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,
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.