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How to host an Oscar party, and still enjoy the show

By Barbara Fairchild

(Reuters) - It goes without saying — but we will say it, anyway — that the key to hosting an Oscar party is to make sure that you do not spend too much time in the kitchen and too little time in front of the TV. Oscar night is all about serving everything buffet-style, and with a little planning, you can enjoy the fun. Here's how.

DRINKS This is no time to play bartender. Stick with a good white wine and a solid red — there are great inexpensive bottles coming from everywhere these days. There are a lot of good beers and microbrews, too. Be sure to have water on hand (flat and sparkling) as well as soda and maybe a big pitcher of iced tea and/or lemonade for the non-drinkers (and the drivers). Put out various glasses and let everyone help themselves.

APPS Think of this as an evening served in stages. The first one is guest arrival and about the first 30 to 45 minutes of the show. Keep it simple here: A crudite platter (baby carrots, sugar snap peas, sliced mushrooms, bell pepper strips, etc.) with both a "regular" dip and a nonfat salsa, some tortilla chips, a selection of good olives and a cheese platter that will be replenished later. I like a contrasting trio such as Brie or Camembert, a good cheddar and a soft goat cheese. Have baguette slices, plain crackers and celery and jicama sticks alongside.

MAINS "Announce" the main dish about 45 minutes into the show. Use the commercial break(s) to change gears. Highly recommended: a big pot of hearty soup or chili. Keep it over a very low heat on the stove, put out the bowls and spoons and let everyone help themselves in the kitchen. For soup, have a bowl of grated Parmesan cheese for garnish; for the chili, set out bowls of chopped onion, grated Jack, Queso Fresco or cheddar, and sliced jalapenos for the adventurous. And remember, no one ever said you had to make anything. We've done takeout pizza and a big salad in the past; or a lasagna from Trader Joe's or Costco (no kidding; it's great for a party like this); or a big chicken salad using store-bought rotisserie chicken and bags of Romaine, arugula, sliced mushrooms, shredded carrots, etc., with a great loaf of bread to accompany it. I make my own dressing, but there's nothing that says you can't use store-bought. Don't be a martyr — be with your guests.

DESSERTS Set these out about 45 minutes before the end of the show. This is when the "big" awards are usually announced, so you will want to be in front of the TV and not slicing a cheesecake. Keep it simple here, too: A platter of cookies or "mini" tartlets, say. Replenish the cheese platter, add a bowl of grape clusters and another of sliced ripe pears and crisp apples. (Cut up the latter ahead of time and keep them fresh in a bowl of ice water and a little lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.) Set up the coffeemaker ahead of time, too, so all you have to do is a flip the switch to get that going. Put out the cups and mugs and let everyone pour their own. If you want to add a few after-dinner-drink selections, no one is stopping you: They're a nice finishing touch.

EXTRA, EXTRA: YOU VERSUS THE ACADEMY A little wagering never hurts on a night like this. Print out ballots for as many categories as you like. We usually do the main acting ones and Best Picture, plus director, original and adapted screenplays (we know a lot of writers!), animated feature and Best Song. Each guest puts a dollar into the pot, and the one with the most correct picks wins.

(Reporting by Barbara Fairchild; Editing by Arlene Getz, Kathy Jones and Douglas Royalty)

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