Start by purchasing low-end TV dinners (one per guest — all the same kind). Empty the contents (feed them to kids, or repack and refreeze them) and replace them with gourmet look-alikes (i.e., substitute frozen mashed potatoes with freshly whipped roasted garlic mashed potatoes). Pore through some cookbooks to find recipes that match the look of the original food you are replacing. Or, take a shortcut and purchase prepared foods at a gourmet store.
Stuff the replacement dinner (in its tray) back in the original cardboard box, and serve the box intact. Technically, no one would reheat the frozen dinner in the box, but this allows your guests to compare your meal to the photograph on the cover.
A little thespian posturing is required at showtime. Before presenting the faux TV dinners, explain that you encountered a mini-emergency and you had no time to prepare the intended meal. Claim that you thought of canceling the party but instead opted to let the show go on. Look desperate and apologetic, then serve the dinners and watch your guests’ faces.
If you are fearful that no one will notice the difference between your food and a frozen dinner, cook up a variation on the theme by revealing the joke before the food is consumed (i.e., serve a frozen fish sticks dinner that when uncovered reveals a beautiful piece of salmon).
music to switch channels by Various Artists, The TV Theme Song Sing-Along Album, Rhino Records.
wine Serve any wine that is appropriate for the meal your guests expect to be served.