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Our Top 10 Party Must-Haves

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A few days ago we invited ourselves to our friends' place after work for a last-minute visit. Hoping to get to the LCBO to pick a bottle of vino as a hostess gift, we were thwarted when business kept us past the liquor store closing time.

To my surprise, when we arrived empty-handed our friends admitted they had nothing to offer: no wine, no beer... not even coffee! Fair, we invited ourselves, and after a busy, long holiday weekend they still had yet to go grocery shopping But our excitement over relaxing with a nice glass of red catching up with pals came to a crashing end. Sure, we found a local pub and had a great time chatting over pints, but it wasn't the same.

Our conversation eventually led to why -- and how? -- they could possibly have run out of everything in their house. Especially because they believe they entertain more than the average hostess.

We offered them our list of entertaining staples, which we always have on hand in case of a social emergency, which we will also now share with you. These are our indispensables -- what are yours?

PARTY MUST-HAVES
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1. Wine: Both red and white. We like to change things up all the time, but for an inexpensive crowd pleasers we look to wines under $15. Look to Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay 2011 from Chile. It can be found in the general list of the LCBO, and it's a tasty deal. For red, try Montes Classic Series Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Chile.

If you're American, you can probably find something decent for way cheaper, but here in Ontario we're victims of wicked taxation on booze, so no Two-Buck Chuck for us.

Anyway, pick up six of each and keep them stored in the closet or under the stairs, so you won't get caught short when unexpected visits happen.

2. Beer: We like to keep about six to 12 types on hand, but you may need more, depending on your friends' -- and your own -- drinking preferences. We go for a mix of light, refreshing beer like Mill Street Organic, and something a little different like Peroni, which is light and nutty with a slightly bitter finish, or KLB Raspberry Wheat Beer. It's charmingly fruity without being sickeningly sweet.

3. Gin: We love gin. G&Ts are our cocktail of choice in the summer months, and we've been known to sneak one or two over the winter just for kicks. Beefeater works just fine for us, and there's a bottle of it in the freezer at all times.

4. Vodka: Same reasons as gin. It's perfect for mixing and generally the more popular liquor. Can't beat a Caesar (the drink, not the salad) at brunch. Because we mix vodka and don't drink it straight, we're perfectly happy with Smirnoff -- its clean taste means it doesn't interfere with the purpose of the cocktail. And it suits our budgets nicely for somewhere around $25.

5. Scotch: We're not scotch drinkers, but our dad and other good friends are, so we keep a bottle around just in case. A simple Glenfiddich is good enough -- cheap (as far as scotches go), decent and reliable.

6. Mixes: We don't go overboard here; we just keep some soda water or tonic on hand. Nobody we know will ever come over and ask for a Cosmopolitan and if they did, we'd get new friends. Your guests may be different.

7. Cheese: We keep about three different types in the fridge at all times. Typically, we have Beemster ( a hard, cow's milk cheese from Holland with flavours of nuts and caramel), Saint-andré (a triple-cream cow's milk cheese that tastes of pure butter -- it's always the first to disappear from the cheese board), and Stilton (a blue cow's milk cheese from Britain. Not everyone like blue cheese, but they should).

8. Cured meats: We are suckers for the spicy, dry-cured Hungarian sausage, Csabai, but if we can't get it, hot Genoa salami is just fine. Prosciutto is also a regular in our fridges -- it's not our favourite, but it's a favourite of most people we know. We'd rather have a nice pate or liverwurst, but we're kind of alone with that.

9. Crackers: You can't have a cheese and meat board with out the carbs. We like Ace Bakery's olive oil and sea salt crostini.

10. Olives: A nice assortment is all you need. Current faves are Lucques from France, which taste surprisingly chocolatey, Gaeta that are tiny brownish olives from Italy, and black sundried olives, which are intensely salty, but delicious.