What’s a good, cheap way to have fun and make great memories? Why, throwing a party, of course! It doesn’t cost anything to get all your favorite people together in one room for some good company and good conversation. But what if the conversation runs dry or hunger strikes? Then, good times are no more. Many people send out for an overpriced pizza or go to the supermarket for a poor quality, extortionately priced party platter, keep bottles of pricy booze on hand and spend lots of money tricking their place out, but here’s a secret: You don’t have to spend lots of money to be the host or hostess with the mostest. Good times can be had for cheaper than the folks at Cosmo or FHM would have you believe.
This is probably your largest expense, and, in my opinion, the most important thing for you to supply your guests. First, if people are drinking (or had a few before they arrived), the food will soak up the alcohol, preventing much of the usual drunken stupidity that often occurs at parties. Also, people are more likely to linger and consider you to be an excellent host if you make them feel welcome and well-fed. No need to provide a 4 course meal, but have a few snacks on hand for people to enjoy. Let’s stick with finger foods for this menu. Of course, it’s very tempting to just order in or pick up something premade, but don’t do it!!! You can make better food than you can order in, and at a lower cost. The main points of the recipes I suggest below are cost effectiveness and simplicity – they are all cheap, quick and easy, and stuff you could probably throw together while tipsy. Think of it this way—let’s say you order in two pizzas. That’s going to easily cost you $40.00 with the tip. Ouch. And that’s not even including the spinach artichoke dip someone inevitably insists on getting. On the other hand, not a single recipe below should run you much more than $15.00. The ingredients for Hodito easy bean dip can all be grabbed at a convenience store for around $10.00, and two tubes of Polenta can be picked up at Trader Joe’s for under $5.00. You’ll save serious money, and you’ll look like a champ in front of your friends. It’s a win-win.
For all of the below recipes, I am assuming a group of 10. Double the recipe for a group of 20—halve it for an intimate soiree of five. Make 2-3 of these recipes, and you should be all set.
Hodito easy bean dip
This bean dip is flippin’ easy to make. It tastes just like Pintos n Cheese from Taco Bell, except it doesn’t come with a side order of gastrointestinal distress. Serve with tortilla chips. (The dip, not the g.i. pain)
2 cans of refried beans (go with the vegetarian kind if you want to be veg-friendly)
1 red onion
1 container of enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, adjust to taste
2-3 tablespoons of sour cream, to taste
1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers, to taste
Chop the onion and the jalapenos, if you’re using them. Open the cans of beans and put them in a sauce pan. Heat them for two minutes, then add the onion. Cook while continuously stirring them for about five minutes, until the beans look creamy and smooth. Add the jalapenos. Put the mixture into a large bowl. Top with the enchilada sauce, the shredded cheddar and add a nice dollop or two of sour cream on top of it.
Non-bitchy Vegan Pad Thai Wraps
Maybe it’s omnivore guilt, but I always feel so awful when I don’t make veg friendly food and a vegan shows up. And they’re always nice about it, making me feel even worse. If you serve these delightful wraps just about ANYONE can eat, you can completely avoid the guilt AND score serious cred with your veg friends. Plus they’re damn tasty and cheap to make.
½ lb. cooked vermicelli or angel hair pasta
½ cup peanut sauce (available in the Thai section of the international foods aisle)
2 TB apple cider vinegar
10 burrito wraps (I recommend spinach wraps, but just about any ol’ kind will work)
10 large green leaf lettuce leaves
1 cup thinly sliced red or green bell peppers
1 cup bean sprouts
½ cup chopped peanuts
4 TB fresh basil and/or cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
These optional ingredients will totally add to the price of this dish, but they also improve the presentation and make you look all gourmet and shit.
In a small bowl, combine the cooked noodles with the peanut sauce and vinegar. Lay out the wraps and flatten a lettuce leaf in the center of each wrap. Arrange equal parts of the pasta mixture in a thin layer at the center leaving a 1″ border around the edge. Add sliced pepper, bean sprouts and the peanuts and herbs if you’re using them. Fold in outside edges and roll tightly into a wrap. Cut each wrap in half; serve with peanut sauce for dipping.
Dee-lux Chicken Skewers
If you’re making this dish for a crowd, a good way to keep costs down is to buy chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are cheaper than breasts and are also easy to make into kabobs. While it’s true that not everyone likes dark meat chicken, using a strongly flavored marinade will make most people find it agreeable.
1-2 containers of curry sauce, available from the international foods aisle
2-3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2 inch cubes
3 bell peppers, any color, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 package of meat skewers
Place the chicken in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the chicken and stir it around to coat it well. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or as soon as you find out you’re having people over, if the gathering is impromptu). The longer you marinate the meat, the more flavorful and tender it will be.
If you have a barbeque, prepare it to medium hot. If you just have an oven, crank it up to “broil” and put the rack in the lowest position – you’re going to try your hand at “indoor grilling.” Thread the meat and peppers onto the skewers. Cook for 5-6 minutes, then flip the skewers until both sides are browned and the meat is cooked through, probably 12-15 minutes total.
These are a great way to encourage tipsy guests to sober up a bit. The cornmeal in it soaks up booze like a sponge and leaves everyone feeling full.
Buy 2 tubes of pre-cooked Polenta. Cook according to directions on the tube. Top with your favorite red sauce, fresh tomatoes, pesto or just olive oil and parmesan cheese. In any case, it’s delicious and great drunk food.
Speaking of libations…
This can feel daunting, as it’s easy to feel obligated to keep everyone’s favorite booze on hand. Realistically, though, unless you already have a pretty impressive bar setup, now is not the time to try to please everybody. Definitely encourage your friend to bring their own bottles– it really ought to be an unwritten rule that the host only supplies the first round of drinks, as you’re already providing the venue and food, so the burden to provide booze shouldn’t be completely on you.
If you expect to do a lot of drinking, buy a box or two of wine. Yes, I just said it—go for box wine. Before you declare me unclassy and stop reading, consider this: First, how much more hipster can you get than box wine? Second, box wine has come a long way in the last few years. It’s an economical and convenient way to get a lot of wine in one package at a bargain price. The most expensive box wines run about $20.00 per box, and are the equivalent of four bottles of wine, which comes out to $5.00 per bottle—other than Charles Shaw (Trader Joe’s discount label, for those not in the know), it’s pretty hard to beat that. Try Bota Box or Black Box, the quality of which is comparable to many respectable bottled table wines. If your friends just wouldn’t understand, get a cheap decanter (available from such fine stores as Target, the Salvation Army, a nearby yard sale or any old Dollar Store), empty the contents of the box into it and tell your friends you’ve been letting the wine aerate. They’ll never know the difference.Yes, I just said it—go for box wine.
If wine isn’t your thing, grab a sampler pack by your favorite brewery or do what every other hipster does and get a 24 pack of PBR or Natty Ice. The main point is to buy the beer in bulk if a lot of beer drinkers will be present. If you or someone whose opinion you value happens to be a beer snob, you might consider buying a single six pack of Sam Adams or another moderately priced beer and mixing it in with the really cheap stuff. That way, the snob is happy and you’ve still saved a few bucks. Again, don’t feel pressured to keep every kind of booze imaginable on hand—just grab a bottle of either rum or vodka (whichever you like better—it’s your party, after all) and a few kinds of mixers (generic cola, generic ginger ale, some OJ and some cranberry juice if you’re feeling girly, like Leo DiCaprio in The Departed). I recommend shopping at Trader Joe’s for most of your alcohol needs – their Coolidge Corner location recently picked up one of the Boston area’s few coveted liquor licenses, and their prices are reasonable compared to most local liquor stores.
Next week, we will talk about inexpensive party décor and entertainment. Stay tuned!