I figured out years ago how to put together a party by playing to my strengths. Instead of fussing over the food, I focus on presentation and let my local deli and pizza parlor supply the rest.
Mix-and-match silver serving pieces and crisply ironed linens can make even the simplest foods look sophisticated. One huge punch bowl chock-full of potato chips and a smaller bowl of dip (I never stray from the classic 1950s combination of sour cream and onion-soup mix) is my signature party dish. Good-quality olives (with frilly cellophane-topped toothpicks, of course) and a large platter of pistachios round out the savory side of my no-cook cocktail party menu.
Have your favorite pizza delivered, and then embellish, embellish, embellish. DIY toppings set out in pretty little bowls look bountiful and give the impression that you spent at least some time in the kitchen. My favorite extras include a hunk of fresh Parmesan, basil and oregano bundled in a silver julep cup, red-pepper flakes, and a selection of exotic salts (I like to include black salt; white, large-flake finishing sea salt; French fleur de sel; and pink Hawaiian salt for a range of colors and textures).
Serve what you love, be it ever so humble. I'm crazy for coconut doughnuts, so I buy lots and arrange them in a chain-link pattern on a cake stand or cake platter with a glass top. Then I set out my best dessert plates with matching linens. Having to remove the dome and eat them off a pretty plate instantly gives these treats cocktail-party credibility.
Turn a half-gallon tub of Neapolitan ice cream -- my favorite is from Il Laboratorio del Gelato (laboratoriodelgelato.com) -- into a decadent bombe by dripping plenty of dark chocolate over it.
First, cut the carton off the ice cream. Refreeze it until it hardens, and then pour slightly cooled melted semisweet chocolate over the top, and let it drip down the sides; refreeze once more. When the topping is set, arrange the bombe on a fancy serving platter and scatter chunky chocolate bits on top and around it for an added flourish.
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