Time to Party: Celebrate the season with merriment, not frazzled nerves

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This is party season — but that needn't mean slaving until the wee hours when it's your turn to play host … at least not when you have party-throwing tips from Ina Garten and Diane Worthington in your back pocket.The real trick to throwing a memorable bash lies in restraint. Don't serve six courses at a dinner party, and there's no need to turn your cocktail spread into a bacchanalian extravaganza.

People try to do too much, says Garten, whose new book, "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof" (Clarkson Potter, $35), hit shelves this fall. Too many hosts have visions of handcrafted canapés — millions of them — or elaborate multicourse dinner parties floating around in their heads.

But it's better to make just a few really good, foolproof dishes, and to fill out the rest of the menu with interesting cheeses, clusters of grapes and fresh figs. Do as much ahead of time as possible and think about local resources: Is there a deli or artisan food vendor who makes that dip or appetizer better than you do?

"Then fill in with what you're comfortable making," Garten says.

Buying hummus and tzatziki from your favorite restaurant, and decanting the dips into pretty bowls to serve alongside the crudite, will help stave off "party anxiety," says Worthington, whose latest book is all about "Seriously Simple Parties" (Chronicle Books, $24.95).

Worthington adds a crowd-pleaser: an interactive crostini bar whose appeal belies its simplicity.

"You make the crostini — which is toast — then put out spreads and dips in little bowls. People love it," she says. "You can do different pestos, edamame pesto, a white bean dip, smoked salmon with crème fraîche."

"I always have red and white wine, sparkling water and a party cocktail. You cut down your worry about the bar," Worthington says. "For the holidays, I would do a sparkling wine with peach nectar and peach liqueur, or Prosecco, St. Germain and a twist of lemon."

Edamame Pesto

Makes 1½ cups

From Diane Worthington, “Seriously Simple Parties,” (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 224 pages)

1 garlic clove, peeled

¼ cup Marcona almonds

1 cup frozen shelled edamame, defrosted

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt, black pepper

In a food processor, mince the garlic and almonds. Add the edamame, parsley, cheese and lemon zest; pulse until coarsely blended.

With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, blending until emulsified but some texture remains. Season with salt and pepper. The pesto may be prepared up to one week ahead, covered in an airtight container and refrigerated. Serve with crostini.

Blue Potato Tarts

Serves 10

From Michael Natkin, “Herbivoracious” (Harvard Common Press, $24.95)

Basic pastry dough:

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons very cold butter, in small cubes

2 to 4 tablespoons ice-cold water

Tarts:

6 small purple potatoes, each 3 inches long

Extra-virgin olive oil

Truffle salt or kosher salt

1 sprig fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons water

¼ cup heavy cream

½ cup fresh chevre

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon thick, aged balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

For pastry, combine flour, salt and butter in a food processor; pulse until it looks like coarse oatmeal with a few larger chunks of butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over flour mixture and pulse just until dough starts to come together (add more water if necessary). Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice the potatoes into very thin, even slices, 1/8-inch thick or less.

In a small baking dish with a cover, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon truffle salt. Add rosemary and water. Cover and bake until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove lid and let cool.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the pastry crust into two 4-by-12-inch rectangles; transfer to the baking sheet. Use your hands to form a low raised edge all the way around. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.

Whisk together the cream, chevre, garlic and ¼ teaspoon truffle salt. Brush tart crusts with olive oil, then spread the chevre mixture evenly over them. Lay potato slices over chevre in neat, overlapping rows. Brush with oil; sprinkle with salt.

Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, cool slightly, then drizzle with the balsamic and garnish with parsley. Cut each tart into 5 slices and serve immediately.

Grilled Chicken Skewers With Yogurt-Mango Curry Sauce

Serves 8

Soak your bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes or overnight to protect them from flare-ups on the grill. From Diane Worthington, “Seriously Simple Parties.”

For the marinade:

½ cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons olive oil

Zest of ½ lime

1 teaspoon lime juice

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

1½ pounds chicken tenders, halved lengthwise

For the sauce:

1¼ cups plain low-fat Greek yogurt

1¾ teaspoons curry powder

Zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon lime juice, or to taste

½ cup mango chutney, mashed with a fork to break up large pieces

Red pepper flakes

Salt, pepper to taste

For the marinade, combine the yogurt, olive oil, lime zest and juice, red pepper flakes and black pepper in a medium, nonreactive bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.

Combine the yogurt, curry powder, lime zest, juice and chutney. Stir to combine. Season to taste with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Chill.

Thread chicken onto bamboo skewers. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high or heat a lightly oiled grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill chicken for 3 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Serve with the curry sauce for dipping.