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Gather a few friends and neighbors for a casual get-together for New Year's Eve.

Celebrate New Year's Eve without a lot of fuss! Gather friends and neighbors for a warm, cozy evening inside, or go outdoors if you're an active group. You'll find all the recipes and party-planning tips you'll need for an appetizer and dessert celebration to ring in the new year.


Make it Special

Easy Decorations

Casual get-togethers are often impromptu and require no special decorations. If you want to decorate, consider one of the extras below.

Encourage guests to bring a battery-operated alarm clock. Set the alarms to go off at midnight, and place the clocks all over the party area! Or place a collection of the clocks on a mirrored tray as a centerpiece.

Make a quick centerpiece by placing glittering ball ornaments in a wire basket or crystal bowl.

Fun Serving Ideas

Use hollowed-out colorful bell peppers, cabbage, squash or round bread loaves for fun and colorful containers to hold veggie dip.

Embellish mug handles or bases of stemware with metallic curly ribbon. A different color of ribbon for each guest can keep drinkware from being misplaced.

Bump up plain coffee to an inviting espresso bar! Set up espresso carafes (regular and decaf) with extras for stir-ins and toppers.
Stir-Ins: flavored syrups, flavored creams or eggnog, cream and sugar Toppers: whipped cream, ice-cream toppings, candy sprinkles, ground nutmeg or cinnamon

Casual Party Activities

Got snow? Make a snowperson! Ask guests to wear appropriate clothing.

Build a huge bonfire--remember to check your city's ordinances! Tell stories of bygone years, or predict the future.

Hide a treasure of gold-colored medallions, gold foil-covered chocolate coins and golden baubles and beads found in craft stores. Entice guests with creative clues to answer so they can discover the treasure by the stroke of midnight.

Best Entertaining Tips

You'll want to review these helpful tips before finalizing your menu, grocery list and plans for preparing and serving.

Party Planning Tips

When you plan your party menu, these tips and reminders will help you put together and serve a memorable combination of goodies.

Select a balance of hot and cold foods, textures and colors, and choose a combination of do-ahead, "easier-to-orchestrate" foods as well as a few that need last-minute attention.

Make it easy on yourself by purchasing ready-to-eat appetizers such as prearranged trays, shrimp cocktail, antipasto, cheese trays or veggies and dips to keep preparation time down. Personalize ready-to-eat cheesecakes and tortes with gourmet sauces, candy sprinkles or cookie crumbles.

Decide not only on the menu but also on what to serve each appetizer in. Set out dishes and serving utensils the day before. Attach notes indicating what food it will hold, which is especially helpful if others are assisting you.

Consider using 2 serving dishes for each appetizer. When 1 dish is on the buffet table, the empty dish can be refilled in the kitchen for a quick replacement. For cold appetizers, start with cold serving plates, and place them on trays filled with ice.

Disposable dishes require ample wastebaskets. If using china and glassware, place trays throughout the house and have someone frequently remove the dirty dishes.

Short of refrigerator space? Place canned beverages and wine bottles in a decorated cooler filled with ice. Use self-service beverage carafes, servers or punch bowls that will keep beverages piping hot or cold.

Remember to keep foods safe during buffet service by keeping hot foods hot (140°F or above) and cold foods cold (below 40°F), and leave perishable foods out no longer than 2 hours.

Planning Strategies for Entertaining

Pick the Date That Suits Your Schedule

Most people prefer to entertain on the weekend when they have more free time.
Weekday entertaining can be necessary on a holiday, for a special family event or when a friend is in town only briefly. Making even these meals stress-free is still possible!

Choose the Guests Before Planning the Menu

You'll know who and how many guests will be there, giving you flexibility and creativity in setting the mood.

At other times, there's a guest of honor-someone whose birthday you're celebrating or an out-of-town friend whose friends or family will be invited.

Be prepared for scheduling conflicts. They're bound to occur.

It's perfectly all right to regret that one friend can't come on a specific night and then invite another guest in that place.

When inviting guests to an outside event, decide in advance what you'll do if the weather is bad. You can set a rain date or have an indoor meal location in mind.

Just as you'll choose the foods you serve to be complementary, you'll want to choose your guests the same way. Consider which of your friends will enjoy the theme of your meal and mingling with your other guests.

At large gatherings, try to be sure that each guest knows at least one person other than yourself so they won't feel awkward.

Invite Your Guests

For informal meals, a few days in advance works. A phone call, an invitation at the office or an over-the-back-fence chat is all that's needed.

Sometimes a party like Zoo-rrific Kid's Birthday Party for 8 lends itself to sending invitations that reflect the theme of the menu.

Formal situations, such as weddings and anniversary receptions, make invitations a necessity.

The rule of thumb for most events, other than casual get-togethers, is to invite guests roughly 10 days in advance of the party.

If guests have not answered your invitation, give them a call and confirm. There may be a good reason why you haven't heard from someone!

Countdown Plans for Entertaining

Launching a perfect party requires some advance work

Make a List of What Needs to Be Done

The list can be flexible, but it keeps you on track.

Write the day you'll do it by each item.

Do the nonfood part of the plan earlier--the housecleaning, checking that you have enough serving pieces, borrowing or buying cooking equipment, polishing the silver, cleaning the tablecloth, making decorations and so on.

Make Your Food Plan

Read through the recipes you've chosen for the menu. Check what staples you have and decide what you'll need to buy.

Make 2 shopping trips. The first can be for nonperishable items such as flour, packaged pasta, bottled beverages and coffee. The second trip, closer to the meal, is for perishables such as fish, milk, fruit and vegetables.

Plan the Food Preparation Schedule for Cooking the Meal
Try Not to Leave too Much to the Last Minute

Be sure your table is set and appetizers prepared about 15 minutes before your guests are due.

If entertaining on a weeknight, consider setting the table the night before, including arranging the flowers in your centerpiece and throughout the house.

Lay out all serving pieces and utensils so you won't be hunting for a serving spoon or washing an infrequently used bowl instead of chatting with guests.

There's nothing like a well-stocked pantry to add to your entertaining confidence!

Beverages Set the Scene
Having a selection of beverages is important even when you've prepared a specific drink in your menu. People's tastes vary quite a bit! Here's what we recommend:

Offer plain bottled water or soft drinks.

When serving wine, provide both red and white. Many guests have a preference, and there are far fewer "rules" than there once were!

Be generous when buying wine; count on half a bottle per person. Unopened wine can always be used another day.

If you serve beer, count on at least 2 beers per person.

Bring in plenty of ice.

Offer milk or fruit juices as well as coffee and tea, and for guests who may like to drink it during the meal.

Allow for Lots of Nibbles

Guests often arrive hungry, and the appetizers disappear before dinner is ready.
See A Slice of Advice for Your Cheese Tray for the right amounts and varieties of cheese guests will like.

Count on the Unexpected

Despite your best planning, a guest may dislike a particular food or be unable to eat a dish because of an allergy or other dietary restriction.

Often guests are able to enjoy the rest of the meal, but you may want to offer to scramble eggs, make a toasted cheese sandwich or serve them canned soup.

If problems with digesting dairy products or eating chocolate put some desserts off limits, have cookies in your cupboard or fruit available so everyone can enjoy dessert.

Food Safety for Entertaining
Preparing the Food

Follow safe food-handling guidelines. Also see Tips for Keeping Food Safe.

Eat Early
Food that stands on a buffet line for more than 2 hours can be fertile ground for bacteria growth. Get through the line as soon as the food is put out.

Avoid Double Dippers
"Double dippers" are people who bite into a piece of food, then redip the remaining portion. This eating habit can deposit significant bacteria into the dip bowl. If this happens at your party, replace the food. It'll be worth it to think of a tactful comment for any unruly guests!

Keep Hot Foods Hot & Cold Foods Cold
Perishable foods, such as cooked meats, hot hors d'oeuvres and chilled salads that are left at room temperature, experience accelerated bacterial growth. Make sure foods are stored properly.

Keeping Food Safe

Tips for Keeping Food Safe

Canned Foods: Don't buy or use food in leaking, bulging or dented cans (avoid cracked jars or those with loose or bulging lids). If you are in doubt about a can of food, don't taste it!

Eggs: Store uncooked "do-ahead" recipes containing raw eggs in the refrigerator only for up to 24 hours before cooking. Even though it's tempting, don't eat unbaked cookie dough or cake batter containing raw eggs.

Foods made with cooked eggs--cheesecakes, cream fillings, custards, quiches and potato salads--must be served hot or cold, depending on the recipe. Refrigerate leftovers immediately after serving.

Raw eggs give some dishes, such as frosting, mousse and traditional Caesar salad, a unique texture. When making these recipes, don't use raw eggs in the shell; use only pasteurized egg products or substitutes found in the dairy or freezer case. It's also okay to use reconstituted dried eggs or egg whites. Some processors are beginning to market eggs that are pasteurized in the shell, but they're not available nationwide yet.

Fruits and Vegetables: Wash with cold running water, using a scrub brush if necessary.

Ground Meat: Don't eat or taste raw ground meat--it's not safe! Cook ground meat thoroughly because being ground exposes more of the meat surface to bacteria. Make sure ground beef dishes such as burgers and meat loaf are completely cooked to 160ºF in the center of the thickest portion. If meat loaves contain ground pork, the temperature should be 170ºF.

Ham: Most hams are fully cooked, but others need cooking. With so many varieties of hams, this can be confusing, so check the label. If you have any doubts, cook ham to 160ºF.

Luncheon Meats, Hot Dogs: Keep refrigerated, and use within 2 weeks. If the liquid that forms around hot dogs is cloudy, throw them out. Although hot dogs are fully cooked, you should reheat them until they're steaming hot all the way through.

Marinades: Marinate foods in a heavy plastic food-storage bag or nonmetal dish in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. Either discard leftover marinades or sauces that have had contact with raw meat or heat them to a rolling boil and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly, before serving.

Milk: Keep fresh milk products refrigerated. You can store unopened evaporated milk and nonfat dry milk in the cupboard up to several months. Store whole dry milk in the refrigerator because it contains fat, and use it within a few weeks. Do not drink unpasteurized milk or milk products.

Poultry: Cook all poultry products according to the directions. Ground poultry, (like ground beef) is susceptible to bacterial contamination and should be cooked to at least 165ºF. Stuff whole poultry just before you're ready to cook it to keep any bacteria in the raw poultry from tainting the stuffing. So that the stuffing will cook all the way through, stuff poultry loosely--about 1/2 cup of stuffing per pound of poultry. The center of the stuffing should reach 165ºF. Within 2 hours of serving, refrigerate poultry, stuffing and giblets in separate containers. Use the leftovers within 4 days, or freeze them

Preparation Guide For Casual Get-Together for New Year's Eve
Up to 2 Months Before

Make meatballs only (not the sauce) for APRICOT SWEET AND SOUR MEATBALLS freeze meatballs following Do-Ahead recipe tip.

Bake brownies for FUDGY BROWNIE TRIFLE; store tightly wrapped in freezer.

Two Days Before

Cut veggies for ROASTED VEGETABLES WITH TARRAGON DIP; store in resealable plastic food-storage bags. Make the dip; refrigerate tightly covered.

Bake the wontons for BLACK BEAN AND CORN WONTON CUPS store tightly wrapped at room temperature. Make the filling for wontons; store covered in refrigerator.

Remove brownies from freezer; store at room temperature.

The Day Before

Remove meatballs from freezer; store in refrigerator.

Finish making the trifle.


Prepare Fondue Dippers for CHEESE AND ARTICHOKE FONDUE; store breads tightly wrapped at room temperature and veggies tightly wrapped in refrigerator. Dice cheese for fondue; store tightly wrapped in refrigerator.

About 1 Hour Before Serving

Heat meatballs and cook with sauce.

Make fondue.

About 30 Minutes Before Serving


About 20 Minutes Before Serving

Bake veggies for Roasted Vegetables.

Just Before Serving

Fill and garnish wonton cups.

When Guests Arrive

Finish mixing cider and serve



Buttered Rum-Spiced Cider

Roasted Vegetables with Tarragon Dip

Apricot Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs

Cheese and Artichoke Fondue

Black Bean and Corn Wonton Cups

Fudgy Brownie Trifle

Luscious Lemon-Raspberry Bars


Buttered Rum-Spiced Cider

When the cold winds blow, you'll want this sweet and spicy drink to warm you up!

Prep: 10 min
Start To Finish: 25 min
Makes 6 servings

6 cups apple cider

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cinnamon sticks

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons packed brown sugar

3/4 cup rum

1. Heat cider, cloves, nutmeg, ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks to boiling in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered 10 minutes. Strain cider mixture to remove cloves and cinnamon sticks if desired.

2. For each serving, place 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 2 tablespoons rum in mug. Fill with hot cider

1 Serving: Calories 275 (Calories from Fat 110 ); Total Fat 12 g (Saturated Fat 7 g); Cholesterol 30 mg; Sodium 90 mg; Total Carbohydrate 42 g (Dietary Fiber 0g); Protein 0g
% Daily Value: Vitamin A 8 %; Vitamin C 2 %; Calcium 2 %; Iron 6 %
Exchanges: 3 Fruit; 2 Fat


Roasted Vegetables with Tarragon Dip

This creamy dip-with hints of mustard, honey and tarragon-pairs perfectly with the sweet flavor of roasted veggies.

Prep: 20 min
Start To Finish: 40 min
Makes 8 servings

Tarragon Dip (See Below)

1/2 pound fresh green beans

1 medium red or yellow bell pepper, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces

2 cups cauliflowerets

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves


1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon peppered seasoned salt

1. Heat oven to 450ºF. Spray jelly roll pan, 15 1/2x10 1/2x1 inch, with cooking spray.

2. Make Tarragon Dip. Toss remaining ingredients; spread evenly in pan.

3. Bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Serve warm with dip.

Tarragon Dip

1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves

1/8 teaspoon salt

Tarragon sprig, if desired

Mix all ingredients except tarragon sprigs until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with tarragon sprigs.

1 Serving: Calories 170 (Calories from Fat 145 ); Total Fat 16 g (Saturated Fat 4 g); Cholesterol 15 mg; Sodium 330 mg; Total Carbohydrate 7 g (Dietary Fiber 2 g); Protein 2 g
% Daily Value: Vitamin A 4 %; Vitamin C 26 %; Calcium 4 %; Iron 2 %
Exchanges: 1 Vegetable; 3 Fat


Apricot Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs

An Asian-inspired sauce raises the flavor standard for ordinary meatballs.

Prep: 20 min
Start To Finish: 1 hr

Makes 40 appetizers

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1/4 cup Progresso® plain dry bread crumbs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 cup apricot preserves

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

1 medium red or green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

1. Heat oven to 375ºF. Spray jelly roll pan, 15 1/2x10 1/2x1 inch, with cooking spray.

2. Mix beef, bread crumbs, salt, garlic powder, ginger and egg until well blended. Shape into 1-inch meatballs; place in pan. Bake uncovered 20 to 25 minutes or until no longer pink in center and juice is clear; drain.

3. Mix preserves, hoisin sauce, vinegar and red pepper in 2-quart saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. Add drained meatballs and bell pepper. Cook until bell pepper is crisp-tender. Serve with cocktail toothpicks

1 Serving: Calories 60 (Calories from Fat 25 ); Total Fat 3 g (Saturated Fat 1 g); Cholesterol 15 mg; Sodium 55 mg; Total Carbohydrate 4 g (Dietary Fiber 0g); Protein 4 g
% Daily Value: Vitamin A 0%; Vitamin C 2 %; Calcium 0%; Iron 2 %
Exchanges: 1/2 High-Fat Meat

                            ******Do-Ahead Tip******
Did you know you can freeze cooked meatballs up to 2 months? Place drained cooked meatballs in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze uncovered about 1 hour or until firm. Move meatballs to an airtight freezer container; keep frozen. Thaw meatballs in the refrigerator overnight, then heat in a saucepan over medium heat before adding the sauce.

                            ******Time Saver ******
Love meatballs but hate to make them? Purchase already-made meatballs in the freezer section of your supermarket, and cook them in this yummy sauce.


Cheese and Artichoke Fondue

Take a dip! This flavorful artichoke-cheese sauce is perfect for dipping bread and vegetables.

Prep: 15 min
Start To Finish: 30 min
Makes 4 cups fondue 

1 1/2 cups diced process American cheese (8 ounces)

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground mustard

1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (6 ounces)

1 can (14 ounces) artichoke heart, drained and chopped

1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers


diced pimiento

Fondue Dippers (See Below)

1. Mix American cheese, milk, Worcestershire sauce, flour and mustard in 3-quart saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted.

2. Stir in Cheddar cheese until melted. Stir in artichoke hearts and bell peppers.

3. Transfer cheese mixture to fondue pot. Keep warm over low flame. Serve with Fondue Dippers of your choice. Fondue DippersFrench or herb bread cubesSoft breadsticksCut-up bagelVegetables (sliced carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli flowerets, cauliflowerets)

1 Serving: Calories 460 (Calories from Fat 295 ); Total Fat 33 g (Saturated Fat 21 g); Cholesterol 100 mg; Sodium 1450 mg; Total Carbohydrate 18 g (Dietary Fiber 6 g); Protein 29 g
% Daily Value: Vitamin A 40 %; Vitamin C 14 %; Calcium 62 %; Iron 12 %
Exchanges: 1 Milk; 1 Vegetable; 2 High-Fat Meat; 3 Fat

                              ******Did You Know******
Fondue is a natural for a romantic dinner for two. Remember the fondue rule: a dropped dipper requires a kiss!

Not enough fondue forks to go around? Bamboo skewers used for kabobs are a great disposable stand-in.


Black Bean and Corn Wonton Cups

With hints of Asian and Southwest cuisine, this stunning appetizer is sure to draw raves from party guests.

Prep: 25 min
Start To Finish: 35 min
Makes 36 appetizers

36 wonton skins

2/3 cup Old El Paso® Thick 'n Chunky salsa

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 can (15.25 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained

1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup sour cream

Cilantro sprig, if desired

1. Heat oven to 350ºF. Gently fit 1 wonton skin into each of 36 small muffin cups, 1 3/4x1 inch, pressing against bottom and side. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

2. Mix remaining ingredients except sour cream and cilantro sprigs. Just before serving, spoon bean mixture into wonton cups. Top each with 1/2 teaspoon sour cream. Garnish each with cilantro sprig.

 1 Serving: Calories 55 (Calories from Fat 10 ); Total Fat 1 g (Saturated Fat 0g); Cholesterol 5 mg; Sodium 90 mg; Total Carbohydrate 10 g (Dietary Fiber 1 g); Protein 2 g
% Daily Value: Vitamin A 2 %; Vitamin C 4 %; Calcium 0%; Iron 4 %
Exchanges: 1/2 Starch

                                     ******Do-Ahead Tip******
Get a head start on your party by baking the wontons and making the filling 2 days before. Fill and garnish wonton cups just before serving.

                                     ******Special Touch******
Tie green onion strips into elegant "bows" around each cup to make guests feel extra special!


Fudgy Brownie Trifle

Easy to assemble, this layered indulgence will wow chocolate lovers of all ages!

Prep: 15 min
Start To Finish: 5 hr 45 min
Makes 20 servings

1 package (1 pound 3.8 ounces) Betty Crocker® fudge brownie mix

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 tablespoon instant coffee, (dry)

1 package (4-serving size) chocolate fudge instant pudding and pie filling mix

2 cups cold milk

1 package (10 ounces) English toffee bits

1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed

1. Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease bottom only of rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.

2. Stir brownie mix, water, oil and eggs in medium bowl until well blended. Stir in coffee. Spread in pan. Bake 28 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted 2 inches from side of pan comes out clean or almost clean. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

3. Cut brownies into 1-inch squares. Place half of the squares in bottom of 3-quart glass bowl. Make pudding mix as directed on package for pudding, using milk. Pour half of the pudding over brownies in bowl. Top with half each of the toffee bits and whipped topping. Repeat with remaining brownies, pudding, toffee bits and whipped topping.

4. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Store covered in refrigerator.

1 Serving: Calories 445 (Calories from Fat 225 ); Total Fat 25 g (Saturated Fat 9 g); Cholesterol 60 mg; Sodium 125 mg; Total Carbohydrate 52 g (Dietary Fiber 2 g); Protein 5 g
% Daily Value: Vitamin A 6 %; Vitamin C 0%; Calcium 4 %; Iron 6 %

                                 ******Do-Ahead Tip******
This chocolate pleaser can be made up to 24 hours ahead of time. You also can bake the brownies and freeze them tightly covered up to 2 months.

                                 ******Special Touch******
This fabulous crowd-pleasing dessert is extra-special when garnished with chocolate curls or chocolate leaves


Luscious Lemon-Raspberry Bars

Impress your family or guests with rich, tempting lemon bars. Cream cheese and raspberry preserves really dress up this easy dessert.

Prep: 15 min
Start To Finish: 2 hr 5 min
Makes 16 bars

1 package Betty Crocker® Sunkist® lemon bar mix

1/3 cup water

3 eggs

1/2 package (8-ounce size) cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup raspberry preserves

Powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 350ºF whether using metal or glass pan. Stir Filling Mix, water and eggs, using fork (a few lumps will remain); set aside.

2. Press Ready-Mixed Crust (dry) in bottom of 8- or 9-inch square pan. Bake 12 minutes.

3. Drop cream cheese by spoonfuls onto hot crust and return pan to oven about 2 minutes to further soften cream cheese. Carefully spread cream cheese over crust. Stir filling mixture; pour over cream cheese.

4. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until top begins to brown and center is set. Cool 10 minutes. Spread preserves over top. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. For 16 bars, cut into 4 rows by 4 rows. For ease in cutting, use sharp or wet knife. Store covered in refrigerator.

1 Serving: Calories 235 (Calories from Fat 110 ); Total Fat 12 g (Saturated Fat 3 g); Cholesterol 40 mg; Sodium 100 mg; Total Carbohydrate 29 g (Dietary Fiber 0g); Protein 3 g
% Daily Value: Vitamin A 2 %; Vitamin C 0%; Calcium 2 %; Iron 4 %
Exchanges: 1 Starch; 1 Fruit; 2 Fat

                                      ******Did You Know******
Jams, jellies and preserves are easier to spread if you stir them vigorously first. 

                                      ******Special Touch******
For party-pretty bars, sprinkle powdered sugar over a paper doily to give the top a lacy look and let the raspberry layer show through. 

Sprinkle powdered sugar over lemon bars just before serving.