10 Tips for Last-Minute Party Planning

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  1. Raid the pantry. If you've got sour cream and mayo in the fridge, canned clams or even tuna, you have what you need to whip up a super-fast dip. All that's left to do is buy chips or swing by your grocer's salad bar to get crudités for dipping.

  2. Dress up your dip. When it comes to what you can add to a basic dip, the sky's the limit. Creamy, strong-flavored cheeses — like blue cheese — work extremely well with your standard sour cream and mayo. And in a pinch, use chopped frozen spinach, jarred artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers.

  3. Be creative. If you've got frozen peas, make pea "guacamole" — throw frozen peas into a food processor, pulse it a few times and finish it with salt, pepper, diced tomatoes and a squeeze of lime juice. This recipe is excellent with tortilla chips or pita chips.

  4. Think basic. A wedge of cheese with some fruit jam on the side makes a great appetizer, especially if you can pick up some crackers to go with it.

  5. Choose a cocktail. For a truly last-minute party, your guests won't expect you to have anything more than beer or wine to serve. But you could keep ingredients on hand to make one "house cocktail," such as margaritas or gin and tonic. Then you'll be able to offer people a choice between beer, wine or the house cocktail.

  6. Keep your freezer stocked. Spiced nuts are quick and easy to whip up, and they last for months in the freezer. Make them in advance so they're handy when guests drop by.

  7. Everyone loves sandwiches. Check out your local butcher or specialty meat store to find an assortment of cold cuts and pâtés. Then arrange them on a platter with jarred cornichons, good bread and a strong mustard.

  8. Use grocery store delis and salad bars. Deli counters are a great source for antipasto. Buy small balls of mozzarella, a few different kinds of olives, cherry tomatoes and marinated peperoncini. Then arrange them in small bowls.

  9. Pop some popcorn. Toss it with a combination of melted butter, salt and a unique spice for a flavorful surprise. We suggest Chinese 5-spice powder, Cajun spices or Spanish smoked paprika.

  10. Make the easiest nachos ever. Top tortilla chips with canned black beans (rinse them before using), canned jalapenos, jarred salsa and shredded cheese. Then put under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese.
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