But her best suggestion? "Remember that your guests are coming by for special times with you. Although having the right things out makes you feel good, that's not what they're going to remember."
What they're going to remember is how happy they felt in your company.
And you're going to remember how easy it was to make them feel that way.
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Our favorite mail-order little bites
Six Good Eating staff members tasted nearly a dozen mail-order frozen appetizers. Each was reheated according to directions. Here are the staff's favorites; prices do not include shipping.
Duck foie gras with truffles in mini vol-au-vents: These thimble-sized tidbits of puff pastry filled with truffled foie gras mousse offer "rich taste and good crunch," said one taster who "would definitely serve these." Said another, "These look really cool, Provencal elegant." $130.50 for 60 pieces. D'Artagnan, Newark, N.J. To order, 800-327-8246 or dartagnan.com.
Mini Natchitoches crawfish and meat pies: These one-bite versions of the Louisiana classic garnered mixed reviews. Some tasters thought they looked a little humble for a party and might be too spicy; others thought "the crawfish pies were good and spicy, with nice lard crusts" and said they were "cute." $7.15 for 16 1-ounce crawfish pies; $6.05 for 16 1-ounce meat pies. Cajun Grocer, Lafayette, La. To order, 888-272-9347 or cajungrocer.com.
Spinach pesto flatbread with goat cheese: "Two neat bites and they don't crumble when you first bite in, a big plus," said one taster of these pretty little rounds. "Festive! Love the spinach and cheese," said another. $65 for 20 pieces. Elegant Appetizers, Phoenix. To order, 866-998-8856 or appetizerstore.com.
Pear-Roquefort stars and raspberry-brie stars: "Sweet and yummy," said one taster. "I like both, but the pear-Gorgonzola is best," said another. $13.79 for 12 pieces. Artiko, New Rochelle, N.Y. To order, 888-278-4657 or artikochef.com.
Chili-lime salmon satay: "Looks like candied salmon; good texture and flavor that is surprisingly nuanced. Doesn't suffer from freezing. Nice looking, too," said one taster. "I taste paprika," said another. "Decent flavor." $73 for 25 pieces. Elegant Appetizers, Phoenix. To order, 866-998-8856 or appetizerstore.com.
Be a bookworm--host a party
A few new books can help with the planning and recipes:
"Bite Size: Elegant Recipes for Entertaining"
By Francois Payard with Anne E. McBride and Craig Freeman
(William Morrow, $19.95)
The food focus at cocktail parties should always be on bite-size morsels easy to pick up and eat. New York-based chef Francois Payard offers a roster of appetizers and finger foods aimed at home cooks. The book begins with such basic how-tos as peeling tomatoes, clarifying butter, toasting nuts and shucking oysters. Then Payard is off, providing recipes for such dishes as pork burgers with pickled red onions; tomato, eggplant and goat cheese tarts and even a foie gras terrine cooked in the microwave.
"Real Simple Celebrations: Easy Entertaining for Every Occasion"
(Time Inc. Home Entertainment/Real Simple Books, $27.95)
The fourth title in Real Simple magazine's book series, this book strives to teach readers to "plan without actually knowing you're doing it," to quote the magazine's managing editor, Kristin van Ogrtrop. The book, written by Valerie Rains, covers holidays like Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, hits life's milestones like birthdays and showers, and offers "anytime celebrations" ranging from a dinner party to a celebration of cheese. There are recipes, of course, and advice on invitations, decorations, dressing the table, etiquette, music to play and party activities.