By Jaimee Rose
The Arizona Republic
With the New Year's Eve party around the bend, remember that the whole point of having a party is to see people you want to see and to enjoy their company. And while inviting 20 people over for food and drinks is never simple, here's how to throw a satisfying cocktail party, with lots of shortcuts, in three hours, so you can have fun, too. (You really can do this party in three hours, but we've left no time for worrying over whether the centerpiece is perfect, etc. This is not a Martha Stewart extravaganza.)
Keep the group small, about 20 people, and make sure you have some guests who know each other. Send invitations on Evite.com to save money and time, and to set a casual tone.
Time allotment: 15 minutes.
It's too hard to enjoy your guests' conversation while worrying whether the meatballs are hot. Instead, serve prechopped vegetables and a store-bought ranch dip that you've dressed up by stirring in a tablespoon of freshly chopped dill or parsley. Try pita slices and hummus swirled with olive oils and a dash of paprika.
Serve a cheese plate with lots of crackers and grapes. Add pears for a surprise. Try Boursin cheese, it's an often-overlooked treat. Include cheeses that the not-so-adventurous will eat, such as cheddar, and sliced prosciutto or dry salami.
Buy Pepperidge Farm entertaining cookies, such as Mint Milanos, and put them on your prettiest plate with a sprig of fresh mint. Spread little dishes of these sweet treats and nuts around the room, so there's always something nearby for guests to nosh.
Time allotment: 45 minutes at the grocery, 30 minutes plating food.
Setting up the bar
The bar and the food table should not be in the same place. The food table needs to be in the center of a room so it can be accessed from both sides. It will function as the centerpiece of your party, surrounded by people wherever you place it, so plan accordingly. Set up the bar nearby, but at a separate table so guests can fill their plates, set them down, and go back for a drink.
Forget trying to have a full bar. Instead, serve a red wine, a white wine, a bottled beer and a signature cocktail, such as the Peppermint Martini. Type out the recipe (try 21/2 ounce gin or vodka and 1/2 ounce Peppermint Schnapps over ice), frame it, and set it on the bar along with everything you need to make it so guests can pour their own. It is also acceptable to assign a couple of guests to bring a bottle of moderately priced sparkling wine.
Time allotment: 10 minutes preparing recipe on computer, 20 minutes setting up.
Yes, you need a clean house. But do the heavy lifting during the week so that on the day of your party you're just vacuuming and cleaning the kitchen floor. And don't worry so much about decorations. If you've already decorated for the holidays, you're done. Just add lots of candles.
Buy inexpensive tea lights and group them around the room. Bags of 60 tea lights for $3.99 are available at Target. Buy New Year's party hats and noisemakers and place throughout the room.
Time allotment: 30 minutes buying supplies, 15 minutes decorating, 15 minutes cleaning.
Caterer Heidi Vail of Tempe, Ariz., says to plan on 1.5 drinks per person per hour. The average cocktail party lasts three hours. You can get six pours from a bottle of wine. Count on each person trying the signature cocktail at least once, perhaps twice.
So, for a party of 20, you'll want about 120 ounces of vodka, two bottles of Schnapps, eight bottles of wine (four white, four red) and 24 bottles of beer.
For food, Vail says, plan on each person consuming: 3 ounces of cheese, 3 ounces of fruit and 4 to 6 ounces of vegetables. For bite-size hors d'oeuvres, plan on two to three per person per hour.
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