This last week I caught whatever cold the boys had. It was one of those colds where kids get a mild case and adults get the plague of death. My voice disappeared and then came in contralto. When not working, all I wanted to do was sleep. The only problem with that plan is that I had to host two cocktail parties on the coming weekend. One was for Sara’s work and one was for fun, a Stella & Dot party for my girlfriends.

On Thursday, I mustered my strength, put Neri in the carseat, and made my way to Costco. I decided I would do both parties, each a heavy app cocktail hour, entirely from that one shopping trip. I would keep prep to a minimum. AND, there would be no dead giveaway this-is-all-from-the-freezer Costco mini-quiche/spanakopita.

In the end, the table was made bountiful with the fruits of Kirkland. (For table decoration ideas, check this.) I spent a half hour the day before and approximately an hour prepping for each party the day of. It was delicious, pretty and a little boozy. A good time was had by all. Here is my table in candle-lit glory (don’t mind the wine glass print in the lower left hand corner):

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Natasha Price photo

What you see there is a bruschetta bar with sauteéd wild mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, and roasted root veggies with balsamic and goat cheese; a healthy meat, cheese and fruit platter; calamari, beef tips, egg rolls, and salted caramel pudding. To drink: wine, hard cider and bubbly.

You can do it too. No need to stress.

Here is the game plan:

You will need wine glasses, small paper plates, napkins and a few staples: garlic, olive oil, butter, balsamic vinegar, salt, red pepper flake, sriracha or wasabi mayo, soy sauce, rice vinegar and pepper. And, optionally, you could punch things up with some fresh basil and maybe thyme, and, if you want, some seasonal decorative fruit like pomegranate, satsuma or persimmon.

Your Costco list (The food instructions make enough foods to generously serve 15 people, but with what you’re buying you could easily go twice that. I did.):

Cherry tomatoes

Pre-cut root veggies for roasting. I used butternut squash and beets. You could go with tri-color peppers and some of the cherry tomatoes if you can’t find the roots.

Mushrooms. They sometimes have wild mushrooms, which I happened to score. You could also go with portobellos (add a drizzle of soy sauce, some balsamic and goat cheese sprinkles).

La Brea Bakery pugliese bread (you will only need one of two loaves)

Roasted tomato or regular pesto (you’ll have leftovers)

Goat cheese (you’ll have some leftover)

Fresh mozzarella (you’ll have some leftover)

Sliced  cheese. I scored a manchego mix

One wedge of fancy cheese (I went with some kind of Spanish sheep cheese, next time I’d go with something softer)

Salami party assortment or prosciutto

Party crackers

Frozen app that isn’t mini-quiche/spanakopita #1 (I went with veggie spring rolls. They were greasy. Maybe won’t repeat. Pro-tip: avoid the frozen potstickers. Potsticker-steaming stink is SERIOUS.)

Frozen app that isn’t mini-quiche/spanakopita #2 ( I went with calamari. It was good. You broil it.)

(Optional frozen app that isn’t mini-quiche #3, depending on the number of people. I went with sesame beef tips, which are actually in the refrigerated section. They were well liked. I was expecting 16 people. There were plenty of leftovers.)

One fun holiday dessert item. I found individual salted caramel mousse cups, in glass. People LOVED them. There is also often creme brûlée.

Wine (2 bottles red, one white for 15 people, staying about 2 hours with some beer drinkers.)

Beer (I bought, but didn’t use all of, a case for two 15-person parties. Use your judgement, depending of if you’ve got a beer or wine crowd)

Something fun like hard cider or prosecco.

Non-alcoholic fizzy drink.

Here’s platter one, the bruschetta bar:

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Day before (about 30 minutes of prep): Preheat oven to 425°. Spread roasting vegetables in a single layer (this is key, they can’t overlap) on one or two sheet pans. Toss in some whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, if you like. Generously salt and generously drizzle with olive oil. Slide in the oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saucepan, pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan plus another glug. Throw in a two big pinches of red pepper flakes and four whole peeled cloves of garlic. Turn on the heat (medium is fine) and fry the cloves until they’re browned. Pour in 3/4 of a big carton of cherry tomatoes (wash them). Turn down the heat and cover it. When the timer goes off, check the oven and use a spatula to turn the veggies. Set the timer for 10 more minutes. Check the tomatoes. Once they have all burst and the sauce is looking saucy, take the pan off the heat and adjust the salt. Take the veggies out when they are cooked through and some are a little brown. Let both things cool, pack up and put in the fridge.

One hour before the party: Preheat the oven to 425º. Thinly slice one loaf of the bread. Place slices on a sheet pan and drizzle with a healthy amount of olive oil. Set the timer for 15 minutes. Put the bread in the oven. Make a gorgeous platter with all the cheese and salami and fruit. Put out the desserts. Set the table with some candles and flowers.

Platter two: meats and cheeses

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Now, check the bread, and flip it. Most of the pieces should be golden on the pan side. Set the timer for 10 more minutes. Look at the directions on your frozen apps, put them on a sheet pan and throw them in (set another timer). Get out platters for your frozen apps. Make some dips. Sriracha mayo or wasabi mayo for the calamari, if you’re doing it. You can make a homemade dip for the egg rolls with crushed garlic, soy sauce, a fat pinch of red pepper flake and a couple of shakes of rice vinegar. Pull out your bread, put it in a bowl on the table next to your bruschetta bar area. It will crisp up as it cools. Pour some pesto into a bowl for the bruschetta bar.

25 minutes before the party: Brush the mushrooms to remove any dirt. Chop into bite-sized pieces. Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with quality olive oil. Throw in a pat of butter. When it’s hot, dump in the mushrooms. Sprinkle with fresh thyme, if you have it. Turn the heat down to medium low, stir occasionally as they cook down. Meanwhile, arrange your roasted veggies on part of large platter, drizzle with balsamic and sprinkle with goat cheese. Put out your mozzarella. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a little chopped basil. Put your hot tomato sauce in a bowl. Leave a spot on the platter for the mushroom bowl. Once the mushrooms are cooked, slide them into the bowl. Pull out and plate up your frozen apps. Open the wine. Light the candles. Put on music. Whew. Done! Have fun!

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Natasha Price photo

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PS: The flowers are from Bloomsbury Blooms.