Entertaining guests is not an easy business for everyone. Party planning can really bring the nervous wreck out of the calmest person.
But it all starts with the food. When you have it down pat, you can pretty much relax and handle everything else with ease. These are some of the things you should keep in constant supply to handle guests who pop up on short notice.
Secure The Drinks
The first thing hosts/hostesses usually offer their guests is a serving of drink. Keep an ample stock of coffee, tea, juice, and a few spirits. Basic brewed or black coffee, green or mint tea and orange juice will do. Have a stock of sweeteners and creamers nearby too. Having a few bottles of house wine within reach will save you from sudden and unplanned trips to the grocery when someone drops by your home unexpected.
Serve Starter Nibbles
Chips and dip, crackers and cheese – these are basic snack combinations good hosts and hostesses ought to remember and stock up on. If guests suddenly drop by and you really don’t want to toil in the kitchen, you can always call for delivery or take your guests out to lunch or dinner. But at least offer them a drink (see above) or nibbles before going out or waiting for food.
While it is tempting to buy many of these all at once, remember to take a look at the expiration or "best before" date. It would be a pity to open your fridge and find moldy cheese and dips. One to two kinds of each should suffice, and in quantities that you can consume within a reasonable time. Mixed nuts and pretzels are a crowd pleaser, too.
Pasta + Pasta Sauce
Pasta is a reliable party planning friend when you need to whip up a quality meal in less than an hour. Keep your guests busy with a drink and appetizers (see above) while you work your magic with a box of pasta and a bottle of pre-made pasta sauce. As long as you have these two, you can easily throw in vegetables or meat that’s available. You can even dress up some leftovers with pasta!
Tomato-based, cream based, pesto, olive oil – it’s up to you to decide what kind of sauce you want to stock up on. You can play up these base sauces with a few spices – which brings us to our next point.
Spice Up With Herbs
You don’t need a culinary degree to impress your guests. A well-stocked spice cabinet will set you up for success. Salt and pepper are a given, but add a few more herbs, spices, and seasonings for easy gourmet meals in a matter of minutes. Basil and Italian seasoning give your pasta an added kick, while nutmeg adds an extra punch to mashed potatoes. Chili flakes will make spicy food lovers happy. Season your meats with rosemary or thyme to sharpen their flavors.
Give yourself time to build your own spice rack, but buy a few bottles to use with your go-to dishes. Apply the same principle to oils and vinegar too.
Frozen Vegetables As Easy Side Dishes
Dispel the notion that vegetables should only be eaten fresh. Frozen vegetables are usually handled for freezing shortly after harvest so you're not entirely deprived of freshness.
Frozen peas, carrots, and corn are no-brainer side dishes but also keep a bag or two of frozen spinach or kale. Saute it with garlic and season it with salt, pepper, and the herbs of your choice. You're guaranteed to have at least one healthy dish on the table.
Canned Meat Will Save The Day
Frozen meat, unlike frozen vegetables, takes longer to prepare. Tuna, salmon, chicken - canned or bottled meat may not taste the same as the real thing cooked from scratch but you can surely whip up an above average sandwich should a guest drop by all of a sudden. Your meat of choice is up to you – you can even stock up on meat substitutes and vegan meat.
Stock up on sweet treats with a long shelf life. Coffee or tea (see above) and sweet treats are usually considered the basics of good hosting. Keep a tin of sweet biscuits, tea cookies, or wafers in the cupboard. They’ll go well with a hot drink when guests drop by for a short visit or if you’re too tired to prepare dessert from scratch after dinner. Bars of quality chocolate will work too.
Smart party planning warrants a little attention in the presentation of food. A great meal, after all, is also an experience. High-quality platters, cutlery, and accessories will give you just that, even with the simplest of meals.
At least one presentable set of plate ware, flatware, serving platter, and glassware in neutral designs or shades will more than get you by in any occasion. The quantity depends on your average number of guests but perhaps you can start with a service for 6 set.
Don’t forget the coasters and a napkin set of good material to match your dinnerware. Seal the set with studded napkin ring holders that look good in any motif.
Prepare according to your style
Don’t be limited by the list above. Those are general guidelines that can be tweaked according to your lifestyle. If you think noodle soup is more of a staple than pasta, have a steady supply of Asian noodles and soup stock. Your supplies should reflect your party planning style.
Food is a huge factor in entertaining but don’t forget the other things – a clean, tidy place, some good music, and most of all, your disposition. Guests will surely appreciate good food but if the one serving it is in bad spirits, the foul mood will eclipse the taste of fine food.