style entertainers: an Italian-American father who hosted potluck dinners with the great chefs of New York, and a gracious mother, a Southern belle. “I was never afraid of throwing parties,” Bone says, who has a love affair with Colorado (and owns a cabin on the Western Slope). Here, the food writer and longtime hostess shares her seasoned strategy for serving party food.

When it comes to pacing the food at your next party, Eugenia Bone recommends a “by the hour” approach. “I won’t serve a huge amount of one dish,” she says, opting instead to deliver appetizers in waves.

First Wave: Bone starts with hors d’oeuvres that can sit out at room temperature for guests to enjoy while sipping their first cocktail—small bites like cured fish or boiled shrimp with homemade mayonnaise, or a vegetable terrine, a layered vegetable-and-cheese delicacy. “When people arrive and see it on the buffet table, it’s a ‘wow’ dish,” Bone says. Click here for the recipe.

Second Wave: Next, Bone serves appetizers that can be assembled while guests are arriving, like crostini (mushroom duxelle, pear and gorgonzola, caramelized onions with bacon, and olive tapenade are favorite varieties). Make the toppings and toast the bread ahead of time, then solicit guests to help with assembly. “When folks don’t see somebody they know right away, they want something to do,” Bone says.

Third Wave: “Then I serve foods to counteract any heavy drinking,” Bone chuckles. On her menu: Slices of baguette with roast beef, topped with a dollop of horseradish mixed with homemade crème fraîche, or little mini tacos with pork shoulder (prepared a few days earlier), rolled up that day with guacamole. “At this point, you want to serve small, entrée-like items that are going to saturate.”

Don’t want to have to watch the clock? Bone advocates hiring someone to help serve and clean up. “It is the single best piece of advice I can give a host or hostess having a party larger than 6 or 8 people.”

Vegetable terrine (click for recipe)
Smoked trout pate with toast tips
Crostini of all sorts:
Mushroom duxelle (click for recipe)
Roast beef (click for recipe)
Tapenade with Goat Cheese (click for recipe)
Porcini butter with summer truffles
A variety of stuffed eggs (click for recipes)

Seasonal Spirits

If the size of the après-work crowd at Denver’s hip, speakeasy-style bar Williams & Graham is any indication of the pleasure its cocktails induce, then these wintertime drinks—from bar manager Courtney Wilson—are sure to create a buzz at your next party. Cool-weather flavors like allspice, honey and cranberry play a starring role, and easy-to-find ingredients make prep work simple.

Keep the libations flowing—and guests happy—with these mixologist-approved tips:

Have enough liquor on hand. “You can usually make about 15-18 drinks out of a bottle of liquor,” Wilson says, “and I usually account for about two to three drinks per person. Some guests are going to drink more and others less, so it works out.”  

Stock your bar with basics. “I always have an easy red, an easy white, maybe a sparkling wine, and a 12-pack of beer on hand. Serve recognizable wines—like pinot noir, cabernet and chardonnay—not crazy Italian wines that your friends have never heard of.”

Stay cool. Be prepared with more ice than you think you’ll need, Wilson says. “If you’re relying solely on your freezer’s ice maker, that’s not going to cut it. I throw four extra bags of ice from the store in my freezer or cooler.”

Warm up. Hot drinks are as festive and cozy as they are easy to make. One of Wilson’s favorites is a twist on a hot toddy: black tea and bourbon mixed with honey and fresh lemon juice. “Hot apple cider also tastes good with a variety of spirits,” she says. “Spike it with bourbon, gin or vodka.”

Let guests do the mixing. “My friends really like when I set up a table with different spirits, syrups and fruit, and let them experiment with making their own drinks. It’s a fun way to save yourself some work.”

Send guests home with a gift. Wilson’s go-to party favors include bottled cocktails or homemade oils and syrups, flavored with cloves, apples and cinnamon, or pumpkin spice. (To make syrup: Start with a simple syrup base—just simmer equal parts water and sugar until dissolved—then add ingredients for flavor and simmer until dissolved. Strain ingredients, let cool and bottle.)

Ruffian Punch (click for recipe)
Rhode Apple (click for recipe)
The Tangier Cocktail (click for recipe)

Sweet Endings

Denver’s Crave Dessert Bar & Lounge serves only those items that seduce the palate—savory morning treats, luscious cocktails, and best of all, a full menu of classic dessert hits with a twist. We asked executive pastry chef Mary Jo Szymanski to put her decadent spin on holiday treats that are sure to send guests home happy.

Holiday desserts can be too sweet or overly heavy. Serve a mix that tastes just right with these pastry-chef pointers:

Keep texture in mind. “You don’t want to serve a bunch of creamy desserts and nothing crunchy,” Szymanski says. She recommends varying the weight—or density—of your desserts (i.e., don’t serve all dark chocolate), and pairing citrus with savory flavors.

Consider color. Desserts can double as decoration. “You want to serve sweets with a good contrast of colors. Include earthy colors as well as bright colors like orange and red.”

Flaunt festive flavors. Play up foods and flavors that hit the holiday note: brown butter, molasses, nutmeg, pomegranates and oranges are a few of Szymanski’s favorites.

Create a focal point. Arrange desserts in a variety of sizes—one bigger treat surrounded by a handful of smaller sweets—to let guests know how you intend for them to indulge.

Dark Chocolate Pot de Crème with Peppermint Chantilly (click for recipe)
French macaroons
Chocolate peanut butter and hazelnut cupcakes
Brownie bites
Glazed petit fours
Orange madeleine cookies
Spiced or chocolate biscotti

Categories: Entertaining, Recipes