Your friends from college are in town unexpectedly and want to stop over while they’re in the neighborhood. The last time you saw them, you were sporting a bridesmaid’s dress the color of algae while making a fuzzy navel-inspired attempt at the Macarena. In short, it’s been years.
You would love to catch up with them, but one look at the house and the lackluster pantry selection, and you consider pretending you’re in a tunnel or feigning dysentery. But all is not lost, friend. Just use our no-plan tips and you’ll be basking in the glow of a great get-together in no time at all.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Forget about cleaning. What you need is clutter control. Grab everything and throw it upstairs, in the closets or behind closed doors—pretty much anywhere your visitors won’t see it. You can reorganize later. You’ll feel so much better once the clutter is gone and everything looks relatively neat. If it looks clean, it is clean. No one will know the difference. Just give any obviously dusty or food-strewn surfaces a quick wipe, take the trash out, fluff the pillows, light a candle and call it a day.
Play Up the Presentation
Presentation can take your everyday groceries from back-of-the-fridge boredom to guest-worthy gourmet. Here are some ways to make your bites look like a million bucks:
Take a Stab at Finger Foods: Wooden skewers or toothpicks work wonders on fruit, cheese, lunchmeat and leftover desserts. Alternate grapes, strawberries, blueberries—pretty much whatever fruit you have on hand—with marshmallows, and brownies or cake cut into bite-sized pieces. For an antipasto snack, alternate lunchmeat with cubes of cheese, olives and red pepper or tomatoes.
Be Creative with Glassware: Carrot sticks look great arranged in a short cocktail glass, while olives look awesome peering over a plate of cheese and crackers in a margarita or martini glass. Rethinking your everyday barware is a no-fuss way to elevate any offering.
Get Garnishing: Do what the pros do and entice your guests with garnishes. Forget the exotic ingredients; common kitchen staples will do the trick. Sprinkle a little paprika on store-bought dip and serve with chips and veggie sticks. Or enhance a bowl of everyday soup with a topping of toasted bread cubes and Parmesan cheese.
Dress Up Your Drinks
Drinks can set the mood for any occasion. Whether they’re spiked or kid-friendly, you can make them memorable and flavorful without keeping your kitchen fully stocked. Just follow these simple ideas for sublime sipping:
Love that Lemonade: With a little lemon or lime juice and sugar, you can whip up some homemade lemonade in no time.
- Combine one cup of white sugar and one cup of water in a small pot and simmer until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Remove from heat and stir in one cup of lemon or lime juice. Let cool slightly.
- For each serving, fill a glass with ice and add one part lemonade mixture and one part water.
- Garnish with sliced strawberries, frozen berries, citrus slices or fresh basil leaves. For an alcoholic version, add an ounce of rum or flavored vodka before serving. Or pour in chilled beer for a refreshing shandy.
Work Wonders with Wine: Make a bottle of wine last the night with these super simple wine cocktails:
- Red Wine for Wimps: Mix one part red wine with one part lemon-lime soda, pour over ice and garnish with lime or strawberries.
- Pineapple Paradise: Combine one part dry white whine with one part pineapple juice and serve over ice. If available, garnish with pineapple or lime wedge.
Spoon It Up: If you’re serving coffee or hot chocolate, arrange spoons preloaded with mix-ins on a serving plate. For chocoholics, just melt some chocolate chips in the microwave, dip in a spoon and put it in the freezer on wax paper for a few minutes. Or load a spoon with marshmallow fluff or hazelnut spread. You can even add a few pieces of chopped nuts or sprinkles for a finishing touch.
Nosh in No Time
Keep a few standby ingredients on hand and you’ll always be ready to serve up a course or two. Here’s how to feed a crowd without making yourself crazy:
Cheese Please: Unless you’re hosting a household of vegans or there’s an epidemic of lactose intolerance, you can’t go wrong with cheese. Just about everyone loves it, and it’s oh so filling and easy to serve. Cube it up and serve it alongside crackers, bread or colorful fruits—whatever you happen to have on hand.
Toast of the Town: Bruschetta may sound elegant—and it’s certainly tasty—but it’s also one of the easiest, most versatile appetizers around.
- Just take any kind of bread and slice it—if it’s not sliced already.
- Next, brush the tops of the slices with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt and cut the slices into halves or quarters. (If you’re using a narrow loaf like a baguette, you can just slice it on a diagonal.)
- Finally, bake in a preheated 450º oven on the top rack for 5-6 minutes or until slightly browned.
- Serve toasts pre-topped or self-serve with store-bought salsa and dips. Or you can make one of these easy recipes:
Classic Tomato Basil Topping: Chop two large tomatoes and mix in a teaspoon of vinegar, a tablespoon of olive oil and salt, black pepper and basil to taste.
Olive Tapenade: Combine a cup of pitted olives (a mix of black and green is preferred) in a food processor with half a teaspoon of minced garlic and some capers (optional). While the food processor is whirling, drizzle in olive oil and a dash of lemon juice (optional) until it reaches a sturdy, but spreadable consistency.
Hummus: Use store-bought hummus or pulse canned beans in food processor with garlic, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Top with a sprinkle of paprika for color.