Carla's Corner: Entertaining Tips for Your Next Party

Hootie Hoo and Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were filled with family, friends, fun and great food. As if your calendars weren’t busy enough, most of you probably shoehorned the “holiday season,” synonymous with joyous work, into an already full schedule. That being said, a busy lifestyle doesn’t mean giving up entertaining with elegance and style. The easier it is to make it nice, the bigger the smile, right? The more proud we are of ourselves. At least I am.

I had the pleasure of sharing a few entertaining tips for a New Year’s Eve cocktail party on NBC’s Today Show, but these are things you can do any time of the year. My inspiration and mantra? Cheap and cheerful. Cute and comforting. The idea was to start with things we already have around the house or are easily accessible. Let’s face it, going to the store for something as simple as salt can be an ordeal when you’re busy. I’m also inspired by my childhood favorites. After all, I’m a 6-foot tall kid at heart with an adult palate. Well, sometimes.

Decorating Ideas

Frames are not just for pictures: Choose some of the graphic and/or metallic paper leftover from the holidays and frame it. Yes, frame it. Use large frames as quick and easy beverage or food trays and the smaller frames as beverage coasters. Any frame will do—silver, wooden, colored, ornate, plain.

Vases with colored water: If you have food dye and a few vases, you can have a glamour centerpiece. You only have jars, no vases? Then make it rustic glam or junkyard chic. It all works. Fill the vases, glasses or jars with water and choose your color. Squirt it in and stir. Voila! Instant glam.

Candle holders: Here’s something to do with your mismatched or chipped stemware. Turn them upside down and use them as candle pedestals. How easy is that?

Now for some quick and easy hors d’oeuvres:

Grilled Broccoli Pesto and Cheese Fingers: I don’t think I have to tell you that this idea came from my love of broccoli cheese soup. On the show we used thin sliced bread and made a triple-decker. Present them on a cake stand for a wow factor. I’m telling you, folks love a throwback to yesteryear. As soon as I have food that is reminiscent of my childhood, a smile comes over my face. I love giving that food memory to guests at our events.

Parmesan Walnut Crisps: Two ingredients, parmesan and walnuts. Of course you should feel free to add spices. Dried would be best, since fresh herbs may burn and become bitter.

Soup Shooters: Making a large batch of soup can certainly be done ahead, and it’s easier than making lots of little things. But we’re doing cute and comforting, remember? So present the soup in shot glasses or demitasse cups. Don’t forget to make it thin enough so it’s drinkable. You don’t want to have to think about spoons. Here I’ve done a Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Squares. Did you know that you can grill those babies ahead of time? Oh, to make a perfectly grilled sandwich, try weighing it down with a foil-covered brick. You don’t have to buy a special pan.

Toast with a Twist: Champagne and Dubonnet: Dubonnet is a spiced French wine aperitif. Adding it to your champagne is a fun and different way to toast to the new year. Add about 2 tablespoons to each 5-6 ounces of champagne.

Club soda, fruit nectar and garnish: Don’t forget about your non-alcohol-drinking friends. We like interesting bubbles too. I like the combo of pear nectar and crystallized ginger in this Pear Spritzer.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Use one or use them all. I hope you’re inspired to explore and embellish everyday things in your home or office for your next party.

Until next time…toodles!

Carla Hall was a finalist on Top Chef: Season 5 and runs Alchemy Caterers in Washington, D.C.

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