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(ARA) ? Every year around this time, the number-one complaint people make is that there isn?t enough time to get everything done. You have to put up the lights, decorate your tree, shop for gifts, and send out cards. As if those tasks weren?t stressful enough, a lot of people also decide to add holiday entertaining to the list.

There?s no getting around the fact that putting on a holiday party is going to be a lot of work; but if you plan ahead, you'll find it makes all the difference. Whatever you do, keep it simple. That goes for everything from decorations to the menu.

?You should spend the holidays enjoying the company of your friends and family, not slaving away in the kitchen,? says ?Rosemary,? resident chef at Tastefully Simple, a Minnesota-based company that sells easy-to-prepare gourmet foods primarily through home taste-testing parties. The holiday season is their busiest time of year.

Here are some great party ideas Rosemary thinks will be very popular this year. They feature foods that are gourmet, yet easy to prepare.

* Gift Wrapping Party (for charity or yourself)

Gift wrapping is one of those chores people love to hate. It requires precision and attention to detail, which can make it extremely frustrating at times. To take the edge away, why not turn it into a game. Call up a bunch of friends and ask them to bring a roll of paper each -- along with any presents they may need to wrap themselves. Attach a gift tag to each of the presents so they don't get mixed up, then have your guests grab from the pile and start wrapping while you all chat and catch up on each other?s lives. The task will be taken care of before you know it. Since everyone will be busy, there is no need to serve a big meal. Offer your guests drinks and easy to prepare hors d?oeurves, such as Pesto Palmiers.

Pesto Palmiers

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed

6 to 8 oz. provolone or fontina cheese, shredded


Prepare Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto as directed on jar with water and olive oil; set aside. Sprinkle work surface with half of chopped parsley, roll out 1 sheet puff pastry into a 12 inch square over parsley. Sprinkle dough evenly with half the Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto and 3/4 cup cheese; pressing gently into dough. Roll up one edge to middle of pastry sheet; roll up parallel edge in same manner so that the two rolls are touching. Repeat procedure with other sheet of puff pastry. Slice pastry rolls with sharp knife into 3/4 inch slices. Place cut-side up on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly; serve warm. Makes about 26 palmiers.

* Wine/Beer Tasting Party

In the invitation, ask each of your guests to bring along a different bottle of wine or beer. As each guest arrives, hand them a festively decorated bag with a bunch of small cups inside. Have a central place where people can find samples -- and leave ballots near each bottle. Ask your guests to sample all the different drinks, and vote for their favorite.

Your guests will probably be expecting to find cheese and crackers to munch on at this type of party, but why not wow them with Honey Teriyaki dip instead. They won?t believe you made it from scratch.. This appetizer can be served as a spread on a pretty holiday platter with sesame crackers in a napkin-lined basket.

Honey Teriyaki Dip

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 Tbsp. Tastefully Simple Garlic Garlic

1 cup chicken, cooked, diced

4 green onions, sliced

1/2 cup peanuts, chopped

1/4 cup Tastefully Simple Honey Teriyaki Sauce

Sesame crackers


Combine cream cheese and Garlic Garlic; spread on large plate. Top with chicken, green onions and peanuts. Drizzle Honey Teriyaki Sauce over all. Chill. Serve with sesame crackers.

*Caroling Party

Here?s a great way to spread cheer throughout your entire neighborhood. Invite friends over to go caroling. Print the words to each song you want to perform on a piece of paper decorated with a holiday theme, roll it into a tube and tie with colorful ribbons. As each person arrives, hand them a roll, but tell them not to peek. Then, once you?re ready to go out and sing, divide people into color-coded groups and send them on their way.

When they return to your house, have dessert and coffee or hot chocolate waiting for them. Your guests will think you went to cooking school after they taste your Banana Toffee Coffee Caramel Pie, topped with red and green sprinkles. They won?t believe you when you tell them how easy the pie was to prepare. ?I?ve served this pie at my own holiday parties and always get plenty of compliments. It?s one of my favorite recipes in our collection,? says Rosemary.

Banana Toffee Coffee Caramel Pie

4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced

6 oz. pkg. vanilla wafer crust or butter shortbread crust

1/4 cup Tastefully Simple Creamy Caramel, warmed slightly in microwave

1 cup chilled whipping cream

1 Tbsp. Tastefully Simple Toffee Coffee

Shaved chocolate (optional)


Layer bananas in bottom of crust. Drizzle Creamy Caramel over. Beat cream and Toffee Coffee with electric mixer in bowl until stiff peaks form. Spread over bananas, swirling top of mixture decoratively with spatula. Top with (optional) shaved chocolate and additional Creamy Caramel. Chill at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours. Cut pie into wedges and serve.

You can find these and hundreds of other easy to prepare recipes on Tastefully Simple?s Web site. Just log on to and click on the link that says recipes.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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Courtesy of ARA Content

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