Meat, rolls, salad fixings, dessert, bubbly. Boom.
I recently overheard someone lamenting that people hardly entertain anymore, as no one seems inclined to take the time or energy to do it. But maybe we’ve all just made party-throwing too hard—we tend to think that we need weeks of planning and prep to throw even a simple get-together. But most people are delighted with a low-key get-together, and the good news is those parties are the easiest to produce—in fact, you need only five things.
“I think the mistake people make most when entertaining is to get too fancy with the food,” says cookbook author and host of Nigella Feasts, Nigella Lawson. “No one is ever too sophisticated for the basic pleasures of home cooking, and there is something about those old favorites that makes everyone feel a little leap of joy in the heart.”
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So if you feel like an impromptu bash for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, or any old Saturday night? Bookmark this story, head to the store, and don’t even bother with a cart. We guarantee you’ll be in and out in 20 minutes with everything you need to have a stellar party.
Nothing quite says “party” like champagne, but choosing one can seem overwhelming. Don’t be daunted, there are plenty of great options and you don’t have to buy a pricey Champagne (which simply means it was made in Champagne, France). A Cava from Spain, a Prosecco from Italy, or a sparkling cider will bring the bubbles at a wallet-friendly price point.
If you have the time: Dial up the cheer factor with elegant but simple frozen fruit skewers. Easy to assemble in advance, your guests will enjoy the burst of flavor and festivity they lend to libations.
2. A hearty main dish
A holiday ham makes a festive centerpiece and is a great way to feed a group. This apple-studded beauty is deceptively simple to prepare.
If you have the time: A savory tray of sausage, cheese and spinach stuffed shells will satisfy any hungry group (and is an ideal dish to prepare in advance so you don’t need to do much on the day of the party).
3. Dinner rolls
Partygoers will swoon at the first whiff of fragrant, warm bread. These homemade rolls are an instant crowd-pleaser and pretty simple to make.
If you would rather not bake from scratch, you can easily purchase store-bought rolls. (Hint: Kings Hawaiian are always a hit). Just warm slightly in the oven and pile in a towel-lined basket to keep them fresh. Or check out Trader Joe’s “half-baked” rolls—you can pop them in the oven for 12 minutes and you’ve got fresh-baked bread with zero effort.
If you have the time: Consider making a simple compound butter (a fancy name for butter flavored with fresh herbs) to make those dinner rolls really shine.
4. A crisp salad
A foolproof complement to a substantial main dish is a crisp salad. If you’re in a big hurry, buy a premade salad at your supermarket’s deli counter (most have a Mediterranean or quinoa salad you can buy by the quarter-pound). Or grab some lettuce and simple additions to throw it together yourself.
This version will wow guests with dried cranberries for sweetness and apples and walnuts for crunch. (Bonus: guests who are vegetarian can make a meal of a salad that boasts a variety of ingredients.) Just leave the dressing until the very last minute and don’t overdo it. Nothing ruins a vibrant, fresh salad like wilted greens, swimming in oily flavors.
If you have the time: Toasted pine nuts play well with pear and goat cheese, or candy some pecans and toss in chopped dates. Stumped on what to add? Consult this salad pairing chart for a little inspiration.
5. A decadent dessert
A trifle is a brilliant party dessert. It makes a tantalizing statement on the table—and you don’t have to be an accomplished baker to end up with rave reviews. (Though most supermarkets will sell a version at their bakery counter, too.) This caramel Rolo candy confection recipe will have guests lining up to dig in. Serving is no-fuss too—simply set out a serving spoon and some cute cups or small bowls and spend your time enjoying your company.
If a rich, chocolate indulgence isn’t up your alley, pound cake also comes together nicely as festive fare.
If you have the time: Set out a little fruit salad as well. It’s a lighter option for those guests watching their diets, and is relatively easy to make: you just need to spend a few minutes chopping.
Finally, don’t forget that the most important ingredient isn’t what you prepare or put out–it’s that you, the hostess, are at ease and having a good time. Take a cue from chef and hostess extraordinaire Ina Garten. “Whenever [your guests] feel that you are stressed,” Ina says, “the fun stops.”
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