November 26, 2014 12:00 PM

Sharon Sacks has planned elaborate A-list events—including the weddings of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and of Vanessa Minnillo and Nick Lachey. But when it comes to entertaining at home, the California-based party planner is surprisingly low-key. “You can make things grand, but you don’t need to,” says Sacks. “The details do matter but not necessarily the ones you’re fretting over. Nobody judges a party based on the expensive liquors or overpriced napkins. Your friends and family are looking for a touch of you and the warmth the holidays bring.”

They also have an eye out for two specific menu items. “The first things people look for are alcohol and desserts,” says Sacks, 67. “Guests love to indulge and to let go. So when you have those two things crossed off your list, you’re sure to win!”

For this holiday open house, Sacks chose an entire menu of small bites. “There are so many appetizers you can make or purchase that won’t break the bank,” she says. (See recipes, next page.) “What I love about them is that they allow people to have a conversation. Guests can also visit the table, come back for more and not feel guilty.”

This buffet boasts a winter-white color scheme because “it’s an easy palette. Winter to me means frosty whites and creams with gold and silver accents,” says Sacks, who introduced her own line of Lenox china last year. “It’s calming and soothing.” To add height to food displays, Sacks wraps books of various sizes in white paper and places platters of food on top of the stacks, which also have festive words written on them such as “peace,” “friendship” and “kindness.” “It’s a conversation starter, and it reminds people about what’s important,” she says.

To prepare for hosting duties, “I try to be ready an hour before the party, and I make sure I have my lipstick and any touch-up makeup I’ll need in a kitchen drawer. That way I don’t have to go up and down stairs,” she says. But it’s truly less about your appearance and more about your attitude. “The key is to be prepared but not get caught up in everything being perfect,” she says. “Drinks will spill, things will break, but as a host you set the tone for the party, so have fun and relax!”




“Take vases or glass jars and fill them with marshmallows and lights to create the look of illuminated snowdrifts,” says Sacks. “Add romance with candlelight.”


Have food for everyone.

“I always make sure I have a gluten-free dessert—but it can be store-bought. It lets your guests know you’ve taken care of them.”

Use fresh flowers.

“They bring an added layer of elegance and class that can’t be achieved with other decor.”

Make a diverse playlist.

“I mix music from the ’40s like Edith Piaf with Maroon 5 and Usher.”


“It’s so easy for hosts to create,” says Sacks, who sets up a simple backdrop and buys themed props online. “People can then take pics themselves on their phone. You’ll be shocked how many times guests go back for more shots!”


“I like to do mini bottles of champagne with a message for guests to take on the way out. People love it because it has meaning,” says Sacks.


Parmesan Tartlets with Caesar Salad

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Bites

Pesto Tortellini Caprese Skewers

Cinnamon Apple Cocktails

Snowflake Doily Sugar Cookies


1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato

8 egg whites

1 tsp. cinnamon, plus extra for topping

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend together until mixture is very smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour into lightly greased mini-muffin tins (or you can line with liners), filling each tin about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool completely, then remove from tin and store in refrigerator.

Makes: 18 Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 25 minutes


1½ cups finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus ½ cup shaved Parmesan cheese

1 head romaine lettuce, finely chopped

¾ cup small croutons

½ cup Caesar salad dressing

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Turn a 12-cup mini-muffin pan upside down and lightly coat the bottom with cooking spray. Set aside a second 12-cup mini-muffin pan. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Working in batches, shape 1 tbsp. grated cheese into a 3-in. round on prepared baking sheet. Make 12 rounds, spacing them about 2 in. apart. Bake until rounds are melted and golden brown around the edges, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer rounds to prepared upside-down muffin pan, laying 1 across each of the upturned cups. While rounds are still hot, gently sandwich the second muffin pan over the first to shape cheese tartlets. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, then carefully remove tartlets and transfer to a large platter. Repeat process with remaining grated cheese. The tartlets can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. To serve: Toss together lettuce, croutons, dressing and shaved Parmesan in a large bowl. Fill each tartlet with a spoonful of the salad.

Makes: 24 Prep time: 30 minutes Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes


4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. store-bought pesto

2 tsp. red wine vinegar

2 packages spinach tortellini, cooked and cooled

2 pints cherry tomatoes

12 oz. fresh mozzarella, cubed

¼ cup minced fresh parsley

Mix together the olive oil, pesto and vinegar in a bowl. On small skewers, thread 1 tortellini, 1 cherry tomato and 1 mozzarella cube per skewer. Lay the skewers on a platter and lightly drizzle the dressing over them with a spoon. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Sprinkle on the minced parsley just before serving.

Makes: 20 Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 9 minutes


3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp. milk

Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

1 medium-size paper doily

1. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, and beat until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 375º. On a flat surface sprinkled with powdered sugar, roll out one package of dough to ¼-in. thickness. Place doily on top of dough, use rolling pin to create imprint. Lift doily and repeat. Cut dough into desired shapes, then place at least 1 in. apart on a greased or parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake cookies for 7 to 9 minutes or until they start to turn brown around the edges. Cool cookies on wire rack. Repeat with second package of dough. Serve as is or decorate. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes: about 48 2½-in. cookies Prep time: 15 minutes, plus chilling Cook time: 7 to 9 minutes per batch

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