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, 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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The 15-Minute Party Planner's pantry and 'fridge: What to keep on hand for easy entertaining

You've stocked the perfect home bar and your kitchen is full of nifty gadgets that make party planning quick and easy, but what are you going to feed people? To complete our three-part series on what to keep on hand for easy party planning, check out these foods that will feed people on a moment's notice. Keeping a few go-to non-perishables and long-lasting ingredients on hand make it easy to whip up fancy foods in no time.

Pantry items

  • Balsamic vinegar
    Do not buy cheap balsamic vinegar -- it's not worth it! Invest in a quality bottle and then use it to drizzle over everything from caprese salads to strawberries for a sweet/tart taste that wows.

  • Canned beans
    Cannellini beans and garbanzo beans (chick peas) are easily transformed into bean spread or hummus with the help of a couple of spices and a few minutes in a food processor.

  • Chips & crackers
    To insure that you always have something crunchy on hand, pick up a box of fancy crackers whenever you go shopping. To save money, check out stores like the Christmas Tree Shops and Ocean State Job Lot, which sell gourmet crackers cheap.

  • Chocolate
    Whether you keep a large bar of chocolate on hand to grate over desserts or few bags of M&M for easy snacks, keeping chocolate in stock is a must for any 15-minute party planner.

  • Nuts
    Put out nuts as a snack or add them to salads or desserts for a crunchy element.

  • Olives & olive oil
    Olives are a wonderful snack and add tang to tapenades and spreads, while olive oil transforms into quick salad dressings and -- when combined with roasted garlic and spices -- the perfect dip for rustic bread.

  • Pasta & sauces
    With a stash of pastas and sauces (tomato, alfredo, etc.) you can whip up a main course for an impromptu dinner party in 15 minutes or less.

  • Roasted red peppers
    Combined with garbanzo beans, roasted red peppers make a delicious hummus, and arranged artfully on a plate with olives, cheese, and prosciutto they supplement an antipasto platter.

  • Spreads, salsas, or dip mixes
    With a selection of tapenades, salsas, and dip mixes at the ready, you'll be prepared to put out quick appetizers, snacks for the big game, or even marinades and dressings for pasta, meats, or fish.

  • Sun-dried tomatoes
    Like roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes add a pop of flavor to a variety of dishes, and will keep in the pantry (unopened) without going bad.

    Refrigerated & Frozen Foods

  • Cheese
    A good Parmesan is perfect for grating into pesto, over pasta, or as a fancy garnish on dips and spreads. Blocks of cheddar and rounds of brie make for delicious appetizers when served with crackers.

  • Cream cheese & sour cream
    Keep these two on hand for easy dip and spread creation.

  • Cured meats
  • Whether you keep a salami on hand or grab prosciutto on your way home to prep for a party, cured meats are a quick way to spice up your antipasto platters or a gourmet addition to veggies (try prosciutto-wrapped asparagus for simple-but-fancy-looking appetizers).

  • Frozen meatballs
    You can find frozen meatballs made of ground turkey or beef, seasoned or unseasoned. Throw a bag in a Crockpot with chili sauce and grape jelly for an appetizer or cook the meatballs for use in meatball subs or spaghetti with meatballs.

  • Frozen shrimp
    Thaw frozen shrimp in a bowl of cold water and you've got instant shrimp cocktail or an easy protein to toss in with dinner.

  • Pre-made appetizers
    You could make potstickers, mozzarella sticks, and stuffed mushrooms by hand, but when you're trying to get ready in 15 minutes or less, grab some pre-made appetizers from the freezer and pop them in the oven.