Imagine an elegant dining room with dancing shadows cast by flickering candles and a beautiful table draped in a burgundy damask cloth. On one end, mint green napkins are wrapped around sparkling silverware and tied with burgundy satin ribbon.
Handsome china and silver platters containing delicious pates, dips and bountiful hors d'oeuvres are arranged at different heights, created by stacks of books hidden beneath the cloth. Fragrant cedar garlands interspersed with reflective Christmas balls meander around the platters. Strings of twinkling Christmas lights are threaded through the greenery, adding glitter to the table and romance to the room.
I used to be very traditional in using red and green at my holiday parties, but in recent years I have become more adventuresome. Last Christmas I used shocking pink and hunter green and the year before a lovely pink and green plaid. The table was just as festive and colorful and my guests loved the creativity.
I don't look for tablecloths or napkins in linen shops or department stores anymore. I go to fabric stores and buy enough material for a tablecloth and napkins. Since I don't sew, I simply take pinking shears and trim the edges.
Since I know how much work it is to give a party, and since food is really the most important element, here are some easy, time-proven hors d'oeuvres, all of which can be made entirely or partially ahead. Some of these appetizers can be used either at a typical stand-up cocktail party or as a first course for an elaborate sit-down dinner.
Champagne oysters Rockefeller are worthy of the name. When I have a sit-down dinner, I like to serve them as the first course in the living room, with guests sitting around my coffee table. I offer each guest a small plate with two or three oysters on it and a glass of champagne. The sauce is creamy but surprisingly light because it boils down to a velvety richness without the addition of flour. Some of the sauce is stirred into the spinach, while the remainder lavishly coats the top and bakes to a bubbling golden brown.
The new ingredients in vodka dip turn a classic shrimp cocktail into an exciting contemporary first course. This tangy sauce can also be spooned into a small bowl, surrounded by mounds of cooked shrimp on frilly toothpicks and passed or placed on a buffet table. If shrimp do not fit into your budget, the dip also is great with cut-up vegetables.
Baked pate is much easier to make than most other versions, as all the ingredients are simply measured into the food processor and pureed. It is then baked in a loaf pan, a pate crock or tin, or a decorative gelatin mold. Serve it sliced on a bed of lettuce as a first course or as a spread with crackers.
If your cocktail party is replacing dinner, it's important to include some hearty hors d'oeuvres. Your guests' appetites will be easily satisfied with pork sate. The pork is cut into strips, marinated and then served with a spicy Thai soy-peanut sauce. The recipe can be entirely cooked ahead and frozen.
Mini corn muffins with chilies and cheese are my new party favorite. They are such a nice, neat little bite, they make the perfect party pick-up. And they are just as good reheated from the freezer as they are freshly made.
Here are some tips that have helped assure success at my parties. I hope they will be of help to you:
*Guests at cocktail parties usually have a glass in one hand. Choose foods that require no utensils and can easily be picked up.
*A rule of thumb for cocktail parties at which the food replaces dinner is to allow eight to 10 hors d'oeuvres per person. Begin with a variety of six for the first two guests and add another selection for every eight additional people.
*When cutting vegetables such as carrots, celery, zucchini, jicama and cucumber for crudites, try using a fluted French fry cutter instead of a knife.
*Place cut vegetables in press-and-seal plastic bags, keeping each type separate and filling half full with ice water. Close securely.
*If you're short of refrigerator space, store cut vegetables and dips in a picnic cooler or plastic foam ice chest filled with blue ice. They will keep beautifully up to two days.
*To freeze appetizers, place them on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in the freezer uncovered until solid, about 1 hour. Then layer in containers and close securely.
*If you don't have enough containers for freezing, line shoe boxes with foil and seal top with masking tape. For best results, defrost frozen foods covered unless a recipe specifies otherwise.
*Several days before your party, choose the serving piece for each dish. Lay the platters on the table in the order you want them and label each one.
% Here are the recipes:
Champagne oysters Rockefeller
Makes 24 oysters.
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups Champagne
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cups whipping cream
salt and pepper to taste
2 or 3 --es cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter or margarine, at room temperature