The Artisanal Kitchen: Party Food

Go-To Recipes for Cocktail Parties, Buffets, Sit-Down Dinners, and Holiday Feasts


By Susan Spungen

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 17, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Party Food is the newest addition to the Artisanal Kitchen series, adapted from What’s a Hostess to Do? (Artisan, 2013) by the ultimate hostess, Susan Spungen. Here is a collection of recipes that makes entertaining easy for any occasion—whether it’s a cocktail hour, a brunch, a dinner party, or an elaborate holiday feast. Recipes for Lobster Salad, Tarragon Roasted Chicken, Potato Gratin, and Chocolate Soufflé make for an easy-to-make foolproof dinner menu that even complete novices can master; cheat sheets like Ten Quick Hors d’Oeuvres and Five Entrée Salads make entertaining a crowd cheaper and easier than ever; and recipes for high-stakes holiday meals like Roasted Fillet of Beef or Roasted Turkey Parts elevate the classic crowd-pleasers to dishes that guests will rave about for months.
Party Food, Holiday Cocktails, and Holiday Cookies, three new titles in the Artisanal Kitchen series, provide an indispensable arsenal of recipes that cover all the bases for a delicious holiday season. 





A gifted host makes it look easy. He or she knows the shortcuts that make entertaining less laborious and more enjoyable for everyone. Some of us were raised by such a person, but if these skills skipped a generation, this book will help you look as though you learned it all as a child.

A Host's Four Golden Rules

1. Coddle your guests. Make them feel comfortable and welcome. Be hyperthoughtful: make a guest's favorite dessert; provide comfy, inexpensive Chinese slippers to wear indoors on a wintry evening; or use the tableware that was a gift from the guests. Let people know you're thinking about them.

2. Plan ahead. A realistic plan is the key to success. Choose a menu with dishes that can be prepared ahead of time, leaving only the simplest tasks—like heating a dish, cooking pasta or rice, or dressing a salad—for the last minute. Your goal should be to have as little sweat on your brow (and mess in the kitchen) as possible when the doorbell rings.

3. Less can be more. A few beautiful, well-conceived, and well-prepared dishes will go over big. If you have to make a million different things, something—or everything—will suffer. If you drive yourself to the edge of sanity in preparing the food and cleaning the house, you'll feel like collapsing by the time your guests arrive. Keep it simple, and you'll be ready when it's time to have fun.

4. When the party starts, be in it. If you are running around frantically, with your guests asking, "Are you sure there's nothing I can do?," who can relax? You want to enjoy the party with your guests. They came to see you, and a good host is present and engaged.

How to Plan a Menu

The goal is to get the maximum impact for the least amount of work, or at least figure out how to streamline the work, spreading it over several days, so you aren't going crazy at the last minute. Trial and error is the best way to learn what not to do, but you will find an example of a successful menu at the start of each recipe chapter.

Three Lists You Can't Live Without

Spending a few minutes making lists will save you immeasurable time, not to mention stress, later on. Put a little box next to each item so you can have the satisfaction of checking it off as you accomplish each task. In the end, even if you don't refer back to the lists frequently, the act of making them will help you organize your thoughts and stay focused.

1. The Guest List. Strive for a "mixer": instead of inviting a group of people who all know one another well, mix it up a bit and invite friends and acquaintances who may not know one another well, or at all. It's always nice if a guest knows someone, and he or she will know you, the host. Unless the party is an intimate affair, be a bit of a matchmaker, and try to bring together people who you think have things in common and who will enjoy meeting one another. You'll be surprised at how seemingly disparate friends will find common ground.

2. The Shopping List. Try to get everything you'll need for cooking, except for perishable foods like salad greens, all at once, so you can spend your time in the kitchen, not running out for forgotten ingredients. Divide your master shopping list by sections of the store—dairy, meat, fish, grocery, produce—or by different stores if you need to make more than one stop for groceries. Add additional list sections for liquor and wine, other party supplies, and flowers.

3. The Prep List. Break your planning down into a list of tasks, day by day, and put them in order as best you can. What can you make ahead of time? Plan to get those jobs done early, so you can cross them off the list. Seeing everything on paper will give you a more realistic view of what you can accomplish, too, and whether you're being overly ambitious.

At the end of each day, revise the list as you cross some things off and get more detailed about the tasks still remaining. For the "day of" list, order the jobs chronologically with the first things first and the tasks you need to do just before your guests arrive last.


Invitations should convey the who, what, when, and where of your event and evoke the tone of the party. From engraved to e-mailed, the invitation should embody the formality—or dress code—of the occasion. Throwing a ladies' lunch? Go for something classic and comfortable, like stationery engraved with your initials. Hosting a potluck for coworkers? An e-mailed invitation means it's an easygoing affair. Try using a casual, colorful electronic invitation for a big birthday bash. That way friends and relatives can keep track of who is coming, helping to build anticipation for the event.

How to Time an Invitation

Whether you're mailing invitations or inviting guests by phone, timing is key. Send an invitation too late and your friends may already be booked; send it too early and it might be misplaced or forgotten. The following advice should serve as a guideline for various occasions. Use your best judgment for your specific event.


Invitation Lead Time

Anniversary party

3 to 6 weeks before the event

Birthday party

3 weeks

Casual party

Same day to 2 weeks

Christmas party

1 month

Formal dinner

3 to 6 weeks

Graduation party

3 weeks

Housewarming party

1 to 3 weeks

Informal dinner

1 to 3 weeks

Lunch or tea

Last minute to 2 weeks

Thanksgiving dinner

6 to 8 weeks

How to Make Guests Mingle

Don't leave guests to awkwardly mingle at a party you're hosting. If it's a crowd filled with people who don't know one another, it's important to give people something to go on. When making introductions, try to jump-start the conversation—explain where you know each guest from, or bring up something they have in common—then break away once a conversation has been sparked.

How to Appear Calm, Cool, and Collected

The art of hosting is making it look effortless; this is easiest for hosts who really love the pace and pressures of putting out a spread for friends. But even they know to ease this pace by planning parties for which most of the work can be done in advance.

The trickiest time is when your guests are arriving. You want to welcome them with open arms, but there are coats to put away, drinks to fetch, flowers to put in vases, and things in the kitchen to attend to. Keep your event running smoothly by making sure that your pre-party setup is complete before the first guests arrive. Transform anxiety into enthusiasm; both have an upbeat pace. Make a timeline for the evening in advance, mapping out when you'll clear the cocktail snacks, make last-minute sauces in the kitchen, let ice cream soften, open after-dinner drinks, et cetera. The timeline should be as detailed as possible, turning the evening into a well-choreographed dance. Preparedness helps make everything look effortless.

How to Corral the Kids

When you invite children into your home, you're giving up some level of control. Make your peace ahead of time with the mess and the noise kids can make. If you haven't childproofed your home because your own toddler is a saint, be mindful that others might not be so placid. Hide the Swedish pottery, and place those carefully laid trays of nuts and olives out of reach. The clever host has kid-friendly snacks on hand and whips up Bambini Pasta (pasta with butter and grated Parmesan—the most universally appreciated dish among the younger set) for dinner. Don't be afraid to bribe kids: a fun dessert (preferably one that they can help decorate before serving) may help elicit their best behavior. Check with the parents first to see whether you might be able to let the kids watch a movie together in another room while the grown-ups have a leisurely meal. For larger parties, it may be worth it to hire a babysitter to watch the kids and keep them occupied. A word to the wise: Your own kids may be well behaved and enjoy asparagus, but you'll have to be very diplomatic about scolding your friends' children. Even if they're monsters, they're your guests, too.

Ten Jobs You Can Delegate

Relinquish your grip on some of the busywork. Adult children, spouses, and friends can really come in handy with the chores below.

1. Setting the table

2. Ironing and folding napkins

3. Cleaning wineglasses that have been gathering dust on a distant shelf

4. Setting up the bar

5. Slicing lemon and lime wedges for drinks

6. Buying ice and making ice buckets for the bar

7. Preparing water carafes

8. Slicing bread

9. Opening wine

10. Lighting candles

Take Five

Schedule a small break in the action about an hour before your guests are due so you can change your clothes and perhaps wash the flour out of your hair. Chances are you'll be busy up to the last minute, but if you schedule a break, you can make sure you're not wearing your cooking sweats when guests arrive. It's okay to still be calmly fiddling in the kitchen at party time, but you want to be fresh and ready to greet guests.

Timing Is Everything

An inability to coordinate the timing of a meal can be the downfall of even the best cooks. We've all been to (or thrown) a dinner party where the main course didn't manage to make it to the table until eleven o'clock, or half the guests had finished their ravioli by the time the poor host got to sit down and join them. Getting all the components of a meal on the table at the same time, and at their peak flavor and temperature, requires levelheaded multitasking, which is impossible without good planning. Timing should be on your mind from the get-go: when designing the menu, choose dishes that won't collide in the oven or on the stove, and balance items that require last-minute touches with those that can be made completely ahead of time.

Thinking Backward

When planning how to finish your tasks, make a list starting with the ones that must be done at the last minute, and work backward to those for which the timing is not as crucial. Make your list with the do-aheads at the top and the crucial items at the very bottom. This way, you'll have ample time for the last-minute jobs.


On Sale
Oct 17, 2017
Page Count
128 pages

Susan Spungen

Susan Spungen

About the Author

Susan Spungen is a celebrated cook, food stylist, recipe developer, and author. She was the founding food editor and editorial director for food at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia from its launch until 2003, and is now a contributing editor at More magazine. Her work as a culinary consultant and food stylist can be seen in many feature films, including Julie & Julia; Eat, Pray, Love; and Labor Day.

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