You could invite friends over, order a pizza, open a bottle of wine, and call it a party, but where's the thrill in that? Whether it’s a Sunday afternoon football party, a girls' night in, or a lazy brunch, make your gathering memorable (and still stay sane doing it) with these three easy party-planning guides.
Gourmet Game Day
Having friends over for the big game? Make your menu as exciting as what’s on the screen with this twist on the classic hot-dogs-and-brew menu.
For starters, pick up some microbrews (plus soft drinks and bottled waters). Make a grab-it-yourself bar by filling an inexpensive, large plastic planter from a discount store (think shallow and rectangle rather than deep and round) with the beverages and crushed ice. As people are settling in around the TV, pass around large bowls of jumbo salted peanuts in the shell for that stadium feel.
Anyone can simmer a hot dog in water, slap it in a bun and call it a meal (no offense, hot dog street vendors everywhere), but to really score on your menu, amp up the classic with sausage with peppers and onions tucked inside a warm, roomy Italian roll. Have guests help themselves to a buffet of two or three specialty mustards, a deli coleslaw (kicked up in your kitchen with dried cranberries, sliced celery, and cashews), and a couple of bags of thick, gourmet potato chips.
Third and Goal
For a sweet ending after the game’s over, offer a platter of store-bought dark chocolate brownies, glammed up with frosting (homemade or canned) tinted with food coloring to match your team’s colors.
Girl's Night In
If a night of catching-up is in order, invite the girls over to curl up around the couch with tasty drinks and a finger-food menu that’s as simple as it is delicious.
There's nothing like a signature cocktail to elevate your event from just another night hanging out at home. Freshly squeezed (believe me, it makes a difference) grapefruit juice and good quality vodka makes for a drink that’s pretty and sophisticated in the same sip—especially when served in a chilled martini glass. To get really fancy (and tasty), rim the edge of the glass with pearlized sugar, available at craft or specialty drink stores. Just be careful—you’ll probably want to sip these all night long!
Crostinis are perfect party food—think mini pizza, only classier. Start with the blank canvas of a toasted baguette, then top with chopped fresh tomatoes tossed with shards of basil and olive oil, or chopped marinated mushrooms, carmelized onions, and a pat of goat cheese. Or, go decadent with this extra cheesy crostini. The options are endless—you can even put out the toppings, and let the girls make their own. Add a crisp Caesar salad, and this easy meal is all rounded out.
Of course you don’t need to decorate your house for your friends—but it definitely makes things cozy and fun! Drape long, flowing scarves or colorful fabric over your coffee table or bar to showcase the food. Then, throw big pillows on the floor, and encourage your pals to kick off their shoes and get comfy.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (or Amy's or Kate's)
Change up the dinner party scene entirely and invite your pals over for a long, luxurious brunch instead.
Pop the Bubbly!
Sundays are made for relaxation—and the best way I know to start a relaxing brunch is with a bit of bubbly. For a twist on the typical mimosa, top off a glass of champagne with pineapple juice and drop in a fresh raspberry. (Don’t forget to brew up a fresh pot of coffee for the designated drivers, too.)
Peel Me a Grape
Brunch calls for fruit, eggs, and pastries, but take the menu to a new level (and make things easier on yourself) with do-ahead deviled eggs—so much better than standing at the stove over crepes or scrambled eggs. Better yet, try a breakfast casserole, which can be prepared the night before and baked in the oven in the morning. Round out the menu with fresh berries, sliced melon, and a variety of fragrant, warmed breads in a cloth-lined basket.
Bask in the Glow
In keeping with the bright, fresh nature of a brunch, place varying sizes of vases and jars of cut flowers around the house to give it that outdoor, garden feel. Daisies are a casual, inexpensive choice that will remind everyone of spring—the perfect time for a brunch get-together.
A final word of advice: When it comes to party-planning, you can do all or none of the cooking yourself, but the best way is to compromise somewhere in between. You’ll keep your stress level to a minimum, while still giving your menu a festive, personal touch. Have fun!
Photos courtesy of Larry Vincent, Chuck Falzone, Resident on Earth, and Dennis.
Patti Sewall is a longtime writer, editor, and foodie who never has less than four kinds of cheese in her fridge at any given moment. After 20 years as a writer for a nonprofit, she is enjoying life as a freelancer, and is combining her love of writing with her joy of cooking and baking on her food blog, http://www.stewedragsandbuttermilk.com. She lives in Northern California with her two rescued golden retrievers.More from this Author