Instant Dinner Party: How to Entertain when You Don’t Have the Time

Entertaining on a Time Budget

In our society of power breakfasts, endless meetings and overfilled schedules, it seems as if no one has the time to entertain guests except for special occasions.  Don’t let the fact that you’re on a limited time budget keep you from enjoying the company of your friends and family.   With minimal planning and preparation, you can host a dinner party on a day’s notice.  Use these tips to plan a get together that will give you and your guests a welcome respite from the rat race we face everyday.

Planning – Keep it Simple
Planning your meal shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.  Get a piece of paper and write down these 3 things:

  1. Number of Guests – Include all possible guests, including significant others.  It’s always better to have too much than too little.
  2. Time Frame – You’ll want to decide what time the guests should arrive and what time dinner will be served so that you’ll know exactly how much time you have to devote to preparation.
  3. Menu – Arguably the most difficult aspect of any dinner party, remember to keep it simple.  Stick with dishes you are familiar with and that can be prepared quickly.  If you’re stuck on this step, some menu options will be provided later in this article.

Once you have this information, you can do an inventory of your kitchen and decide what you need to purchase.  Create a shopping list being sure to include any decorations and beverages along with the food you need to buy.   Organize the list so that you can move quickly through the store.  You should be able to locate everything you need at any major grocery store.

Invitations – No Need to Be Formal
If your guest list is small,  you can call each guest to issue a personal invitation.  If you’re planning on a larger group, or if you just don’t have the time, email comes in very handy.  There are several invitation based websites that can be used to great advantage when planning a dinner party.  Just fill in a few fields and you’re a click away from reaching all your guests.

Decorations – Nothing Fancy
Sticking with the theme of keeping it simple, decorations needn’t be too elaborate.  Simple candles and fresh flowers are always a great way to go.  Fresh flowers like Astromeria can be purchased very cheaply at most grocery stores.  While not necessary, having a linen tablecloth is always a nice touch and doesn’t require more than minimal ironing.

The Meal – Options and Suggestions
If you don’t know what to prepare for your meal, here are some suggestions for elegant and easy to prepare recipes that will impress your guests.

Beverages – The easiest way to handle beverages is to set up a bar/beverage area where guests can prepare their own drinks.  That way if you are putting the finishing touches on the meal, you won’t be interrupted every time a new guest arrives, you can just direct them to the bar.  Be sure to include ice and glasses with your choice of beverages in the set-up.

Appetizers– Nothing could be easier than providing appetizers like selected cheeses with crackers or a vegetable tray with dip.  If you have the time to cut your own vegetables, you can save money, but precut vegetable trays will save you time.  Pre-made spinach or artichoke dip served with a hearty bread is also a good, quick appetizer.

Salad– Pre-prepared salads come in very handy if you’re on a time budget and can be augmented with fresh vegetables of your choosing if you have the time.  To add a dash of class and yum factor, add French fried onions and cheese (feta is usually a good choice) to your salad.

Sides – The simplest and quickest side options is the basic baked potato.  To create a restaurant quality baked potato, wet the skin of the potato and dip it in sea salt.  Then wrap each potato in paper towel before microwaving it.   After cooking, firmly roll the potato before removing the towel to pull the potato away from the skin. Cut each potato once down the center and it’s ready to serve.  Rice and flavored rice packages are also make quick and delicious sides.

Soup – Many restaurants and restaurant supply companies offer delicious frozen soups that can be quickly heated up for a delicious soup course.

Entrees– There are many recipes available for meat, poultry, seafood and pasta dishes with quick preparation times.  A search of the many available recipe sites on the internet can provide you with a recipe that fits your taste.  Here is one such simple and elegant choice:

London Broil w/Garlic Au Jus

Hands-on preparation time: 20 minutes
Actual time to prepare – 2 hours

1.5lbs of 1 ½” – 2” thick London broil (top round)
2 cloves of fresh garlic
1 can beef broth
1 cube beef bouillon
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup butter
¼ cup water

1)     In a small saucepan, boil the beef broth, bouillon and brown sugar for 15 minutes to reduce it.
2)     Remove the broth mixture from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes
3)     Create a marinade by adding the garlic (pressed or diced), lemon juice, and olive oil to the broth mixture
4)     Marinate the London broil for 1 hour at room temperature
5)     Retaining the marinade, broil the meat on a roasting rack for 8 minutes on each side
6)     Remove the meat from the oven and allow to sit for 8 minutes
7)     Meanwhile return the marinade to the saucepan, add water and butter and bring to a boil
8)     Carve the London Broil into thin slices on a slight angle, cover with Au Jus and serve on a platter with the remaining Au Jus on the side.

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