SOURCE: Milky Way

August 08, 2011 05:00 ET

Stress-Free Entertaining 101

MISSION, KS--(Marketwire - Aug 8, 2011) - (Family Features) In an age when so much of our communication is done electronically, reconnecting with family and friends through meals is more important now than ever. Entertaining in your home is a great way to foster new friendships and re-establish those that may need some attention. Here are some great tips for fuss-free entertaining from Jenn Sbranti, the "Hostess with the Mostess" of www.hwtm.com.

Set the stage outdoors. For outdoor entertaining -- whether your party meets by the pool or for a picnic in the park -- opt for durable melamine or acrylic dishes to keep things shatter-proof and stress-free. There are tons of stylish, summer-inspired colors and patterns to choose from these days.

Make it fun. Add creativity to your summer party using a beach-inspired theme. "Use a beach towel as a table runner, fill clear vases with sand and colorful mini paper lanterns, toss some giant beach balls around and serve 'beach umbrella' cupcakes, decorated with brown sugar (for the sand) and a cocktail umbrella," says Sbranti.

Keep them cool. When serving lemonade or punch, Sbranti suggests creating ice cubes from the beverage itself, in advance of your party. Using this trick, the drinks will stay cold, and you won't have to worry about the mixture getting watered down throughout the event.

Provide finger food. Offer guests mini-meals that encourage interaction among guests. Foods such as mini sandwiches and fruit trays are great options. "Dipping bars" are a fun idea for pool-themed parties. Set out a variety of salsas and dips, along with tortilla chips, pretzels, pita bread and sliced vegetables for dipping, then encourage your guests to "take a dip!"

Don't forget dessert. Keeping in line with the fuss-free evening, Sbranti suggests chilling some of your favorite candy bars for fun-sized, after-dinner sweets. For example, stack a platter full of Milky Way Simply Caramel bars in the fridge before guests arrive. This great, no-bake treat provides the perfect balance of chocolate, caramel, and cool.

Go potluck. If you're preparing for a last-minute gathering, ask your guests to bring their favorite appetizer or side dish. Not only does this set a casual tone -- you may find some new favorite recipes! Remember to keep paper to-go containers on hand to send your guests home with left-overs and to properly thank your co-chefs for their contribution to the meal.

Whether you're serving to a large party, or an intimate group of guests, with these tips and treats you're sure to be their favorite "hostess with the mostess."

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