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Photo shoot credits Food styling by Sasha Seymour. Prop styling by Suzanne Campos/Plutino Group. Flowers courtesy of Teatro VerdeAngus Fergusson for The Globe and Mail

Whether the shindig you're hosting falls on New Year's Eve or not, cocktail parties around this time of year should all have the same essentials: warm mood, good food, plenty of fun and games.

Palette-wise, think pink

It's a hue that's associated with spring and summer, but pink is a great choice for wintertime palettes, working well with white, black, grey and metallics.

Rosy-toned table linens, napkin rings and utensils sweeten up a palette heavy on black and gold. A few hits of orange will also add a bit of heat.

Bits & Bites? Humbug!

If your aim is a sophisticated, savoir-faire-filled evening, store-bought party mixes just won't cut it. Instead, elevate yours to a gourmet level by assembling the following:

1 cup pitted dates (halved)

1½ cups walnut halves

1½ cups pretzel sticks

5 cups popcorn

¼ cup runny honey

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes and salt.

After preheating your oven to 350 F, combine the dates, walnuts, pretzel sticks and popcorn in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk the honey and vinegar until they're combined, then add the chili flakes.

Pour the liquid over the date mix, then spread the mix in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. After removing the mix from the oven, sprinkle a pinch of salt overtop, then allow it to cool, stirring a few times.

Transfer it to a bowl to serve. Serves 6.

Give your olives a lift

If you're serving an amped-up party mix, standard snacks like olives will also require a boost.

Consider, for instance, Black olives with orange zest , Green olives with thyme , or Kalamata olives with chopped garlic . As a rule, it's best to use unpitted olives, as these are most flavourful. All the recipes serve 6.

Spice up your shrimp

There is nothing sadder at a party than a limp prepackaged shrimp ring (except, maybe, your Uncle Leopold after too many drinks). Avoid such shellfish shame by serving only fresh crustaceans punched up with a homemade dipping sauce, like a piquant pink remoulade. To make it, add 2 to 4 tablespoons sriracha chili sauce to ¾ cup real mayonnaise and stir well until blended.

After cooking and peeling your shrimp, toss them with the juice of 1 lime and serve over ice – the 1 pound above serves 6.

Put on your game face

Over the course of several hours (and drinks), conversational pods can become too insular, so bring the assembled together with a couple of adult diversions.

Since a new year is dawning, consider a predictions or resolutions game: Have each guest write down an equal number of their forecasts or hopes for 2012 (both personal and public) on slips of paper, then drop the slips into a champagne bucket. As the bucket is passed around, have each player draw a piece of paper, then guess who wrote the prediction or resolution written on it. Whoever makes the most correct guesses wins a bottle of champagne and, if it's New Year's Eve, an extra-special noisemaker. (Have a couple of first-prize bottle/ gift combos on hand in case of ties.)

Fine-tune your tipples

Just as you might pair a steak with Barolo, tailor your drink offerings to what you're serving, even if it's just finger food. To complement the lime-flavoured shrimp shown here, for instance, serve a light, citrusy champagne such as Piper-Heidsieck. Over all, keep wine and spirit choices to a few basics, such as sparkling wine, vodka, rum and gin. And if you're serving champagne, make sure that all bottles are well chilled or on ice well before you pour.

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