Entertaining 911: Holiday Party Planning Tips

When the party's on the line, check out our on-the-spot answers for your last-minute questions.

  • Q. How can I have an appetizer party without breaking the bank?
    Ham-and-Cheese Skewers

    Q. How can I have an appetizer party without breaking the bank?

    Serving bite-sized treats doesn't have to mean spending big bucks. When browsing recipes, keep an eye on ingredients. Even if a recipe only calls for a handful, if they're all specialty items, the price will add up quickly.

  • Q. I'm hosting the family holiday dinner this year, but don't have enough place settings of china. Any suggestions?
    Warm Brie With Ginger-Citrus Glaze

    Q. I'm hosting the family holiday dinner this year, but don't have enough place settings of china. Any suggestions?

    Don't be afraid to mix and match plates, serving pieces, and silverware. You can create a look by using all white plates, even if they don't match exactly. Vintage china patterns lend themselves to mixing, so if you've inherited several different place settings, combine them for a charming, eclectic look. Ask your sister or a best friend if you can borrow their china for the occasion, and renting is also an option.

  • Q. My cakes keep sticking to the pan. How can I get them to come out clean?

    Q. My cakes keep sticking to the pan. How can I get them to come out clean?

    If your recipe calls for using greased and floured pans, make sure that you cover the pan completely in shortening or butter and then coat thoroughly with the flour. You can also cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of the pan to help keep the cake from sticking.

  • Q. If I have a recipe that calls for a vanilla bean, can I use vanilla extract instead?

    Q. If I have a recipe that calls for a vanilla bean, can I use vanilla extract instead?

    Yes, although you won't get quite the same rich flavor that a vanilla bean provides. You can use 1 tablespoon vanilla extract in place of a 6-inch vanilla bean.

  • Q. I want to have a holiday cocktail party that won't break the bank. Any ideas that won't scream "Cheapskate" too loudly?
    Herb-infused Spa Water

    Q. I want to have a holiday cocktail party that won't break the bank. Any ideas that won't scream "cheapskate" too loudly?

    One classy idea is to serve trays of a signature cocktail rather than having an open bar. Pick a sophisticated or fun cocktail, depending on the mood of your party, and then have a few soft drinks or lemon-herb water on hand, such as Herb-infused Spa Water as alternatives.

  • Q. Once I set my table with all the plates and glasses, there's not much room for a centerpiece? Is it bad not to have one?
    Sour Cream Cake Batter

    Q. Once I set my table with all the plates and glasses, there's not much room for a centerpiece. Is it bad not to have one?

    No, but you do have other options other than a large floral centerpiece. You can make an impression with a few small roses, for example, arranged in a small vase on the table, or with a linear arrangement of fruit, votives, or tiny vases of small flowers.

  • Q. I have a recipe that calls for fresh ginger but I don't have any. Can I use ground?
    Ginger Crinkles

    Q. I have a recipe that calls for fresh ginger but I don't have any. Can I use ground?

    Yes. You can substitute 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger for 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. Your guests will never notice, plus it saves a few dollars at the grocery store that you can devote to other areas of your party budget.

  • Q. I have a recipe that calls for a small amount of Grand Marnier. I don't keep liqueurs on hand, and a whole bottle is expensive. Is there anything else I can use.
    Grand Oranges and Strawberries

    Q. I have a recipe that calls for a small amount of Grand Marnier. I don't keep liqueurs on hand, and a whole bottle is expensive. Is there anything else I can use?

    Although the flavor will be slightly different, you'll still get a good result if you substitute 2 tablespoons of orange juice concentrate for 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier (or any other orange-flavored liqueur).

  • Q. I'm having a holiday cocktail party and don't have enough matching wine glasses. Do I need to rent some?
    Mulled White Wine

    Q. I'm having a holiday cocktail party and don't have enough matching wine glasses. Do I need to rent some?

    No. It's fine (and more interesting) to mix and match wine glasses, or even serve in an assortment of antique glassware. And, if you're buying wine glasses, it's not absolutely necessary to have different glasses for red and white wine. You can go with an all-purpose glass that has a generous-sized bowl (12 to 20 ounces); it will work for both red and white.

  • <p>Q. How am I supposed to get all this stuff in one shopping trip?</p>

    Q. How am I supposed to get all this stuff in one shopping trip?

    Plan ahead! Starting now, you can shop for staples or make-ahead dishes. Simply make a full list of everything you need, then sort it out into "Buy Ahead" and "Week Of" categories. Picking up a few things each week helps save your budget and your arms–those shopping carts get heavy!

  • Q. Any ideas for festive drinks that are non-alcoholic?
    Holiday Brunch Tonic

    Q. Any ideas for festive drinks that are non-alcoholic?

    There are a number of non-alcoholic wines available in supermarkets, as well as some sparkling fruit juices that are always a festive choice. You can also serve a signature drink, such as a festive fruit tea, in lieu of alcoholic beverages.

  • <p>Q. How can I get a red wine stain off my white tablecloth?</p>
    Mulled Cranberry Wine Punch

    Q. How can I get a red wine stain off my white tablecloth?

    One tip is to pour boiling water over the stained area; the hot water will remove the stain. If it's not an antique linen cloth, soak it overnight in the washer in a solution of cool water and non-chlorine oxygenated laundry product. The next day, put the tablecloth and the solution through the laundry cycle as usual. A couple of other ideas are to pour a little white wine or club soda over the red wine stain, and then launder as usual.

    Click here for more stain-removing ideas from RealSimple.com.

  • <p>Q. My recipe calls for self-rising flour, but I only have all-purpose? Can I make a substitution?</p>

    Q. My recipe calls for self-rising flour, but I only have all-purpose flour. Can I make a substitution?

    Your cakes, rolls, and other rising baked goods need not go to waste. In place of 1 cup of self-rising flour, you can use 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. You'll get the same rise and the same delicious results.

  • Q. The party's tonight and I haven't planned a thing. Help!

    Q. The party's tonight and I haven't planned a thing. Help!

    Trick your guests into thinking that your party is from-scratch when really it's more container-fresh. Plate them on colorful platters and hide the takeout containers. When your guests rave about your delectable egg rolls, the choice if yours: spill the beans or keep the secret and smile sweetly.

  • Q. Work is crazy. Can I plan a party with make-ahead food?

    Q. Work is crazy. Can I plan a party with make-ahead food?

    Yes! Save your sanity with dishes and desserts that freeze beautifully. We've got your how-to guide for make-ahead party planning, so set the date and get cooking this weekend. Just make sure to clean out your freezer first.

  • Q. I'm clueless about bar essentials. What do I need?

    Q. I'm clueless about bar essentials. What do I need?

    It's easy to get bogged down by non-essential bar items (cute coasters, anyone?) when you go shopping, so browse our bar guide for tips on stocking the bar. From fruit garnishes to mixers and, yes, even coasters, we've got you covered. Make it even more simple by following our Stock the Bar Shopping List.

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