The Menu

(starred recipes are included)

*Sparkling Pomegranate Cocktail

• Eggnog

• Crudités

• Trio of Dips: Red Pepper, Ranch, Hummus

• Cheese Straws

*Big-Batch Chili

*Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

*Red Velvet Cupcakes

*Golden Honey Granola



Estee Stanley doesn't just create spectacular events for A-listers. The celebrity stylist and interior designer who helped plan the wedding of Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel throws her own affairs as well. "I like my events to feel homey and welcoming," she says. "I want people to have a great time!"

For this open-house party plan, which encourages guests to drop by throughout the day, Stanley decorates to create a feeling of excitement and whimsy. "It's all in the details," she explains. "People feel special that you've put so much effort into creating a party for them." But that doesn't mean it has to be expensive or time-consuming. She suggests "focusing on simple pieces that create a large visual impact." Examples of decor that packs a punch include multicolored straws, festive paper flourishes and fresh flowers, which "create warmth by bringing the outside in." A table runner is another way to embellish a room while maintaining a casual vibe; "a full tablecloth with place settings can feel stuffy and overdone," she explains.

While this party "doesn't require a five-course gourmet meal," you still need a menu plan. "Don't just throw nuts and chips in bowls and call it a party," Stanley says. Instead pick foods of "delicious simplicity" that are "easy to eat, not too big of a mess to clean up and always tasty." A self-serve chili bar provides a one-bowl meal that's "warm, inviting and filling—and can be personalized with toppings," she says. "Guests can serve themselves as much or as little as they want."

Then there's the atmosphere to consider: "Set up food and drinks in the room where you want your party to be," says Stanley, and don't forget music and lighting. Work the floor: "Always ask people if they're having a good time." And plan ahead. "Prep as much as you can beforehand so you can enjoy yourself once your guests have arrived. If you're relaxed and having fun, your guests will be too."



BIG-BATCH CHILI

Makes 10 to 12 servings

4 lbs. ground chuck, cooked in a skillet and drained

2 medium onions, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 (14½-oz.) cans diced tomatoes

4 (8-oz.) cans tomato sauce

1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste

¼ cup chili powder

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper

½ tsp. each paprika and ground red pepper

1 bay leaf

1 cup water

2 (16-oz.) cans light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (optional)

Ideas for toppings: sour cream, chopped green onions, shredded cheddar cheese, black olives

1. Place browned meat and next 14 ingredients in a 6-qt. slow cooker. Cook, covered, at high 5 to 6 hours or at low 6 to 8 hours. Add beans, if desired, during last hour. Remove and discard bay leaf. Serve with desired toppings.



THREE-BEAN VEGETARIAN CHILI

Makes 12 servings

4 red bell peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded

6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 tsp. each ground cumin, crushed red pepper and paprika

½ tsp. salt

1 (32-oz.) carton organic vegetable broth

3 cups (½-in.) butternut squash, peeled and cubed

2 (28-oz.) cans tomatoes, chopped (no salt added preferred)

2 (15-oz.) cans each pinto beans, cannellini beans and red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup green onions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat broiler. Place peppers, skin side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 15 minutes or until blackened. Place peppers in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel and chop peppers.

2. Cook onions in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, cumin, crushed red pepper, paprika and salt; cook 2 minutes, stirring often. Add broth, squash, tomatoes and chopped peppers; bring to a simmer. Cook 30 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally. Add beans; simmer 15 minutes or until slightly thickened. Serve with green onions.



RED VELVET CUPCAKES

Makes 20

¾ cup butter, softened

1½ cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 (1-oz.) bottle red liquid food coloring

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2½ cups all-purpose flour

3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

½ tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 tbsp. white vinegar

1 tsp. baking soda

Cream cheese frosting

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Stir in food coloring and vanilla.

2. Combine flour, cocoa and salt. Stir together buttermilk, vinegar and baking soda in a 4-cup liquid measuring cup. (Mixture will bubble.) Alternate adding flour mixture then buttermilk mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Place paper baking cups in 2 (12-cup) muffin pans; scoop batter evenly into 20 cups.

3. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to wire racks; cool completely. Serve with cream cheese frosting.



GOLDEN HONEY GRANOLA

Makes about 8 cups

3 cups regular oats, uncooked

¾ cup almonds, sliced

½ cup honey

1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. each salt and ground cloves

3 cups wheat bran flake cereal

¾ cup golden raisins or dried mixed fruit

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Spread oats and almonds evenly on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring well after 5 minutes.

2. Combine honey, oil, cinnamon, salt and cloves in a large bowl. Add oat mixture; toss well. Spread mixture on a lightly greased baking sheet; bake 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Break oat mixture in chunks; toss with cereal and raisins. Store, tightly covered, at room temperature up to 2 weeks.