Tag tips and tricks

Can We Still Have Fun in These Trying Economic Times? You Betcha! (wink)

Hosting a dinner party can be daunting, but entertaining shouldn’t instill the same trepidation you feel when thinking about your stock portfolio. Let’s take a step back and review these best practices for stress-free entertaining, as concocted by the experts here at Parties That Cook.

From a BBQ with the neighbors to formal holiday celebrations, our simple step-by-step party prep timeline never fails!

First Themes First

Decide on a theme. It will help you determine how many people and whom you should invite. A cocktail party means a larger guest list with people from various social circles. A themed dinner party calls for a more intimate guest list with people you know will get along. Here are some of our favorite international dinner party themes.

Prep Time: One Week
Develop a specific timeline at least one week out from your party’s date:

7 Days Before
Plan your menu. Choose dishes that have related origins, but don’t hesitate to add a new twist. Going with a Mexican theme? Update a classic crowd-pleaser– why not a Mexican chocolate bread pudding?

Choose three key pieces. Include one starch, one protein and one vegetable in your menu. These can be combined into a one-dish meal, like classic lasagna, or three separate components. If you start your meal with a salad, your main course should contain a starch and a cut of meat. Starting with a fresh bread crostini? Move your vegetable to accompany your meat.

5 Days Before
Create your shopping list. Doing this in advance allows you to focus on cooking on the day of the party. You can always add small items that you may have forgotten or alter the menu based on your guest list.

3 Days Before
Choose the music. Select a few CDs or build a playlist to correspond with your party’s theme. Listening to it a few times over the next few days will help get you in the party mindset.

2 Days Before
Research farmer’s markets. Local specialty shops or farmer’s markets are the best way to ensure that the freshest, highest-quality ingredients are in your meal. Using high-quality ingredients is an important part of creating a delicious meal.

Set the table. This lets you focus on cooking the day of the party. Remember that you eat with your eyes first, so serve your meal on white plates. This sets off the colors in the food and makes them the star of the table.

1 Day Before
Freshen up. Purchase fresh flowers and place them on your table and around your home. This will give the buds a day to blossom. If they haven’t bloomed completely by the day of your party, add warm water to the vase to encourage them to open up.

Day Of
Make final purchases. Pick up any ingredients you didn’t purchase in your first trip to the store.

Prepare for the party. No matter the theme, purchase two or three cheeses from a region that complements your menu and leave them out with a combination of crackers, almonds, grapes and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s an elegant appetizer that only requires plating before it’s ready to be served.

Consider the easiest way to serve your meal. If it’s a small group, plate everything before you bring it to the table. Larger groups are best served through a buffet or from family-style dishes on the tabletop.

Remember, the party planning process doesn’t have to be tedious! It can be just as fun as the evening’s events.

Tips for the Savvy Party Hostess

Bailout blues getting you down? Skip the trip to that new fancy restaurant. Save your dough and throw a fabulous party at home instead!

Parties That Cook’s 10 Great Money Saving Tips for the Savvy Party Hostess:

1. Involve your guests in the cooking! The more involved your guests are at the party, the more fun and memories they’ll create. As we all know, the party always ends up in kitchen, so forget the caterer and throw a party in the kitchen, where your guests cook up the night’s menu determined by you.

2. Celebrate with a festive cocktail and appetizer party instead of a sit-down dinner. Sticking to light fare is not only cheaper, but creates a lighter, casual party atmosphere versus a stuffy sit-down. Set up appetizers on a buffet instead of paying for servers to pass the appetizers.

3. Buy your ingredients at your local Farmer’s Market, where costs are often less and the ingredients are very fresh, in-season and plentiful.

4. Buy staples in the bulk section. When buying staple items like spices, nuts, dried fruit, dried mushrooms, and grains, head for the bulk section of your local market. You can buy exactly how much you need and you also often find fresher ingredients because they have a shorter shelf life.

5. Hire your kids to do the serving and clean up. Kids love to be involved and (depending on age) can be entrusted with non-cooking responsibilities like folding napkins, setting place cards or arranging flowers. If you don’t have kids, hire a student at a local culinary school to cater the party.

6. Serve a few high-end dishes starring seafoods or meats, but off-set costs with a few less costly dishes that go a long way. A low-cost dip appetizer like Sweet Pea Dip with Crispy Pita Chips is an example of a filling dish that is inexpensive to make.

7. Serve beer, wine, sodas and then just one festive holiday specialty drink versus hosting a full bar.

8. Consider a lunch or brunch. Caterers often offer discounts for daytime events, so a seasonal luncheon or a brunch could be much more affordable than an evening event.

9. Invite guests to bring their favorite cookies to serve as a dessert buffet, instead of purchasing desserts. Or, if you are having your party catered, bake a homemade dessert a day in advance and skip a full-blown dessert course. Here are a few dessert recipes to try.

10. Co-host the party with neighbors. Not only does this help limit your expenses, but it is a great way to get to know the folks next door. With the way the housing market is looking – you will probably be next door neighbors for many years to come!

Need more help? Count on Parties That Cook to set up a fabulous in-home cooking party bash! Book your party now through October 31st, 2008, and receive $200 off! We’ll bring the party to you, so you don’t have to lift a finger!