Dinner parties inspire dinner parties
Westchester resident Colleen Mullaneyhas established herself as the go-to gal for glamorous dinner party tips that don't break the bank. She is also an expert at practicing what she preaches. "My inspiration comes from what I love to do: Have people over for coffee, cocktails, dinner or dessert. It's where I find the inspiration for my books and my work."
And her get-togethers work to her -- and your -- advantage. "The more I do it, the more people come to me with questions and for advice. My mission is to help people celebrate life, feel empowered to entertain, and do it with style and panache. It's easier than you think!"
To inspire you to have your friends and family over for a fun and scrumptious soiree, Mullaney shares her top 10 dinner party tips. Ready to send out those invitations?
1. Serve up a signature cocktail
A signature cocktail adds instant personality to your party, and guests will remember it. To save money, Mullaney suggests buying cocktail ingredients in bulk quantities. And to keep you free to socialize and enjoy yourself, Mullaney says, "Premix the cocktail ingredients in a lovely pitcher, and set out with glasses and a bucket of ice for a stylish, self-serve bar."
2. Set snacks in silver bowls
Have nibbles readily available for snacking. Mullaney recommends nuts, cheese straws and olives -- all good choices that can be bought in bigger bags for economies of scale. Serve them in silver or crystal bowls. "Let's face it: Any snack looks good in a silver bowl," she adds.
3. Turn the lights down
Mullaney suggests creating ambience by turning the lights down and lighting up with inexpensive candles. She advises, "Run a line of them down the mantel, and sprinkle them on the table, bar, and in the powder room. Soft glow from candles make guests feel glamorous."
4. Pump up the playlist
Music can give guests a musical escape. "Try some new selections and mix it up a bit. I like Celsco Fonseca for a nice Brazilian beat. Perhaps something classic for dinner -- Michael Buble -- and then a light dance mix of Madonna and Lionel Richie for afterwards," the party maven says.
5. Cook familiar foods
Mullaney highly suggests that you serve something you know how to cook and that everyone will enjoy. "Now is not the time to be experimenting with wild boar crepes," she warns. "Chicken is a perfect choice. Everyone likes it, and it's economical to feed a crowd."
Mullaney recommends a simple, succulent dinner menu: Roast a chicken, throw some fresh rosemary under the skin and rub with a bit of sea salt. Roasted red potatoes sliced in wedges coated with olive oil, salt and Dijon mustard are a sure hit. A salad of baby spinach, red onion, mandarin orange wedges, almond slices and dried cherries tossed with raspberry vinaigrette is an easy winner. Add crusty French bread, and you're done.
6. Serve a simple dessert
"Dessert need not be stressful. Try store-bought pound cake with raspberry sauce," Mullaney advises. Simply strain a quart of fresh berries to remove the seeds, adding a dash of Grand Marnier. Plate a slice of cake and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and drizzle sauce on top. Garnish with a few fresh berries.
7. Set the table in season
Mullaney says to set the table before your guests arrive so everyone feels like they have a place, and to use cloth napkins always -- no exceptions. Further, she recommends that you use what is in season to guide the tablescape: Shells for summer, pears and small pumpkins in the fall, pomegranates and evergreens in winter, and blossoming branches in the spring. Add votive candles and get creative; use things you have around that go with the theme.
8. Decorate with flowers
Flowers can be a simple affair. An economical bunch of purple hyacinths in a glass cube vase make a colorful statement that will be remembered.
9. Finish strong
Don't rush your guests out the door once dinner is over. Give them some relaxed time to visit and digest your well-played meal. Coffee and after-dinner drinks make the party last after the dishes have been cleared -- and will leave your guests with lasting memories of a happy end to your get-together.
10. Focus on your guests
Mullaney says, "Leave the cleanup until after your guests have gone." Visit with your guests and enjoy the relaxing end to the party with them -- thenworry about the dishes. "Add a little music, a midnight glass of champagne, and cleanup takes on a whole new dimension," she adds.
Last but not least, Mullaney says, "Look fabulous. You are the hostess, after all!"
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