Dinner Parties For All Budgets
$: At-Home Campout
Who says you have to spend the night in the woods to chow down on roasted hot dogs and s'mores? Your friends will love the little-kid fun of a roaring fire and camp songs. Have everyone bring their sleeping bags and don't forget the flashlights.
Setup: Fire up the old barbecue grill. Or better yet, if you have a fire pit, get that going and let people sit around it, dipping in wieners and marshmallows. Put candles in a dozen or so Mason jars. And since you aren't actually in the woods, bring the TV outside and show some favorite old-school movies. Play truth or dare.
Food: Do you really need suggestions? Hot dogs, skewers of marinated chicken and vegetables, roasted corn and s'mores (of course). >
Signature drink: Lemonade cocktails or "bug juice"-tinis. >
$: Southern Shindig
Nothing gets people's mouths watering like down-home cooking -- the main event at this party. Order takeout fried chicken and make all the fixings yourself, or fry up a batch of easier-to-cook chicken-fried steak. Make sure to have plenty of cold beer on hand too. And whatever you do, don't forget the liquor.
Setup: Pull out your fine china and nicest table linens for a proper Southern supper. Set out a bouquet of fresh flowers, like hydrangeas or roses, and play scratchy recordings of Roy Orbison and Dizzy Gillespie. If it's summer, turn off the AC, open the windows to let in the sounds of the crickets and birds, and pass out old-fashioned paper fans.
Food: Serve platters of chicken-fried steak, biscuits and coleslaw; then offer pecan pie or blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Check out these comfort foods. >
Signature drink:Mint julep iced tea.>
$$: Asian Banquet
Treat your friends to an exotic evening with an affair inspired by the Far East. Turn down the lights, fill the room with delicate glowing candles and lanterns, and enjoy plates of sumptuous sushi made at home.
Setup: Clear out as many knickknacks as you can from the room in which you'll be hosting to create a more minimalist space. Hang Japanese paper lanterns and place glowing tea lights all around. Set up pretty Asian fans and wear a gorgeous silk jacket or a silk dress. Use only chopsticks for eating.
Food: California rolls are easier to make yourself than you may think. Teriyaki is a consistent crowd-pleaser, and sashimi and tempura are also fun to try. Put out a bowl of fortune cookies, too, and make everyone read his or her fortune out loud. Find more asian inspired recipes here.>
$$: Spanish Express
Spaniards have the right idea: Prepare lots of small plates of bite-size morsels, tasty delectables for everyone to pass around and share. What better format for a party? Play Spanish music (flamenco! tango!) and let the lively Mediterranean vibe take over.
Setup: Get your guests into the party mood with vases of large festive tissue-paper flowers, and have Gipsy Kings' songs fill the room. Cover the table in a bright cloth and set out maracas for people to shake along with the music -- in between sips of wine and mouthfuls of olives.
Food: Everyone eats Spanish-style with their fingers or with toothpicks -- stuffed olives, empanadas, Spanish omelets, chorizo, garlic shrimp, cheese cubes, meatballs in spicy tomato sauce and more.>
$$$: Gatsby Supper
One height of glamour came in the 1920s, when hemlines rose and cloche hats covered perfectly painted faces. Men wore wing tips and white ties with black suits, and everyone partied up a storm, thanks to Prohibition. Hosting a glamorous evening from a bygone era takes not much more than a trip to the grocery store and super-fabulous outfits.
Setup: Pull out your porcelain dishes, linen napkins and tablecloth, and sterling for the table. Play George Gershwin and early Louis Armstrong in the background. Beforehand, go vintage-clothing shopping (online or at your favorite secondhand shop) for drop-waist dresses, long strings of pearls, cigarette holders and black suits with white or black ties.
Food: Spinach dip, sirloin steak or fish fillets, creamy mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. Top it off with an old-fashioned three-layer chocolate cake. Check out these easy dinner recipes. >
Signature drink:Martinis, of course.>