Party planning should be fun and easy, so get things done in 15 minutes or less.

The 15-Minute Party Planner's blog breaks down basic party-planning tasks into simple actions that take 15 minutes or less. We're not here to make you the next Martha, we're here to help you be crafty quickly!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Easy New Year's Eve party ideas

New Year's Eve is a great night for parties, but with the rush of Christmas, many folks forget about the New Year until the last minute!

If you're one of those folks, don't worry! There's still time to plan an informal gathering with friends. Here are some easy New Year's Eve party ideas that won't require much prep work.
  • Host a board game night.
    With the TV on in the background (so you don't miss the dropping ball!), you and your guests can entertain yourselves with a variety of multi-player games. For game suggestions, check out two related articles: The best board games for a game-night party and The best card and tile games for a game night.

  • Get a thumb workout with a video game party.
    Maybe you prefer a more 21st Century gaming get-together. Invite your friends over for a night of partying with the Playstation or working out with the Wii. Consider leaving out some handheld games as well, so that people can have some solo shots at games like 20Q, Hangman, and Simon.

    Another helpful hint? Ask friends to bring extra controllers with them so more people can play at once. And if you have access to more than one TV, you can even borrow another gaming console for twice the fun.

  • Class up the joint with a cocktail party.
    Have your friends dress up in their finest and invite them over for cocktails. You can serve a signature cocktail or a variety of drinks and nosh on bite-sized treats. Party prep is easy with the 15-Minute Party Planner's guide to Buying booze: easy drink calculations.

  • Extend Christmas with a "regifting" party.
    Maybe you got two copies of the same DVD this Christmas and your vegan friend received a sausage and cheese gift basket. Tell guests to re-wrap a present that was less than a perfect match; when they bring the gifts to the party, everyone can participate in a Yankee Swap. Who knows? You may receive a new treasure!

  • Get funky with a crazy hat/ugly sweater/color-themed party.
    It's easy to host a bash with a wacky, but simple theme. Have your guests come wearing their favorite (or most outlandish) hats, ugly holiday sweaters, or all black (or other color of choice). Set up a corner with a fun backdrop, themed-props, and encourage people to document their goofy outfits on camera.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

8 instant Christmas centerpieces

Everyone wants a festive centerpiece for Christmas -- here are 12 ideas for centerpieces you can "create" in an instant.
  1. A beautifully wrapped poinsettia says 'tis the season!

  2. Grab a large clear-glass bowl from your cupboard. Add a variety of brightly-colored Christmas ornaments for a sparkly centerpiece.

  3. Maybe you won't have chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but you can certainly display them on your table. Line the bottom of a bowl with chestnuts and add fresh cranberries on top for color.

  4. Everything looks good in a group of three. Find a trio of favorite Christmas figurines (angels, snowmen, Santas, etc.) and place them in a group in the center of your table.

  5. Were you baking up a storm this season? Decorate the table with a gingerbread house or a tower of Christmas cookies.

  6. Candles make an easy centerpiece for any occasion. Grab a few pillars or tapers in holiday colors and arrange them on a festive tray.

  7. Fill a hurricane vase with pine cones, holly berries, and other natural signs of the season.

  8. Cover a tray or fill a bowl or hurricane vase with seasonal candies and foods. The color and shine of peppermints mixed with oranges and walnuts makes a good-enough-to-eat centerpiece that is worthy of any Christmas table.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How to make overnight guests feel welcome

If you're hosting overnight guests this holiday season, there are a few simple touches that go a long way in making guests feel welcome. You don't need a fancy guest room to be a good hostess; you just need to make sure that your guests feel comfortable and taken care of.

Sleeping arrangements
Whether your guests are sleeping in the guest room, on an airbed, or on the sofa make them feel comfortable with easy access to the basic necessities:
  • Leave your guests a nightstand or other surface on which to gather their jewelry, books, etc. (If guests are sleeping on a mattress or airbed on the floor, consider leaving a large tray next to the bed, instead of a table.)

  • Make sure guests have easy-access to an outlet so that they can charge cell phones and other electronic devices without hunting for a plug.

  • Ideally, guests should be able to turn off the lights without getting out of bed. If your guests are staying in the living room or other shared space, be sure to provide them with lighting that is close by, and consider using nightlights in the hallways and bathrooms so that guests don't stumble in the dark.

  • Tell guests where they can find extra blankets and pillows, and keep the extras nearby.

  • Providing an alarm clock is also nice for guests. A combination radio or iPod alarm clock also gives guests the ability to listen to music during their stay.
The bathroom
Organizing supplies before your guests arrive will ensure that everyone has the towels and toiletries they need.
  • Leaving a set of towels and washcloths on a guest's bed gives them the freedom to bathe in the morning or evening without having to ask for linens.

  • Consider creating a bathroom basket with travel-sized toiletries and items guests may have forgotten, such as toothbrushes, combs, and hairspray. You may also want to create a small basket for the guest room with things like cough drops, earplugs, an inexpensive eye mask, and other things that will help your guests feel at home.

  • All homes have quirks. If the knobs in your shower are backwards or you have to jiggle the toilet handle for a proper flush, be sure to warn your guests in advance to prevent embarrassing situations. It's also helpful to point out where to find extra toilet paper or a plunger, should anyone need them.
Living spaces
Providing a comfortable place for visitors to read, watch television, or hang out is a necessity, as is showing guests where they can find food or drinks when they need them.
  • Leave a basket in a common area with games, magazines, and other forms of entertainment and encourage your guests to help themselves.

  • Orient guests to the kitchen and show them where to find snacks, water, coffee, dishes, etc. (This is especially important if your guests are early risers and you like to sleep in!)

  • Provide guests with a channel guide for the television, instructions to work the remote controls, and maps or local guidebooks if your guests will be doing any exploring without you.
In addition, it's nice to have a space set aside for your guests' belongings while they visit. If you're lucky enough to have a guest room, you're all set, but even if guests will be sleeping in the living room, try to make sure that they have access to some privacy and a place for their things. Consider cornering off a section of living space with a small privacy screen and a luggage rack for guests, or clearing out a closet for guests belongings. A little effort goes a long way!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The 5 best Christmas albums to play this season

Need an easy playlist for your Christmas celebrations? Pick up a few of these classic and contemporary Christmas albums and you've got an easy mix of tunes perfect for parties.
  1. Bing Crosby's White Christmas
    Start things off with a true classic when you purchase Bing Crosby's White Christmas album (for only $3.99 on Amazon, you can't go wrong). The disc is full of classics like "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Silent Night", and the title track "White Christmas", you'll have just over a dozen songs to get you in the holiday spirit.

  2. Barenaked Ladies' Barenaked for the Holidays
    Aside from the snooze-worthy version of "Jingle Bells" that kicks off this disc, the Barenaked Ladies' holiday album is a must-have. A mix of both quirky and sentimental Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter songs make up this wonderful collection. The disc also features guest appearances by Sarah McLachlan and Michael Buble. ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" featuring Sarah McLachlan is especially beautiful.)

  3. Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve and Other Stories
    What did we do before the Trans-Siberian Orchestra came around? Christmas Eve and Other Stories showcases 17 Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs and includes fan-favorite "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24", (often mistakenly called "Carol of the Bells") which is an instrumental medley of "Carol of the Bells" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen".

  4. A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special
    If you can get your hands on a copy of the original soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, you are very lucky indeed! The original has the music just as we remember it (without the bells and whistles added to more recent releases). Playing this disc at a Christmas party is sure to invoke nostalgic memories of the season.

  5. The original A Very Special Christmas CD
    Though there are now half a dozen A Very Special Christmas compilations circulating, the original is the best, featuring Christmas songs sung by '80s superstars. From Run D.M.C.'s wonderfully cheesy Christmas in Hollis to U2's rocking Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and Alison Moyet's hauntingly beautiful The Coventry Carol, the album features contemporary hits and proceeds from the sale of the album benefit Special Olympics.
Tune in to one of these albums for a very special Christmas of your own!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gift guide: 10 great gifts for the party planners on your list

Have a hostess-with-the-mostest on your Christmas shopping list this year? Check out some of the 15-Minute Party Planner's gift giving suggestions for the entertainers on your list.

This Gift Tower of Sweetsis the perfect Christmas gift for any hostess. The pre-wrapped chocolate-covered cherries, salted pistachios, and gourmet pretzels come in beautiful boxes, saving the recipient from having to find serving dishes. At an affordable $21.95, this tower of sweet treats won't break your budget.

Multipurpose serving dishes like this chip and dip tray(with a dip insert that can be heated or chilled depending on what you're serving) are great for parties because the pieces stay together. There will be no more last-minute scrambling for something to hold both chips and dip with this cute tray for less than $25.

Chocolate lovers, rejoice! This basket of the best from Ghirardelli Chocolate Companypacks an assortment of Ghirardelli chocolates including various sizes of Luxe bars, Masterpiece truffles, and candy bars. The basket clocks in at $35 and ships for free, making it a great gift for the out-of-town party planner on your list. The basket's festive wrapping and wide array of chocolates make it a great gift for any hostess.

Bargain alert! This Omaha Steaks Fantastic Feastis currently being offered on for an incredible $69.99 (a savings of $100!). Not only does this premium food package include top sirloins, pork chops, stuffed sole, gourmet franks, boneless chicken breasts, and stuffed baked potatoes, it also saves your hostess shopping time and comes with easy instructions.

Hilarious cocktail napkins are great for any 15-minute party planner. They add some humor to the party and don't require washing and ironing like linen napkins. This set says Why limit happy to an hour?and we agree! Other funny napkin slogans include If you obey all the rules, you miss all the funand The trouble with trouble is it starts out as fun!

If you're looking to save time when it comes to mixing drinks, there's nothing easier than a cocktail shaker with built-in recipes. The Dial-A-Drink Cocktail Shakeroffers recipes for 15 popular cocktails just by aligning the shaker's arrow to the with the title of the selected cocktail. Then, just pour in the ingredients and shake it up for drinks in an instant. The fact that this cute bar accessory is made of oh-so-popular stainless steel ups the gadget's wow factor even further, making it the perfect present for the cocktail connoisseur on your list.

Teeny tiny desserts are in this year. To save the party planners on your list the hassle of cutting dessert into dozens of small pieces, give them this adorable brownie bites baking mold. The mold produces 24 brownie bites. At only $9.99 per pan, you can splurge and get two pans for easy entertaining.

This splurge-worthy meat lovers' gourmet food gift basketincludes smoked salmon, sliced Italian salami, fire-roasted salmon pate, Wisconsin cheddar cheese, jalapeno hot pepper cheese, jalapeno cheddar biscuits, and both sesame and stoned wheat crackers. The $49 basket comes ready to give with a decorative ribbon and a personalized gift message.

Tired of listening to the kids' iPod on shuffle while you're trying to enjoy a sophisticated cocktail party? Replace the hostess's teen-tunes with a grown-up, metropolitan mix of jazzy songs like the ones featured on the Cocktail Mix 2: Martini Madnessor Jazz Moods: Cocktail PartyCDs. Or, grab an iTunes gift cardso that your friend can pick out some snazzier songs herself.

Finally, when your favorite hostess isn't looking for recipes from the 15-Minute Party Planner, she'll need another resource. Easy cookbooks like Party Snacks! 50 Simple, Stylish Recipes to Make You a Popular Party Hostmake party planning a cinch. For just $10, you'll get A.J. Rathburn's recipes for "stuffed, skewered, baked, dipped, spreadable, and speedy party snacks." (Try gifting the book along with a few party snacks for an instant-use holiday present!)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

10-minute homemade cranberry sauce

Avoid using canned cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving by making the sauce yourself. This recipe takes no more than 10 minutes and you'll end up with a delicious homemade cranberry sauce that is well-worth the extra few minutes. Besides, when the recipe is as simple and tasty as this one you'd kick yourself for not trying it. (In fact, we think the recipe is so good and so easy that we recommend buying a few extra bags of cranberries this season and popping them in the freezer. Then you can whip up this fabulous side any time of the year.)

  • 1 package of whole cranberries (about 12 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Add water, cider, and sugar to a medium-sized saucepan. Mix until sugar is blended.
  • Add cranberries and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until cranberries pop.
  • Remove from heat. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
In addition to serving this sauce as a side dish, try mixing it with mayonnaise or mustard for a day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich spread or tossing a dollop of the sauce on top of ice cream or pound cake for a sweet/tart treat.

Monday, November 15, 2010

3 things you need for easy Christmas entertaining

Winter is on its way and Christmas will be here before you know it. Having the proper tools and treats will help you host holiday parties without slaving away in the kitchen or spending all of your time preparing, instead of enjoying your party.

To get you started, here are three must-haves for any 15-minute party planner.
  • Easy serving dishes
    Dishes with multiple compartments mean fewer items to arrange and fewer items to wash. Try a four-compartment divided dish to make serving a snap.

  • Fancy no-prep food
    A box of nuts and chocolates, a container of caviar, or a spread of smoked fish makes for elegant entertaining without the prep work.

  • Signature drinks
    Serving a special cocktail, fancy hot chocolate, or mulled cider makes your holiday party memorable without requiring a lot of effort.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tip of the Week: Stock a shelf with simple snacks

For easy entertaining at a moment's notice, keep a shelf stocked with party favorites like dip mixes, vegetable and fruit spreads, mixed nuts, and candy. By dedicating one shelf in your kitchen or pantry to simple snacks, you'll be able to serve unexpected guests without having to scrounge around through your cupboards looking for something simple to serve. For a list of foods that are helpful to have in stock, read the 15-Minute Party Planner's post about what to keep on hand for easy entertaining.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Time for turkey: A Thanksgiving checklist

We're two weeks away from Thanksgiving Day and it's time to start some serious party preparations. We've created a day-by-day checklist that boils down your to-do list to 15 minutes per day.

Two weeks in advance
  • Finalize the menu and make a shopping list.
    (Thursday, November 11 15 minutes)

    As you pin down your final menu, make a master shopping list. You can sort the list into two categories — non-perishable items you can pick up between now and Thanksgiving and perishable items you should pick up a day or two in advance.

  • Make sure you have enough seating, serving bowls, utensils, etc.
    (Friday, November 12 15 minutes)

    While you're waiting for dinner to cook, scrounge around your cupboards. Do you have enough serving dishes to plate your Thanksgiving dinner? Are there ladles, tongs, and serving forks to match up with the foods you're serving?

    Make a list of any items you still need (including an extra card table or folding chairs!). You'll use the list tomorrow.

  • Confirm your guest list.
    (Saturday, November 13 5 minutes)

    Send a quick e-mail this morning to confirm your guest list. You'll want to include four things in your e-mail: 1) remind folks when they should arrive on Thanksgiving day. 2) Include a list of "assignments" if people have volunteered to bring part of the meal with them. 3) Using the list you created yesterday (of items you need to borrow in order to serve dinner), ask your guests if anyone has the platters, chairs, or utensils you need. 4) Instruct your guests to RSVP and confirm whether they are still bringing the dish they were assigned. Also, ask guests to let you know if they can bring the serving items you still need.

  • Confirm any outside orders.
    (Saturday, November 13 10 minutes)

    If you're ordering pastries, floral arrangements, or other goodies for your Thanksgiving dinner, spend 10 minutes calling the various vendors to make sure that you're order was received and will be ready to go in time for the holiday.

  • Gather decorations.
    (Sunday, November 14 through Wednesday, November 17 Less than 15 minutes/day)

    Spend 15 minutes on Sunday gathering your tablecloths, holiday decor, and centerpieces. For each of the next few days spend a few minutes tossing linens in the wash, dusting off decorations, and prepping centerpieces.
One week in advance
  • Arrange seating.
    (Thursday, November 18 — 15 minutes)

    If dinner at your place is a less-than-formal affair, you can skip this step (and tomorrow's step, too)! If you want to have a pre-planned a seating arrangement, however, spend 15 minutes today to figure that out.

  • Create place cards.
    (Friday, November 19 — 15 minutes)

    If you're planning on a seating arrangement, spend 15 minutes today creating your place cards. For instant inspiration, check out 5 easy DIY place card ideas.

  • Freeze food.
    (Saturday and Sunday, November 20 and 21 — 15 minutes/day)

    Breads, pie crusts, many casseroles, and even stuffing can be made in advance and frozen to save prep time on Thanksgiving day. While the baking and cooking of these items undoubtedly takes longer than 15 minutes, prepping them for the freezer does not. Spend a half hour this weekend filling up the freezer.

  • Clean the living room.
    (Monday, November 22 15 minutes)

    Don't think you can clean the living room that quickly? Follow our instructions for a party-perfect living room in 15 minutes. Then, make sure the rest of your family members pick up after themselves until dinner is served on Thursday.

  • Clean the bathroom.
    (Tuesday, November 23 15 minutes)

    You know the drill — get another room clean and keep it that way. Handy hints for 15 minutes worth of cleaning can be found here.

  • Empty the refrigerator and restock.
    (Wednesday, November 24 — 10 minutes)

    Spend 10 minutes this morning clearing out the fridge to make room for Thanksgiving food. Then, refill the refrigerator with any drinks or condiments that need to be chilled when served tomorrow.

  • Make a mental run-through.
    (Wednesday, November 24 — 5 minutes)

    After the fridge is clean, take five minutes to run through the list of things that still need to be done. At this point, your list should be mostly whittled down to cooking and setting the table!
Thanksgiving Day
  • Last-minute shopping.
    (Thursday, November 25 15 minutes)

    With the list you prepared two weeks ago, pop into the grocery store (go as soon as they open, if you want to keep this trip under 15 minutes!) and grab the last of the perishables you need for today's dinner.

  • Give thanks and enjoy!
Unless you order in, there's no way to reduce all that Thanksgiving cooking to 15 minutes, but hopefully our Thanksgiving checklist will help you get ready for the big day with little fuss over the details.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stress-free plans for the holiday season

Now that we're into November, the holiday season is upon us. For many, the frenzy to plan and prep Thanksgiving dinner gives way to Christmas chaos.

Relax and enjoy the season instead of getting frazzled. There's nothing on your holiday to-do list that can't be boiled down to easy steps that take 15 minutes or less. In the upcoming weeks, the 15-Minute Party Planner will make your holiday party-planning easy, with easy timelines and to-do lists.

You can squeak 15 minutes of party prep into your day in half-a-dozen places -- make your shopping list in the car while you wait for the kids to get out of school, grab a few extra groceries this week instead of shopping for the holiday in one fell swoop, or dig out the holiday decorations while you're in the basement swapping over a load of laundry.

Stay tuned for more stress-free party planning tips from the 15-Minute Party Planner!

Friday, October 8, 2010

15-minutes to a party-perfect living room

Today we tackle the living room. At most parties, guests hunker down in the living room, so to speed-clean it, follow these helpful hints to finish in about 15 minutes.

Clear out clutter. (5 minutes)
Here at the 15-Minute Party Planner, we love the "out of sight, out of mind" method of cleaning. First, grab a large basket (try a laundry basket or a shopping bag). Then, walk around your living room filling the basket with items that need to be relocated to other rooms. You may also want to remove table-top photographs, candles, or other knick-knacks, so that you have more space for food or decorations at your party. Once the basket is full, stash it in an unused closet, the basement, or another out-of-the-way room. You can sort through it after the party.

Wipe down surfaces. (5 minutes)
You could get yourself into a dusting, mopping frenzy, or you could simply run a microfiber cloth over the tables, shelves, and other furniture in your living room. Microfiber cloths are designed for dry dusting, so you don't need to waste time searching for sprays and cleansers. Most microfiber cloths will also attract pet hair, saving you valuable vacuuming time.

Vacuum. (3 minutes)
The average living room shouldn't take more than three minutes to speed-vacuum. Now is not the time to worry about moving the furniture so that you can clean under the couch. Simply run the vacuum over the floor to pick up any obvious dust, dirt, crumbs, or pet hair.

Freshen up. (2 minutes)
Febreze Fabric Refresher is on the 15-Minute Party Planner's list of favorite products. A quick spritz over upholstered furniture, curtains, and carpets eliminates odors and freshens a room's scent. Our favorite Febreze Fabric Refresher? The Allergen Reducer, for its ability to freshen a scent while reducing your home's allergens.

Check out more of The 15-Minute Party Planner's ideas for quick-cleaning with articles like Speed-clean your kitchen in 15 minutes and Get your bathroom party-ready in 15 minutes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

5 easy DIY place card ideas

When prepping for your next dinner party, know that you can make simple place cards in a matter of minutes. Here are five ideas for do-it-yourself cards that will keep everyone organized.
  1. Write guests' names on small index cards and prop in front of a bright piece of fruit at each place setting.

  2. If you're expecting leftovers or an abundance of dessert items, write each guest's name on a takeout container, tie a quick piece of ribbon around the container's handle, and set it in front of the place setting. Guests will know where to sit and have easy access to a doggie bag!

  3. Buy pre-made diecuts (that match your party theme) from a local craft store (or Etsy). Then, simply write a guest's name on each one and place them appropriately.

  4. Want your place cards to do double duty as party favors? Tie a simple tag with the guest's name to a jar of jam, a bag of cookies or candy, a small candle, or other easy favor. (For more ideas on DIY favors, check out 15 Party favors you can make in 15 minutes.)

  5. Another place card/party favor idea? Find tiny potted plants, then stick labels in the dirt. On one side of the label, name the plant, on the other, the name of the guest.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

6 Quick and easy Ritz Cracker appetizers

When you want to make some appetizers in a hurry, grab a box of Ritz Crackers and get creative. Not the creative type? Read on for six quick and easy Ritz cracker appetizer ideas that will take no more than a few minutes to make.

Now available in six varieties, you can find everything from Whole Wheat Ritz to Roasted Vegetable Ritz; simply choose your favorite and get started!

  1. Ritz with brie & marmalade
    To save time, pick up a package of sliced brie cheese. Place one slice of bread on the Ritz cracker and top with a dollop of marmalade or jam in whatever flavor you choose.

  2. Ritz Caprese
    Top your Ritz with a slice of mozzarella, tomato, and basil.

  3. Ritz with prosciutto & melon
    Slice prosciutto and melon (ripe honeydew or cantaloupe) into Ritz-sized pieces and place atop crackers.

  4. Ritz with chutney
    Simply buy any pre-made chutney and top your Ritz with them.

  5. Ritz with peanut butter & jelly
    Perfect for a back-to-school bash, this old school favorite is a favorite for a reason.

  6. Ritz sandwich
    Place a bite of sliced turkey and a bit of American cheese between two Ritz crackers for easy Ritz sandwiches.
Of course, if Ritz isn't your cracker of choice you can try Melba toast (holds up to heartier fare), Town House (a personal favorite), or any other simple brand of cracker. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Speed-clean your kitchen in 15 minutes

When you're expecting company, you can speed-clean your kitchen in mere minutes. Just follow these tips and you'll be party-ready in no time.

Clear out clutter. (4 minutes)
Clear off counter tops by stowing away any appliances you won't need at the party. By tucking away the food processor and the toaster, you'll have more room for food prep and easy-access to dishes. Fill a basket with any other miscellaneous items (stray cookbooks, mail, half-eaten boxes of cereal) that would get in the way of your party. Tuck the basket away and sort after the guests have gone home.

Wipe down surfaces. (4 minutes)
The 15-Minute Party Planner unabashedly loves Clorox cleaning products because of their ease and efficiency. Grab some Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and give a quick cleaning to all surfaces -- counter tops, stove tops, cabinet doors and handles, faucets, tables, and the handles and doors of your appliances.

Empty trash and recycling bins. (2 minutes)
By emptying your trash and recycling bins pre-party, you'll not only have a fresher-smelling kitchen, but you'll have more room for guests to toss their empties during the party. Want to keep your bins smelling fresh? Sprinkle baking soda at the bottom of each bin to soak up odors.

Clean floors. (4 minutes)
No one likes to mop, but an all-in-one product like the Swiffer SweeperVac or Clorox ReadyMop makes the chore a little easier and quicker. Go over your floors quickly, then pop off the cloth and throw it away. There are no messy buckets of water to dump out and no dust pans to empty.

Light a food-scented candle. (1 minute)
Nothing makes a party more inviting then the smell of food wafting from the kitchen. If you don't have anything cooking when guests arrive, consider lighting a candle to add to the kitchen's appeal. Consider lighting a pumpkin candle for a Halloween party or a Christmas Cookie candle for your next holiday gathering.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free giveaway: Fantastic cocktail recipe book!

Because the 15-Minute Party Planner has been on a bit of a hiatus, it’s time to come back full-force with a giveaway! Since the 15-Minute Party Planner is all about the belief that party planning should be quick and easy, I've selected a great book, Fantastic Cocktails & Mixed Drinks, which shows the reader step-by-step directions to producing delightful cocktails. And, because the book is broken down by the type of spirits featured, it’s a great resource for any 15-minute party planner, who won’t be running to the store to stock up on crazy ingredients.

I’d like to reward my faithful following with this giveaway! I’d also like to boost readership and comeback full-force. So, if you’d like to win, here are the rules:
  • The contest is open to everyone. You’ll get one entry just for leaving a comment on this blog with your favorite quick-and-easy party planning tip.
  • You’ll get additional entries for each of the following (just note which ones apply in your comment on the post):
    +2 entries for becoming a fan (or having already been a fan) of The 15-Minute Party Planner on Facebook
    +2 entries for following ITandO on Twitter
    +5 for reposting this contest announcement on a social networking site (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) Just send me the link for your announcement! (And sorry, but only the first post on each site counts for the extra points.)

  • Once all of the entries are in, I'll give each entry a number and then feed them into an online random-number-generator. The entrant whose number corresponds with the generated number will be the winner!

  • Of course, in order to get you your prize in a timely fashion, I’ll need a way to contact you. Please provide your e-mail address, website/blog contact page, or some other way to contact you, provided you win.

  • The contest ends Saturday, August 21st at 11:59 p.m. EST.
Good luck!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tip-sheet: How much food and drink to buy for your next party

You're throwing a party and you want to know how much food and drink to have on hand, right? As with anything, guidelines are just a suggestion; only you will know your guests' eating and drinking habits, so you should ultimately follow your instincts with a little help from these guidelines.

Bookmark this handy tip-sheet for easy calculations for everything from pizza and beer to hors d'oeuvres and dessert.

Remember this post about easy drink calculations? It's definitely worth checking out again, but a quick rule of thumb is to budget for two alcoholic drinks per person during your party's first hour and then a drink per person per hour.

Appetizers/Hors d'oeuvres
If you're serving appetizers before other food, plan on about 5 hors d'oeuvres per person per hour for the first 2 hours of the party and 3 per person per hour for each additional hour. If you're only serving appetizers, you'll want to up the quantities a bit.

Have two rolls or slices of bread per guest.

Buying a few nice blocks of cheese is better than buying a dozen blocks of flavorless cheese. Unless you are hosting a wine and cheese party (where you would benefit from more variety), plan to buy 2-4 different kinds of cheese (with varying textures and tastes) and account for approximately 2-3 ounces of cheese per person.

Chips, crackers, and other crunchy stuff
Since chips and crackers don't spoil quickly, buy several bags and boxes; it's better to have too much than too little and you can always send unopened (or partially-finished) bags home with guests.

Dessert servings depend on the kind and variety of desserts being served. In general, if you're serving cake, pie, or pastries, allot 1 slice per guest. If you're serving something creamy (ice cream, mousse, parfait, or pudding), plan on about half a cup for each guest. If you're offering a variety of desserts or adding fresh fruit, portion sizes can be a bit smaller, as guests will try multiple items.

Meat, fish, and poultry
For a dinner party, plan on about 5-6 ounces of meat per diner.

Non-alcoholic beverages
When you're buying non-alcoholic drinks (punch, soda, juice), 10 people per gallon is a good rule of thumb.

Plan on about 2.5 slices per person. Of course, if you're serving lots of other stuff you may drop this to about 2 slices per person, and if you're serving nothing but pizza to a football team, you'll want to budget a bit higher.

Starches (pasta, potatoes, or rice)
You'll need about 1/4 pound of starch for each guest at a dinner party. A box of pasta will, therefore, serve 4-6 people, while 3 pounds of potatoes works for about 12 guests.

If you're serving fresh or cooked vegetables, allot about 1/2 cup per person. If you're serving salad, plan on 1 cup per guest. (For 3-minute salads ideas, check out some recipes here.)

A few extra tips:
  • When in doubt, it's better to have too much food than not to have enough, so round up. You can always send guests home with leftovers or fill your freezer with extra food.

  • If you have many different options (6-10 appetizers, for instance), make the portions smaller than you would if you were only offering a few choices; guests are more likely to try one of everything offered when there are many options.

  • Plan for a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian appetizers and account for any guests with dietary restrictions (such as gluten-free diets or allergies), by asking your guests about their needs up front, or providing guests with the basic outline of your dinner menu.

  • Keep filler items (like nuts, party mix, olives, etc.) on hand for simple food choices that require no preparation, but will feed lots of guests.
Bon app├ętit!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

3 easy salads you can make in 3 minutes

When you're trying to whip up a quick salad, the last thing you need is to follow a recipe with intricate steps and specific ingredients. By starting with pre-washed, bagged greens and adding other ingredients to taste, you can have a gourmet salad in just three minutes. Here are three of the 15-Minute Party Planner's favorite 3-minute salads.

Spinach salad with feta, cranberries, and walnuts

  • Fresh baby spinach leaves (8-12 ounces)
  • Handful of Crasins (dried cranberries)
  • Handful of chopped walnuts
  • Crumbled feta cheese (2-4 ounces)
  • Salad dressing (honey mustard, sesame ginger, and raspberry vinaigrette are all nice choices)
  • Empty spinach leaves into a large salad bowl.
  • Add handfuls of Crasins, walnuts, and feta cheese to taste.
  • Toss with hands or serving utensils.
  • Serve with dressing of choice.
  • This recipe calls for baby spinach because its stems don't have to be removed, which makes preparation quicker. If you prefer the taste of other greens, however, feel free to use them instead.
  • Don't like the tartness of cranberries? Try Craisins Pomegranate juice-infused dried cranberries instead. Same idea, sweeter flavor.
  • Have almonds on hand and don't want to make a trip to the store for walnuts? Not a problem. You can substitute any nut in place of the walnut.
Arugula salad with prosciutto, dried figs, and pine nuts

  • Fresh arugula (8-12 ounces)
  • 1/8 lb. Prosciutto (thinly sliced, from the deli)
  • Dried figs (about 3 ounces, chopped)
  • Handful of pine nuts
  • Hard Parmesan cheese (for grating)
  • Salad dressing (Try balsamic vinaigrette, for some tanginess.)
  • Put clean, fresh arugula into a large salad bowl.
  • Roll up proscuitto, then make small slices (width-wise), and one large cut lengthwise. Separate the pieces of meat and add them to the salad bowl.
  • Chop figs into bite-sized pieces, add to bowl.
  • Add a handful of pine nuts.
  • Toss salad with hands or serving utensils.
  • Grate Parmesan cheese over the top of the salad (to taste).
  • Serve with dressing of choice.
  • You could easily use romaine or spinach in place of the arugula in this recipe.
  • While prosciutto is the favored choice for this salad, any thinly sliced cured meat will give the salad a rich, salty depth.
  • Think pine nuts are too expensive? Substitute sunflower seeds instead.
  • You can also add a dollop of fig spread to each salad, in place of the chopped dried figs.
Easy Caesar salad

  • One bag (8-12 ounces) of chopped romaine lettuce
  • Bottled Caesar salad dressing (Ken's makes a Lite Creamy Caesar that tastes just as good as the full-fat kind)
  • Hard Parmesan cheese (for grating)
  • Freshly-grated black pepper
  • Croutons
  • Anchovies (optional)
  • Lemon wedges (optional)
  • Put romaine in a large salad bowl.
  • Pour on dressing (not the whole bottle!) and toss with your hands, until lettuce is fully coated.
  • If desired, add anchovies.
  • Shred Parmesan cheese and grind pepper over the salad.
  • Top with croutons.
  • To dress up the salad, serve with lemon wedges.
  • The fun of a decadent Caesar salad is in the dressing, which is why it is recommended to coat the lettuce in dressing before serving (whereas the other recipes call for dressing on the side). If you're catering to the health-conscious, however, you can serve dressing and/or croutons on the side.