A progressive dinner is a great way to party on a budget. Each course could cost as little as $35 -- or more than $100. The key is to meet with the other hosts and mutually establish a budget to help keep costs in check, which is often the point of hosting a progressive dinner anyway.
Hosts can minimize stress by preparing as much food as possible ahead of time. Many appetizers can be made the day before and assembled just before the party begins. For example, it only takes a couple of minutes to pull a cheese spread (molded into a pleasing shape) from the refrigerator and surround it with crackers. The same goes for premade snacks, such as baby dill pickles wrapped in cream cheese-spread ham and speared with a pretzel stick or toothpick.
Crockpots are a no-fuss way to prep a second-course soup (and keep it warm). You could also whip-up a crockpot-friendly main course, like pulled pork or even rack of lamb -- no kidding!
No matter what course you're hosting, keep a few empty containers handy so you can make short work of storing leftovers. If you serve foods on disposable, environmentally conscious bamboo plates -- or use recyclable paper or plastic plates and cups -- it makes post-party cleanup easier. As you head out of the house for the next course, just rinse the used plates and cups briefly and toss them into a trash bag or bin for sorting later. At least you won't return home to a stack of dirty dishes, right?
With a little planning, even when you're hosting a portion of the party you'll be a guest at the rest. Does this mean you (and other guests) should present gifts to each and every host or hostess? Although etiquette experts are divided on whether this is a necessary nicety or overkill, you could compromise by offering a small sign of your appreciation -- like a wine stopper or a homemade treat (like chocolate-pecan toffee, perhaps) -- that the hostess can enjoy after the party's over.
Or, you could simply bring a bottle of wine -- a libation that's sure to be flowing as the party progresses. After all, the festivities probably launched with a round of cocktails, right? Check out the next page for a few stellar (yet simple) recipes.