Party Food – Quick and Easy Crowd Pleasers

With the warmer months ahead, it’s great to entertain at home. Backyard picnics or Sunday suppers, the Big Game on TV or a co-worker’s birthday. But with our busy schedules, who has time to plan and cook for a party? Well, with a little organization it’s a cinch!

The key is an iron-clad shopping list. Go over the whole party in your head, slowly, and make sure you’ve thought it through. You don’t want to go back and forth to the store for that one more thing. Know what you need in paper goods, trash bags, ice, beverages. If you’re doing your regular grocery shopping at the same time, keep a separate list
Make it casual. After you’ve gone to a great party, did it matter if you ate on paper plates? No. We remember the food and the people. If there isn’t one built in, plan an activity. Adults like games as much as children, so play cards or board games. Families can play as teams, make it a friendly competition by taunting a little prize for the winner. Or take a group walk after you eat. Have a simple project for kids like decorating store-bought cookies with frosting and sprinkles.

Know what people like to drink. If they offer, let them bring some but have plenty on hand. Make one fun, fizzy drink like limeade mixed with seltzer that can be jazzed up with alcohol or not. You can’t go wrong with beer, water, diet and regular coke.

Think finger food. People love to pick at lots of different tastes. You can easily provide a spread with great assortment and minimal preparation. Place sauces in bowls in the center of serving platters and trays, buy disposable ones if you don’t have enough or hit the 99 cent store. Also, find a good quality, large-sized toothpick, you’re going to need a ton for the serving ideas below. Above all, you don’t want a lot of clean up. After the party is over, you should have a few platters to wash, maybe a carpet to vacuum or a table to put away and that’s it!

Here are some menu suggestions – I’m sure you’ll come up with more on your own:

Sausage Dippers – Buy a variety of pre-cooked sausages. Brown them on your outdoor grill or under the broiler (line the broiler pan with a double layer of foil for zero to wash afterward). Slice the sausages into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a platter with toothpicks. Make a dipping sauce of equal parts grainy French mustard and honey. This one you’ll want to serve hot.

Caprese Skewers – On toothpicks, thread one cherry tomato, one basil leaf and one bocconcini ball (baby mozzarella cheese – if you can’t find it than buy a large mozzarella ball and cut it into cubes).

Roasted Garlic Spread – Cut the tops off of heads of garlic and dot with oil. Wrap tightly in foil and bake at 425 degrees for an hour. Cool. Let guests “squeeze” the now-soft garlic cloves out of the head and spread them on chunks of crusty bread.

Savory Cups – Combine crumbled blue cheese, walnuts and halved grapes with a little sour cream or mayonnaise. Serve in “cups” of endive or lettuce leaves.

Veggie Yum – Mix equal parts mayonnaise and packaged pesto sauce. Use as a dip for raw vegetables. Better still, steam vegetables earlier in the day and let cool. Mix with the pesto mayonnaise and serve on a platter with toothpicks.

Kicked-up Hummus – To store-bought hummus, add chopped green onions and cucumber. You could even use a little hot sauce. Surround with pita breads, each cut into eight triangles.

No Fuss Guacamole – Mash two ripe avocados. Add two chopped Roma tomatoes (or other firm small tomato), one quarter of an onion, chopped, the juice of one lime and salt to taste. Serve with thick tortilla chips. Recipe can be doubled or tripled. Do this one right before serving so it doesn’t discolor.

Instant Dessert Fondue – Serve microwavable hot fudge and caramel ice cream sauces as dips for cut up fruit and pound cake.

Dressed Up Vanilla – Make a sophisticated topping for ice cream. Mix fruit jam with a liqueur such as strawberry jam with Frambroise, apricot with Amaretto, orange with Grand Marnier. To skip the alcohol, thin jam with orange juice. Spoon over scoops.

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