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Best Cheap Appetizers Available In L.A. Area for Large Fundraiser?

Having a large fundraiser from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Gotta serve something, but don't want to spend a fortune. Definitely some platters of hummus from Sunnin. But what else? What's good and cheap for a big crowd? From Costco, from Trader's Joe's, from some little hole in the wall like Sunnin? All suggestions appreciated. It's not about the food, but still I don't want to serve glop.

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  1. I would check out your local costco. Definitely get cheese and crackers there, everyone loves cheese and crackers. I recently bought a triple-cream brie-like french imported cheese at the manhattan beach location for just $2.50 pound and it was surprisingly good! And cheese stretched really far for a crowd because people eat small amounts of it at a time. So start with the cheese at costco and then see what else they have. See what the they have in the bakery...all the baked goods I've had from costco have been pretty good, and it's nice to provide something sweet. I would also do a fruit platter and/or a veggie platter...that shouldn't be too expensive either, fruit and veggies are pretty cheap this time of year. I believe that costco carries prepared trays, although of course it's cheaper to cut it up yourself if you have the time and inclination. I know this is a pretty boring spread, but in non-foodie circles the cheese plate, fruit, and veggies are always the most popular items. Especially if there are a lot of women...a lot of women will eat mostly the fruit and veggies.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Nicole

      I second Costco's cheese selection. They have upped the selection on their "better" Euro-type cheeses over the past year or so. You should be able to grab at least three or four different types of soft and harder cheeses in bulk that would be appropriate for your event. As Nicole suggests, brie is always popular (don't know if it's in the budget to grab some fig or pear jam - great together). A fresh goat cheese is usually very popular as well - goes well with fruits, breads, crackers, and the herbed or black pepper coated logs are good with veggies... I think they carry large logs (probably about a pound or more) in their stacked cold shelf across from their main selection of cheeses in the open cold box.

      If you're going along the lines of Middle East with Sunnin, a side-trip to Persia might work as well. Persian bakeries usually have great assortments of tiny cookies where some are familiar and some not so familiar. Chickpea flour, rose essence, pistachios - these kinds of ingredients are standard in some of the cookies that places like Pink Orchid bakery on Westwood Blvd. It sounds like you're trying to keep things in small bites so their size, detail and uniqueness might help fill the sweeter side of your menu.

      Pink Orchid Bakery
      1927 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

    2. Get a bunch of vegies (bell peppers, asparagas, zuchinni, etc) and grill them, do a cheese plate and some good bread, olives, and a nice olive oil dip, spreads etc..

      3 Replies
      1. re: JEN10

        have you ever totaled up the bill for making grilled veggies?
        you'd be surprised at how much they end up costing especially if you add decent olives. (that is unless the dip comes from costco)

        to keep costs down, serve high-fat appetizers such as cheese and nuts. people will eat less of them because the fat will cause them to feel full.

        1. re: westsidegal

          Well, In theory. In practice, it never works. People at events stuff themselves. It's amazing how one avoids one's satiety gauge when at a party or event with catting people and drinks.

          The best thing is to have a wide variety of little bites and small plates or napkins.

          1. re: Diana

            I think a lot of it depends on the crowd's general profile as well. My worst experience was at home, where we thought we had way more than enough food. Our friends who brought other friends with our acknowledgment, didn't tell us that their friends were young guys who did things like drive trucks, worked construction, etc. You know, Hungry Man kinda guys. They plowed through what we had and then started slowly congregating in our kitchen, looking through the fridge and cabinets for more. We called Domino's...

      2. I would call some of your local favorite restaurants; tell them your budget and ask them for suggestions. Maybe more from Sunnin? Also, many fundraisers seem to have "donated" food -- with caters handing out business cards and taking a write off. I have worked quite successfully with Fritto Misto and Bristol Farms.

        1. This weekend my family is also doing a fundraiser and we're also trying to figure out appetizers. We're definitely going with the puff pastry with feta cheese and carmelized onion from Trader Joe's (12 or 16 in a box, about $5 or $6... they also have some with ham). Some other ideas we're tossing around: samosas from Samosa House; potato balls, meat pies or empenadas from Portos, mini quiches from Costco. Also thinking about making an easy ahi tuna appetizer and /or a little bite of galbi on watercress (we're testing that one out tonight.) The hummus sounds like a good idea too.

          5 Replies
          1. re: chowmominLA

            Please report back on what you end up with. These are great ideas!

            1. re: omotosando

              The galbi on endive (not watercress, I misspoke) with a touch of goat cheese didn't look or taste quite as good as I had hoped :0/ The taste of the meat was lost by the endive and cheese. Anyway, we're going to either get it already made at Tofu-Ya (but not cheap, at $14 per order) or buy it "pre-marinaded" from a Korean market (suggestions where, please?) or just buy flanken rib and galbi marinade and broil it for a few minutes and cut it up and serve with skewers or toothpicks something. My mom wants to serve pieces with the bone in (easy to grab and eat, she thinks) but I'm thinking this is a little un-classy, given this is a $250 per person fundraiser, and do we really want people gnawing meat off a bone (then again, Costco and TJ's appetizers aren't exactly gourmet...) so we're still mulling that one over....

              Re the puff pastries and mini quiches, yeah those are pretty "mainstream" crowd pleasers. Nothing innovative but I don't think the crowd will mind.

              Yeah the samosas might be a little too strong.... I've actually never been to Samosa House so I don't even know specifically how those are, I have just read on these boards that they're good, and they are not too far from us. But we may skip the samosas all together...

              Re the ahi tuna appetizer, I got the idea from an appetizer at Orris a long time ago... ahi tuna cubes (from Nijiya or Mitsua), fairly firm avocado, japanese cucumber, pine nuts, sesame seeds, rice vinegar and lemon, served on fried won ton skins (quartered) or crackers (I like the "Cracker thins" -- Australian water crackers -- from Bristol Farms.) Pretty easy and inexpensive to make and serve to a large group, was a big hit at a pot luck a while back. Let me know if you want me to post more specifics.

              Unfortunately my involvement ends here -- flying to Cabo tomorrow and will be out of town during the fundraiser... gotta go pack! I'll post what they ended up going with and how it turned out, in case your fundraiser is sometime after this weekend.

            2. re: chowmominLA

              The samosas at Samosa House are very good and a good value, and come in two sizes - I am sure you're looking at the smaller ones. As much as I enjoy them, my experience has been that people either love them or don't care for them. The spices used are strong, particularly the cumin seeds. As much as my kids love deep-fried foods, they won't touch these. My wife who usually enjoys foods with a heavy spiced profile doesn't like them either. My vegan sister really enjoys them. And deep-fried foods in general can be hit or miss. I had these at a party once and not many went for it, even warmed in the oven - I didn't mind - more for me, but I just thought I'd pass this on to you. Hopefully knowing the profile of those attending - I don't know if they're relatively timid in their tastes but you might consider this...

              1. re: bulavinaka

                Yeah, I don't see myself serving samosas, but the Trader Joe's puff pastry and mini quiches from Costco both sound like good ideas. How about salami - where is a good place to get salami?

                1. re: omotosando

                  I've found that good salami, salumi, chorizo, etc., is not cheap - you pretty much get what you pay for. You can get average stuff at Costco, more variety and maybe a notch or two better at TJ's. I've tried and liked their small euro-type chubs wrapped in green paper that are flavored with white or red wine - I can't remember the price but I think they were $5-$6 range. Maybe others can chime in on this one as I tend to get mine via online sources or La Espanola in Harbor City.

                  La Espanola Meats
                  25020 Doble Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90710

            3. Carnival in Sherman Oaks will help you do a spread cost effectively.

              If you're a fan of Tito's, you could order ahead and go with plenty of tacos. Or, if you prefer another taco source, like Tacos por Favor or Tacomiendo or the like.

              Not sure what your budget is, or where you're located exactly, but if you'd post those, maybe I (we) can get a little more specific...

              4 Replies
              1. re: Emme

                Tacomiendo is a good choice with good QPR. My wife used to call on them regularly to cater lunch parties at her prior work (about 25-35 people). She says it was around $200-250 for A LOT OF FOOD. Mostly young single guys, even they couldn't finish off all of the food - we'd be in carnitas, pollo, and carne asada for at least a couple of days from the leftovers...

                4502 Inglewood Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

                11462 Gateway Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                1. re: Emme

                  We are right in the smack of L.A. - Century City and Ladera Heights. So a trip to Sunnin is more doable than a strip to Carnival. I don't know about tacos - they don't seem to mix in my mind with wine, brie, quiches and puff pastries. Hummus doesn't really either, but I have never gone wrong with party platters of hummus from Sunnin.

                  1. re: omotosando

                    Trader Joes and Costco are great for these things. Another suggestion: call restaurants or gourmet stores and have them donate appetizers.

                  2. re: Emme

                    I was a an event catered by carnival and the food was superb!

                  3. Try Vietnamese spring rolls (cha giao) or imperial rolls (goi cuon) from a Vietnamese restaurant. It's a bit more than cheap quiche from Costco, but if they for a fundraiser, I'm willing to bet your guests will be more impressed.

                    1. Just thinking, you can get a good selection of frozen stuff, or ready to re-steam or re-heat stuff-like spring rolls, dumplings, bao, mochi, scallion pancakes, lumpia, banchan, tsu mai and more from an Asian Supermarket like Gallaria or 99 Ranch, Mitsuwa or more.

                      1. Omotosando, just a few questions... Is there a special theme? How many guests are you expecting? And will you have servers/kitchen help?

                        Ahi tuna-avocado-wonton crisps appetizers sound delicious. Easy to serve spoon-style or in a little raddichio cup. Curried chicken salad with raisins, cashews, celery, onion, water chestnuts served in lettuce cups or half an avocado? How about some California rolls from your local sushi restaurant served on a beautiful platter? Kabobs are always a big hit. Swedish meatballs with lingonberry jam is also yummy. Can be very appetizing depending on how you serve it. Perhaps in tiny champagne glasses? Or on top of a pan-fried slice of potato? Or in a tiny puffed pastry cup? Potsickers are popular. How about tiny gourmet pizzas? A cheese platter is always received well -- expand the spread with grapes, fresh figs, marcona almonds, carmelized pecans, etc. Spanakopita (spinach wrapped in filo triangles -- available at Trader Joe's) is a great finger food. Or you can make your own version by wrapping a small piece of salmon, cream cheese, and pesto in filo dough and folded like one would fold a flag. You can place a dollop of seafood salad on top of a slice of cucumber. Crab stuffed mushrooms are easy. Or you can use pesto, cheese, bread crumbs. Fresh fruit and veggies are essential. The fruit can be served as kabobs. To avoid being too ordinary, veggie selection can include asparagus, green beans, snow or snap peas, baby bell peppers (red, yellow, orange), jicama. A platter of heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella, feta, or burata, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Dips are also great: hummus, tabbouleh, egg salad topped with caviar?

                        Please let us know how your event turns out. Happy fundraising!

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: Waverly SGV

                          We are expecting at least 60 people. And we weren't planning on hiring help. And we all work at very demanding jobs. So we are looking for simple, simple, simple. Plus I abhor bad wine, so a lot of our dollars are going there. I don't think heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella are in the picture for 60 people. We don't want this to be the kind of event where the hosts spent $2,000 to raise $2,000. . .

                          1. re: omotosando

                            Did you have your party yet? How did it go? If not, thought I'd report back -- I wasn't there for my family's fundraiser on Saturday (also about 60 people) but I heard it went well -- my mom ended up getting $100 of galbi from Tofu-ya and she said it was great but there was enough of it for left overs. They also did the puff pastry and feta bites from TJs which went over well. I think they did samosas from TJ's but my mom didn't care for them. I think, stick with the puff pastry ones. My sister did the ahi appetizer I described but she said she liked mine better :0) They got sushi from Farm Boy I think -- you can get a large platter for $50. My mom said that was just ok. Someone also made bruchetta but I think that's very labor intensive. If you don't mind the labor of cooking let me know, I have a great bruchetta recipe. Oh, and I also know a great spinach dip recipe if you're interested -- that's WAY easy and cheap.

                            1. re: chowmominLA

                              Thanks for the report. Still mulling over my options. Were there galbi leftovers because it was not a hit? The galbi was ready made? Did it have to reheated? Was it easy finger food?

                              1. re: omotosando

                                Yeah the galbi was already made, from Tofu-Ya on Sawtelle across from Hide. Not the cheapest but very, very tasty. Mom said it was a hit but there was enough food with all the other appetizers that there were still leftovers ($100 seemed to go a pretty long way; it was about eight large orders.) Seems like easy finger food because each had a bite and most pieces were still on the bone, people just held the bone and ate the meat off. I thought this would be unclassy but apparently it wasn't a problem.

                                I don't think it needed to be reheated. But, there are plenty of other less expensive suggestions. There seems to be a lot of good suggestions (galbi/not galbi) on that other galbi thread I just topped.

                                1. re: chowmominLA

                                  Oh, another thought. A CHer posted a few months back about these AMAZING frozen dumplings that you can get from the 168 Market on Valley and New in San Gabriel in the SGV. The brand is Myhall and there are five or six types -- my mom and I tried the pork/shrimp/leek dumplings and loved them (and we're Chinese so fairly critical of Chinese food.) I've bought two other flavors but haven't tried them yet. Each 3 lb. bag is about $10, which sounds like a lot but it's about 30 or 40 dumplings so actually not too bad. They are easy to make (just boil them for 10 minutes - you can but don't have to pan fry them) and very juicy, delicious and fresh-tasting, although a little bit messy because they're so plump and juicy -- about the size of a golf ball so too big for one bite.

                                  The catch: there's MSG in it. Listed once as a main ingredient and twice as a sub-ingredient on the oyster sauce and something else. I was apprehensive about it but got over it once I tasted how good they are (and didn't feel any ill-effects fromthe MSG). I don't know how you feel about serving something with MSG but I may do it at a casual dinner I'm hosting next month and just mention that there's MSG in it.

                                  The other downside is of course it's a haul to get to SGV for some people, but you could have a meal out there while you're at it and make the trip worth while. Plus, the market where the dumplings are is very good and inexpensive.

                                2. re: omotosando

                                  I asked my sister who handled most of the appetizers at the fundraiser for more info. She did this lengthy write-up about it:

                                  "My family did quite a bit of testing and tasting regarding inexpensive appetizers for our big party. The "research" paid off well and the appetizers at the party were a hit:

                                  Trader Joe’s: This store sells lots of frozen appetizers but they do not have preservatives or artificial stuff in their food (though I did not put their ingredients to really intense scrutiny). The prices are very reasonable! From there we got:

                                  Thai shrimp gyoza (yellow bag) and Chicken/vegetable gyoza (red label) - We (6 tasters) could not decide between the two since both were good, so we got both. To prepare them, you can either quick fry the bottom in oil and add small amount of water for the gyoza to "steam" finish, or you can just steam them. We steamed them (over 100) a couple hours before the event, put them in the styrofoam "to go" food containers (from Smart and Final) since I had to transport so many, let them sit (room temp) and then put them in the heaters at the event. (What I would do next time is steam all in advance and then flash fry right before serving). The store bought gyozas hold together better than homemade b/c the store bought ones have the thicker skins and have been frozen.

                                  Mushroom Turnovers - "sauteed mushrooms and onions in a cream cheese pasty" is how the box describes them but they are not too creamy at all. The turnovers are not too buttery and hold up very very well. You can make these ahead and reheat at last minute by popping in over or in microwave.

                                  Pastry-bites (Feta cheese and Carmelized Onion; and Ham & Cheese) - Again, we could not decide which we preferred so we served both. These are baked for 20 minutes. These need to be made at the last minute. Very cheesy, and rich with buttery pastry.

                                  Samosas - these had curry potato, peas, carrots in a triangle shaped pastry. You bake these - but be sure to bake thoroughly as they can appear "done" but still be slightly cold in middle. These can be made ahead of the party and re-heated. (I considered going to the Samosa house but these TJ Samosas were good, inexpensive and easy).

                                  We also went to Mitsuwa market on Venice and Centinela (3760 Centinela Ave. (310) 398-2113) and got the following:

                                  I pre-ordered the California Futomaki - - - these are giant Cal rolls. I picked up in afternoon, kept in fridge and served later. The avocado did not turn brown, and they were yummy. Caution: they also have Futomaki which is like a Cal roll but instead has Japanese veggies and sweet egg (instead of cucumber and avocado) and is more traditional (not as popular with mainstream eaters). They thought I ordered 100 Futomaki’s and I ordered 100 California Futomaki’s. When I got to the store I almost had a heart attack. I had to negotiate with them to make me only take some of the Futomaki’s and then get some California Futomaki’s. In retrospect, it was nice to have both. They were both eaten. You would have to consider whether your crowd would deviate from mainstream sushi. Caution that the wasabi in the little packs they give you was gross, so get some good wasabi. Also, have a pourer of soy sauce as the little packets are too messy.

                                  I purchased sashimi to make a tuna tartare on fried won ton skin. In planning, I purchased the deeper red more expensive tuna (can’t remember name) and the lighter red/almost pink less expensive tuna (called Tuna Kakugiri) to try both and my 6 pre-tasters all liked the less expensive sashimi better!! (The Kakugiri) Each little pack of Kakugiri was about $3. I think each pack (with several chunks of tuna) was enough to make about 7 pieces (after mixing in other ingredients). My sister’s recipe: Chop up tuna almost mincing, chop up Japanese cucumber, mix both with pine nuts and little rice wine vinegar, pepper. (I put a bit of fish oil but you don’t need to). Then chop up avocado and squeeze lemon juice over avocado (so it won’t brown). Then mix with tuna. You can keep the mixture in an airtight container in fridge for several hours and at last minute, put a small portion in middle of fried won ton/gyoza skin. (I even ate some the next day and it was good!) If you can buy the gyoza skin instead of won ton, they are thicker and better I think than won ton. I cut the skins in half (triangle) and fried those in advance. (Fry extra because people will grab and munch them when you aren’t looking). You can put a little cilantro leaf right on top. Kept at room temp. This was the most popular item. In a pinch, if you don’t want to make your own tuna tar tar, the store sells some gobs of spicy tuna. You could put that on top of your fried won ton skins.

                                  I think the Korean galbi my mom purchased were yummy but I still think they weren’t very elegant fare. Those are so yummy because they are fatty, and they look fatty. There was TONS left over so I don’t know how popular they were. They still tasted good the next day. It really depends on the crowd. The ribs would be great for my family who loves that kind of thing, but some less adventurous people might say, "fatty red meat, no thanks." They came over to the event still warm and we put in the warmers though they were still good when they weren’t hot hot.

                                  Lastly, my mom hired a young caterer Robert, who came and baked the appetizers and orchestrated the food (some in hot containers and some tray passed). He also made bruchetta which was served. He was very reasonably priced, and had everything totally under control. I told him I would hire him again and he joked, "You know I cook too!" He was trained at a culinary school in Pasadena. My sister can get his name out there for those who want it."

                                  So, I'm thinking, maybe don't go with the galbi, but the tuna and the TJ appetizers sounded good. However my mom didn't care for the samosas.

                                  I would have probably done Farm Boy before Mitsuwa for the CA rolls. A huge platter for $50.

                                  I would go with my pork/leek/shrimp dumplings at 168 Market in SGV before the gyoza from TJ's, but only if you're comfortable serving food with MSG in it.

                                  1. re: chowmominLA

                                    Thanks. Very helpful. I would love Robert's contact info. We are getting so daunted with the whole endeavor that we are thinking of hiring a caterer.

                                    1. re: omotosando

                                      From my mom (Mona): "Robert’s phone number and email address are 310-721-4887, cookinrob @hotmail.com That’s cooking without the “g”. He charges $200 per gig plus the cost of what he cooked which was not much for the bruschetta. He also can bring stuff to use from Diana Temple’s catering kitchen." Diana Temple is a Malibu-based caterer Robert works with/for. You can tell him he was highly recommended by Mona and family. Thanks.