Great entertaining doesn’t always require a lot of planning—with a few simple strategies, you can throw together a wonderful get-together in no time flat. Here are some of my favorite ideas for pulling together a fast, fun party.
Having a few key party-menu staples in the pantry means you’ll be able to make appetizers without a trip to the store. Make sure you have: Frozen baguettes and pesto (you can defrost and make into crostini), nuts (can be roasted with a few spices for a spectacular accompaniment to cocktails), corn chip cups (fill them with anything from beans and salsa to shrip and avocado, depending on what’s available).
Look for menu shortcuts.
You don’t have to make everything from scratch. Creative tweaks of takeout dishes are an easy way to make your menu: Cut a cheese pizza into mini hors d’oeuvres rounds (dress them up with your favorite gourmet ingredients) and serve it with the antipasto platter from your favorite Italian restaurant. Or offer your guests guacamole and refried beans from a Mexican restaurant in those little corn chip cups, alongside a few sliced up quesadillas from the restaurant.
You can also mix store-bought into your homemade dishes: Rotisserie chicken can be shredded and used in a pasta dish, or mixed with barbecue sauce for a down-home dinner. You can also make a gorgeous English trifle dessert by stacking layers of store-bought pound cake, fresh fruit, pudding and whipped cream in a beautiful glass serving bowl.
Make your party interactive.
Why slave away in the kitchen solo, when you can put all of your guests to work? Some great make-it-together meals:
- Pizza—some pre-made dough, cheese, sauce, and some key toppings let your guests create their own customized personal pizzas.
- Fondue—with an assortment of precut veggies, a few baguettes and some good cheese, guests can dip their way through dinner. (For dessert, clean the pot and refill it with melted chocolate, served with marshmallows and fresh fruit.)
- Tacos are another easy dinner—simply need to put the ingredients out on pretty bowls and platters, and let guests craft their own.
Create easy centerpieces.
You don’t need a big bouquet from the florist for a fabulous centerpiece. You can build something pretty with anything you have on hand—just keep it to one or two elements, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Consider grouping a few big striped lollipops or pinwheels in a brightly colored pail or glass for a whimsical centerpiece, or fill a clear glass container or bowl with lemons, green apples, or a single type of candy.
If you do hit the grocery store, stick with bouquets of a single flower type, such as a mass of carnations or a slew of gerbera daisies, and pair them with something unique—a set of pretty teacups lined along the center of the table, or a big wooden salad bowl. Or forage in your backyard for something interesting, like unique foliage, tree branches, or pine cones. A collection of shells can make a beautiful, summery centerpiece when piled in a trifle bowl—and you can put a big candle in the center to give your table a romantic glow.
Tell us in the comments: What do you serve when you have a last-minute get-together?