Say 'cheers!' to this crazy-simple holiday cocktail party plan!


by Casey Barber

The three words a party host needs to hear over the holidays aren't "ho ho ho" — they're "no oven required." This no-cook make-ahead menu gives you just that. You can make a simple but swinging hors d'oeuvre spread and a signature cocktail with just 15 minutes of prep time three nights each before the party. Here's how to do it.

      Marinated mixed olives
      Spinach dip in a bread bowl
      Can't-fail cheese plate
      Holiday sangria


3 days before the party: Quick-marinate olives. 

Estimate 1 pint-size deli container of olives for every 8 people at the party.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, high-sided skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until shimmering, then stir in 4 peeled and halved garlic cloves.

Let the garlic cook for a few minutes until it starts to brown, stirring occasionally, then add the leaves from 1 large sprig of rosemary and 1 pint of mixed green and black olives from the supermarket olive bar. (They can be pitted or unpitted, depending on how much work you like to leave for your guests — why not try a mix of green Castelvetrano and black Kalamata?)

Cook the olives for 5 minutes while you use a wide peeler or paring knife to remove 4 large strips of zest each from 1 medium orange and 1 medium lemon, leaving as much of the white pith on the fruit as possible. 

Add the citrus zest to the pan and cook for 5 minutes more, until the zest is softened.

Refrigerate the olives in a lidded container until the day of the party.

2 days before the party: Make the dip. 

Modernize everyone's favorite party dip — the pumpernickel bread bowl — with a homemade version that serves up to 12 guests.

Stem, rinse and coarsely chop 2 bunches of fresh spinach.

Wilt the spinach in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat along with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 large minced garlic clove and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes for 4-5 minutes, stirring until the spinach is completely soft and cooked through.

Transfer to a large mixing bowl and cool to room temperature. 

To the bowl with the spinach mixture, add 2 cups sour cream, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 can drained and chopped water chestnuts, 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. 

Stir well and refrigerate in a lidded container until the day of the party. Taste again before serving to add more salt if desired.

1 day before the party: Make the punch. 

A festive sangria-style punch makes for a great, winter-friendly signature party drink. This serves up to 16 guests and is easy to embellish with fresh garnishes.

In a 3-quart pitcher, stir the following together and refrigerate in a sealed container until the day of the party.

      1 750-ml bottle of fruity red wine, such as Malbec or Shiraz
      1 32-ounce bottle of pomegranate, cranberry-pomegranate or cranberry juice
      2 cups spiced rum
      1 cup Triple Sec or simple syrup (simmer 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water together until the sugar dissolves)
      2 oranges, sliced into thin rounds + additional for garnish
      2 limes, sliced into thin rounds + additional for garnish 

The day of the party: Finish assembly and put out the snacks and drinks.

Assemble a cheese plate: Estimate 1-2 ounces of cheese per person at your party, and pick 3 or 4 distinctly different textures and flavors of cheese for a well-rounded plate (pun very much intended!).

You'll want:

 1 mild, creamy cheese such as a fresh goat cheese log or a soft-rind French cheese such as Boucheron
 1 semi-soft cheese such as a young Fontina or aged goat cheese
 1 semi-hard, salty cheese such as aged Gouda or Manchego
 1 strong and pungent cheese such as an aged blue cheese or a washed rind cheese like Taleggio

Let the cheese and marinated olives come to room temperature for an hour before the party starts. Serve with dried fruit and nuts. Make the bread bowl for the dip with a round loaf of sourdough, rye or pumpernickel bread, cutting a cylinder out of the top of the loaf with a serrated knife. Carefully cut the center out of the bread, leaving at least a 1-inch border for holding the dip, and cube the cut bread into chunks for dipping. Supplement with crackers and assorted vegetables (such as carrot and celery sticks and cherry tomatoes — prepared vegetables from the supermarket are fine). Scoop the dip into the bread bowl and pour the punch into a large serving vessel (such as a drinks dispenser or punch bowl) with ice just before guests arrive.