IMG_4511The French apéritif dinatoire–cocktail dinner–is a way to invite a crowd for dinner without having them sit down around the table. More than just cocktails with hors d’oeuvres, it’s a whole dinner but not served in the usual French style with courses, and with everything in small portions that are easy to manage while standing and mingling.

On Saturday, our little house was packed to the gills with friends for the Fête de la Lumière, or the Festival of Light, a tradition started by dear friends who moved away and whom everybody at the party admitted to missing terribly. We picked up the baton because it was such a great way to see people, whereas with dinner parties the number of guests is limited to four or six (with us that makes six or eight around the table, which is about all you can do and still have conversation).

By the morning of, most of the food was made and ready to plate.

Recipe testing began a few weeks ago, and, despite good intentions to make dishes in advance and freeze them, I made everything in the days before the party. I kept a spreadsheet with dishes, showing how many days ahead they could be done, ingredients and links to the recipes. Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 11.50.08 AM

The spreadsheet was very useful for assembling the shopping list. I could go through and count, for example, how many eggs and how much butter and flour in total.

Chorizo “cookies.” Instead of sun-dried tomatoes, we went with black olives. Prettier.

I could have cut the number of chicken wings by half; since they were done fresh, we froze the leftovers. The madeleines won raves, but I could have made a single batch (considering we ate the test batch quickly, I was surprised). Happily they freeze well. Also the chorizo cookies–double the recipe would have sufficed. It seemed to me it made such a small batch. Also froze the leftovers. Nothing wasted.

Nut bars. Easy and yummy. From the Silver Palate cookbook.

On the other hand, the meatballs and deviled eggs disappeared. The nut cake was nearly gone and a fan happily took the few remains home.

For deviled eggs: mix yolks with mayo and mustard (same number of spoonfuls, but use tablespoons for the mayo and teaspoons for the mustard, until you have the consistency you want). Put into a plastic bag whose corner you’ve reinforced with at least six strips of tape. Seal the bag, cut off the tip and you have no-mess filling of the eggs.

The list above, plus charcuterie, cheese and baguettes, came to about €200 for a guest list of 36. Cheese alone was about €40. The total doesn’t include the wine because we tapped our cellar. IMG_4494Most of the food was on the dining table, with no decorations but a silver tray with candles. We put the charcuterie on a buffet and the cheese board on a small bookcase near the table. We had two conversation areas, but people stood for the first two hours, mingling and eating, before slowing down and migrating to the chairs and sofas. IMG_4490Although everybody was from the village, not all the guests knew each other, though they all knew at least some of the others. The grown daughter of a neighbor had come back to visit her parents; she had been our babysitter back in the day. She came, which I took as a high compliment, since she certainly had other options for socializing on a Saturday night than hanging out with neighbors her parents’ age.

Crudités, for something light and fresh amid the carbs. I love that purple cauliflower.

Here are the links to the recipes again:

Zucchini cheese chips (no need for a recipe, since it’s grated zucchini and cheese, dumped in little piles and baked–you can find many similar).

Chorizo cookies (I made them mini)

Salmon croissants

Pizza croissants

Ham and cheese pinwheels

Curry-cheese madeleines

Cheesecake bars

Raspberry mousse bars (if you use frozen berries, thaw them first)

Chocolate cake done as mini cupcakes for easier eating.

The Thai chicken wings and nut bars are from cookbooks; I’ll share those later. The meatball recipe changed when we couldn’t find the ingredients (no hoisin around here), so I just mixed ground pork with breadcrumbs, eggs, lots of minced onions and herbes de provence and baked them (honestly, the onions made them. OMG). The crinkle cookies and chocolate cake are old family recipes that I also will expand on later.IMG_4464This shouldn’t sound intimidating. It was a lot of work for two days and totally worth it. The advantage of cooking ahead and freezing is that the work gets spread out into small bits; but the advantage of doing everything just before is that it’s all fresh and you can freeze leftovers. A win either way.

Also, don’t overthink. We decorated the tree and put Christmas balls here and there, plus lots of candles. No elaborate centerpieces. The food is the main event. Actually, the conversation is the main event, and the food is just fuel for it.IMG_4516





32 thoughts on “Big Night

  1. Merci, merci bien!
    After just moving here. And all that goes with it, still major work to be done!…
    to think about putting together a menu would’ve taken me over the edge!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I plan on making two of your recipes for my little Christmas shindig: Chorizo cookies and Pizza croissants. Because your Zucchini cheese chips sound yummy too, I”ll look for a recipe. You’ve inspired me! LOVE your photos! Happy your party was a success. It sounds like it was a wonderful evening. Blessings to you and yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A STANDING OVATION!!!!!!!!!!
    I would imagine your group dressed up a bit?
    I’m living in the WRONG COUNTRY…………….!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh stop! I have hosted and attended American holiday parties where the food was fabulous (and homemade), the guests were dressed, people oohed and aahed at the tree, no tv was ever turned on, and the platters, plates, candlelight and music were sublime.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mme. that would have been a treat to have been there. I’m also going to bookmark. On our small island there are a lot a house parties. For a huge event a partial potluck would be called for. The varieties of food would be very international as we are a well traveled population. The guest list would also be surprising. It could run the gamut from an Óscar winner to someone who works at the recycling depot…..the fashion would also run from torn jeans to a kimono; someone might wear shorts in the winter, just because.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your party and the prep. Although I have no problem with the cooking, the entertainment does not come easy for me. (Really love the spreadsheet idea.) 🙂

    I am going to try some of your recipes. I think we should listen carefully when you tell us what the first to go was. Deviled eggs are always the first to go, and the meatballs. I have all the ingredients for the cheese madeleines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, though last time the zucchini-cheese chips disappeared fast, and the Thai chicken wings were absolutely inhaled, which is why I made a lot more. Anyway, as long as the leftovers can be frozen, there’s no harm in making a lot.


  6. Happy your “bash” went so well.
    Will try the zucchini-cheese chips this Saturday. + an old recipe my friends always ask for. We’ll be approx 20 friends for an end of year school friends meeting, at midday and going on up to who knows what time. When old friends meet – will not confess how long ago we finished school 🙂 – it’s chatting, gossiping and having a good time; nobody wants to be the first one to leave.
    We have the benefit of summer and long days now.

    Merry Christmas

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That sounds like a great gathering. Long-time friends are special.
      Although the traditional images (Dickensian?) around Christmas are dusted with snow, combining summer with Christmas must be like having two desserts–either downright wonderful or you wish you could save one for later.


  7. It sounds absolutely magical! Worth every minute of work. I love this idea, and might have to re-instate our holiday parties we used to have long ago. The Madeleine’s sound divine, and, since I somehow ended up owning four baking pans, I can do mine quickly!

    Your photos are wonderful, it’s really difficult to take shots in the evening. Yours make us feel like we were there. Xo Lidy

    Liked by 1 person

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