Make it Special
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
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
Best Entertaining Tips
You'll want to review these helpful tips before finalizing your menu, grocery list and plans for preparing
Party Planning Tips
When you plan your party menu, these tips and reminders will help you put together and serve a memorable combination
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
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
the Date That Suits Your Schedule
Most people prefer to entertain on the weekend when they have more free time.
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Keeping Food Safe
Preparation Guide For Casual Get-Together for New Year's Eve
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Make LUSCIOUS LEMON-RASPBERRY BARS
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.
About 30 Minutes Before Serving
Heat cider for BUTTERED RUM-SPICED CIDER
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