Why should having a great Valentine's Day be the exclusive right of "smug marrieds" and cuddly new twosomes? This year, let the couples have their overpriced prix-fixe dinners while you get together with your favorite unattached friends-and their favorite unattached friends-for a festive cocktail party for singles to mingle.
See also: Aphrodisiacs to Sweeten Your Valentine's Day
For advice on the best food, drinks, and decor, setting the scene, and meet-and-greet strategies for a singles party, we gathered a big group of experts: "Jake," the anonymous Glamour columnist who is described in the magazine as a "real, live single guy dating in New York City"; Dina Cheney, author of the book Tasting Club; Adam Rich, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Thrillist.com, a popular e-mail newsletter for men; Erika Lenkert, author of The Last-Minute Party Girl; Karen Bussen, author of Simple Stunning Parties at Home and Simple Stunning Weddings; Linnea Johansson, the author of Perfect Parties; Ed Bamberger, the executive director of the Single Gourmet of Dallas/Fort Worth (a dinner club for singles); Irene McCarthy, who oversees the Single Gourmet's L.A./Orange County chapter; and several single Epicurious members and editors.
The biggest tip from our panelists: "Don't call it a singles party!" Read on to find out why, and to get more dos and don'ts on everything from cocktails to candles.
For more tips and drink recipes, click here.
yield: Makes about 18 hors d'oeuvres
active time: 30 min
total time: 1 1/2 hr
There are a multitude of richly spiced tikkas (or marinades), and many of them, says Kiran Desai, "were coaxed to fineness by the Patiala royals of Punjab." Using small pieces of chicken, as we do here, cuts down on marinating time.
• 1/2 cup thick plain whole-milk yogurt such as Greek
• 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
• 1 teaspoon finely grated (with a rasp) peeled fresh ginger
• 1 teaspoon finely grated (with a rasp) garlic
• 3/4 teaspoon garam masala (Indian spice mix)
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
• 1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
• Accompaniment: cilantro mint chutney
Special equipment: 18 (6-inch) wooden skewers, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
Stir together all ingredients except chicken in a medium bowl, then add chicken, stirring to coat. Marinate, covered and chilled, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (moderately high heat for gas).
While grill is heating, thread 3 or 4 pieces of chicken onto each skewer, leaving a little space between pieces, and transfer to a tray lined with plastic wrap.
Oil grill rack, then grill chicken, covered only if using a gas grill, turning occasionally, until browned and just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes total.
• Asparagus and Mushroom Tarts
• Parmesan-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon
• Peppered Tuna Skewers with Wasabi Mayonnaise
• Cranberry Crunch Salad
• Tortellini with Porcini Mushroom Sauce
• Mini Zucchini and Goat Cheese Tarts
• Prosciutto-Wrapped Grissini
• Mini Black-and-White Cookies
• Mocha Tartlets
• Mini Churros
Do Serve Easy-to-Eat Hors d'Oeuvres
All of our panelists agreed that finger foods are best for any kind of cocktail party, but particularly a singles gathering. "Don't serve messy food that's challenging to eat or easily gets stuck in people's teeth," says Lenkert. "Hello poppy seeds, pesto, spaghetti, and overly large one-bite appetizers!" Cheney adds that hosts should avoid anything that's dripping with sauce or has a lot of stringy cheese. Serve what Bussen calls "cute food," which means things you can eat and "still look cute while you're doing it." Rich says, "The food needs to be tidy and small so eating it doesn't make a mess of you or keep your mouth full for a prolonged period."
Some of Cheney's favorite finger foods include pigs in blankets, mini wild mushroom tarts, and dates wrapped in bacon. Other good ideas are miniature quiches, endive or lettuce cups filled with dip, smoked salmon or caviar on toasts, crostini, chicken skewers, cut-up fruit and vegetables, and sweet and savory tarts. Bussen recommends serving a combination of homemade and premade packaged hors d'oeuvres so you don't have to spend hours in the kitchen before or during the party. For more ideas, browse our cocktail party hors d'oeuvres recipes.
Don't Serve Fire-Breath Food
"I wouldn't be serving garlic bread and chives at a place where everybody's going to be worried about their breath," says Jake. "The last singles party I went to, everybody was frantically popping open blister packs of Ice White or Winter Mint Implosion or whatever those gums are that make the back of your eyeballs hurt. I wanted to tell them all to freaking relax! I mean, I don't want to make out with somebody who smells like a Korean barbecue, but I don't want to make out with a bottle of mouthwash, either."
"I would definitely try to avoid causers of bad breath, such as excessive garlic (you've got to have some, after all) and blue cheese," says Cheney. She also recommends staying away from gas-inducers, such as beans and spicy sausage. (Lenkert thinks garlic is okay-as long as everyone is eating it, so the playing field is even.)
Related: DIY Decor: Valentine's Day Crafts
Do Add a Few Aphrodisiac Ingredients
"In terms of ingredients, I'd go for known aphrodisiacs and those with sensual associations, such as chocolate, figs, dates, pears, apples, honey, cream, oysters, lobster, wild mushrooms, even tortellini," says Cheney. Tortellini take their name from the "belly button of Venus," so they're considered sexy-boil or fry them, and serve them with toothpicks so guests can easily pick them up. For more ideas, see our feature on aphrodisiac ingredients.
Do Set Up Multiple Food Stations
As with any cocktail party, be sure to have food and drink stations set up in various parts of your space to encourage people to move around and mingle. Bussen suggests setting up one station with a few platters of food plus a bottle of wine with glasses and another across the room with some popcorn or cheese "so wherever people are they have the opportunity to be nibbling on something while they are talking."
Do Serve Some Interactive Foods
Bussen recommends having a fun interactive food area, such as a taco station, where guests can mingle while they assemble their food. A few D.I.Y. ideas: Crab Tostadas, Zucchini and Corn Tacos, Lima Bean Crostini (omit the garlic if you like), Goat Cheese Crostini with Blood Orange and Black Pepper Marmalade, and chocolate or cheese fondue.
Lenkert shares this interactive idea: "Serve sugar cookies (perhaps heart-shaped) with white or pink icing accompanied by edible-ink markers. Write a funny saying or two on a few of the cookies to encourage people to decorate their own and give it to others as an edible valentine. This would be a super-cute and fun way for a guest to give their phone number to someone they've met at the party, if it happens to go that way...."
Cheney, an expert on tasting parties, recommends having a chocolate tasting. "Not only is chocolate an aphrodisiac, decadent, and loved by (almost) everyone, chocolate tastings are sensual and get everyone talking," she explains. You could make the tasting a formal part of the entertainment or, better yet, simply set up a table with a variety of chocolates (different brands, countries of origin, and percentages of cacao) with note cards or labels with a little information about each one. The concept would also work well with cheese.
Do Consider a Potluck Element
Epicurious editorial assistant Carolina Santos-Neves recommends asking people to bring a dish because it makes for a good conversation starter. "I brought a bowl of Concord grapes to a party once, and everyone just kept talking about them all night," she says. Bussen likes the idea of a potluck too, but suggests having a theme so you don't end up with "all this weird stuff that doesn't go together." For example, ask everyone to bring something Spanish.
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