By SUSAN NASH GILPIN
March 11, 2009 12:00 PM

How do you make sure your game-night party hits the jackpot? “Look around your house for items you can use for the decor,” says Mistyka J. García of Special Occasions Event Planning in Beverly Hills, who has worked for celebs like LeAnn Rimes. “Throw a blanket or pillows on the ground for board games or bring in furniture from other rooms and do more tabletop games. Don’t overthink it: Keep it simple and enjoyable.”

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PARTY PLAYLIST

“The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers

“Ace in the Hole,” George Strait

“A Good Run of Bad Luck,” Clint Black

“Let’s Go to Vegas,” Faith Hill
“Ace of Hearts,” Mark Wills

“Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Hank Williams

“I Feel Lucky,” Mary Chapin Carpenter

“Walking Away a Winner,” Kathy Mattea

“Viva Las Vegas,” Elvis Presley

“Down in Mississippi (Up to No Good),” Sugarland

“I Got My Game On,” Trace Adkins

QUICK & EASY DECOR

Nest a vase inside a larger clear vase. Stack poker chips or domino tiles in the space between the vases and fill the smaller vase with monochromatic flowers. Keep it simple and use just one type of flower, like peonies or roses.

POMEGRANATE MARGARITAS

Makes: about 16 cups

Hands-on time: 20 min.

Total time: 24 hrs. 10 min.

3 cups white tequila

2 cups cranberry juice

1 cup pomegranate juice

¾ cup Triple Sec

1 (10-oz.) can frozen margarita mix, thawed

1 (12-oz.) can frozen cranberry juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted

1 (12-oz.) can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed and undiluted

Light corn syrup

Coarse sparkling sugar

1. Combine 6 cups water and first 7 ingredients in a very large bowl. Cover and freeze at least 24 hrs. or until slushy.

2. Pour a small amount of corn syrup onto one plate and coarse sugar onto another. Dip rims of margarita glasses in corn syrup, then sugar. Pour margaritas into prepared glasses.

TIP!

Save space in the freezer by dividing the batch into servings and storing them in zip-top freezer bags.

SWEET ‘N’ SPICY PARTY NUTS

Makes: 4 cups

Hands-on time: 15 min.

Total time: 1 hr.

1½ cups sugar, divided

4 cups warm water

2 cups pecan halves

2 cups whole almonds

¼ cup butter or margarine, melted

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons lime zest

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground red pepper

1. Combine 1 cup sugar and 4 cups warm water in a large bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pecans and almonds to liquid mixture; let stand 10 min. Drain well; pat nuts dry with paper towels and return to bowl. Pour butter over nut mixture, stirring to coat.

2. Stir together remaining ½ cup sugar, chili powder and next 4 ingredients; pour over nut mixture, tossing to coat. Spread in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet.

3. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 min., stirring occasionally. Arrange in a single layer on waxed paper to cool. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.

CUCUMBER RANCH DIP

Makes: 2 cups

Hands-on time: 10 min.

Total time: 1 hr. 10 min.

1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened

½ cup ranch dressing

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons minced onion

1½ teaspoons dried dill weed

1. Beat cream cheese and ranch dressing at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

2. Stir in cucumber, onion and dill weed. Cover and chill 1 hr.

3. Serve with cut raw vegetables.

TWO-CHEESE MAC AND CHEESE

Serves: 10

Hands-on time: 20 min.

Total time: 50 min.

1 pound elbow macaroni

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup all-purpose flour

6 cups milk

1½ cups (6 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese

2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Swiss cheese

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)

1. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

2. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook 1 min., whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in milk; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is thickened and bubbly, about 7 min. Stir in the cheeses, salt and red pepper (if desired) and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the cheeses melt. Add macaroni and toss. Spoon mixture into 10 (8-oz.) buttered ramekins. (Can also be baked in a 3-quart baking dish for 30 to 40 min.)

3. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 min.

TIP!

To make ahead, assemble macaroni and cheese but do not bake. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hrs. Bake as directed, adding 15 to 20 min. to the cooking time.

SLIDERS WITH SHALLOT-DIJON RELISH

Makes: 16 sliders

Hands-on time: 50 min.

Total time: 50 min.

6 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 pounds ground sirloin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable cooking spray

16 (1-oz.) Parker House rolls or small dinner rolls

32 dill pickle chips

1. Preheat grill to 350°-400° (medium-high).

2. Stir together shallots and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave at high for 1 min., stirring after 30 sec. Set aside.

3. Combine sirloin, salt and pepper. Divide mixture into 16 equal portions, shaping each into a ¼-inch-thick patty. Lightly coat both sides of patties with cooking spray. Place patties on grill rack; grill 3 min. on each side or until done.

4. Cut rolls in half horizontally. Spread shallot mixture evenly over cut sides of rolls. Layer 1 patty and 2 pickle chips on bottom half of each roll; place tops on rolls.

DOMINO BROWNIES

Cut store-bought brownies into 1-inch rectangles, then decorate with fondant icing and white chocolate chips.

FOR BONUS POINTS

DRESS UP YOUR DRINKS

Poker Party card suit drink stirrers featuring clubs, hearts, diamonds and spades, $1.99 for set of 8; retroplanet.com

RAISE THE STAKES

Premium 300 Diamond Suited poker chip set, $27.99; amazon.com

SUIT YOURSELF

Opry playing cards, $5.99; shop.opry.com

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