Tray Chic: Secrets Of The Party-Givers

Ever go to a party and wonder how the busy host or hostess was able to pull together all the delicious food and beautiful decorations? The Early Show may have discovered their secret: a quick trip to their local big box store.

That's right, in addition to pallets of paper towels, Costco, BJ's, Sam's Club and Price Club - to name a few - have a hidden cache of gourmet foods or products that can be repurposed to look expensive and taste delicious. Proof positive: Julie Chen confessed she likes the frozen shrimp cocktails. Hannah Storm says she swears by the Costco frozen guacamole.

We sent lifestyle expert Sissy Biggers to her local Price Club and gave her one hour to organize a holiday cocktail party - hors d'oeuvres and decorations. Though she said she would have appreciated a little time for "reconnaissance" before she shopped, Biggers found plenty of viable items. Her other piece of pre-shopping advice: clean out your freezer so that it can accommodate all the large packages.

For decorations she found some cones covered with sparkly paper; grouped together, they made a festive centerpiece. For the light, fluffy "snow" she heaped around the cones, she used French sea salt. "They didn't have this at our Price Club a couple years ago," she marveled. "And not only is it, you know, very gourmet, but isn't that fun and decorative?"

Biggers suggested taking a boring wheel of brie cheese and dressing it up. "Shave the top of the rind of the cheese off and add a little cranberry sauce, and [some] already-spiced nuts, flavored almonds. [Heat it up] in the oven. It's wonderful. It's gooey and people just congregate around this," she predicted.

Crudites with dip can be dressed up, too, by using unusual vegetables (small gourmet cucumbers, for instance) and a special dip, like one with crab meat (Bigger's party trick: add even more crabmeat to the dip). Julie's favorite frozen shrimp get the deluxe treatment, too: "You can get them whole, tail- on, deveined and frozen, then just sautee them with a little Teriyaki sauce, a little wine to finish it off. It's great at room temperature. There will be none of those left, I promise," said Biggers.

Hummus can go from dull to delicious if you add a few piquillo peppers, and frozen scallops wrapped in bacon are improved if you dip the bacon in a little brown sugar before the hors d'oeuvre goes into the oven. Frozen ravioli can also make a tempting treat: "A little oil, just deep fry them," said Biggers. "They puff up and really taste good with a marinara sauce."

Finally, to dress up some champagne or sparkling wine, "add a little drop of pomegranate juice" to the glass to give it a pretty, pink glow.
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