THE BLOG

Dorm-Warming 101

08/12/2011 11:33 am ET | Updated Oct 12, 2011

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(Photo Credit: Small Kitchen College)

Like it or not, summer is swiftly coming to an end (can someone please tell me where July went?) which means the return to school for some and new homes for many! Every year of college I moved into a new place, and whether it was a dorm or an apartment didn't really matter: I immediately started scheming ways to throw a housewarming party. Size and extravagance varied from year to year, depending on roommates and resources, but we always managed to have a great time with good food (and drink!) and company. It only takes a few simple things to make a house- (or dorm-) warming as stress-free as moving and going back to school can be! Hopefully these tips will leave you thinking, "how easy was that?" (to quote the all-knowing Ina).

Set Up and Decor. With a housewarming, it is pretty much understood that everything is still in moving and/or transition mode so no need to go all out on the "décor." If you haven't organized all the furniture in your apartment, invest in a few folding chairs that can be used as seating for those who are feeling the trek across campus. They are bound to come in handy for general entertaining throughout the rest of the year and can be easily stored on the side of the bed or in the back of a closet. If you're in a dorm or just comfortable with sharing your personal space, make your bed into a couch with a few extra pillows. Apartments and dorm rooms are small, and friends can take up a lot of room, so maximize your space!

Drinks. Make your life easier and go for punch, which is a pretty trusted way to serve a lot of people without all the effort. The gin bucket is a seriously college-friendly punch, and every school has their preferred recipe for sodas and ratios (at UVa we added Fresca for a twist) that can easily be glammed up with some sliced citrus fruit. Speaking of boozy fruit (you can't go wrong with boozy fruit ,right?) sangria is a simple, tasty, and slightly more elegant alternative. It's super easy to make ahead and in large batches (and additionally in dorms if necessary), plus it can be varied infinitely to fit your palette and budget. If you're low on time, but are looking for a crowd pleaser, champagne based punches are always winners. Again, they are super flexible: just combine a bottle of champagne with your favorite juice, and perhaps even throw in some berries for good measure (notice a trend?).

Note: I left out beer for a reason. If you want to really give yourself a break, make the party "bring your own beer." When it comes to beer, people get picky and everyone has their favorite type and brand. Take the guesswork out and ask guests to pick up a six pack. If you get lucky, people will prefer your punch and you'll have leftover beer, aka your reward for hosting the party.

Food. Now the important stuff: food. The number one rule for entertaining is to keep it simple so you don't end up slaving in the kitchen while your guests are having fun. In keeping with this ethos, I suggest a few no-cook platters and dishes that require minimal prep and plate time. My advice is also to go no plates or silverware. Not only a cost-saving measure that's easy on the morning clean-up, also the food will last longer if you don't give people the chance to pile it all onto a plate. Veggies are always a hit and easy to prepare in even the humblest kitchen, so go for a crudités platter with your favorite seasonal vegetables. Serve with a creamy dip, perhaps something more creative than ranch.

Speaking of dips, do not underestimate the power of the dip! Put your margarita blender to good (better?) use and whip up some tasty dips. Hummus is always a yes in my book, as is guacamole. If you have the time or equipment to do a bit of cooking, try baba ghanoush or sweet pea dip. All can be served with crostini, slices of bread, chips or simply a box of crackers. And make those starches do double duty! Arrange a few of your favorite cheeses on a plate, and you've got yourself a meal.

But if you've got a sweet tooth like me, you'll want to cap the meal off with some bite-size desserts, like these mini raspberry brownies. Here's another place where you can have your guests contribute. My family and friends are big on cookie exchanges, so have everyone bring a dessert and there will be plenty to go around. And again... think leftovers.

-- Juliana Barton for Small Kitchen College.

Juliana Barton writes about enjoying good food and company for Small Kitchen College. She is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, where she lived in an apartment that hosted the more than occasional spaghetti night.