Category Archives: Party Pointers

Easier entertaining ideas from professional party planners or THH herself.

Crowd Control

Shepherd’s Pie (a comfort food classic made from ground beef or lamb, usually mixed with sauteed carrots and onions and sometimes other vegetables, and baked with a mashed potato topping) may not be the entrée you’d think to serve at a summer dinner party. But it was the dish that the highly experienced hosts of our family reunion served to the 32 cousins in attendance and with good reason. It’s a one-pan meal that can be prepped in advance and baked just before dinner, important qualifications when you’re feeding a crowd. And it was the cook’s favorite recipe, one she had made many times before and knew would be well received.

And was it ever well received! Dinner was on the table in a flash (since serving only required setting squares of the casserole on the plates) and the oohs and ahhs began. Even a month later, I haven’t forgotten how scrumptious it tasted.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to secure the recipe, so I can’t share it with you…or invite a large group to dinner and make it myself. But you’ll find recipes for Shepherd’s Pie on the Internet from such reliable sources as Alton Brown and Rachael Ray. I, for one, plan to try one.

Instant Appetizers

After walking the seemingly endless aisles of the Specialty Food Association’s annual summer show in New York City this week and stopping frequently to sample some of the surprisingly delicious packaged products, I was struck by how easy it can be to turn out an extraordinary appetizer for your guests simply by opening the right jar. Pick your personal favorites and keep your pantry stocked.

Here are three of my favorites:

Charissa- billed as “the super spice that’s good on everything,” and tied for winner of the show’s prestigious Sofi gold award in the Cooking, Dipping, or Finishing Sauce category, this Moroccan style condiment is  tamer than its fiery cousin, harissa, but super flavorful, although it’s made without sugar, gluten or MSG. For more information, go to

Stoger Pumpkin Seed Oil-This buttery organic seed oil is great just as a dip for crusty bread but undoubtedly will enhance all sorts of cheeses, chips or veggies. It was a Sofi Award silver finalist in the Oil category. The company’s cherry seed oil is memorable, too. Find more uses at

Pernicious Pickling Co. Pickled Carrots-A silver Sofi Award finalist in the Appetizer, Antipasto, or Hors d’Oeuvres category, these ginger-spiced carrots make a bright-tasting, brilliant addition to a cheese platter. Or select from the other colorful entries in the collection, perhaps, Fashionably Dill Pickled Red Beets. To view the whole line and for serving ideas, go to

DIY Dessert

“Too bad I didn’t think of serving dessert here,” blurted out a friend, whom I was visiting in another state. It was 10 p.m. on the evening before we were scheduled to meet another old friend for lunch at a special restaurant in celebration of our three spring birthdays.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have anything dessert-like in the house to serve,” my friend lamented.

“Do you have ice cream,” I ventured? She did. And in no time we had transformed that ordinary carton of ice cream into a party.

We used the caterer’s trick of pre-scooping and freezing ice cream balls on a sheet pan, and scoured her kitchen for possible toppings. In the end, we set out small dishes of dark chocolate chips, crushed graham crackers and diced pineapple in its own juice.

Thanks to that impromptu dessert, our day together had a much sweeter ending than if we’d just parted abruptly at the restaurant. It took no time to flip the frozen scoops into the dishes. And soon we were merrily bedecking them with our topping choices and chatting away.