Plan a successful soiree while stretching your dollars

Sentry Insurance offers tips on hosting a dinner party on a budgetThere are many sensational things about the holidays – friends and family gather together, the spirit of giving comes to life, holiday music fills the air, and there are dinner parties to host and attend.

The weeks between November and December can be chaotic and tiring, and a lot can be demanded of your dollar. However, you can still plan a successful dinner party without bursting your budget with these helpful tips from today.msnbc.com.

At the store:
A smart party plan starts at the market. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you plan to serve and what you need. This helps avoid making unnecessary or impulse buys.

But you’ll also want to keep an open mind while shopping, looking for inexpensive ingredients you might not have considered, but that can have a big impact.

“When considering your menu,” says Debra Puchalla, editor-in-chief of Everyday Food magazine, “seek out less-expensive ingredients at the store, such as seasonal foods or those on sale.”

  • Splurge on key ingredients. The editors of Cooking Light magazine point out that high-quality ingredients, used sparingly, can make a big impact. A small amount of truffle oil, prosciutto, artisanal bacon, or Parmesan cheese goes a long way, taking dishes such as pasta, risotto, pizza or soup from simple to sublime.
  • Garnish with gusto. Barbara Fairchild, editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit magazine, recommends buying modestly priced garnishes that make a big splash, such as kumquats, salted capers, one big sprig of an herb, or bundles of mixed herbs. A big single strawberry on a stem always dresses up a dessert plate nicely, even if all you serve is purchased ice cream.
  • Buy in bulk. It’s easy to put together an impressive offering of olives by visiting your gourmet grocer’s olive bar. Select a variety of flavors and colors. Exotic nuts, such as macadamias and Marcona almonds, also often can be purchased in bulk.

In the kitchen:
You don’t need filet mignon or lobster salad to impress. With the right touches, any food can be stylish and festive.

“An exciting menu doesn’t mean that each recipe has to be difficult, expensive or time-consuming,” says Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of Epicurious.com. “Your menu can consist of five simple hors d’oeuvres. As long as each recipe has a different flavor, temperature or texture, your guests won’t be bored.”

  • Go homemade. Guests appreciate the care that goes into anything made from scratch, says the editors at Cooking Light. Not only will your bread, pasta, pizza crust, pesto, salsa or chocolate sauce taste better, it will be cheaper than store-bought versions and make your guests feel special.
  • Use cheaper cuts of meat. They may need to cook for a little longer, says Food & Wine magazine executive food editor Tina Ujlaki, but they’ll reward you with more flavor. In the summer, consider pulled barbecued pork shoulder. When it’s cooler, try a beef bourguignonne made with inexpensive beef chuck.
  • Everybody loves pasta. It’s inexpensive and often times you can make better pasta dishes at home than you would get in a restaurant, says Ujlaki. Splurge on key flavoring ingredients in the sauce, such as good cheese, pancetta and olive oil.
  • Think casserole. Kemp Minifie, executive food editor of Gourmet magazine, says a basic pasta casserole can be elevated to a wonderful main dish by topping it with an ample layer of quality bread crumbs.
  • Do brunch. A well-done brunch can be just as enjoyable and posh as a dinner party, but much cheaper. The editors at Cooking Light suggest a menu that can be as simple as a hearty egg dish (such as a strata that features an artisanal cheese), a seasonal fruit salad, and some home baked muffins. Complete the meal with a coffee bar and pitchers of mimosas or bloody Mary’s.

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