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Philly2Philly.com's Year-Round Cocktail Party Guide

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The holidays are over but that doesn’t mean the festivities have to be over! In fact, now is the chance to relax and spend time with friends and family without any holiday pressure so use the new glassware, the new placemats and use that gift card burning a hole in your pocket!

PARTY PREPPING:

Got a budget? You’ll need one. I always have one loosely based in the back of my mind for food, drinks, décor, etc. Also, you should think about how much food you want to buy? Are you doing a potluck dinner where people are contributing or are you providing everything? And do you need Super Bowl XLIV logo from www.ccwtours.comnew decorations?

Okay- one you nail down the date- you must let everyone know of your swanky soirée. Paper invites are always nice (check out Vistaprint or Tinyprints), but in the interest of time and since everyone is attached to their media devices, Evite is always my first and only choice. Choose your background, type in all the pertinent party plans, and send to your pals’ email addresses. This lets you see who responded and you can even put an area for people to respond about bring items.

Now to deck your place out! If you’re like me, your place isn’t a palace, but you can still throw a rocking bash! My housewarming party had 80 people—I kid you not. I always keep my décor to a minimum, with fresh flowers and candles everywhere. I also love lights- little tiny white lights (whether it’s the holiday season or not!) My lights are strung up in my foyer, around the top of my kitchen cabinets, draped over the windows and along the back of the buffet table. They are unobtrusive, so when they are out, they not in the way; and when they are on, they lend an elegant glow to the festivities. For this look, head to Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabrics to get a good deal. Also right now, most craft stores are having huge sales.

Lighting is very important- I always keep it low as not to blind my guests and have a more intimate atmosphere. Little lamps or battery-powered tea lights on a mirror or on the buffet also work well in place of candles.

If you're throwing a Super Bowl  party or have a specific theme in mind- Vegas, Game Night, Girls/Guys Night In, or 40s Movie Night, the décor can reflect the theme. Be sure to specify on the invite what the dress code is- for example black tie? Crazy ugly sweaters? Casual? How about “All I Got for the Holidays was This Lousy _______” and have everyone bring a Christmas present that they’d like to exchange. Just make sure the “gifter” isn’t at the party!

Music is probably the biggest key to the party mood. Pick your favorite tunes, load them onto an iPod or computer and set it up with speakers and you are set. I have a small stereo with an iPod dock, so my music reaches several rooms if need be. Wall decorations are good too- giant playing cards or dice pictures (Vegas), gold or silver tinsel or streamers are also a nice touch.

Another fun addition to the theme is what serving-ware and bar-ware you use. Pier 1 Imports has amazing martini and wine glasses- angle rim cracked stemware in clear, and cracked stemware in amber. This pieces make a statement and aren’t too expensive. Party Glasses

Seating is important because the guests will want to relax and also will probably be eating where they sit, so little groupings of tables and chairs are always a safe bet. Have napkins and hors d’oeurves at each grouping as well. Trash cans in at least two places- with two with bottle and paper/cardboard recycling keeps you green and looks good.

In the kitchen, prep food and drinks the day before (if possible) to minimize excess time spend in the kitchen when you could be with your guests. Plan the menu out and get ingredients days in advance incase anything is over looked.

PARTYING:

A typical menu for me:

A specialty drink: this year I am doing warm mulled punch. Take two bottles of wine and an apple wine- I use The Renaissance Faire Mount Hope Holiday Wine and PA Dutch Spiced Apple Wine, along with some of Harry & David’s Mulled Cider Spices, or use a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. I put it in the crock-pot on warm right before the party, with a ladle and hot/cold cups next to it for guests to help themselves.

I also have sodas, seltzer, cranberry, and coffee/tea. Keep a cocktail drinks/ bartender guide handy for drink questions. Also- one bottle of wine for every two guests is a good rule to follow.

If you are doing party that garners a toast or planning to have a big Valentine’s Day bash- Chambord and Champagne is yummy. Pour the champagne into a champagne flute. Add a healthy splash of Chambord, and serve.

I usually have one main dish: Thai Citrus Shrimp. Take fresh or frozen shrimp sautéed with Thai spices and a squeeze of lemon and orange, with a mango dipping sauce.

I will have two dips, one warm, and one cold: Buffalo Chicken Dip and Pepper and Onion Relish Dip. The Buffalo Chicken Dip is my ultimate favorite. I was introduced to it by my pal EmKay a few years back and now I make it at every gathering. To make it, take two cans of diced chicken or turkey (she says use fresh cooked cubed chicken), two blocks of Philly cream cheese, half bottle of ranch or blue cheese dressing, a cup of cheddar cheese and a small bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. Toss everything in the crock-pot as guests arrive and serve with tortilla chips or crackers. YUM!

The Pepper and Onion Relish dip- a container of Harry & David’s Pepper and Onion Relish mixed with two blocks of softened Philly cream cheese, makes everyone happy with a sweet-hot taste. You can also arrange the blocks of cream cheese and pour the relish over top of it and let people dig in with crackers.

A variety of small bites and easy to eat foods are important too as your guests won’t want to balance plates of ziti on their laps on your sofa. Veggies and hummus, and cheese with crackers are great too. I also like mini-weenies- teeny cocktail hotdogs with slivers of sharp cheese wrapped with up in Pillsbury croissant dough triangles and baked until golden. Mini Weenies

Also in the ‘buffet,’ try nuts and olives served in kitschy martini or margarita glasses. Phyllo pastry shells can be filled with a savory or sweet filling- salmon or tuna pate, bruschetta, or lemon curd or raspberry jam for a quick and fun dessert. Brownies, mini tartlets, petit fours, and cookies, anything that is easily handled is best. I also like to keep the drinks and ice out on the serving table so guests have easier access. I always have two trashcans out- one for recycling (glass bottles and aluminum cans) and the regular trash.

Another good rule of thumb, if you aren’t sure what to bring, check with your host/ hostess to see if something specific is needed. Otherwise don’t arrive empty-handed. If you aren’t sure dip, veggies, a dessert, bottle of wine or if you are looking for a hostess gift - candles are always good, especially new fragrances from Matthew Izzo are the perfect choice!

AFTER PARTY CLEAN-UP:

Just in case guests drink too much, it’s nice to offer crash space if need be, so be ready with fresh linens and a blanket and pillow or two. If you are hosting a ‘sleepover’ as well, have coffee and something light for breakfast like fruit, bagels and/or muffins before your guests depart.

This is just a guide to help you on your way- feel free to sub different foods and drinks in, basically you want your guests to feel welcome and have a good and crazy time. Let me know if you have any questions or comments- HAPPY CELEBRATING! It’s not just for the holidays anymore!

How do you like to celebrate? Leave a comment or email me at engchik@comcast.net, or http://engchik.blogspot.com/ or http://twitter.com/engchik.