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Party Planning for Parents: 3 Questions To Choose the Perfect Eats + A Sample Menu

cocktail party planning for parentsOnce upon a time, I was the queen of entertaining. Elaborate menus, everything from scratch, signature cocktails, all done in time for me to answer the front door dressed to the nines, heels, lipstick and all.

Four years and two boys into this parenthood gig and things just aren’t the same. For a while, I let the exhaustion of parenthood stop me from entertaining. It was just too much—especially on a big night light New Year’s Eve!—but I’ve turned the corner. Having friends fill my house is just too important to my wellbeing and also to my kids’ understanding of friendship, community and fun. So I’ve come up with ways to make entertaining manageable, parent-friendly even!

There are 3 questions I always ask myself when considering a menu item for any party I have, whether for 5 or 25 people. They keep me from getting carried away, which is essential to keeping things manageable and stress-free.

Here is a sample cocktail party menu that has passed my 3-questions test. It’s great inspiration for New Year’s Eve, which I hope you’ll be celebrating with people you love.

* Bacon Wrapped Dates
These are a must at any cocktail party. So quick and easy to prep and a serious crowd pleaser, for grown ups and kids alike. If you’re feeding little ones, you can always unwrap the bacon. The flavor will still be on the yummy date.

Stuff a blanched almond into a pitted date (or prune). Split a strip of bacon lengthwise and wrap each stuffed date with 1/2 a strip of bacon. Pile prepped dates onto a platter, cover and put in the fridge until it’s time to pop them in a preheated 400 degree oven. They’re done when the bacon looks like it’s beginning to crisp. Keep in mind that the bacon will crisp up more once out of the oven.

* Hearts of Palm Dip & Pita Chips
This light and refreshing dip is the easiest thing ever. It’s basically hummus made with hearts of palm instead of chickpeas. Someone asks for the recipe every time I serve it.

Toss a can hearts of palm, 2 or 3 garlic cloves and the juice of a lemon into a food processor. Puree while slowly drizzling in olive oil until the mixture becomes the consistency of hummus. Season with salt.

* Feta Dip & Crudite
I like to slightly adapt this Martha Stewart recipe by substituting cream cheese for some of the sour cream. I also keep things super easy by putting everything but the scallions and a handful of the feta into a food processor. I stir the scallions and set aside feta before serving to give a chunky texture.

Potato Pancakes Served Two Ways
Classic cocktail party fare: potato pancakes, half with gravlax and creme fraiche, the other half with applesauce. Make the potato pancakes ahead and store in the fridge or freezer. Simply crisp defrosted pancakes in the oven the night of your gathering. You can also make the applesauce ahead (see below). Both are uber kid friendly, so make extra.

Applesauce: Peel and core a bunch of apples. Throw them in a pot with some water or apple cider (about 1/2 cup liquid to every 4 apples), the juice of one lemon, a few dashes of cinnamon and some sugar (1/4 cup of sugar to every 4 apples is what’s usually recommended, I use a little less).

Deviled Eggs
It’s been years since I fell in love with Chef Ana Sortun’s deviled eggs with tuna and black olives at her Boston restaurant, Oleana. I’ve worked hard to approximate their deliciousness and have finally shared my secret with the world: Mediterranean Deviled Eggs

* Cheese Plate
Cheese plates don’t have to be complicated or cost an arm and a leg. Try to hit a proper cheese shop if you need help finding a few inexpensive, but special options. They exist! Be sure to avoid unpasteurized cheeses so that your selections can do double duty feeding the kids Some of my favorites are: Umbricao, Ossau Iraty, and Idiazabal.

Place cheeses on a platter with almonds (I use marcona almonds), grapes, crackers and, if you want to get really fancy, quince paste.

Gougeres
These delicious cheese puffs are not hard to make from scratch. Why not try Angie’s amazing sounding Parmesan-Gruyere Gougeres. Gougeres are also a good option if you need something store-bought to help save time (remember my 3 questions!). It’s relatively easy to find high quality gougeres in stores. Try Trader Joe’s or get a box (or two or three!) from cheese temple Artisinal in NYC. They sell a delicious frozen version that just need to be popped in the oven.

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