I love to entertain. I really do. It’s like a passion of mine, that sometimes gets me into trouble with the budget. So, for the past few years, I have been following rules of my own to help keep the party rocking, the food (and booze) flowing, and the budget teeny tiny. This, my friends, is my gift to you. You may have a “huh?” factor to some of the things I suggest but just hear me(or read me) out.
Choose a theme….from your freezer
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. With a theme, you can keep everyone focused on what to expect when they walk into your house. Having a comfort food party? Your guests will expect slow cooked soups or stews, or maybe a big dish of mac and cheese. Want to spice it up with a Tex-Mex theme? They’ll expect the smell of cumin and chili powder to be the perfume of your abode. Now, the freezer aspect. This is where you make the rules. A good little “frugalite” would have a freezer full of essentials: frozen chicken parts, ground meats, frozen fruits and veggies. See what you have plenty of, and make a menu of that. Since you know the sales cycles of your stores and when certain meat and produce items will be on sale again(if you don’t know, there’s always someone on the ‘net, like me, who can tell you!), you won’t be left in the dust if you use half your stockpile of chicken leg quarters.
You cook the goods…pot lucks are for wussies!
Yeah, I know, I know….this is so the opposite of what those magazine articles tell you about hosting get-togethers. But, I have good reasoning why I do this. First off, if everyone brings something, about 70% of the “goodies” will either end up back at the creator’s house, or in your trash. Sad, but true. It’s like when your Aunt Trudy tries to bring that jello salad every year, and gets upset that no one, not even the dog, touches it. It’s not her fault…she tried her hardest, but she just didn’t cut it.
The best way to handle this is for you to make the meal. You can be very Ina Garten about it though….one appetizer, one entree, a veggie and a starch. Boom! This won’t give them much choice but you eat what ya got. And to make it even easier, don’t try to choose a new recipe. Make something that you love to cook for yourself on a cold winter’s night. One great example is a baked pasta dish. Use diced tomatoes, a great jar of spaghetti sauce, chopped up winter veggies(they’ll be super cheap at the grocery store), a bag of shredded mozzarella and some Parmesan cheese. I cook the pasta halfway, drain, mix in the other ingredients, and sprinkle extra mozzarella and Parmesan on the top of the dish. Add a 1.00 loaf of Italian bread from the supermarket, and you’ve got a family style dinner. This is also great if you have vegetarian guests coming. Want to bulk it up? Poach a chicken breast, cut it up, and add it to the mix.
Plan way ahead…become a housekeeper/prep cook
This is pretty much a given, but an important point to drill into your head. Planning ahead is a constant lifesaver for any lover of entertaining. I make a list of what I want to accomplish before the big day. The list is split into 2 categories: food and household. If there is any food item I can prep before the gathering, I will. If I can do it two weeks before and freeze it, I will. Like a good prep cook, I get all of my veggies cut up, my meat thawed and/or put in the marinade no later than 24 hours before real cooking needs to commence. Every day during the week before the party, I get 2 of my items completed: one from my food list and one from my household list. Like a good prep cook, a good housekeeper has assigned days when certain items are done. Be proactive! By the time you buddies are an hour away from being at your home, all you’ll have to do it make sure the place is somewhat tidy and the table is clear.
A place that smells good, must be clean….or so they think
This is something wonderful that I have heard from those who have cleaned houses. A deep clean isn’t necessary for company, and it only stresses you out. Tidy up the rooms you know your guests will be in the most(kitchen, bathroom and living room/dining room), close the doors to the other rooms and light a few candles(or put in a few plug-ins) in the rooms that are going to have the most traffic that evening. The movement from everyone will help to create a “breeze” that will carry the scents all over and make everyone “feel” like your house is so clean. The best scents to use for this are citrus and vanilla. Vanilla brings the idea of comfort and citrus scents, like lemon or orange, are programmed into the brain as a “clean” scent. No candles or plug ins? Put a cut up lemon or orange and a cinnamon stick in a pot on the stove, cover with water, and let it simmer until the guests get there.
“Pot luck” the booze….and maybe the dessert
Ok, I know I said earlier that pot lucks are for wussies, but “pot lucking” the booze is quite a win-win for you and your guests. For one, they will obviously bring something that they like to drink, thus deleting your worry about your best friend Stacy’s aversion to certain red wines. Secondly, you’ll have quite a plethora of libations to try out yourself, if you drink. Lastly, if there is any leftover, everyone can take home their own booze! You don’t have to think about how you’re going to use those 3 Paps Blue Ribbons that your old college roommate bought over “for nostalgia’s sake.”
The dessert is where I am a bit more lenient. I wouldn’t suggest telling everyone to bring a dessert, but if you have a buddy that kicks butt at desserts, then give them a call about a week before and see if they can make that awesome cake everyone loves. You can also ask that friend who’s trying to watch their weight to big yummy sliced fruits for dessert and you’ll provide the fat free whipped topping. Then, everyone will be covered!
How about you all? Do you utilize some of these suggestions as well? Any great ideas for frugal, stress free, entertaining during this time of year?