When you plan a birthday party for adults, consider first the tastes of the person whose birthday you’re celebrating.
For example, do they love a big barbeque with a variety of grilled meats, or does the idea of meat make them shudder? A vegetarian would prefer a spread of quiches, vegetable-based casseroles and salads.
Make sure you know if they enjoy drinking wine, or if they would prefer a beer bar, or cocktails – or non-alcoholic drinks.
Ask if they are happiest with foods they already know and love, or if a sumptuous exotic dinner would make them feel special.
Let their hobbies and interests give your party direction. For instance, a person who likes to garden might love a cake decorated with edible flowers, or a punch bowl with edible flowers floating in it.
Consider also the person’s possible food sensitivities. There’s no point in arranging a fancy lobster dinner if the guest of honor is allergic to seafood!
Then choose the style of party, and plan the food that suits it.
Let’s start with informal parties.
Examples of informal parties are hen parties, spa parties, pajama parties (who says pajama parties are only for little girls?), movie-night parties, pool parties, barbeques, baby showers, and of course, cocktail parties.
Think of a gathering where people are either moving around and circulating, as in barbeques and cocktail parties, or mostly sitting, as in movie-night parties.
These kinds of parties require finger foods on platters from which guests can serve themselves.
A party where the focus is a sit-down dinner naturally requires a more structured menu.
Read Related Article: Easy Main Dishes For Parties – A Guide
Informal Party Food
Little sandwiches are great for any informal party, and you’ll need a variety of them.
Chicken Salad Sandwiches
YIELD: 16 servings.
4 cups cooked chicken breast, cubed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1½ cups dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped sweet pickles
1 cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon fresh curry powder, or more to taste
¼-½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
½ cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
16 dinner rolls
Leaf lettuce to line the sandwiches
Combine the chicken, green onions, celery, dried cranberries and pickles in a large bowl.
Blend the mayonnaise, curry powder and pepper in a separate bowl. Stir into chicken mixture.
Stir in the pecans before serving. Line the rolls with lettuce and fill with the chicken mixture.
Note: Cooked turkey breast is also very good in this recipe.
Open-Faced Cucumber Sandwiches
YIELD: 2 dozen.
1 cup mayonnaise
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon minced chives
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ teaspoon paprika
⅛ teaspoon curry powder
⅛ teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme, basil, parsley flakes and dill, or any combination of dried herbs to make about a teaspoon altogether
1 loaf (1 pound) rye bread
2 medium cucumbers
Garnish: diced pimientos and additional dill
Combine all the ingredients except for the bread, cucumbers and garnishes in a blender or food processor. Process until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours to let the flavors blend.
Score and thinly slice the cucumbers.
Cut circles from the bread slices, using a 2 ½ inch biscuit cutter.
Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the bread circles. Top with cucumber slices.
Garnish with pimientos and dill.
Ham And Cheese Biscuit Sandwiches
YIELD: 40 biscuit sandwiches
Ingredients for the biscuits:
4 6-oz. tubes small refrigerated flaky biscuits
¼ cup good mustard
Ingredients for the filling:
½ cup softened butter
¼ cup chopped green onions
½ cup good mustard
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup runny honey
10 thick slices deli ham
10 slices Swiss cheese
2 ½ cups shredded romaine lettuce
20 pitted ripe olives, drained and patted dry
20 pimiento-stuffed olives, drained and patted dry
40 frilled toothpicks
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut biscuits in half vertically to make half-circles.
Place the half-circles on ungreased baking sheets, 2” apart. Spread mustard over them.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire racks.
Cut the ham and cheese slices into quarters.
Mix butter and green onions. In another bowl, mix mustard, mayonnaise and honey. Split each biscuit half-circle horizontally, into 2 layers.
Spread the biscuit bottoms with the butter mixture.
Layer quarter-slices of ham and cheese on the buttered biscuit bottoms. Add shredded romaine lettuce, and close the sandwiches with the biscuit tops.
Spoon the mustard mixture over tops. Thread 1 olive onto each toothpick and poke into the biscuits.
Serve right away.
Deli Beef Finger Sandwiches
These small sandwiches look attractive on a platter and are surprisingly hearty. And they’re a cinch to make.
YIELD: 36 sandwiches
½ cup softened butter
½ cup chopped pitted olives
¼ cup spicy brown mustard
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
6 slices whole wheat bread
6 ounces thinly sliced deli roast beef
6 slices white bread
Cut the crusts off all the bread slices.
Process or blend the butter with the olives, mustard and pepper until you have a somewhat chunky spread.
Spread the mixture over the whole wheat bread slices.
Top with roast beef and the white bread.
Cut each sandwich into thirds, crosswise. Serve.
Party platters for informal parties
Platters are great because you prepare them ahead of time, wrap them in plastic wrap, and leave to chill until you’re ready to set them out.
Keep the platters colorful with sprigs of fresh herbs to garnish. Offer various colors of cheeses, deli meats, raw vegetables and fruit for each variety of platter.
Set out small bowls filled with pickles, and others filled with different colors of olives next to the platters.
Crudités platters (raw vegetable sticks) with two kinds of dips, such as cream cheese/onion and pesto.
Fresh fruit platters.
Have plenty of cocktail forks ready for guests to use when taking food off the platters.
More informal party food
A bagel table, with fresh bagels sliced in halves and a variety of toppings and fillings set out. Classic fillings are cream cheese and lox, but bagels can take almost any filling.
Two or three kinds of toast or good-quality crackers, with sturdy spreads like hummus, guacamole, and paté. These spreads are also good on bagels.
A nachos table with warm tortillas and fillings for guests to choose from.
Two kinds of quiches, sliced before serving.
Several bowls of mixed nuts placed on the table.
A large 1970s-style cheese ball rolled in cracked pepper, chopped pecans or chopped chives and surrounded by crackers. Cheese balls are delicious and fun, and might take older guests down nostalgia lane.
Drinks For Informal Birthday Parties
A wine-tasting table lends a sophisticated air to an informal party. Have 4-6 kinds of wine ready, with a variety of reds, whites, and rosés. Aim to provide one sparkling wine, but as bubbly wine is usually the most popular, have plenty of it available.
Ask the manager of the local wine shop for advice on wines that suit your budget, but not ones that anyone can find on sale in the supermarket. You want to let the guests experience wines they wouldn’t already know.
Study a little about the wines, to answer questions guests may ask about them. Know what country or state they’re from and what foods pair well with them.
Fill a bucket with water and ice to put the bottles of white wines and rosés in, for chilling.
If beer is more likely to go over well, set up a beer bar. Provide three varieties of beer: one domestic brand, one imported brand, and one from a local microbrewery. Or take three varieties from one microbrewery. Count on 3 bottles per person.
A DIY cocktail bar is fun. Type and print out recipes for 4-6 kinds of cocktails. Paste each recipe to cardboard backing, or punch a hole in each recipe sheet and hang them up on a string, banner-wise.
Set out all the cocktail ingredients required: glasses, stirring sticks, spirits, liqueurs, club soda, simple syrup, tonic water, lemon slices, lots of ice, etc. Let the guests build their own cocktails from the recipes.
Set out a punch bowl of sangria with seasonal fruit in it.
Non-alcoholic drinks are welcomed by guests who will be driving after the party and those who are just thirsty.
Herbal, black, or flavored iced teas.
Iced coffee. To go with the coffee, offer an alternative milk like soy or rice milk as well as regular milk.
A fruit-juice punch bowl with sliced oranges and lemons floating in it.
Club soda and mineral water. Sometimes people really want plain water.
A variety of cold soft drinks, including diet drinks. Remember to fill a bowl with ice.
A hot coffee and tea corner, with instant coffee and tea bags, sweeteners and regular and alternative milk. Have an electric kettle ready for hot water.
Foods For Formal Birthday Party Meals
Soups make a good start to a sit-down meal. The soup should be light, if a full menu is to follow.
If a large, filling main dish is planned, serve the soup in small bowls, or less formally, in pretty tea cups.
Omit croutons, dumplings, or other starchy additions to the soup. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, or a sprinkling of grated cheese.
If, on the other hand, you’re planning a relatively light main dish like fish, quiche, or a vegetarian pasta, go wild with soup accompaniments. Thin noodles, rice, a slice of toast covered with melting grated cheese, croutons and all the dumplings you can imagine make soup satisfying and comforting.
It’s easier for the host/hostess to plan on soup if there are no more than 8 guests at the meal. With a larger party, clearing soup plates away and setting fresh dinner plates becomes a lot of effort and takes him/her away from the table.
Cold summer party soups:
Greek Tsatsiki (yogurt/cucumber soup)
Vichyssoise (cold leek and potato soup)
Fruit soup (can be put together out of unsweetened canned fruit)
A sophisticated combination of one-third each cold, strained chicken stock, half-and-half, and dry white wine, seasoned with salt and pepper.
Winter party soups:
Garlic soup (recipe below)
We’re including the recipe for garlic soup here, because it’s so surprising and tasty. The garlic’s spicy heat is calmed down with the cooking and becomes almost sweet.
Roasted Garlic Soup with Kale
Yield: 6 small portions. This recipe is easily doubled.
4 garlic bulbs: whole heads, not single cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups kale, minus ribs, shredded
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
½ teaspoon pepper or to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Slice the pointy tops off the garlic bulbs, only enough to expose all their cloves.
Pour ½ tablespoon olive oil over the exposed tops of the bulbs. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
Place each bulb cut side up on a small square of foil. Fold the foil around the bulb of garlic and place all on a cookie sheet.
Roast the garlic for 45 minutes. Unwrap the bulbs and cool thoroughly.
Sauté the onions in the remaining olive oil (1 ½ tablespoons) about 10 minutes on medium-high heat, or until they start to brown.
Separate the garlic cloves and press the flesh out of each one. Put the roasted garlic flesh in a blender.
Add the chicken stock and cooked onions.
Purée the soup until smooth.
Return the soup to the pot. Add the shredded kale.
Simmer the soup over medium-low heat until the kale is tender.
Add the cream and heat again. Do not allow the soup to boil at this point.
Divide the soup into bowls and sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese generously over each portion. Serve.
A Salad For An Adult Birthday Party
Here is a mayonnaise-free salad you can make ahead and chill. Figure on one cup per serving. It’s super-simple and hardly requires a recipe.
Shredded cabbage and apple salad
Serves 6 and can be easily halved or doubled.
3 cups shredded white cabbage
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 grated, sweet red apple, not peeled
¼ cup dried cranberries
Juice of ½ fat lemon
1 tablespoon runny honey
2 tablespoons good olive oil
A little salt, to taste
Mix the cabbages and grated apple in a large bowl. Mix in the dried cranberries.
Mix the lemon juice, honey, and olive oil in a small bowl. Pour the mixture into the salad.
Season the salad with a little salt; taste it and adjust salt, lemon juice or honey to taste if needed.
Serves 4; easily doubled or tripled
Ingredients for Dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
For the salad:
1 cucumber, cut lengthwise, seeded, and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 green bell pepper, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
5 ounces feta cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
⅓ cup thinly sliced red onion
⅓ cup pitted Kalamata olives
A few pinches more oregano
⅓ cup fresh mint leaves
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, mustard, salt, and a little pepper.
Arrange the cucumber, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, red onions, and olives on a large platter. Drizzle the dressing over and gently toss.
Sprinkle with a few generous pinches of oregano and top with the mint leaves. Season to taste and serve.
We offer you two main dishes of chicken and of lamb. The rice pilaf recipe that follows goes well with either.
Together with one of the suggested soups and a salad, you have a menu for adult tastes that will win you compliments for a long time after the birthday party.
Garlic Herb Butter Roast Chicken
4 pound (2kg) whole chicken, at room temperature
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup dry white wine
1 lemon, halved
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 head of garlic roughly peeled and cut in half horizontally through the middle crosswise
3 fresh whole rosemary sprigs
Preheat the oven to 430°F. Line a roasting pan with foil or baking parchment.
Pour the olive oil, melted butter, wine and the juice of half a lemon over the chicken, under the skin and inside the cavity.
Season chicken liberally on the outside and inside the cavity with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the parsley over it.
Rub the minced garlic over the chicken, mixing all ingredients together over the chicken and under the skin.
Stuff the garlic head into the chicken cavity along with the rosemary sprigs and the squeezed lemon half. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.
Place the chicken breast-side up into the roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour and 15-20 minutes, basting half-way through cooking time.
The chicken will be done when a fork or skewer poked into the thickest part of the thigh yields clear juice. Internal temperature should read 165°F.
Baste again, then broil for 2-3 minutes, until golden.
Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Let it stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve, drizzled with pan juices and remaining lemon half cut into wedges or slices.
Slow-roasted lamb shoulder
4-lb. lamb shoulder
3 onions, each sliced into 3 thick discs
For the marinade
1 shallot, halved
4 garlic cloves
4 cherry tomatoes
½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
½ teaspoon pink peppercorns
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
2 tablespoon rosemary leaves
Leaves of 1 thyme sprig
5 tablespoons dry white wine
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Zest and juice 1 lemon
For the gremolata
Zest ½ lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
Process all the marinade ingredients in a food processor.
Pierce the lamb shoulder all over with a sharp knife. Place in a large roasting pan and coat it thoroughly with the marinade.
Cover with plastic wrap. Chill at least 3 hours – overnight.
Take the lamb out of the fridge at least half an hour before you cook it.
Preheat the oven to 320°F.
Slice the onions thickly and place them in the roasting pan. Place the lamb on top.
Cover with tented foil. Roast for 5 hours. Baste the meat occasionally.
Remove from the oven, transfer the lamb to a board and let it rest, covered, for at least 30 minutes.
Return the pan with the onions and marinating juices to the oven to keep warm.
Combine zest ½ lemon and 1 crushed garlic clove in a bowl.
Pull the lamb apart with forks and serve with the roasted onions and gremolata scattered over.
Skim any fat from the juices and serve alongside the lamb.
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
2 cups long-grain white or brown rice
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
4 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup frozen peas, thawed and steamed briefly
¼ cup halved almonds, toasted briefly in a dry skillet
Cook rice according to package instructions, using stock instead of water.
Heat the amount of stock needed in a large saucepan.
Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
When the oil is hot, add the rice, stirring. Cook for 2 minutes.
Add the onions and celery and cook a few minutes longer, until the onions soften.
If using commercial stock, taste for saltiness and adjust or reduce salt accordingly. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Pour the heated stock into the pan with the rice.
Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and cook 15 to 25 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the stock.
Take the pan off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered. Fluff with a fork. Stir in chopped parsley, the steamed peas and the toasted almonds. Serve.