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Party menu and table tips

Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 5:10 PM

- Jazz up prepared store-bought foods; for example, I turned Whole Foods Market tomato soup into creamy tomato cheddar bisque and served it as shooters with mini grilled cheese sandwiches.

- Go through your recipe archives (mine includes roasted vegetable melange, stuffed mushrooms, deviled-eggy crab spread, smoked salmon and vegetable smishes, vegetable bhajis, cocktail franks and veggie buffalo spread), and feature favorites you're happy to serve again (I settled on chicken meatballs and pimento cheese).

- To set the buffet table, pull out all the stops. Use two tablecloths, one as an underliner, the other to cover the various risers you place on the table to elevate the centerpiece and platters. (Having everything on different levels brings the table and your food to life by adding dimension.) Allow plenty of room around the table for traffic to flow easily, placing two sets of plates, forks and napkins at opposite ends of the table. When deciding whether or not to add a leaf to the table, keep in mind that smaller is usually better; it makes your table look more abundant. If you use picks for food or serve olives with pits, be sure there are receptacles for the used or spent items. Fill in gaps on the table with small bowls of spiced nuts, which you should also place around the house. If you're using electric food warmers, make sure the cords are out of your guests' way.

-Resources for store-bought foods:

Curry puffs (Thai turnovers) with vegetables (potatoes, white onions, peas, carrots) or ground chicken and vegetables, $1 each. $50 delivery fee for small orders; no delivery charge for orders of 100 or more. Call Boontip "Noon" Pongsutham, 301-996-5787.

Spicy tuna tartare in sesame-miso cones, $5 each; minimum order is 25. The Source by Wolfgang Puck, 202-637-6100; www.wolfgangpuck.com.

Sushi rolls, each cut into six pieces (spicy tuna roll, $5.25; eel and cucumber roll, $5; salmon roll, $5; California roll, $5.50). Kaz Sushi Bistro, 202-530-5500; www.kazsushi.com.

Finger desserts (cheesecake brownie bites, butter twists, Greek wedding cookies, pecan, lemon and key lime tartlets), 30 to 85 cents each; Mary Lee's Desserts; 703-255-1113; www.maryleesdesserts.com.

Gouda cheese, $25 for a two-pound wheel, plus shipping and handling; cheese@olamonastery.org.

- David Hagedorn

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