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Plan a Cozy Comfort Food Cocktail Party

Cocktail parties don't need to be stuffy. In fact, they're more fun if they're laid-back. And what's more relaxed than a return to childhood with a comfort food-themed cocktail party? We guarantee your friends and family will love it. Best of all, everybody's favorite comfort foods are easy to make and most can be prepared in advance. Here are some tips for throwing your very own comfort food cocktail party:

1) Find some super-cute tableware

We particularly love the whimsical Cheeky Kids line of plates, napkins and more from Target. How adorable are these plates? Perfect for holding comfort foods. And these teeny-tiny red Solo-like cups are ideal for serving mac and cheese, tomato soup or adorably tiny cocktails.

cheekykidstarget.jpg

Photo by Target

2) Can't Miss with Macaroni and Cheese

Whip up a big batch of your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe. Or, make it even easier on yourself and try a no-boil recipe. Portion the comforting, cheesy goodness out into those little red cups or offer up these cute little mac-and-cheese "muffins."

mac and cheese mini muffins

Photo by MyHotSouthernMess

3) Get Warm and Toasty with Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Here's another super-easy, comfort food menu option: Dippable grilled cheese fingers and little cups of tomato soup. Make up a mess of grilled cheese sandwiches to feed a crowd with this simple sheet-pan technique. Cool briefly and use a pizza cutter to trim the sandwiches into strips. For our recent comfort-food cocktail party, we just heated a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup and poured servings into those little red cups for dipping. (Don't tell.) But you could certainly whip up some homemade tomato soup.

tomato soup

Photo by CC<3's2bake

4) Something Meaty

We served easy, comforting mini-meatball sandwiches. Offer up toppings like shredded cheese or spicy giardiniera for guests to customize their sliders. For an easy vegetarian version, toss your favorite meatless meatballs into a slow-cooker, top with your favorite jarred tomato sauce and heat through.

mini meatball subs

Photo by Molly

5) Make the Drinks Memorable

A cocktail party wouldn't be a cocktail party without some drinks, would it? It's easy to put a comfort-food spin on cocktails. We heated up a slow-cooker full of spiced cider and allowed friends to add their own bourbon, if desired. Guests could also spike chocolate milk with mint-chocolate liqueur for a grown-up twist on a childhood favorite. Or, set up a DIY hot chocolate bar with marshmallows, whipped cream, candy stir sticks and your favorite liqueurs.

hot cocoa

Photo by House of Aqua

6) Retro Sweets for the Win

Think back to childhood favorites for your comfort-food cocktail party desserts. Make itsy-bitsy chocolate chip cookies. Serve up mini ice cream sundaes with a bunch of toppings. We even had one guest bring over every Little Debbie Snack item she could find! We made a big pan of PB&J marshmallow-rice treats and cut them into slim wedges. Simply make your favorite marshmallow-rice cereal treats, but add some hefty scoops of peanut butter into the melted butter and marshmallows. Pour half of the cereal mixture into a greased pan, top with your favorite jelly and the remaining cereal mixture. Cool and cut.

crisped rice treats

Photo by Neelam

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About Heather Lalley

Heather Lalley is a Chicago-based food writer and mother of two. She has degrees in journalism and baking & pastry, and is the author of "The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook," a farm-to-table book about Chicago chefs who work closely with local farmers. She's a vegetarian, so she won't steal your hamburger -- but you'd better watch your fries and tater tots. Follow her on Twitter @flourgrrrl.