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!

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!