Hosting a fabulous party doesn’t have to be a stressful event. The key is planning and organization. Here’s an easy game plan for your next party.

First, determine how many people you will invite and how long the party will last.

Next, determine how much food you’ll need. As a rule of thumb, you will need three to four bites per person, per hour. For a small gathering, five to eight different appetizers will suffice. Allow for one to two drinks per hour, per guest.

Then plan your menu. Think about making a few “wow” appetizers and then rounding out the menu with some less labor-intensive dishes, such as a good store-bought cheese ball and crackers or a fruit or cheese platter. And remember, you don’t have to make everything from scratch. Take advantage of timesavers from your supermarket, such as sliced baguettes and pre-cut veggies.

You don’t have to have traditional serving platters to present your food attractively. Use your imagination-unusual small plates, decorative trays, cutting boards and baskets can all be used for serving.

Finally, don’t wear yourself out the day of the party; make what you can ahead of time so that you’ll be free to have as much fun as your guests.

Here are two simple appetizer recipes that your guests will rave about.

Spinach and Feta Pinwheels

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 (10 oz) bags frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, drained and finely chopped
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, roasted red peppers, and both cheeses. Season with salt and pepper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll puff pastry out to an 11-inch square.

Spread spinach mixture evenly over the puff pastry, leaving one inch of pastry uncovered at the far end. Press down evenly with fingers.

Starting on the near side, tightly roll up into a log. With a serrated knife, using a sawing motion, cut roll crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Place slices on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and one tablespoon water. Brush egg mixture lightly over slices.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 spirals

Make Ahead Tip: Combine spinach, peppers, and cheese. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Cocktail Meatballs & Spicy Cranberry Sauce

2 (32 oz) packages frozen cooked meatballs, thawed
1 cup smoky barbeque sauce
1 can cranberry sauce with whole berries
1/4 cup hot chili sauce*
1/4 cup orange juice

Cook the barbeque sauce, cranberries, chili sauce, and orange juice in a dutch oven or large stock pot over medium heat for five minutes, stirring to combine. Add meatballs, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

Makes 60 to 70 meatballs

Tip: The meatballs may also be prepared in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

*Look for Sriracha in the Asian Foods section

Toni Tanner Scott is a Personal Chef & Cooking Coach. Check out her site, Dinner Made Simple, for recipes, menu planning, cooking tips and much more.


We all know that the way to a woman’s heart is through chocolate. And chocolate treats that you make yourself are sure to win her heart this Valentine’s Day.

These three chocolate baking recipes are simple ones to make that hardly take any time at all. She will love the fact that you took the time to make something yourself. It always means more to get something that you have made for her than something you bought.

Chocolate Creams

* 1 package (8 squares) semi-sweet chocolate squares
* 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
* 1/2 cup butter
* 1 3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* finely chopped pecans

In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate squares with the butter over low heat. Take it off of the heat and add in the confectioners’ sugar, cream and vanilla. Chill in the refrigerator until it holds together when shaped (about 1 hour). Form into balls and roll them in the pecans. If you want to take a little more time to make your Valentine’s Day treat even more special, shape the dough into hearts and put red and pink sprinkles on them. Make sure to store them in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Pudding Cake

* 1 package chocolate cake mix
* 1 large package (6 ounces) instant chocolate pudding mix
* 1 cup water
* 1/4 cup oil
* 4 eggs
* 1 container chocolate frosting
* pink and red sprinkles

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, water, oil, and eggs. With an electric mixer, beat the mixture for 2 minutes. Grease (take butter and smear it over the bottom and sides of the pan) and flour (put about 1/4 cup of flour in the pan after you’ve greased it and shake it around, covering the bottom and sides completely) a 9 x 13-inch pan. Pour the mixture into the pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until cake tests done (put a toothpick in the center and when it comes out without anything on it, it’s done). Allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour and then frost with the chocolate frosting. Shake the red and pink sprinkles evenly over the top of the cake for added Valentine’s Day decoration.

Fudge Cookies

* 2 cups white sugar
* 1/2 cup butter
* 1 square semi-sweet chocolate
* 1/2 cup milk
* 3 cups oatmeal
* 1/2 cup pecans
* 1/2 cup coconut

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, butter, chocolate, and milk. Stir almost constantly. When mixture starts to boil around the edges, start to stir it constantly. Allow the mixture to boil for one minute. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the oatmeal, pecans and coconut. Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets covered in waxed paper. For an added Valentine’s Day touch, put a candy heart on top of each one. Put in the refrigerator to set until hardened (overnight works best). Be sure to store them in the refrigerator.

Jill Seader has a passion for baking, story telling, and organizing. She loves to share her baking recipes at