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A day or two of spring weather and we’re immediately dreaming of hosting friends for an alfresco dinner and sipping wine well into the night. That’s why we put together a menu, shopping list and itinerary to help you entertain—and impress—your guests for $50 or less. (Just remind your friends it's BYO rosé.)

RELATED: 10 Tricks for Easy Summer Entertaining

Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

Starter: Spring Panzanella Salad

Get the recipe

stuffed shells
Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

Entrée: Slow-Cooker Stuffed Shells

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lemon cookies
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

Dessert: 4-Ingredient Lemon Cookies

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Kwangmoozaa/Getty Images

1 pint wild mushrooms ($3)
1 bunch asparagus ($2)
1⅓ cup peas ($2)
1 bunch scallions ($1.50)
1 cup watercress ($1)
2 cups dandelion greens ($2)
1 sweet onion ($1)
2 garlic cloves ($1)
6 cups spinach ($5)
1 bunch fresh basil ($1.50)
1 bunch fresh parsley ($1.50) 

1 ¾ whole-milk ricotta cheese ($3.50)
1 8-ounce package shredded mozzarella ($3)
½ cup grated Parmesan ($3)
1 8-ounce package frozen whipped topping ($2)
2 eggs ($3) 

Everything Else
½ loaf whole-wheat sourdough bread, preferably one day old ($3)
2 12-ounce boxes jumbo shells ($4)
1 8-ounce jar marinara sauce ($3)
1 box store-bought lemon cake mix ($2)
1 16-ounce box confectioners' sugar ($2)

Total Cost: $50

(Note: This doesn’t include a few pantry items you probably already have on hand, like olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper and rice vinegar.)


The Night Before

Save yourself the trouble of next-day dessert prep by baking the cookies ahead of time. This four-ingredient recipe (lemon cake mix, frozen whipped topping, eggs and confectioners' sugar) takes only 40 minutes to prep and bake. When you’re done, you’ll have two dozen cookies ready to stash in Tupperware and serve tomorrow.

crock pot
Devrim_PINAR/Getty Images

6 Hours Before

Mince the sweet onion and garlic, then bust out your slow-cooker. The best part about this make-ahead stuffed shells entrée is that after about 20 minutes of initial prep (sautéing the onion, garlic and spinach, stirring in the ricotta and spooning it into the pasta shells), the recipe basically makes itself. (Just don’t forget to garnish with basil and parsley before you serve.)

chopping veggie

2 Hours Before

The panzanella salad can be made ahead of time or right before your guests arrive. Start to finish, it will take you 40 minutes. Just be sure you allow five minutes to sauté the mushrooms and another four to cook the asparagus. Chop the scallions and cut the sourdough bread into 1-inch cubes. You’ll need to make the dressing from scratch, too, but this starter can sit in the fridge until that’s added. Then it’s ready to serve.


Rosé is Served

Yay, as planned, your friends each brought wine. Have a bottle that still needs to be chilled? Just wrap it in a damp dish towel and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes. You’re set.

RELATED: The Fastest Way to Chill a Bottle of Wine

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