How to plan a quick and easy party menu

Mar 25, 2010 at 3:01 p.m. ET

Whether you have a group of friends unexpectedly dropping in or you simply want to throw a last-minute get-together, having an action plan for quick and easy food and drinks will make your party an enviable affair. A tasty selection of convenient ingredients and great wines will give you an impressive party menu that can effortlessly elevate the occasion, even with few minutes to spare. Here’s how to plan your next impromptu (or procrastinated) need for party fare.

Fruit and cheese platter

1. Plan ahead for a cheese and wine soiree

Even if you don't have a party on the calendar, you never know when throwing one will strike your fancy nor can you predict when unexpected guests will want to drop in. Plan ahead by keeping your kitchen stocked with the essentials for a cheese and wine party. Being prepared for an unscheduled get-together will not only keep your entertaining stress levels down, it will also let your "hostess with the mostest" talents shine. And who doesn't love cheese, wine and the other tasty accompaniments?

2. Think outside the cracker box

No way are you going to score entertaining points by pouring the usual cracker out of the box. Be daring with your cracker and chips offerings and opt for nibbles that will make your guests say "Wow!" Baked pita or bagel chips, whole grain all natural crackers or even veggie chips will give your party spread a fun and tasty appeal. Keep a few bags of assorted flavors in your pantry – they might even be the inspiration you need to gather a few of your favorite party guests.

3. Say cheese

The deliciously stunning array of artisan and imported cheeses available at the deli and supermarket make it easy to put together an impressive cheese platter. Since you are planning ahead, choose cheeses that are aged and have a longer shelf-life. They can safely stay in your refrigerator until you're ready to pair them with your selection of chips, crackers and other well-paired appetizers and wines.

4. Go nuts

Beyond the can of dry roasted peanuts, there is a fabulous selection of gourmet nuts that are perfect to add to your cheese platter. From honey-roasted almonds to black peppercorn pecans, you can offer your guests a range of sweet and savory flavored nuts as tasty -- even healthy -- party fare.

5. Add juicy, colorful fruit

Plump bunches of grapes, wedges of melon (particularly delish wrapped with prosciutto), bright-hued berries and sweet chunks of mango are only a few of the luscious fruits you can add to your party menu. Since you should be striving to meet your daily quota of fruit anyway, keep a juicy selection of in-season fruits in the fridge. The natural sweetness of fruit will be a delectable counterpoint for the tangy cheese and salty nuts. Just think: a few thin slices of savory cheese, a handful of delightfully crunchy crackers, chips or nuts, bites of sweet fruit. What's not to love?

6. Pick your wines

Once you have your collection of easy-to-serve foods in place, choose a selection of both red and white wines to keep on hand. The best pairings are certainly a matter of personal taste but ask the wine purveyor for the wines that will go impeccably well with your tasty array of party nibbles. Be sure to also ask how best to store your wines so your vinos are at their peak quality when you pour them for your guests.

7. Be ready to serve

Go the extra entertaining mile and purchase a few impressive cheese boards and, if available, a generous set of matching plates. If you don't have an adequate number of wine glasses, consider wine glasses that can be used with either red or white wines. Other party must-haves include cheese knives, festively printed napkins, wine stoppers (to preserve the bottles of leftover wine, if there are any), and matching plates and bowls to serve the chips, crackers, nuts and fruit.

With this simple seven-step party plan, you can quickly and impressively host a last-minute party or a get-together you've scheduled well in advance but don't want to spend days or even hours to plan.