1. No new recipes.

It’s tempting to try new recipes when friends are coming over.

Just. Don’t.

Cook something you’ve made a thousand times. Something you can make while carrying on conversations, supervising kids and making sure the dog gets his nightly walk at his nightly appointed time before he does his nightly business on the living room rug.

Your guests will only be as comfortable as you are, so take it easy.

 

2. Spring for the good stuff where it matters most.

Think about how much better a BLT is with fresh sourdough, farm-stand tomatoes and thick-cut bacon. Now, think about the ingredients that would give your meal an upgrade:

Hamburger and hot dog buns from the grocer’s bakery.

Silver Queen corn. Fresh herbs. The best quality meat you can afford.

A big cardboard box full of fresh-picked strawberries from that little farm in Springfield.

A simple meal with standout ingredients is always something to write home about.

 

3. Go 50/50.

 

Take your party menu, and draw stars next to half of the items on your list. Those are the things you’re going to buy (or ask friends to bring if they offer).

Make the main course. Buy dessert.

Make your famous potato salad. Ask a friend to bring the baked beans.

Buy the ice cream. Make the hot fudge sauce.

You’re aiming to feed people, not kill yourself impressing them, so don’t worry about making everything from scratch.

I’m a baker, but if we’re going to need bread for the table, I buy a few sacks of frozen biscuits and rolls so that I can heat up an assortment and serve them warm. Right now, I’m loving the new Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked Artisan Rolls. They’re nice and crusty on the outside, soft inside. I’ve been using them to make Cuban Sliders (recipe at the end of this post) and other small sandwiches for weeks. (That’s why I said yes to them sponsoring this post.)

 

4. Make two checklists.

List #1 is Things to Buy. Like groceries, charcoal, toilet paper, paper towels, aluminum foil and that extra bag of ice.

List #2 is Things to Do. This should include all of the crazymakers. Like finding the bottle opener, corkscrew or ice cream scoop. Getting anything you might need out of storage (e.g. folding tables, chairs, candles, kazoos). Picking out the right music. And sweeping the cicada carcasses off the front steps.

 

5. Invest in a very large, very obvious metal garbage can.

Once upon a time, we had a kitchen trash can that could be stowed out of sight.

It couldn’t hold anything.

Guests couldn’t find it.

It stank. (Literally.)

We finally went to a hardware store and spent $20 on a huge metal garbage can. The kind you might imagine Oscar the Grouch living in. Everyone can find it, the metal lid contains the stank, and it makes kitchen (and post-party) clean-up a snap.

 

6. Embrace the meat thermometer!

In the immortal words of Digital Underground, “Quit denying it. You’re better off trying it.”

There’s nothing worse than getting the meat to the table and finding out it’s either rare or could bounce off the floor like a rubber ball.

A simple meat thermometer will save you from embarrassment and take the guesswork right out.

 

7. Prep what you can ASAP.

Most sides and baked goods could be made a day early. Even salad, which should be mixed together as late in the game as possible, can be prepped in advance by slicing and dicing the ingredients and storing them separately in the fridge until showtime.

Then, if you start hanging out with your friends and totally forget the salad, you can throw it together in about 30 seconds.

 

8. Empty the dishwasher.

Then, steal a few minutes during your party to load it up.

No one wants to wander into a kitchen that’s been overtaken by dirty pans, plates, cups, silverware and serving pieces.

Least of all you, the following morning.

We’ve all been there. Hold me.

 

9. Set up a self-serve drink area away from the kitchen. Far, far away.

Put your drinks, ice and glasses out where people can get to them. Or let the kids pretend it’s a lemonade stand and take drink orders.

Unless you’re serving adult beverages.

Then, keep the kids far, far away.

(P.S. If you’re serving a whole lotta tea or lemonade, pick up a drink dispenser with a spigot to keep it fly-free.)

 

10. When in doubt, reach for a Mason jar.

There aren’t many entertaining situations that Mason jars can’t handle.

Run out of drinking glasses? Ice up some Mason jars.

Need to mix up a salad dressing? Shake it up in a Mason jar.

Want to do some quick decorating on the cheap? Fill your Mason jars with fresh flowers, or make Mason jar lanterns.

Use them to keep cookies or cheese straws handy.

Or send guests home with jars full of banana pudding.

Or punch a few holes in the lids, and send the kids out to catch fireflies.

Mason jars rule.

 

*I’ve accepted a challenge from Pepperidge Farm to participate in their Ready, Set, Elevate! program and offer my favorite summertime entertaining tips. In return, they are paying me for my time and materials, and they’ve provided me with free coupons for their products. Since I was already hooked on their new Stone Baked Artisan Rolls, I’m excited about spreading the word that these things are good.

 

Cuban Sliders

Rebecca Crump (EzraPoundCake.com)

Makes 4

  • 4 Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked Artisan Rolls (recommended: French bread)
  • 4 slices deli ham
  • 4 slices roast pork
  • 8 slices Provolone
  • Pickles, to taste
  • Mustard, to taste
  1. Heat Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked Artisan Rolls as directed on the package.
  2. When the rolls are done and out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
  3. Split each roll horizontally, leaving one edge intact.
  4. Spread the insides of each roll with mustard. Layer on the ham, pork, cheese and pickles.
  5. Wrap each sandwich in aluminum foil, and place them on a baking sheet.
  6. To press the sandwiches inside the oven, place a large cast-iron skillet (or bricks covered in foil) on top of the sandwiches.
  7. Warm the sandwiches inside the oven for 10 minutes. Unwrap and serve immediately.