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Worry-Free Entertaining

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I threw my first party at age 15 while the parental units were out of the country. Not the smartest idea, but the gathering was pretty legendary. Since then, I have learned a thing or two. Some bits of wisdom are pretty obvious, like "don't feed your guests straight vodka shots, or someone will get sick." Other tips are more helpful, like "always have backup booze and a bag of ice even if you have an ice-maker." Here are a few more tips to keep you sane for your next cocktail party:

1. Keep it simple.

This is not the time to try your hand at complicated culinary endeavors. No one is going to have fun if you're stressing out about a soufflé. I recommend a few types of pizzas made in individual rounds or cut into manageable squares. Pizza is relatively inexpensive and easy to make, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't eat it. Make trays of them ahead and bake off as needed.

At my Oscars viewing party, I used a base of Pillsbury's thin-crust pizza dough with two different toppings. For one, I simply made up a recipe of caramelized onions, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and basil. For the second, I took a cue from Dolce Vita and layered thinly sliced pears over taleggio. Because truffle oil wasn't in the budget, I added a sprinkle of herbes de Provence and extra virgin olive oil.

2. Don't stress over the small stuff.

It's easy to go overboard when attempting to be the perfect host. I have been guilty of stressing over silly details, thinking they will make or break the party. For example, I once freaked out about not having straws for the cute, canned sparkling wine. Rational, right? I spent valuable prep time going to buy some, and they were hardly used. No one will notice when things don't go to plan if you keep your cool.

3. Have more than you could possibly need of everything.

There is nothing worse than a party that runs out of booze, except perhaps a party that runs out of food. Especially when serving alcohol, it is essential to have enough snacks for your guests to munch on. I always make sure to have ingredients on hand to make an easy additional appetizer, like pigs in a blanket, just in case.

And it may be tempting to cut down on costs by letting your guests bring the drinks, but you never know who may cancel or forget. Too much, in this case, is always good, and it means delicious leftovers for you after the party ends.

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