Tis the season for…hot chocolate

If there is one thing I actually enjoy about the winter season, it’s hot chocolate. And popcorn balls. Hot chocolate and popcorn balls. But today, I’d like to explore my love for the many possibilities of hot chocolate.

So often the holidays just pass us by. We say we’re going to invite people over, we say we’re going to have a holiday party and then before you know it, it’s New Years Eve! I have a solution for you!

If you don’t have the time to pull together a cookie exchange party, white elephant party or even an ugly sweater party, consider having a hot chocolate party. It’s actually quite simple since you’re only offering beverages and maybe a few cookies or treats to enjoy. Be sure to invite your guests over after dinner time, as to manage their expectations of a very simple and sweet party. It’s all in the spirit of gathering with friends and family and enjoying the holidays. And hot chocolate.

Grab some mugs, invite your friends over and enjoy some of these delicious hot chocolate recipes with your loved ones.

The Classic Twist: Red Velvet Hot Chocolate 

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Inspiration Thursdays…Creative Ways to Label Food at a Party

Beyond the Essentials Event Blog - Creative Ways to Label Food at a PartyAs the host of a party, we deserve to have a good time too! But as someone commented on my recent post regarding hiring a bartender, sometimes our enjoyment is boggled down with serving our guests and answering a slew of questions, including, ” what is this? ” and ” what does this have in it?”.

When hosting an event in your home, usually you are familiar with the likes, dislikes and allergies of your guest list. If I have a guest who is allergic to a particular food item, when greeting them I tell them what on the menu was created with them in mind, and what items they should stay away from. There are usually only one or two guests with severe allergies, so it isn’t a major inconvenience on your part.

On the other hand, ” what is this?” will be asked by everyone. Here are a few creative (and fun) ways to label food for your guests. Continue reading

Entertaining at Home: How to Maximize Comfort and Conversation

Third Stop: Maximizing Comfort and Conversation
On our journey to planning a Cookie Exchange Party

The invitations can be great, the food can be delicious, but you must make your guests feel comfortable. Here are a few tips on how to make sure your guests are comfortable, everyone is having good conversation  and your party is a success!

– Never place the food or bar near an entrance or exit. Guests always congregate near the food and/or drinks causing a block from the other guests trying to move about. Focus the food and drink in a central area such as the kitchen or dining room.

– You don’t need seating for everyone. If there’s nowhere to sit, it encourages your guest to walk around and mingle with everyone in attendance. The industry standard would tell you to have seating for a third of your guest list, but in the home, I would say half is safe. The key is to not aim to have a seat for everyone.

– Spread out the food and drink. When entertaining at home you don’t need to fill the kitchen counter or have one long buffet table. Spread everything around your home, one corner for drinks, another for food and another for dessert. This eliminates everyone crowding around the food and drinks, and gets everyone moving around and mingling.

– Section it off. Chances are your guest list is a combination of different people. Some people will like to sit and engage in conversation, others will like to walk around and meet new people. Try arranging different sections for your guest. A nice sitting area of a couch and chairs on one side, a clear area near the food and drinks for those who want to mingle and don’t forget the children, a nice clear floor area near a tv may be best for them.

– Help them help you. Even though you’re the host, you want to enjoy yourself too. Which for me means, eliminating the constant questions of, where do I throw this away?, Do you recycle? and the I can’t finds…. Have ample amounts of plates and napkins out and do a quick eye check every so often to see if anything needs to be replenished. Make sure you have everything in plain sight for guests. Your trash can should be in a central location, if you recycle place a nice bin near the trash. A tip for the recycling bin: put an empty can or bottle in there already, so your guests can catch the clue.

I’ll definitely be using these tips for my annual ” cookie party “, make sure you do too!

Cookie Party Planning Posts Here and Here.

Look out for photos of how I maximize comfort and conversation in my open concept home.

Next Stop: The Fun Stuff! Decor, Props and more…

Let’s Plan Together – A Cookie Exchange Party Pt. 2

Second stop on our planning journey: Food and Beverage

When hosting an event, such as a Cookie Exchange Party, your menu can be quite hard to decide. There will be plenty of cookies to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth, but you want to make sure they aren’t too full to enjoy them. I found that it’s best to serve your guests a light menu, but provide enough food that they can snack as much as they’d like. Timing is also a keep factor. My party is held at 7pm which is prime dinner time for most people, so I like to have a substantial menu for guests to enjoy. However, pushing it back to 8pm moves it to post dinner time. This now provides you with the option for an extremely light menu (read: cheese and crackers) or no menu at all.

Bonus: When deciding on the timing of your event, consider your guest list and your budget. For example: my guest list includes parents and attending children, so I have my events earlier so they can still attend and not have to stay out late. And someone with a limited budget will most likely choose the later time to avoid a costly menu.

This year I’ve decided on a Dip Bar. I absolutely love stations, bars and buffets! Variety is a key to life and I love providing people with delicious choices to choose from. So, there will be six dips for everyone to indulge in with tortillas, crackers and bread. I’ve made sure to have a balance between spicy, veggie and meat filled dips to please everyone’s tastes. Please don’t be fooled, with the right dips, you can definitely get delightfully fooled from a variety of dips.

The six tips on the Dip Bar menu are:

Chorizo and Cheese Dip

BBQ Chicken Dip (as opposed to a Buffalo Chicken Dip, since I already had the Chorizo Dip)

Hoagie Dip

I interrupt this post for an important message: This dip is one of the best dips I have ever had. If you close your eyes and eat, you would swear you were eating an authentic Italian hoagie. Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

The Classic Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Meatball Dip

For the Bar…

This is where I have decided to tone it down than it has been in the past. In the two previous years, I’ve opened the full bar for guests to choose the drink of their choice and I’ve done signature drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

This year I’m going festive, yet simple. There will be a limited bar menu of wine, beer, soda and juice options and a Mimosa Punch. I always like to have something new, so that the “ regulars “ don’t get bored, so enter Mimosa Punch.

To see more of my Cookie Party inspiration and ideas check out my Pinterest Board here.

(Photos: evislshenanigans.com, plainchicken.com, the-girl-who-ate-everything.com, heathersdish.com, mmmisformommy.com, pearls-handcuffs-happyhour.blogspot.com, tastebook.com)

Next Stop: Layout – How to Maximize Comfort and Conversation

I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on the Dip Bar and Bar Menu? Leave a comment with any suggestions and feedback!

Entertaining at Home…What to Invest In

So you want to start entertaining at home? Trust me, it’s not as time consuming or complicated as one might expect. One of the first steps to entertaining at home and giving your guests a great experience is making sure you have all the right supplies. Here are a few key items to invest in to make entertaining easier on you.

1. Serving Platters and Bowls. Let’s face it, when we’re rushing to welcome guests, the kitchen is the last place we try to keep clean. What’s the key to keeping your guests out of our messy kitchen and in the living area enjoying themselves?  The key is serving all of your delicious dishes all at once on serving platters. Yes, I know it adds to the dishes to be cleaned at the end of the night, but your guests will appreciate the effort.

Another great thing about investing in serving plates and dishes is that you don’t have to have a color theme or keep with a prominent theme in your home. Don’t get hung up on having to have matching serving ware, you can certainly get away with an eclectic variety. (Photo: Crateandbarrel.com)

2. Cocktail Glasses. Start with the essential wine glasses and then add martini and margarita glasses to your collection. For the obvious reasons, cocktail glasses allow you to serve your guests cocktails in their appropriate glasses. Cocktails glasses aren’t just used for drinks though, you can use them to serve a variety of dishes and desserts. (Photo:thebakingbeauties.com)

3. Serving Utensils. Make life easier for you and your guests by having the appropriate utensils for each dish being served. Key items to look out for: a large slotted spoon, large fork, large spoon, and tongs. Having the appropriate utensils along with their corresponding dish, eliminates you running to and from the kitchen, trying to find a fork or spoon for serving.

4. Pitchers and/or Beverage Containers. When you entertain at home, it should be entertaining for you and your guests. The best way to enjoy yourself as a host is to limit the amount of work you have to do. Such as telling people what you have to offer them to drink or getting up to show them where they can find the lemonade in the refrigerator. Pitchers and beverage containers allow you to keep all of your beverage offerings out and available. With a few creative ice ideas, you don’t have to worry about keeping them cold either. (Photo: marthastewartweddings.com)

You don’t have to rush out and purchase all of these at once, just pass through the home goods section the next time you’re out shopping and see what you find!

It’s All the Craze…S’mores Bar

It’s summer, the weather is warmer and we’re all planning our next back yard get together. What better way to bond than around a fire roasting marshmallows and stuffing our faces with the delicious gooeyness of s’mores.

Here are a few ways to make your s’mores bar the next hot thing!

– Use flavored marshmallows. Gone are the days of your typical flavors. Include some flavored marshmallows in your s’mores bar such as lemon, cinnamon and caramel.

– Start the idea fire for your guests. Create some s’mores ” recipes ” and encourage your guests to try them out and create some of their own.

(Photo: yourhomebasedmom.com)

– Ever heard of ” glamping “? Give your guests a ” glamping ” experience with their s’mores bar by using skewers instead of sticks. Cut up pieces of wax paper or parchment paper to keep your guests hands from getting sticky. If you do want to give the authentic feel of making s’mores with sticks, prepare the sticks for your guests ahead of time.

– Don’t have a backyard with campfire capabilities? No problem! Here are a few other safe ways to experience s’mores indoors.

S’mores bar with sternos.

S’mores Bar with Terracotta Planters, Charcoal and Foil.
(photo: apresfete.blogspot.com)

– The key to any great bar is the toppings! You have to have fun options your guests would not have thought of, such as sprinkles, vanilla wafers, granola, kit kats, nutella, coconut, peanut butter, strawberries and maybe even…bacon bits.

Light the fire and start roasting the marshmallows for your next s’mores bar! And, invite me!