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How to stock your party pantry

Planning a party is fun, but what about those last-minute get-togethers? Here are a few ideas that will keep you prepared for surprise guests.

If you are planning a party in advance, serving your guests is easy -- but what about those last-minute gatherings or even a surprise visit from out-of-town friends? Here are a few tips and suggestions on how to stock your food pantry so you'll always be prepared - and without a last-minute run to the store.

A few necessities to keep on hand:
-Fun napkins in bar, dessert, and table linen styles. Shop the discount stores and stock up in a variety of colors or patterns. Store them in plastic baggies to protect from dust and other household elements, as well as wear and tear. All you have to do is whip them out and place them on the table or bar.
-Plates in appetizer and dinner size. Clear glass plates are best and can be purchased inexpensively if you shop around. Check your restaurant supply stores as well. You will probably want to have enough matching plates for larger, planned parties as well. If it's within your budget, stock a quantity that is double the number of guests at your average party.
-Round, colored toothpicks for quick and easy hors d'oeuvres and bar condiments.
-Small, clear glass or decorative candleholders. Keep toothpicks in the empty containers and cover with plastic wrap.
-Platters and bowls in various sizes. You can purchase the heavy-duty paper platters or use plastic, but glass serving bowls will add a much nicer touch to chips, pretzels, and nuts.

It's easy to throw party food together with just a little advance stocking.

Pantry condiments:
-Crackers and Melba toast
-Olives, black and green
-Spicy mustard
-Canned artichokes
-Canned mushrooms
- Barbecue sauce
-Cocktail onions
-Cocktail sauce
-Pickles, baby kosher (spicy) and pre-sliced
-Chickpeas and sesame paste (see recipe below)

Now that the pantry is in good shape, you'll need a few items for the fridge and freezer.

-Keep a couple of packages cocktail sausages in the freezer. Heat and serve with barbecue sauce.
-Even low-end sliced meats can have their uses. Cut into halves, roll up with a thin slice of processed cheese and a sliver of canned mushroom. Spear with a toothpick.
- Beef and sausage logs - keep an eye on the expiration date.

Frozen cocktail-sized shrimp are great to have on hand. Serve with sauce and lemon juice.

If you have a loaf of bread, quarter the slices. Heat (or place in toaster before quartering), add cheese, and you'll have an instant toast point appetizer. Use bread squares for fast and easy finger sandwiches, too.

Melt a block of processed cheese in a bowl with your favorite salsa.

Keep a backup package of cream cheese in the refrigerator. It is always good for mixing with salsa or even a can of refried beans or other canned good.

Purchase gourmet coffee in small packages and freeze. You will always have a variety to choose from depending on your guests' preferences.

You may find other items in the refrigerator that will work as last-minute appetizers, including celery, pimiento cheese, avocados, and tortillas (heat to crisp up).

Two easy recipes:

Cheddar and Monterey Jack appetizers
-Cut several ½-inch squares of each.
-Press the tops of the Jack squares into a bed of paprika to coat.
-Place the Jack squares (paprika side up) on top of the cheddar squares and pierce with toothpicks.
Use any hard/soft cheese combination. Can add cocktail onions or olives to tops.

Hummus Bi Tahini (Chickpea dip)
2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
4 Tablespoons sesame paste (also called tahini paste)
4 cloves garlic minced
6 Tablespoons lemon juice (equal to 2 fresh lemons)
Salt and pepper (freshly ground if available) to taste
1 Tablespoon good-quality olive oil (if available)

-Drain the chickpeas, keep the liquid to add later if necessary.
-Place chickpeas in processor or blender and mix until smooth. Add sesame paste, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
-Stir the ingredients well to reach a thickened paste. Do not overblend, but if too thick, add small amounts of reserved chickpea liquid and continue stirring.
Place onto plates in mounds or scoop into bowls. Drizzle olive oil across the top and sprinkle with paprika or garnish with parsley.
Note: hummus is Arabic for chickpea

With last-minute gatherings, you do not have to be fancy; but it is always nice to serve your guests well, even in spontaneous situations.

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