The 5 Store-Bought Ingredients I Always Lean on When Having People Over Last-Minute

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Even in an itty-bitty NYC apartment, I absolutely love inviting friends over for casual gatherings. These gatherings are successful thanks to a few key staples I always have on hand. With these five store-bought items, I know I can have a few people over on a whim and not have to stress too much, which is how a good dinner party should be.

(Image credit: Sarah E Crowder)

1. Marinated Olives

Go to town at the antipasti bar at your grocery store and pick out a few kinds of marinated olives. They keep well in the fridge for at least a month or more and make for an instant cocktail snack that feels fancy. If you have a few extra minutes to spare, you can even buy plain olives and marinate them yourself. Either way, pour them into a nice little bowl when friends are on their way and feel at ease that you’re that host who has a snack at the ready.

2. Good Honey

I am what you call a honey hoarder — I love the stuff. While there’s no need to fill your pantry with half a dozen jars like I do, I encourage you to splurge on one good jar. That means eschewing the plastic honey bear at the grocery store and reaching for a local or raw honey that has more character. A high-quality honey is much more than just a sweetener — it has aromas and flavors that bring out the best of nearly everything. Use it as a condiment for a cheese plate either before or after dinner, drizzle it over ice cream for dessert, use it to make a cocktail, or whisk it into a vinaigrette.

(Image credit: Karen Biton-Cohen)

3. Frozen Puff Pastry

Use frozen puff pastry to make cheese straws to snack on pre-dinner, an easy vegetable tart or pot pie for the main meal, or a quick dessert. It’s a freezer staple that will always be there for you when you need to lean on it, so be sure you have a few boxes on hand at all times.

4. Vanilla Ice Cream

Keep a container of vanilla ice cream tucked in your freezer at all times and dessert needs no thought when friends come over for a causal dinner. A drizzle of that good honey, sliced fresh fruit, high-quality balsamic, or a little olive oil and flaky sea salt feels sophisticated, but is almost too easy. Or if you have more time to bake up a fruit crumble, you know all it needs to finish it off is a scoop of vanilla.

5. A Bottle of Bubbly

No need for expensive Champagne — a bottle of affordable Prosecco or Cava will do just fine. Keep one in your fridge and it will be ready to pop open when friends arrive. Sure, you can open a bottle of wine or even a few beers instead, but a bottle of bubbles just feels more celebratory, and a gathering with even just a few friends is reason enough to toast. Enjoy it on its own or use it to make simple cocktails while you nibble on marinated olives and ace your little dinner party without breaking a sweat.

What little things do you love to have on hand for easy, indulgent dinner parties? Would love to hear your suggestions!