Fun and Frugal Dinner Parties

This is a guest post from Anne over at Unique Gifter. Make sure you give her lots of love and check out her great site for amazing gift ideas! 

Source: Flickr

Hosting dinner parties is a wonderfully fun way to spend time and one that I particularly enjoy.  That said, they can easily break the bank!  My spouse recently came home with a $45 chunk of lamb, the fact I dislike lamb aside, that is one pricey hunk of meat!  It is commonplace for such things to be the centerpiece of a meal, but it absolutely not necessary.  Here are some alternatives, that will still be crowd pleasers but also manage to be frugal and easy to pull off.

Tip 1: When people say “what can I bring?” take them up on their offer!

Potluck

This is the easiest and most affordable way to have a gathering.  Plus, it’s lots of fun to see what everyone brings.  This Thanksgiving, we had a potluck where I provided the turkey and stuffing and everyone else brought the rest.  If you are organizing the event, make sure to ask if anyone has bad allergies.  It is usually easiest to let everyone know that there’s a _____ allergy and avoid the food altogether.  An easy way to organize these days is by setting up an event on Facebook.  Simply post a list of things, such as appetizer, side dish, dessert, salad, main, bread, etc. and have everyone pick one and post which they have picked.  You could also ask them to post what they plan to bring, but that can take the fun out of the surprise!

Want to spice up your potluck?  Pick a theme!  Here’s a post with 10 fun potluck theme ideas, including picking a letter of the alphabet that every dish has to start with, their example is C.  Foods: chili, chowder, chicken, carrots, cauliflower, calamari, chips, cucumbers, corn, couscous, cake, coconut, cookies, curly fries, chocolate and candy!!

Fondue

A fondue can be both affordable and simple to execute.  You can do an oil fondue, which will only cost a few dollars in oil, and/or a beer fondue or two.  A cheddar and beer fondue should only cost around $15 for the main ingredients, or the (delicious) packets at the grocery store are ~$10 each.  Bread is a few dollars per loaf, for good bread, throw in some chopped veggies and cooked baby potatoes, and you’re golden!

At my local cheese shop, you can rent a fondue pot for the evening for $5 or $10.  All you have to provide is the fuel, which you can pick up at Dollarama.  The rental is even free if you buy a minimum amount of fondue cheese from them.  Try calling a cheese shop or a kitchenware shop to see if a rental is an option for you.

To make a fondue even more affordable, plus have it require less chopping on your part, you could ask your guests to each bring a specific dipper.

Naturally, finishing the evening with a chocolate fondue is preferable!  An important note on fondues: Growing up, the rule in my house was if something fell off your fork, you had to kiss someone!  Feel free to implement that or to let it slide.  I guarantee that it’s fun, especially after a few glasses of wine ;-)

Perogies

Perogies, or however you choose to spell it, are delicious.  They also happen to be affordable and simple to serve up to a large crowd.  A co-worker makes them in a crock pot and they are both heavenly and deadly.  (Hint: her method includes cooking in creamo!!!!)  If you are really, truly, inspired, you can make them from scratch.  They taste much better, but will take you forever, unless you have been practicing for your whole life!  Have your guests bring a salad to go with, grate some cheese and put out some sour cream.

Source: Flickr

Baked Potatoes

Have you ever heard the saying “cheap as chips?”  Baked potatoes are affordable, easy to make and FILLING!  Plus, you can address a huge crowd of picky eaters by offering a variety of toppings.  Once per semester, I have all the co-op students at work over for dinner.  This is my plan for the next time!

Do you have some crock pots?  Put them to work with some chili as a topper.  Grab some synthetic (or real) bacon bits, chop up some green onion, grab some Greek yogurt or sour cream, make some broccoli in cheese sauce, heat up Cheez Whiz if you can stomach it, dice chicken, chop avocado, dice tomatoes, put out salsa, fry mushrooms, bake beans…. You name it!  Here are 101 Baked Potato Topping Ideas to peruse.  Add in a salad, maybe some fruit salad for dessert and you are set!

If anyone wants to invite me to dinner where they serve baked potatoes with crab topping, I’m there!  You could even top with caviar, but that’s kind of the opposite of the idea of this post.

Catherine’s note:Thanks so much Anne, I personally love a good pot-luck, there’s always something for everyone! And I love baked potatoes more than any Irishman I know. Seriously so good!

Anne writes about fun and creative gift ideas over at Unique Gifter, with a splash of savings advice and a healthy dose of sassiness.  Pop on by to see some ideas on how to make giving cash a creative gift or get some stock ideas percolating by reading my list of 400+ mostly affordable stocking stuffer ideas

***Remember to enter the $100.00 giveaway! Ends December 15th!***

My ‘Big Cook’ Weekend

This past weekend my sister-in-law and I went to her aunt’s house for our first Big Cook. If you’re not familiar, Big Cooking is preparing multiple meals at once for your freezer so you just have to throw it in the oven or slow cooker and supper is done! Sounds pretty awesome to this momma who is always looking to invent a few hours every day!

Given that this was our first time doing a Big Cook, we decided on 10 recipes to try; preparing two meals of each recipe, giving each of us 20 total meals. Since both my sister-in-law and I have households of two adults and each recipe recommends a serving of 4-6 adults, we further reduced each meal (except one casserole) by two, giving us a meal total of 38 each, plus her aunt’s 20 meaning we prepped 96 meals in one day! Pretty awesome right?

We made:

  • Sweet and Sour Meatballs
  • Tatertot Casserole
  • Chicken Cacciatore
  • Amazing Chicken
  • Cranberry Chicken
  • Honey Sesame Tenderloin
  • BBQ Pork
  • Friendship Soup
  • Bruschetta Chicken
  • California Chicken

All this required a multitude of ingredients including:

  • 60lbs of boneless/skinless chicken
  • 20lbs of lean ground beef
  • 24lbs of pork (tenderloin/roast)
  • 24 cups of cheese
  • 24 cloves of garlic (minimum, because we all love a little extra garlic!)

When we started adding up everything we needed I began panicking at what we were going to have to spend, 60lbs of chicken?! It ended up working out pretty amazing though.

For all the ingredients needed, everything listed, plus probably close to 100 other items from soup stock to canned tomatoes to green peppers, we spent a grand total of $461.09

$461.09 total=

  • $153.70/per person or…
  • $15.37/ recipe or…
  • $7.68/meal (4-6ppl) or…
  • $1.53/serving (5 person average)

$1.53/serving for fresh veggies, lean meat and no ”cooking”!

Planning was key in saving money.

We planned for about a month. Decided on the recipes and shopped the sales for the 3-4 weeks leading up to it. Just as I would for any normal meal plan. Costco came though for items we needed a lot of (tomato paste, chicken broth for example) but wasn’t great for meat prices per kg price. We ended up buying the chicken and beef from a local butcher and it was a beautiful product. He sold it to us for his sale price given the volume of the order. We got the chicken for $3.77/lb and lean ground beef for $2.49/lb. Bulk Barn was also a huge resource for all spices/herbs/powdered stocks.

It was a LONG day (8hrs of prepping the meals) but so worth it. I have 38 yummy, healthy meals in my freezer that I can throw in either my crock-pot for 6-8hrs on low or cook in my oven for 1-2 hours if I’m home.

Tuesday being my birthday, I certainly wasn’t cooking, so took the opportunity to try one of the recipes. We ate the sweet and sour meatballs and they were delicious! Even with me halving the recipe, my sister, husband and I ate and were stuffed! This full recipe could easily serve 6-8 average adults (they were healthy sized portions).

It was a great experience and we’re already planning our next one for the new year!

Have you ever done a Big Cook? Will you try now that I’ve incited you with no ”cooking” and budget friendliness?

________________________________________________________________________

Photo Source