If you plan ahead and know exactly what you need and where to get it, cooking for a dinner party can be stress-free. Here are a few of my tips to perfect your plan of attack.
Prep as much as you can
Think about what you’re going to cook well in advance. I like buying all my ingredients a day before the dinner so that I can concentrate on cooking the day of (it’s what I did for this dinner). Buying everything the day before also ensures perishable items such as seafood or ripe produce will still be fresh the next day.
Streamline your shopping
My mom is the queen of comparison shopping and goes to two or three different supermarkets for produce, meat and seafood. She’s also retired and has the time to do so. I don’t. So sometimes I’ll just eat the cost and spend a bit more on cheese if all my ingredients are at that shop, rather than zip across town to a specialty store. When on a budget, it’s not just about saving money, it’s also about making sure your time isn’t wasted. For this dinner, I kept the ingredients simple so I could find pretty much everything at my local No Frills.
Make a shopping list
Know what you’re getting so that you’re not wasting time wandering the aisles of the grocery store. Sticking to the list also prevents impulse purchases, and of course, forgetting that crucial ingredient for your dish. Make a list organized by produce, meat, bakery, dairy, etc. so you can hit up those sections of the supermarket in one go.
Be flexible with ingredients
I like to head to the reduced aisle of the produce section to see if there are any heavily discounted vegetables I can cook up over the next day or two. Don’t feel tied down to a recipe, especially if it’s one that you’ve cooked many times before and are confident enough to make substitutions without screwing up the dish (save the new and complicated recipes for another day). If the recipe calls for roasted carrots but parsnips are on sale, I’d go for the latter. If collards are on sale, I’d swap that in for the kale salad I’m making. I make a grocery list but if there are any swappable ingredients that save me a few bucks, I’d take it. For example, I’m loyal to one brand of pasta but another was on sale at half the price so I bought the latter for the cacio e pepe instead.
Head to the bulk food store
For special spices or flours that I don’t use often I buy the exact amount the recipe calls for at the bulk food store. I recommend taking measuring spoons with you to gauge just how much you need. Just don’t use those to scoop directly from the bin. That is not allowed.
Have an emergency buffer budget
I always like to have an extra $5 or $10 bill in my wallet in case I need more of a certain ingredient, or forget to include something on my shopping list. This prevents any budgetary surprises and if I don’t end up using the extra cash, it goes toward the next dinner party.