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The most popular day of the year for a party is the first Saturday in December. Here are a few tips for successfully hosting a cocktail party:

1. Small, pre-cut morsels of easy-to-eat food are more popular than a hunk of cheese or meat that require the guests to cut and then place on a cracker. Great appetizers do not require either a fork or a plate.

2. Count on each guest consuming between 15 to 20 appetizer pieces (when no other food will be served).

3. Have a variety of appetizers: meat, seafood, vegetable, and cheese — plus a cookie or chocolate for the finish. Hot cheese trumps all and is always more popular than shrimp cocktail!

4. Spread the food around the house, so that everyone doesn’t congregate only in the dining room.

5. Since you’ve planned the food, also plan the beverages. Don’t try to stock a whole bar, but choose a festive cocktail or punch for the party’s theme. Count on each guest drinking two glasses. One bottle of wine equals five glasses. Estimate one pound of ice per guest (one bag of ice is 7 pounds).

6. The invitation should clearly state the time of the party, unless you want the guests to stay throughout the evening. If the party is scheduled from 5 to 7 pm, the guests will make other dinner plans. For a 6-to-8 pm or a 7-to-9 pm party, the guests will eat more heartily, but they will also understand that the party is for cocktails, not dinner.

7. Make your life easier before the party. Tidy the house, but don’t bother with deep cleaning (clean on the day after!). Check the powder room for plenty of hand towels. Be sure that the kitchen is cleaned up and the dishwasher empty before the party starts.

8. Don’t forget fresh flowers, candles, fire in the fireplace, and music to set the mood.

9. Don’t miss the party! Choose food that can be prepared ahead of time and don’t do the dishes until after the guests leave.

Here are two of my favorite cocktail party menu items.

My Grandmother’s Egg Nog

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups brandy or bourbon
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • nutmeg to taste

In a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar together with a pinch of salt until pale yellow and fluffy. Continue whipping and, very slowly, pour in the brandy. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold peaks. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until they hold peaks. Fold together the egg yolks, egg whites, and whipped cream. Garnish with lots of freshly-grated nutmeg. (I grate whole nutmeg on a microplane grater.) Makes a gallon, which will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

Gorgonzola Triangles

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon saba vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 1 package (14 ounces) puff pastry
  • 8 ounces gorgonzola cheese

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and cook the onions until well caramelized, about 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, saba vinegar, and add the cranberries. Let cool to room temperature. Roll out the puff pastry on a half-sheet fiberlux liner (13×18 inches). Using a pizza wheel, cut the pastry into 48 triangles. Top each triangle with a spoonful of the onion mixture and then top with cheese. Lift the fiberlux liner and place on a half-sheet pan. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve at room temperature.