Tag Archives: parties

St. Patricks Day Dinner Party

As I have explained, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in our house.  This year it is going to be even more awesome as it falls on a Friday and my sister in law Sara will be in town to celebrate.  DC watch out!  Last year I pulled together this fun little dinner party to celebrate.  Hopefully the menu and pictures inspire you for this Friday. Sláinte!

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Decorating the table is easy for this one – anything green or gold works!  I used my favorite gold flatware and gold and black votive candles.  I just so happen to have several mini beer mugs (don’t you??) that I used to hold a sprinkling of baby’s breath down the middle of the table.  Paired with green linens and a rattan charger for contrast it was a super easy table to pull together.  For additional green, Bells of Ireland and Babys breath in a large vase at the end of the table.

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Black Velvet

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Guinness is essential for a St. Patrick’s day feast, but for those of you who are not a big fan or who want to class it up a bit may I suggest the Black Velvet.  Half Guiness, half Champagne (or in this case Cava) you use the back of the spoon to pour the two which creates this amazing layered effect.  Also the cava brightens up the Guinness making for a lovely drink.

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I served these with an Irish cheese board that included Dubliner cheddar, a Irish whiskey washed cows milk cheese, some fig jam, candied walnuts and a Cashel blue cheese from County Tipperary.

Brown Butter Soda Bread

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I make this every year without fail.  It is hands down the best soda bread recipe I have ever tried and even better, it makes two loaves!  The browned butter gives it a nutty rich taste and the rosemary adds a freshness.  If you have never baked bread, this is where to start as it requires no kneading or pans and is practically impossible to mess up.  Make sure to pick up some good Irish butter to serve it with.

Boston Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

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You have to have some green right?  I love beautiful Boston lettuce (some call it bibb but not this Bostonian!) as its so tender and light.  You can serve it whole like I did which makes it look like you plucked it right from a beautiful Irish garden, or cut into wedges for individual servings.  Drizzled with this buttermilk dressing its a great fresh start to the meal.

Patrick’s Irish Stew Pot Pies

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This stew that I posted last St. Patrick’s day is delicious all on its own but my boy looooves pot pies so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to combine the two.  Also a great excuse to use my cute little shamrock cookie cutters!  Make the stew in advance, then just put into individual bowls.  Defrost some puff pastry, you will probably need 2 sheets for 4 pies.  Cut out circles slightly larger than the top of the bowl.

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Brush the edges of the bowl with egg wash and then top with the puff pastry.  You will need to cut slits in the top to let steam escape or you can use a cookie cutter like I did to make a shamrock hole.  Brush the top of the puff pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes or so until golden.

Guinness Ice Cream Floats

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No real recipe needed here – just scoop your favorite vanilla ice cream into a tall glass and top with as much Guinness as you would like.  Drizzle on some chocolate sauce and you are in business!  All of these dishes are pretty easy so even when St. Patrick’s day falls on a weeknight you can impress your friends.  Happy St. Patricks!

Coffee Infused Bourbon

As you all know I am a sucker for favors at parties – last year I did a candy cane vodka for our holiday party and it was a big hit.  This year I was inspired by a coffee manhattan I had at the movie theater of all places.  At the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in the Shaw neighborhood of DC you can not only book your seat in advance (love that!) but they have a full bar with some really talented mixologists.  Patrick and I were there for a matinee and the bartender had been experimenting with coffee simple syrups and bourbon.  Since bourbon already has coffee notes in it, infusing it with fresh coffee beans just takes it to the next level.  I ran right out and bought some mega bottles of Bulliet Bourbon at Costco.  I needed to make 85 mini bottles (we have a lot of friends!) so got two 750 ml bottles but you can do it with any size or any amount really, even just for one cocktail.  I am not going to give you a recipe here since its stupid simple, just throw some coffee beans into the Bourbon and wait until it reaches the “coffeeness” level you like.  For a 750ml bottle I would recommend adding about 20-25 beans and shaking the bottle everyday for about 5 days.  The beans like to sink to the bottom or float to the top so shaking it helps make sure all the bourbon gets infused.  If you start with less bourbon then you could do the same number of beans, it will just take less time, about 2 days.

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I get my mini bottles from here  but you can also usually find nicer glass ones at World Market or Home Goods if you are only making a couple for friends this season.  This year I decided to print my own labels (mostly because I didn’t get my act together to order any).  If you want to order some I can recommend Tinyprints for this.  They are pretty reasonable and have a bunch of cute designs.  If not just go out and buy labels and then go to Avery.com where they have templates like this Christmas lights one I used.  I do not recommend throwing in a couple of beans into the bottles you give out as decoration as they will continue to infuse the bourbon and at some point all you will be able to taste is the coffee.

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You could certainly recreate my manhattan with the bourbon, drink it straight up or toss a little in your coffee for an extra holiday kick!  Luckily we have a bunch leftover as these are going to make perfect stocking stuffers.  Enjoy!

Rum Tasting Party

This party was starting to become my white whale – back in 2012 the Washington Post wrote an article about hosting your own rum tasting party.  Everyone is supposed to bring a different bottle of rum so you can taste varying styles and ages.  I immediately latched on to the idea and tried to make it happen…4 years later, success!  No this is not a difficult party to throw but you do need friends to sign up in advance so you can ensure a proper amount of bottles are represented.  You also need to get over the stigma of too many bad Captain and Cokes consumed during college.  Most of my friends said they would happily come to a tequila, scotch, whiskey…pretty much anything but rum tasting party.  Luckily I came up with a couple brave enough friends and it was a blast.  My buddy Devin, who has probably been to 99% off all parties I have hosted, declared it the. best. ever.

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So as I said, have everyone you invite plan on bringing a bottle for the party to consume.  We ran the gamut from black rum, 12 year old Dominican rum (hands down the crowd favorite), to Mt. Defiance rum made right here in Virginia.  I made sure to have plenty of small tasting cups for everyone to sip out of.  People really got into the spirit, helped along by a good tropical Spotify playlist.  Unfortunately, lots of pineapples had to die for this party to work, not only for the food but also as decoration.  The produce manager at Harris Teeter  must have thought I was a loon carting off over a dozen pineapples!!!  Totally worth it though to finally execute the cute, flowers in the pineapple thing, I have seen a million times on Pinterest.

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When throwing a liquor tasting party, you really need to think carefully about your menu.  No one wants all of their guests in a drunken stupor before the 1st course is even served!  I decided to go with heavy with the appetizers as they would be served while we worked our way through the tastings.  Basically I fried everything I could get my hands on.  I also made a really light rum punch to drink alongside the tasting (as recommended by the original article).

Spicy Coconut Shrimp

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Oh baby are these good – if deep drying intimidates you try shrimp.  You need way less oil, they cook quickly and with the crunchy coconut crust you are going to get that nice crisp texture no matter what.

Pina Colada Fritters

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I randomly found this recipe during some internet searching for Caribbean appetizers.  They were so light and crispy and great dipped into some bottled spicy mango sauce.  Since you are already heating up the oil for the shrimp might as well fry some more!

Following the tasting and appetizers most people switched to beer or wine and we served a full dinner.

Grilled Jerk Chicken

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This marinade is SO powerful and delicious.  I went with just boneless chicken breasts for the party to make life easier on myself, as opposed to bone in chicken but if you have the time go for it.  Best of all it’s delicious room temperature so you can grill the chicken before your guests even arrive.

Caribbean Mango Cabbage Slaw

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After all the fried and spicy foods I wanted a nice crisp slaw to balance everything out.  This one is nice and colorful and has a sweet hit from the mango.

Pineapple Fried Rice

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So delicious along with the spicy jerk chicken you definitely should take the time to serve this fried rice out of the pineapple shells for the party.

Key Lime Puffs

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These were my own creation – basically I wanted something really light since it was such a heavy menu.  I used Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Cups, filled them with key lime curd, topped with lime zest and a star fruit slice for decoration.  I think a plate of tropical fruits would also be the perfect end to this awesome party.

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This was definitely worth the wait but I suggest you not and throw a rum tasting party this weekend to celebrate the end of summer.  I am already thinking of another next tasting party – any suggestions for what to do next???

A Nautical BBQ

The 4th of July is the perfect time to hang outside with friend and family, especially if you have a great deck like we do.  We are really lucky to have a view of fireworks from ours so usually we just post up on the deck and hang until it gets dark and the show starts.  But you don’t have to wait for 4th of July to roll around to have a lovely and really easy BBQ at your place – this menu is designed so that almost everything is made in advance and can be served at room temperature so you can relax and enjoy your guests.  I decided to go with a nautical theme for the table and even some of the food since it works well for 4th of July.  I also just so happen to have a “boat load” of nautical entertaining gear.

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A party like this screams for disposable serve wear but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style.  I love bamboo plates for this because they are really sturdy, are eco friendly, chic and you don’t feel bad throwing them away.  Paired with cute wooden utensils and a large charcoal napkin your guests won’t even care they don’t have the real stuff.  Always remember when you are outside to think about what may blow away – I used my gorg turtle bottle opener as a paper weight but it did double duty with the beers.  I used lanterns filled with citronella candles to keep the DC bugs at bay and just set out all the dishes in the middle of the table so people could help them selves.  Scroll to the bottom for the sources of all this fun nautical stuff.  On to the menu!

Thyme Vodka Lemonade

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Just posted this Tuesday, this drink is perfect for a BBQ.  Not too potent and so refreshing.  I created a self serve bar by setting out glasses and an ice bucket so people could help themselves.  I love stemless wine glasses for parties because they work as a wine glass, water glass or cocktail glass (also my friends seem less prone to breaking these and Crate and Barrel sells them in 12 packs!).  We also had a bucket with summer beers and some crisp summer whites set up next to the bar.

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Open and Serve Snacks

My favorite kind!  The best way to round out a menu is to have some items where you have to do zero work at all.  Since I was already going “overboard” with the nautical theme I even went with nautical snacks.  These Wye River Crabbers are easily available in the Mid Atlantic – I buy them on the Eastern Shore but have seen them in local Harris Tetters – but you could definitely sub goldfish crackers here.  Sandbaggers are these awesome Virginia peanuts that are tossed with salt and fresh black pepper.  Again you can find them locally here in stores but go online and get some if you live elsewhere – they are a revelation.

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Of course I also had to go with Cape Cod Potato chips to make sure New England was represented.  A pretty bowl will class up any snack so make sure to use your best here (ie not disposable) and keep an eye on the levels throughout the party and replenish as needed.

Corn Fritters with Jalapeño Jelly

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These fritters were by far the most popular thing on the table.  The sweet corn is such a good foil to the spicy jelly.  I was nervous about making them in advance but they turned out really well – fry them off earlier in the day and then just reheat in the oven.  Even at room temperature they were delicious.  I topped them with my new obsession, Woodberry Pantry Chile Pepper Jam.  Made in Baltimore with fish peppers that are native to the Mid Atlantic region, it’s pretty spicy but with a nice sweet finish.  You can buy it on line or at Salt and Sundry in DC.

Crab Stuffed Grilled Bell Peppers

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Another really easy make ahead snack set out on a cute whale cutting board.  Crab can be expensive for a crowd but a little goes a long way with this dish.  I grilled the peppers ahead of time and made the filling in advance as well so all I had to do was scoop the crab mixture into the peppers and set them out on this cute whale cutting board my mom got me.  Delish.

Sausage and Peppers

Ok I didn’t take any pics of the main dish of the night – mostly because I was having way too much fun!  Not sure if you all need to know what sausage and peppers look like anyway.  I did a mix of hot and sweet sausages that I just picked up at the grocery store.  I par boiled them for 10 minutes until they cooked through so all the grill master needed to do was throw them on the grill for a couple of minutes to get a nice char on the outside.  I also sauteed up some onions and bell peppers earlier in the day until they were caramelized and soft.  Reheated in a skillet on the grill and with a quick splash of balsamic vinegar they were great piled on top of the sausages in their buns.  You could also sub for regular hot dogs to make life even easier.

Salted Caramel Brownies

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I have to admit – these were not the easiest brownies to make.  When I saw this recipe in the New York Times I immediately printed it out and made it that weekend.  The results were delicious but as you can see from the pic pretty messy!  All the caramel makes them pretty tough to cut but if you have the patience go for it!  If not I think brownies and cookies purchased from your favorite bakery would be a great way to go.  Some fresh strawberries are a great way to decorate the dish and add some fruit to the mix.  Have a great 4th of July – hope you get inspired and whip up some of these dishes!

Sources:  Gurgling Cod pitcher by Shreve, Crump & Low; Silver table lanterns (similar) from Pottery Barn ; Table runner from Serena and Lily no longer available – similar from World Market; Bamboo Plates and wooden utensils from Amazon; Stemless wine glasses from Crate and Barrel; Buoy bottle opener (similar) from Marc and Graham;  Nautical bowls no longer available – similar from Stonewall Kitchen; Fish plate serving the fritters from Come by Chance in St. Michaels, MD; Whale cutting board (similar) from Anthropologie.

 

Host a Raclette Night

Melted cheese as the basis for dinner?  Yes please!!  No it’s not fondue, it’s raclette – the Swiss tradition that is becoming all the rage.  Raclette is actually a kind of semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, as well as a method of melting said cheese into a dinner party sensation.  Years ago as a wedding present, my family friend Beverly, gave us an 8 person raclette maker along with a mega waffle iron.  The genius of a large raclette maker is that the top acts as a griddle so she explained it would be great for pancakes etc but if we wanted to it also doubled as this thing called a raclette maker, something very popular up in Canada where she lives.

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The little raclette scoops go under the griddle surface to melt, while the top is left free to heat up anything you want to dip into the cheese.  Genius.

I sort of forgot about its secondary use until one day, low and behold, Crate and Barrel had an entire raclette display set up.  Up until then I didn’t realize it meant melting cheese and pairing it with all of my favorite things!  I ran home, pulled it out and raclette night has been popular in the Costello house ever since.  Friends love raclette night because it’s a fun communal way of eating that encourages sitting around, cracking into some bottles and experimenting with different combinations.  When I first started doing raclette it was hard to find the actual cheese but now I am seeing it everywhere.  If you are in DC, Righteous Cheese  carries an imported raclette from Switzerland (right) as well as one made in Vermont (left).  They also carry it at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.  As you can see it looks like Swiss cheese (duh) but has a much more nutty, rich flavor.

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You can always improvise with another kind of melting cheese if you can’t find raclette – I won’t tell anyone.  The real trick is getting one of the makers.  The 8 person version is the most popular because raclette is meant to be shared but I also found this cute one for 2 people.  I really like this version from Williams Sonoma as you can have a larger “coupelle” at the top to share but it doesn’t have the grill/griddle portion.  If you are going to get one I say go whole hog and get the one with the griddle on top so it’s a multi use item.  Now that you have your maker and your cheese you are going to need to find stuff to dip into that melty goodness.  I like to go classic with a mix of hearty vegetables, cured meats and of course BREAD.  The Swiss are also partial to pickled items with their cheese that gives it a nice tang.

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For this raclette party I served the following:  roasted brussel sprouts, prosciutto, calabrese salami, boiled baby new potatoes, cornichon, baguette slices, crackers, green grapes and grainy mustard.  Also good would be pickled onions, roasted turkey or ham, asparagus spears, chutney, kettle cooked potato chips…the list goes on and on.  That’s what is so fun about this dinner party is that all you really do is assemble.

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To go with the raclette I suggest getting some nice Belgian beer like these Chimays I picked up.  The beer makes a great foil to the cheese – we also had some nice artisanal cider from Millstone, which was particularly great with the Vermont raclette.

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Lest you think people will go away hungry, don’t – eating this much cheese really fills you up.  But just in case it is a good idea to end the night with something sweet.  I made this amazing blood orange tart with salted caramel on top.

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I have seen lots of local wine bars and cheese shops doing raclette nights so check out your local ones and see if you can get on the bandwagon.  I am sure once you have done it you will want to get a raclette maker for yourself!

Chinese New Year Party

Happy year of the monkey!  Chinese New Year officially started yesterday but the good news is the celebration goes on for several days, through the weekend, so you can join in on the fun.  I remember going to New Year’s parties in Chinatown in Boston when I was a kid – I loved all of the colorful decorations, the exotic dragons and of course the food!  Even if you aren’t Chinese no one can argue with getting a second crack at celebrating New Years and this holiday comes with so many fun traditions.  Before throwing my party I did quite a bit of research but don’t get hung up on authenticity (and apologies in advance from any liberties I may have taken!).  The main purpose of Chinese New Year is to honor one’s ancestors so it’s all about being surrounded by friends and family and celebrating life.

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Decorating for this party is half the fun.  I got a bunch of paper lanterns and fans and hung them all over – even better, if you are careful when you take them down you can reuse them plenty of times and they store flat.  I knew I definitely wanted to get lots and lots of fortune cookies so they could double as decorations and dessert.

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Lucky Money Bags are a traditional Chinese New Year element where usually kids get these red envelopes with either real money or candy coins.  As thrilled as I am sure my friends would have been to get cash, I opted for the chocolate coins instead.  They were the perfect take home favor (though I think people started cracking into them early!).

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I tried to keep the menu fun and sort of bite sized so everyone could mix and mingle with food in hand or chopstick.  This is a great excuse to head to your local Asian market (my favorite in the DC area is H Mart) and grab things you usually don’t cook with.  You can also grab take out containers, steaming baskets and chopsticks while you are there.  I cheated a bit and bought some frozen shrimp shu mai which helped round out the spread.

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Since I bought the shrimp dumplings that freed me up to make my own pork ones.  These delicious Sichuan pork wontons also called Chao Shou were actually really easy to make since you can buy the wonton wrappers in advance and just fill and boil them.  Dressed in black vinegar and chili oil they pack a nice kick.

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In addition to the dumplings and of course a nice selection of wine and beer (we tried to find Tsingtao but no luck) we had individual containers of cold sesame noodles.  I used a classic New York Times recipe (sans the cucumber, ick!) and doubled it up.  I thought it would be fun if everyone had their own little take out container so grabbed these mini ones from Webstaurant Store, an awesome online restaurant supply place.

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To try and get some veggies in I made a nice crunchy asian slaw and put it in little wonton cups.  I made them myself (easy to do) with these green wonton wrappers I got at the asian market for a pop of color.

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Last but not least I wanted to make sure to have a substantial meat dish and what is better than meat on a stick?  Chicken satay was a great choice because it was easy to eat and also really good room temperature.

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I hope everyone has a delicious and happy Chinese New Year!

 

 

 

 

Cookie Decorating Party

It’s easy to get bogged down during the holidays with all of the very important staff adults “have to do” like attend boring work parties, address and send hundreds of Christmas cards, not to mention the daily vacuuming of pine needles.  An easy fix is to spend an afternoon with some kids decorating cookies.  Seriously, I came up with the idea of this party because I thought it would be fun for some of the little people in my life but the adults had just as much fun as the kids.  It was so therapeutic that my friend Tara said she hadn’t been that relaxed in months! So bust out the frosting and sprinkles and have yourself a party.

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Keep the party low key so you can enjoy yourself – I took several short cuts.  First and foremost cover your table!!  We made a ridiculous mess but I had put down craft paper before we started and at the end of the party I just rolled it up and tossed it (along with about 3 pounds of marshmallows).  I went a step further and bought premade dough.  Did you know they even sell it rolled out for you??  Normally I am a bit of a snob about these things but in the interest of my sanity, and the fact that I knew the cookie would just end up being a means of delivering frosting I took the shortcut and was glad I did.  If you want to make your own this recipe has always worked for me.

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It is important to make the cookies in advance, even the day before if you want.  Cutting out cookies is hard enough for adults let alone kids but also you can’t frost them until they are completely cooled.  Trust me you don’t want to be the one telling the kids they have to wait an hour to decorate!  Turns out I had a million different holiday cutters (shocker) so we had snowmen, wreaths, trees, stars, gingerbread men, and snowflakes.

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I decided to make my own frosting but you can certainly buy tubes of the premade stuff.  Just make sure you have lots as the icing went fast!  I used Wilton’s Royal Icing recipe – it’s great because it hardens fast but you may need to tinker with the proportions, I found I needed a lot more water than called for.  To make the different colors I really like gel coloring because you need a lot less of it than standard liquid food coloring and the colors are a lot richer.  I did white, red, green, blue, yellow and purple cause heck it was a girls cookie party.  I also put out some mini marshmallows and Hershey Kisses for decorating/snacking.  My friends Karin and Tara brought their adorable girls Sophie and Grayson who dove right in.

It is also important to have some non-cookie food to munch on.  I made mini pizzas and a cheese board (with some bubbly for the adults of course).  It was such a fun way to spend the afternoon and in the end each kid had a special box with their names on them to pack up their cookies and take them home.

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Everyone had a great time and with about 1 hour of prep time I was able to pull this off.  Who can argue with a party that comes with a cookie goodie bag?  I think this just might become an annual tradition….

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What You Need For A Cookie Decorating Party

Special Equipment:

  • different varieties of sprinkles, candies and marshmallows
  • craft paper for the table
  • milk for dunking
  • frosting and squeeze bottles for frosting (or tubes of frosting)
  • bags or boxes to take home cookies
  • cookie dough – premade or homemade
  • cookie cutters
  • snacks
  • a couple bottles of bubbly (in case of emergency)

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