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Outdoor Parties: Upscale on a Budget

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Celeb chef and mom of two, Susannah Locketti has five low-cost tips to turn your outdoor entertaining into an upscale event.


Susannah Locketti: Thanks to the economy, more people are dining at home. That means outdoor entertaining will be super popular this spring and summer. Just follow these easy entertaining tips to make your backyard bash low cost, yet high style.

Go Green
The area you entertain in should be inviting and relaxing. Nothing achieves the mood more inexpensively than plants surrounding your outdoor entertaining area. Clay pots are inexpensive and can hold your culinary herbs on tables or deck railings. Nothing beats plucking fresh herbs from the plants around you to garnish your food. Inexpensive flowers such as coleus, begonias, or pansies are great for oversized planters or individual pots. I also like to have fresh veggies growing in larger planters on the deck. Tomatoes look gorgeous growing on the vine, and eggplant or peppers make pretty edible additions to your space. Not to mention -- animals are less likely to snatch veggie plants closer to the house.

Condiments Redefined
Rather than leaving ketchup, mustard, relish, or sour cream out in the container, serve your condiments individually in small ceramic bowls with a spoon. Many people like this tip because it draws less attention to the brand you purchase and more attention to how you serve it. Making this one little change makes a big difference in presentation because it streamlines your serving table. Not to mention -- you can use only what you need and leave the remaining products in the refrigerator. Small ceramic bowls can be bought at any department store for under $5. When leaving out cutlery near the condiments, place them in inexpensive baskets or upright in glasses for a creative twist. Napkins are always adorable under a large seashell or colorful rocks from the beach.

Get Punchy
Nothing says party better than a big pitcher of spiked punch. I love to chop up fresh fruit and mint and add it to a large pitcher. Then I add ice cubes, any assorted juices on hand, plus a nice pour of rum or vodka. People love a refreshing homemade punch and it hits the spot on a warm sunny day. I also like to mix white grape juice, apricot nectar, sparkling water, and gin with chopped peaches, nectarines, and thin slices of lime, then top with ice cubes. You can purchase inexpensive glass pitchers for under $10 in most department stores. The less expensive pitchers have thicker glass, which means they are less likely to break and can handle more wear and tear.

Quantity vs. Quality
Now is the time to stock up on assorted meats on sale. Having an assortment of meats means variety for your guests. Sure, you can serve up burgers and hotdogs, but having chicken, beef, or seafood as an alternative is a plus! Pound chicken breasts out thin and cut them into three pieces to stretch out among your guests. The thinner chicken will also cook up faster on the grill. Skewer beef and seafood with vegetables to serve higher-cost meats and seafood in smaller quantities. I like to trim the standard bamboo skewers in half to allow for more skewers to go around. Offer grilled tofu and veggies on skewers for your vegetarian guests.

Simple Snacking
Nothing is prettier at a backyard bash than bowls of fresh berries, assorted vegetables, and simple dips. Keeping the berries whole prevents bugs; veggies are low cost and abundant, especially if you have a garden. I also like to have a couple small bowls of whole assorted nuts with nut crackers. Buying the nuts in the shell saves a ton of money and keeps the nuts fresh for your guests. Cracking nuts is also a fun way to pass time through conversation and the kids get a kick out of it too! Serve the nuts in one bowl and place the nutcrackers in a matching bowl beside it for guests to discard their shells. I especially love the spicy peanuts in the shell. They go great with beer and have a real nice kick to them.

next: Carnie Wilson's Baby Nursery -- Gorgeous!
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Joe May 3, 2009, 9:29 AM

Yet Again You’ve Added To My Entertaining Arsenal…Can’t Wait For Summer!!!!

Clare  May 3, 2009, 1:00 PM

These are simple and easy-to-do hints to make a summer party especially nice. Thanks, Susannah, for some excellent suggestions. You’ve made me feel hungry for shrimp on a skewer and thirsty for a big pitcher of punch. Keep up the good work - I enjoy your columns.

Jennifer May 7, 2009, 9:49 AM

I’ve been making fruity margaritas to keep the alcohol budget down too. They taste great, use less tequila and triple sec and make a great impression.

Elizabeth May 14, 2009, 4:53 PM

Susannah, I love your fruity, spiked punch suggestion. We do most of our entertaining in the summer, but find we spend a fortune buying beer and bottled alcoholic drinks for our guests. I’m looking forward to our first summer party! Thanks for the great idea!

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Best regards :-(, Ariel.

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:-D Thanks in advance. Kekipi.

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