by Laura Dellutri
You don’t have a lot of room for guests
Tried and True Solution: Make extra seating with folding chairs and table.
Stressbuster Shortcut: Putting extra furniture in the room makes it seem even smaller than it is. Just entertain buffet style. Serve a menu of casual finger food. Or just invite people over for a dessert buffet. And use lighting to transform the room. Decorate with candlelight. Or set small spotlights on the floor, directing the light up, on the walls.
Oven capacity insufficient to cook for a crowd
Tried and True Solution: Use chafing dishes or hot plates to warm the food; or keep heated items warm in an insulated cooler.
Stressbuster Shortcut: Add extra oven racks. You can buy Jobar’s three-tiered slim oven rack that will slip in beside a roasting pan and hold small casserole dishes, and you can also buy a wide three-tiered oven insert that will hold a trio of cookie sheets to bake three batches at a time or warm large quantities of hors d’oeuvres such as mini-pizzas. www.whateverworks.com
Table too small to hold all the buffet items
Tried and True Solution: Consider using your kitchen for part of the buffet. Don’t put dishes and flatware on the main table so there will be room for the serving dishes.
Stressbuster Shortcut: You can find three-tier buffet servers online or at retailers like J.C. Penney and Target. I have one that looks elegant on my table and really solves the space problem. In fact, I’m considering buying a second. You can position the multi-level trays at different angles to allow access from any side.
No budget for major table decorations
Tried and True Solution: Use pillar candles of different sizes on mirrors, or heap baskets with items like pinecones and leaves, ornaments.
Stressbuster Shortcut: The Candle Carver is a tool that carves a shallow depression in fruits and vegetables, the perfect size to hold a tea light candle. Take an ordinary apple, make it into a candleholder, and surround it with flowers for a centerpiece, or use it as a place-setting decoration. www.candlecarvercompany.com
You don’t have enough china for all your guests
Tried and True Solution: Put out paper plates or plastic dishware.
Stressbuster Shortcut: I like serving food on a sturdy plate, so I check out the discount departments or stores for bargain-price dishes. Sometimes you can find a quantity of them for a dollar or less. Snap them up to use for entertaining over and over again. Add some inexpensive cloth napkins, a table runner (less expensive than tablecloths or placemats), some candles and ribbons (around the napkins or on the wine glass stems), and you can set a beautiful table for very little cost.
Your entertainment food budget is small and your time is limited
Tried and True Solution: Have a potluck party, where all the guests bring a covered dish.
Stressbuster Shortcut: Split the cost of the meal and divide up the effort of preparation by holding a progressive dinner. Three or four couples participate, and the whole party goes a different house for each course: appetizers, salad, main entree, and dessert.
You don’t know what to serve
Tried and True Solution: Pasta. Who doesn’t like pasta? Answer: the folks on diets, the people with wheat issues, and the people who won’t eat a sauce if it has meat or fish in it.)
Stressbuster Shortcut: Go online and look for recipes. You can search by ingredient. Or try a soup party. Make one for the vegetarians, one with fish, one with meat or chicken and you’ve satisfied everyone’s dining issues. They can all be made ahead, they’re easy to reheat, and you can just add store-bought bread and cheese.
No time to clean the house to perfection
Tried and True Solution: Knock yourself out and feel guilty you haven’t done the job.
Stressbuster Shortcut: Focus JUST on the places your guests will visit: lavatory, and living room. Wipe counters in the bathroom, dustbust the hairs from the floor, swipe the toilet, and make sure you’ve got clean towels, soap, and toilet paper. Hide anything else behind the shower curtain. In the living room, vacuum the high-traffic area, gather up any junk in a laundry basket and hide it behind the shower curtain. Turn the lights low and put on soft music.
Flies swarming when you eat outdoors
Tried and True Solution: Keep the food in containers with plastic lids or cover with plastic wrap or foil
Stressbuster Shortcut: Cover the whole table with a giant nylon “food umbrella,” l7” x 49” x 27”. It pops open and closed with the press of a button, stores compactly. I love this, because it makes guests feel better about eating at your outdoor and even indoor buffets. www.shop.com
Shaping burgers for a crowd
Tried and True Solution: Roll the meat into a ball, and then press the hamburger down
Stressbuster Shortcut: A non-stick aluminum press lets you make dozens of uniformly sized patties in no time, exactly the thickness you like (up to l-l/2. Sorry if this seems trivial—but my hamburgers were looking like blobs of play dough. www.taylorgifts.com
Barbecue grill needs sanitizing
Cleaning the grill is one of the sloppiest jobs I can think of. Most of them are too big to fit easily in the sink. And you could use a whole roll of paper towels cleaning off the residue.
Tried and True Solution: You don’t even have to touch the grill to get it ready for use. Just leave it in place over burning hot coals for ten minutes.
Stressbuster Shortcut: Spray Nine BBQ Grill Cleaner not only gets rid of the grease, fat and burned-on food, it also has a hospital-grade disinfectant that kills e-coli, salmonella and other germs. www.spraynine.com
Can’t see when you’re cooking after dark
Tried and True Solution: Have the barbecue chef wear a miner’s cap.
Stressbuster Shortcut: Pegasus Associates’ Clamp-On Barbecue light fits snugly to the side of the grill and lights it up with a 20-watt halogen bulb. Even after the sun has long gone down, the barbecue chef can turn out burgers done exactly to each guest’s taste.
Menu planning and timing is so tricky
Tried and True Solution: Serve sandwiches, cold cuts, and other items that can be cooked in advance.
Stressbuster Shortcut: Rely on your crock-pot. One-pot dishes make menu planning easy, slow cooking means you don’t have to watch the pot, and you don’t have to worry that the food will be overcooked if guests are late. Here are a few ideas for main dishes—plus a fabulous potato side dish and an easy and decadent chocolate fondue dessert.