Entertaining, Everyday Entertaining

How to Throw a Cocktail Party in Just 30 Minutes

30 minutes. Three party-perfect dishes. One kick butt cocktail. Yes, you can throw this all together in half an hour, including ingredient prep time. And no one needs to know how long it took.

First: let me describe what I mean by a 'cocktail party,' and why I love this format so much for the friendliest of gatherings. A cocktail party will have, ahem, cocktails (I know, I know, obvious), but also a few small tapas/appetizer style dishes -- think things that can be eaten on a napkin, not a plate. It isn't a full dinner, but people are expecting to nosh as they sip.

Cocktail parties are a fantastic way to host without the formality of a sit down event -- they offer more fluid opportunities for mingling and conversation. I love to host cocktails as an especially festive prelude to a casual evening out together as a group, before a more formal event (like a concert), or as a viewing party (hello, award shows). It's a really flexible concept.

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My ideal cocktail party leans toward the casual side -- it's just my style and preference -- but the great thing about these party recipes is that they can be dressed up or down. I host in jeans and serve on earthy surfaces, but any of these dishes would be equally at home in your fanciest serving vessels, enjoyed in your favorite party dress.

Now, circling back to the totally ready in 30 minutes concept. If you want some cleaning finished while you cook (and who wouldn't?) my absolute-favorite-best-all-time-secret-weapon is my Neato Botvac. As the owner of a very loved but very hairy hound dog, my least favorite thing about having people over in any capacity has always been the dog hair everywhere (like... can someone please explain to me how it ends up in my fridge?). Which means that for me to even consider hosting a party, I have to devote some time to vacuuming. That used to mean hours of precious prep time wasted on one of my least favorite cleaning duties (so repetitive, so never-ending). Now, I literally just push a button on my phone from anywhere at all (like the grocery store as I'm running out for supplies), and my Neato vacuums my entire living space. 

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I run a cleaning cycle every single day, alternating upstairs and downstairs, so that I never have to find dog hair on my socks ever again. When I say life changing, I actually mean it. I can invite someone over after work to test a new cocktail without scrambling to sweep up the dust bunnies (more like massive dog hair tumbleweeds) first. It even cleans under my beds and couches and dressers, places I used to only vacuum once in a blue moon when I felt up to moving heavy furniture or breaking out the attachments. We named our Neato Carson (a clever part of the Neato app -- because if you have a robot helper, why not give him a name?), and I honestly talk about him as if he's a dear friend. Every time I empty his dust bin and see just how much grime he saved me from stepping on, I want to throw him a party.

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Ok, back to the recipes. My favorite dishes to serve at a cocktail party have to fulfill two pretty hard-to-meet requirements: they have to be delicious at room temperature, and they have to be consumed utensil free. The room temperature thing is just the hard earned knowledge of a lifetime spent hosting -- it's impossible to force your guests to eat something while it's warm, and running back and forth to the kitchen/oven to bring out hot dishes stresses everybody out. If you make things that can truly be enjoyed at anyone's leisure without sacrificing flavor, your guests (and you!) will have a better time.

The no-utensil thing is three-fold: first, no one has to sit down to manage a plate, so people can walk around and chat. Second, you just can't spoon or fork something from a plate to your mouth while holding a drink. And finally, I really just hate clean up and waste, so no utensils means fewer dishes for me to deal with afterward. If I can throw a party in 30 minutes, I sure as heck want to be able to clean it up in 30 minutes, too.

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These dishes are three of my all-time favorite, most crowd-pleasing entertaining recipes -- they just happen to take only a few minutes to make. The endive boats are semi-homemade serving at its best (just spoon a bit of your favorite store bought dip into endive leaves and garnish) and also my healthy solution for weekday snacking. We've totally replaced tortilla chips with endive leaves in my house, because they pair so well with every dip, and give you all the crunchy satisfaction of a chip without all the oil and guilt. 

The soup is another healthy, veg-friendly choice (vegan if you don't top with yogurt or sour cream), requires incredibly few ingredients, and comes together so quickly it's almost like magic (thank you, Vitamix!). 

The marble pastry board is just a really fun and visually striking way to zuzh up bread, butter and herbs -- I like having a big loaf of bread out so if any guest is particularly hungry, they can kind of go to town. Edible flowers add an additional layer of flavor, and have the added benefit of being customizable to your party palette. I went all neutral and dreamy with ballet pink petals here, but I've also made this with everything from vibrant purple pansies to bright orange marigolds. 

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Now, all of these dishes can be made without the garnishes and toppings you see here, but what fun would that be? My secret styling weapon when it comes to food is always micro greens, which I get from Trader Joe's, and a fun finishing salt from Jacobsen, which is a local Portland brand (black garlic FTW). Pomegranate seeds add a pop of color and lovely tangy burst to my endive boats, and a quick swirl of yogurt will do the trick for the creamy celery soup. Honestly, go with your gut and have fun with it. It's a party, after all.

In the drinks department, I like to serve a built cocktail (i.e. something you would make right in the glass, like an Old Fashioned), along with plenty of wine, beer, and bubbly. Since I want to enjoy the party alongside my guests, pre-batching the built cocktail and letting guests self-serve (just pour right over ice and stir in the glass), means I don't have to spend the evening playing bartender.

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Marble Butter Board



  • 8 oz unsalted butter, room temp
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese, room temp
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Finishing salt (flake salt or flavored salt)
  • Optional: edible flower petals


(1) Fold the butter and mascarpone together until smooth (if the mixture seems too thick to easily combine, microwave for ten seconds at a time until just loose enough to stir).

(2) Spread onto a marble pastry board, then top with sprigs of rosemary, finishing salt, and edible flowers.

(3) Serve with a loaf of good bakery bread, like a baguette or boule. I prefer to let guests rip off pieces by hand (I'm really into hands on serving), but you can slice in advance if you prefer a more polished experience.

Optional but encouraged: serve with a honey pot and dipper so guests can drizzle a bit of honey over their slice -- pairs wonderfully with the rosemary.

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Creamy Celery Soup



  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup unsalted cashews
  • 1 bunch celery, ends trimmed
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (depending on how much garlic flavor you prefer)
  • 1/2 tsp salt


(1) Blend all in a high speed blender until completely smooth.

(2) Pour into small, drinkable bowls or teacups.

Optional: garnish with finishing salt, micro greens, and yogurt or sour cream.

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Endive Boats



[This is more serving suggestion than true recipe!]

  • Belgian endives, rinsed
  • Hummus or cheese dip
  • Microgreens
  • Pomegranate seeds


(1) Pull off individual endive leaves and stuff them with a small spoonful of your favorite dip (they go especially well with hummus and Mediterranean style dips, but pretty much everything tastes good on a crisp endive leaf -- my particular favorite is Trader Joe's blue cheese and pecan dip, which tastes like a bite sized wedge salad).

(2) Garnish with microgreens and pomegranate seeds.

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Ghost in the Orchard





  • 8 oz mezcal
  • 8 oz applejack
  • 4 oz Benedictine
  • 1.5 oz real maple syrup


(1) Combine all in your serving vessel and stir well, just until maple syrup dissolves.

(2) Let guests pour over ice (ideally one big cube) and stir very briefly (only 5 seconds) to cool. Garnish with cinnamon stick or star anise.

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So there you have it. A pre-batched cocktail and three killer dishes, all in 30 minutes. Yes, I timed myself, and I'm not especially quick in the kitchen. If you go crazy with styling (or text-while-cooking), you might run a little over that mark, but I guarantee you'll still be dumbfounded at how quickly this spread comes together.

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