We’re into the second month of the blog and the second letter. For the month of September, B’s theme is going to be “Better” in a series of posts about simple ways to do things better. Brilliant!
Today’s do-better theme, Entertaining and Dinner Parties:
- Presentation is key – When setting out food for entertaining, remember the old adage – We eat with our eyes first. I know that a good part of my presentation OCD comes from my event planning days, but those were valuable lessons learned. No-one sees the container the food comes out off, just the plate they take the food from – The lesson here is to go with the store brand or an alternative, cheaper option when possible with the food and serve it up in an eye-appealing way.
- I love me some Water Crackers but at upwards of $4 a box, they’re a bit more than I want to pay for a snack “accessory”! There are many tasty alternatives like rice-crackers that come in several yummy flavors (Whole Foods 365 are delicious) and usually retail closer to $1 a box. Less expensive, crusty bread sliced in a basket looks rustic and inviting next to a cheese plate & a loaf can go for $1 from the grocery.
- Wine in a box has come a long way in taste and quality over the last decade, offering award-winning wine at “bulk” prices, which is what you’re looking for when serveral bottles are likely to be poured. Black Box is a personal favorite of mine and several of my girlfriends. Just because the wine comes in a box doesn’t mean it has to be placed out for spigot use. Decanting that box wine makes for a lovely presentation and can enhance the taste through aeration and temperature; red wine will be kept at room temperature and white wine decanters are designed to keep the wine chilled.
- Sharing is caring – As much as I love a visually appealing spread, having not yet become the recipient of a bridal registry, I’m lacking when it comes to presentation dishware. Buying them would throw my entire budget, however I know friends who do very well with thrifting for them. My suggestion, borrow from relatives, other friends, or even the friends you are hosting. Make the effort to collect from them in advance of the party and return the dishware washed and with a short “Thank You” note soon after. The small effort to collect and return equals huge payoff for a fabulous table setting.
- Or skip the fancy dishes all together and place plain dishware on a clever table topper! Pinterest in full of “chalkboard table” ideas!
- A little bit $$$ a lot of $ – When planning entertainment dishes like snacks, apps, small bites, remember a rule of thirds. For every one pricier item, have two lower priced items, and make your pricier items only up to a third of the entire spread.
- I love cheese and love, love, love a cheeseboard. Probably because I could sit and eat the whole thing! (Don’t judge) As much as I would like a cheeseboard full of Humboldt Fog and Roquetfort, I’m balling on a budget. Following the thirds-rule, I make sure my board has plenty of less expensive items on the spread: grapes, carrots, olives, nuts (drizzle with oil and cajun spices, toast in oven for a few mins for extra pizzazz), slices of delicious and inexpensive sharp cheddar, and let’s not underestimate the wonders of a block of store-brand cream-cheese with a pepper jelly on top.
- Whole Foods has a basket of cheeses in the cheese department that’s filled with the odds-and-ends of the cheeses; the “last piece” basket. The pieces are usually no more than $5. Rummage through and pick out a few pieces. Spot these around your cheese board for variety and interest.
- What’s growing = what’s cheapest – Though we live in a magical world of year round produce where you can get strawberries in the dead of winter, the most economical selections are those that traveled the least distance and are in season. Make sure to plan your meal around what’s growing to cut costs and ensure a superior product.
- Shop with your eyes, then with your wallet – Grab the grocery publications or check online for the sales they are running. Plan a menu around that. This rule also applies for drinks and snacks for a dinner party.
- If hummus is on sale, for instance, I will usually reduce or forgo the cheese plate for hummus and veggies. Delicious and easy frozen meatballs on special? You bet they’re going in a small bite dish for a party or as an app for a dinner!
- This is also a great way to get pricier items on the plate. If it’s a rare occasion when crab claws are on sale, just one or two on each plate can really fancy-up the meal of a small gathering. Asparagus can be pricey but I love to scoop it up when it’s on special.
- Good food is good food, period – Many people assume, because they are having company over, they should serve “only the best” to their guests. While I agree your guests should get the best you have to offer, what you have to offer should fit your budget.
- Can’t afford to serve everyone steak? Go for a more economical cut of meat, like flank steak and serve it in a creative way (try it atop the Triple Threat Salad) or make beef stroganoff with inexpensive stew meat (Bonus: it can be made in the slow-cooker before the party).
- No leftovers zone – Be reasonable with yourself about how much to serve your guests. Remember that restaurant sizes are not a good guide for serving sizes and that you will not be providing guests with to-go boxes. While second helpings are nice to offer, how many of your guests do you anticipate having them? If you have served snacks before a dinner party meal, your portion sizes at dinner can be smaller; same if there is a starter, salad, dessert, etc.
In Sum: Plan for the sale and the season. Follow the thirds rule and aim for the inexpensive. Presentation over brand-name and delicious over expensive.
And the most important thing to remember is the reason you are feeding…to gather everyone together for good food and a good time! It’s about company and memories, so concern yourself more with being a gracious host/hostess than a well-to-do one!
Bidding you Blissful Bashes!