By Chef Jill McCollum, CC

We had the pleasure of having some dear friends over for dinner a few weeks ago and it was so refreshing and exciting to be able to plan a menu, prepare my dishes, and even enjoying the clean up!
A dinner party does not have to mean Filet mignon must be on the menu; you don't need to spend hours or loads of money to impress and entertain with style. With a little planning, you can pull off a great meal without going beyond your budget. Here are some great time and money saving ideas:
Consider your comfort level when thinking about the party menu and quick recipes to prepare. Also keep in mind the number of guests you are inviting when planning your menu.
How much food should you serve? A general guideline is 6 appetizers per person per hour for a cocktail party. If appetizers are replacing dinner, then plan on at least 10 appetizers for each guest throughout the night and try to have at least 5 choices.
If you are planning a home-cooked party food menu, prepare as much of the food as you can ahead of time. Keep a list of what needs to be done, so last minute touches are not forgotten.
For an easy meal, make it a barbecue event and ask guests to bring the side dishes, and you provide the meat. You can also make it a full potluck party and ask everyone to bring a dish to share.
These days, no party menu should be without a few healthy food choices.
Be sure to serve foods with a variety of tastes, temperatures, and textures. Include both hot and cold dishes, serve creamy dips and a crisp assortment of unique vegetables, and try not to go overboard with one particular flavor or spice.
Party foods that can be held with one hand, or "finger food" type choices, are an important consideration as well. Your guests may be standing for most of the party and, if so, trying to balance a plate of food and a beverage could lead to a messy disaster!

September's recipes

Blondie with Carmel Sauce


1 cup butter
2 tablespoon milk
2 cup packed brown sugar
2 egg, beaten
2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 12x12 inch pan. Combine butter and milk in a large saucepan. Place over low heat until butter melts. Remove from heat, add the brown sugar and egg. Stir until well blended. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into sugar mixture. Stir in vanilla and nuts. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool and cut into 2x2 inch squares. Serve with vanilla ice cream and Carmel sauce.

Carmel Sauce

2 cups packed brown sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup margarine or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup milk
¼ cup Bourbon-optional

Combine brown sugar, condensed milk, and Bourbon in a large saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook until mixture becomes hot. Remove from heat and add margarine and vanilla. Mix milk in to sauce for desired thickness. Serve over cake.

Three Bean Salsa

1 small can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 small can garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small can white whole kernel corn, drained
1 small can stewed chopped tomatoes
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
¼ cup chopped green onions
Juice of one lime
¼ cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients; toss to coat. Chill for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with tortilla chips. This dish can also be served over a chicken breast with cheese on top for garnishing.

New Feature

Send in your food related tips to Chef Jill McCollum at and your tip might appear in an upcoming issue of Women's, Inc.!