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!

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.

    1. Except for the meats, I'm pretty well stocked!

    2. I'll add frozen fruit to the list: Instant Smoothies!

    3. I love stock pot meatballs, but I think they'd take a couple hours to cook properly. They cook themselves, though, so you could bust them out later in the party.

      I live in Memphis, and Crock Pot meatballs are a party staple. We have a pretty simple recipe for the sauce: one jar of grape jelly and one bottle of BBQ sauce (a sweet brown sauce, not a vinegar- or mustard-based sauce). I've tried this with vegetarian meatballs too -- amazing!