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Shamelessly Simple Holiday Party Tips

(ARA) – Remember the days when a holiday party involved hours in the kitchen hand-making gourmet delights and even more hours cleaning up afterward? For many smart holiday hostesses, those days are long gone – and good riddance to them!

Modern holiday entertaining puts the focus on spending time with your guests and impressing them with your holiday spirit – not with your baking skills or expensive tableware. Savvy holiday hostesses are no longer ashamed to admit they use time-saving tricks like store-bought hors d’oeuvres and disposable tableware.

Here are some tips for shamelessly simple ways to make your holiday entertaining both easy and successful:

* Ditch printed invitations in favor of e-mailed ones. Chances are that the e-mail addresses of everyone you want to invite are already in your e-mail program’s address book. Can you put your hands on snail mail addresses so quickly? Probably not. Design your own e-vite using your e-mail program or join one of the many free Web sites that allow you to create great-looking online invitations, send them and keep track of RSVPs.

* Keep costs and complications down by serving simple spirits like wine and beer over complex cocktails. Unless you make your living as a bartender, chances are you won’t be able to satisfy the cocktail requests of every guest. Choose wines with broad appeal – like a sparkling wine, quality chardonnay or rich merlot – and add in a few domestic and import beer choices.

* Pick an easy food theme, one that emphasizes one course like dessert or appetizers, rather than trying to present an extravagant buffet or full meal. For example, go with a “holiday sweets” theme and serve a variety of cookies, cakes and chocolates – homemade or store bought. Or opt for an “appealing appetizers” theme and invite guests to bring their favorite appetizers.

* Prepare ahead as much as possible. If you feel compelled to cook, do so the week before and freeze as much as you can. Thawing and reheating the day of the party will be much easier than preparing food from scratch.

* Keep it simple with precut veggies for hors d’oeuvres platters or stir-fries. Don’t be embarrassed to serve store-bought dips. Or, if you really are hung up on the idea of fresh and homemade, remember a package of onion soup mixed into sour cream is still one of the all-time great dips.

* The wholesale club is your friend when it comes to appetizers. Most frozen food cases at wholesale clubs are laden with a wide array of frozen appetizers – from Thai spring rolls to Italian mozzarella sticks and American buffalo wings. Many stores increase their stock and variety at holiday time, knowing time-pressed hostesses will be turning to them for help.

* Quit wasting time on cleanup. Every minute you spend in the kitchen washing dishes – during or after the party – is a minute you’ve lost from your holidays. Shamelessly purchase and use disposable plates, cups and tableware to avoid multiple runs to the dishwasher.

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