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Holiday entertaining on a budget - how would you tackle it?

I'd love to have friends over for a holiday celebration. Something simple - cocktails/apps - maybe a silly white elephant exchange. Likely on a week-night.... 7p-10p.... something like that.

The problem is finances are tight and while I should probably not host an event (due to trying to spend less money(, I can't help but want to fill my home with whomever can make it!

So - to that end, I need help making it chow-ish but budget friendly (I typically go way overboard with party food - going crazy with too many options and making too much food).

I know if I put my mind to it, I can come up with delicious, budget-friendly foods. I'm also thinking if I do a big-batch 'signature' drink - like mulled wine or spiked cider, that will also help with alcohol costs.

If anyone has any food or drink suggestions or tips on how to pull this off, I'm all ears!

...or maybe the answer is to focus on dessert and forget savory apps and make a few desserts. That could be budget friendly, but I'm wondering if theres appeal to a dessert party (when many people are getting maxed out on holiday sugar).

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  1. Last year I did a Tomato soup/Cheese Quesadilla party and it was a big success. Soup was in Crock pots to stay warm.

    I served hot cider and hot chocolate and home made baked cookies.

    2 Replies
    1. re: laliz

      What a great idea! Do you have a killer tomato soup recipe you'd care to share?

    2. Take advantage of all of the promotions the stores are doing right now. My last three shopping trips total $84 and change, according to my receipts I've saved $452.

      If you're in California and have a Ralph's nearby I'll fill you in on a great deal.

      3 Replies
        1. re: The Oracle

          There is a promotion at Ralph's called Perfect Pairings. If you buy 6 bottles of participating wines/ liquors the register automatically deducts $40 from the grocery portion of your bill (you have to have at least $40.01 in items other than the booze and it can't be the usual prohibited items like dairy, tobacco, gift cards, etc.)

          Ralphs also has "exclusive coupons" on their Facebook page that you can load directly to your Ralph's card. These vary. Right now there is a $5 off $75 coupon. Sometimes its $5 off $15 seafood or produce or meat. Sometimes there are several at the same time. On Fridays they have a free item on the Ralph's digital coupon page on their site. You can only load it on Friday but you have a few weeks to use it. You can also use regular digital coupons, manufacturer coupons and internet printables. All of these things stack together.

          An example, one trip I had a $6 off $60, $5 off $15 seafood and $5 off 20 meat so right there with the $40 off deal I had $56 off. Digital, manufacturers and printable coupons can be used with this deal, too. If you get lucky, there are hangtags on some of the participating bottles of wine for $1 off each bottle. Those get your total down even further. Some people have been lucky and have found a hangtag with $10 off 3 bottles of the wine that is participating. I haven't found one of those yet but there is also a hangtag to look for that is a $45 rebate form for buying 6 of the participating liquors. I'm flying through bottles of red wine making onion marmalade and wine and balsamic pickled eggplant for Christmas gifts so it's been nice save a lot of money with this deal. I also got Captain Morgan to make rum balls. :)Deals like this are nice because you are getting real food and what you buy is your choice as long as it fits within the parameters of the coupons.

          There is almost always a $3 off Cabo Fresh guacamole coupon on their Facebook page and it's a $4 item so the $4 counts toward your total grocery purchase and then $3 comes off your total. In the OP's case the guac could be served with taquitos, mini quesadillas, chips and salsa, etc.

          If you haven't, check out southerncalisaver,com That's where I learned about the deal.

          1. re: weezieduzzit

            whoa! That's fantastic! I rarely go to Ralphs, but that may all end as of NOW! Thanks so much for explaining all of that!

      1. Well....you could always make it a potluck. Personally, I'd prefer this to a party with just desserts that were all provided. If you really don't want to do a potluck though, I would maybe try to first be resourceful with what you already have, that way you're buying the minimum amount of ingredients possible to complete each appetizer. I would also look at the grocery store sales and also plan what to make around what's currently on sale. Good luck!

        2 Replies
        1. re: SaraAshley

          While I'd prefer to stay away from a potluck event, I definitely appreciate your thoughts about that vs. a dessert event. Very helpful in my planning/thinking about this!

          1. re: The Oracle

            You can do a potluck creatively and it can be a lot of fun. One year, our neighborhood association did a "bring a dish from your ethnic heritage" Christmas potluck. We had Italian food, Polish food, Greek food, Jewish food, Southern Soul food, etc. It was a huge success.

            If you give it a theme, it won't seem as if you are trying to do the party on the cheap, and it really can be fun if you manage it properly.

        2. So many of us have a lot of holiday invitations, gift exchanges, or potlucks, so having budget concerns isn't unusual this time of year.

          With that, I'd feel very comfortable inviting friends for desserts and coffee, or right out asking BYOB or potluck. I seldom allow guests to bring stuff, but right now you want the company yet have some limited finances--great time for all friends to pitch in! Let us know what you choose and how it goes.

          1. Homemade pizza's cheap. Get your friends to bring the toppings they want.
            Cut into small pieces for apps.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Chowrin

              Reminded me: once, when a starving student, I made a huge potful of chili and invited friends to bring 1 "exotic" topping/extra. We set up a chili bar, and we all laughed and had a great time teasing about what stuff we'd chose for chili. Cheap, but lots of fun.

                1. re: pine time

                  Or a crepe bar. That way people can bring either savory or dessert fillings. (Somebody will be happy for a chance to use some of the leftover turkey they froze by making a creamy pot pie-type filling). You can make crepes several days ahead of time, stack with foil or wax paper separating them, wrap stacks in foil, and reheat in a low oven. You provide crepes (cheap to make), salad, and beverages. The late-lamented Magic Pan crepe restaurant chain used to serve a great light side salad of romaine, sliced almonds, and canned mandarin orange segments, with a light vinaigrette that might have included the juice from the can. There's a recipe online somewhere if you search MP and the ingredients. One handy thing is that the only utensil your guests will need is a fork.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    I'd do a baked potato/sweet potato bar rather than crepes... they're dirt cheap and you can roast a bazillion of them at the same time instead of slaving over a pan making crepes...

                    1. re: Kajikit

                      Not sure if that is what the OP has in mind, but I've done this exact thing 3 times and everyone enjoys it immensely. I've had guests bring their fave toppings. It has always worked out well.

                      Just add a salad and homemade cookies. Or a salad and fancy small tarts.

                      Not sure if baked potatoes go with cocktails though.

              1. Roasted tomato bisque

                Total time: About 1 hour

                Servings: 16 (1-cup) servings

                3 pounds plum tomatoes

                2 tablespoons olive oil

                Salt

                Pepper

                1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, coarsely chopped

                2 1/2 pounds red peppers

                3 tablespoons minced garlic

                2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

                2 cups tomato juice

                1/3 cup tomato paste

                4 ounces (about 6 cups) fresh basil leaves

                3 cups vegetable broth

                3 cups cream

                Sugar

                1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and place on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes, and sprinkle over 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast the tomatoes for 20 minutes to soften. Remove from the oven and set aside.

                2. While the tomatoes are roasting, steam the cauliflower in a steamer set over a pot of boiling water. Steam the cauliflower until tender, then remove from heat and set aside.

                3. Roast the peppers: Place the peppers on a rack set over a gas stove-top burner heated over high heat. Roast until the skin on all sides is charred, turning frequently. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the peppers are cool enough to handle. Peel the charred skin from the peppers, then stem and seed the peppers. Mince the peppers. You should have about 2 cups (1 pound) minced roasted pepper.

                4. Combine the roasted tomatoes (with any juices), cauliflower, minced peppers, garlic, lemon juice, tomato juice, tomato paste, basil leaves and vegetable broth in a pot or large bowl. Purée the mixture using an immersion blender, or in batches using a blender, before pushing through a strainer into a heavy-bottom soup pot.

                5. Bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Stir in the cream and continue to heat until hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in sugar to sweeten as desired.

                Each serving: 236 calories; 4 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 62 mg. cholesterol; 8 grams sugar; 677 mg. sodium.

                1. Chili and cornbread is always good. I like to make potato-leek soup, with assorted toppings (bacon, sour cream, chopped scallions, shredded cheese). Your idea of mulled wine or hot cider is great, particularly on a week night with folks having to get up for work and maybe not wanting to drink a lot... Maybe a little salad. With holiday cookies and hot chocolate for dessert... Something along these lines would be largely do ahead and budget friendly.

                  1. I have gladly attended many potluck holiday parties! The invite (well, evite) is named something obvious like holiday potluck and if there is a theme (the white trash xmas party was hysterical- mac and cheese with hotdog slices, tater tots with toothpicks, bologna rolled up as if it was fancy cured meat around ritz crackers....... I think there was a pimento cheese ball too)

                    As mentioned a large pot of soup or chili (vegetarian) with lots of toppings is a great economical meal.

                    Definately make a holiday punch- hot spiced wine, prosecco (or cava, both are really good prices at trader joes) with floating pomegranate seeds and a splash of cranberry juice is fun too.
                    For a dessert a pan of brownies in small squares (even-gasp!- from a box) are always popular, as are all holiday cookies

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      I love the white trash xmas potluck idea! Hilarious!

                      1. re: The Oracle

                        It was totally brilliant- and also really budget friendly! Actually more fun than some of the stuffy fancy catered parties i have been to.....

                        1. re: The Oracle

                          except, i'm sorry, ew. i don't eat baloney, hot dogs etc. not since college.

                          you can buy neck or soup bones VERY cheap. simmer for several hours, pull the meat off the bones and continue to cook the bones another 5-6 hours for very intense beef broth. chill overnight and skim the fat. you can then make beef stew or soup, finished with root vegetables for pennies per person. this also has the advantage of being better when made ahead.

                          italian wedding soup or minestrone are also super cheap and hearty.

                          ask friends to bring salad and cookies or brownies and you're good to go.

                          don't be afraid to ask friends to byob. you can provide a spiked cider, but people know how spendy booze can be.

                          agree about offering real food instead of just dessert during the week. most will be rushing from work to get to you and needing real food.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            I like the idea of wonderful soups or chili if it is really good. A couple of good winter salads round it out.
                            Ask people to bring drinks or dessert

                            1. re: magiesmom

                              yeah, i think lots of folks (present company excluded) don't ever make soups and stuff from scratch. it seems like so much work, but we know better. :)

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                I know. I usually bring soup or stew for lunch to work and people always comment.
                                Yesterday I had a root veg soup, thick like stew, topped with shredded cheddar and my colleagues were amazed.
                                It is weird because soup is so forgiving and infinitely variable, easily vegetarian , easily gluten free.

                      2. How many people and what sort of total budget are you thinking?

                        App ideas:
                        Deviled Eggs - Easy to make for a crowd, and not a budget buster.
                        Hummus (dip of some sort) - Serve on baguette slices that you can also use for a cheese. (Much cheaper if you make yourself)
                        Pigs in a blanket or Sausage & Pepper or Meatball toothpicks
                        Cheese plate - If you choose your cheese carefully, this doesn't have to be a budget buster. The Whole Foods near us has an "under $4 bin" that would allow you to put something interesting together.
                        Farro & Root Vegetable salad - seasonal and easy to make for a group.
                        Mini Grilled Cheese bites

                        Booze:
                        Punch or Sangria are good ideas. Most wine stores will also be able to help you fine good bottles in your budget.
                        My neighbor did a Martinelli's cider, Captain Morgan, Goldschlager punch the other night. Even though I'd never drink any of those individually, together they tasted pretty good.

                        1. On a work-night I would prefer an earlier( 6-8ish) apps-and- cocktails get together over a dinner party or dessert affair.

                          I think your idea of a "well drink" of some sort is spot on. Just be sure to have soda pop and water on hand too since it's a work-night (cheaper too!).

                          And yeah, people tend to eat way toooo much at this time of the year. I think if you offer "light and easy" bites you may actually be doing some waistbands a favor.

                          1. Stuffed baby red potatoes would be good. You could do several flavors - chorizo, italian sausage, chili, cheddar and bacon, cream cheese and green chile. Sky's the limit.

                            Another cheap one would be rice paper rolls. Fill with sauteed cabbage, cucumber, carrot. Toss with spicy peanut sauce and roll up. That way people can eat them without needing a plate for the sauce. Hard to juggle a drink, plate, and a fork when standing. You can make them really small by trimming them after you've reconstituted. If you can afford it throw some shredded chicken in.

                            1. I do a big holiday party every year (I'm in the middle of cooking for it now) and there are a few things I've found go over really well and don't cost a whole lot:

                              1. Fresh fried tortilla chips. Just buy a big bag of tortillas to cook and fry them up right before the party. Tastier and a lot cheaper than a bag of Doritos. If you can make some fresh chunky salsa from whatever fruit is available/cheap at the moment, more the better...

                              2. Meatballs. Stretch a little meat with a lot of bread. Serve either fried as little bites or in some marinara sauce.

                              3. Pasta salad with some chick peas, rosemary, garlic and olive oil. Simple and cheap, yet filling and addictive.

                              I am not a huge dessert eater - or preparer - so when people ask what they can bring to my party I tell them dessert! I usually end up with way more than enough sweets as people find that in general easier to prepare and bring than something savory. Honestly too I wouldn't really be interested in staying long at a party that was "just desserts" - as you mention they tend to become overloaded during the holidays.

                              1. I made this spiced apple cider sangria for Thanksgiving and it was amazing! http://www.mylifeasamrs.com/2011/11/s...

                                I also always invite my guests to bring appetizers and/or desserts. They always ask and I always happily accept their offerings.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Njchicaa

                                  Trader Joe's had a perfectly acceptable rum for 6.99 a bottle, which led to the easy choice of spiced cider and rum hot toddies this Thanksgiving. After that, it was easy to use "apples" as the theme and decoration of a gathering: curried chicken salad with apples, a cold beet and apple soup, a mixed apple and cheese platter, and baked apples stuffed with walnuts and roasted in maple syrup, served with vanilla ice cream for desert. Pretty and delicious and not expensive.

                                2. As others have said, my brain also went to soup or chili, with a topping bar and related snacks. I have found even the biggest foodies, usually appreciate a good mug of soup or chili.

                                  Some ideas:
                                  -Chili can be meat based/red, chicken/green or vegetarian depending on your taste. The toppings and other accompaniments are pretty easy and inexpensive. Some homemade corn bread, tortilla chips, with homemade salsa, guacamole and a queso dip. Toppings like cheese, onions, jalapenos, chopped tomatoes, olives, shredded cabbage, lettuce, etc.

                                  -Tomato soup and grilled cheese theme, with quesadillas as laliz already suggested, or sliced baguette toasted, rubbed with garlic and topped with some cheese to replace the typical grilled cheese. Soup toppings could be scallions, croutons, cheese, cheese crackers (think Goldfish), avocado, chopped red peppers, roasted peppers, etc. Think "Americana" with the appetizers, like veggie crudites and a dip, cheese and crackers. (We make our own venison summer sausage, so I would serve that..)

                                  -A curry flavored soup - squash or carrot or a curried tomato soup. Make the toppings and sides more Mediterranean inspired - yogurt, cucumbers, onions, feta, lemon for squeezing, for toppings. Hummus, baba ganoujh, and/or tzatziki dip. Tabouli salad, olives, cheese, pita bread and chips, etc. Roasted garlic and a nice loaf of crusty bread.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Springhaze2

                                    years ago, i went to a terrific soup party where guests were instructed to bring their own soup mugs and spoons and a dessert to share.

                                    hosts provided soups; can't remember exactly how many soups were offered -- at least four to cover the various food proclivities-- plus some hearty breads.

                                    1. re: wonderwoman

                                      I love the idea of a soup party. My fourth soup from the options I listed above would be a potato soup, either creamy or chunky/chowder style, Toppings could include bacon, scallions, tomatoes, croutons, Served with an assortment of bread (homemade?) and a tub of softened butter.

                                  2. I'm thinking of something along the lines of japanese or Korean or Thai...specific recipes would depend on what type of chicken is on sale :-)

                                    I've made this recipe for orange teriyaki chicken drummettes a few times, sometimes with wings, sometimes bone-in thighs, you could use whatever's cheapest. I took them to a party & served with cold somen noodles dressed with a little sesame oil, scallion and salt and the combination was great.

                                    http://justonecookbook.com/blog/recip...

                                    There are lots of other good chicken wing-type recipes on that website, I especially like the soy sauce and honey recipe and the garlic-miso one.

                                    Some kind of meatballs, like the Japanese chicken ones? Satay with peanut sauce? The rice wrapper rolls that were already mentioned (love those 'cause you can cut a shrimp in half lengthwise and get two rolls per shrimp)? Make a couple of kinds of Korean pancakes (pajeon), and a lot of the vegetable side dishes (panchan) to keep the menu a little lighter? Or make a small amount of bulgogi (doesn't have to be beef, you can make it with chicken or pork) and serve it as a lettuce wrap with rice and some soybean paste?

                                    For drinks, get a big bottle of cheap vodka, a can of lychees, and serve lychitinis (garnished with a maraschino cherry and lychee).

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: gimlis1mum

                                      cheap vodka makes for terrible hangovers. eesh.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        it's supposed to be a budget party - don't let 'em drink too much :-)

                                    2. Avoid higher cost items like:
                                      - cheeses and charcuterie
                                      - certain cuts of meat
                                      - seafood (people are picky with seafood anyway)

                                      Try inexpensive items that have table presence/color
                                      - artichokes
                                      - stuffed squash halves
                                      - beets
                                      - colorful soups like tomato bisque, minestrone,
                                      - chicken thighs
                                      - curries

                                      A taco bar is always nice. Buy tortillas from a local market and make/buy fresh salsa. Cook beans night before. Give two meat options. Pork carnitas is pretty expensive and easy to prepare a slow cooker. Chicken can be done the same night if marinated the day before. Spanish rice can be cooked the same night, too.

                                      Not exactly holiday themed...but it sounds like its a casual weeknight event.

                                      1. Chiming in on the soup party idea. I've done this very successfully in both work and family settings. Soup has the advantage of being wonderfully do-aheadble, easy to serve (crockpots, borrow a couple if you need to), and adaptable for GF, vegan, etc. We don't like using paper goods, but using paper coffee cups means everyone can sample more than one kind of soup and/or toppings.

                                        Soup is one of those cozy things that makes people feel all warm and fuzzy. Makes for a great party!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: nami54

                                          Its a great idea! you can make two different soups, have some toppings available like sour cream, croutons, crumbled bacon, etc, have an assortment of breads, rolls and cornbread, crackers maybe a simple salad, and serve holiday cookies and hot chocolate for dessert.

                                        2. We very much enjoyed attending a bachelor professor's traditional evening open-house of pie and hot-cider. He made all the pies himself and the focus of the evening was conversation and renewing friendships. While folks were welcome to bring / consume a wine of their choice, only a few did -- much easier to plan for the drive home.

                                          A white elephant gift exchange is a great idea as an ice-breaker. Even more fun when guests are allowed to "steal" /swap gifts at intervals -- you never quite know what you'll take home.

                                          1. I'm starting to love the soup bar ideas others have posted. Get out all of your odds and ends coffee mugs and slurp away! And the leftovers will freeze great, which will save some cash in January!

                                            As for booze, I have a white sangria that is pretty popular. One can of frozen lemonade concentrate. One can's worth of gin. A bottle of white wine. A bottle of club soda. Some sliced fruit for garnish (love pomegranate seeds for the festive look, also star fruit) Light yet festive. Double it and serve in a punch bowl with an ice ring for a budget friendly centerpiece

                                            1. Personally, I dislike the idea of a potluck especially if you want to host the event yourself. When you put it out there as a potluck, you can't plan any of the dishes and are at the mercy of whatever is brought, which might be 8 pies and a veggie tray. If you want the menu to be balanced, leave out the potluck idea.

                                              I would also not do a dessert party, this is the time of year when desserts & cookies are everywhere...people are going to get burnt out. Instead, think of doing some appetizers, a grits bar with assorted toppings, soup/chili with toppings & crackers or the homemade pizza party with a big bowl of salad and homemade flatbread.

                                              Pizza dough cost pennies to make, use the same dough for the flatbread. Use dried herbs in the doughs and make artisanal pizzas where veggies and only little meat/cheese are the focus and they'll be more upscale. Roast & puree mushrooms, eggplant or garlic & use to spread on the pies instead of red sauce before you add toppings. If you have a outdoor grill, you could pre-make the pizza shells then later top and finish them back on the grill or in the oven. I used to do pizza parties for my two boys when they were teenagers and it went over huge for the adults also.

                                              Lots of good appetizer ideas here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/926418

                                              1. Personally, I don't think I'd throw a potluck into the middle of holiday entertaining season - you're passing the expense and work onto your guests at a time when they're also stressed for time and money.

                                                I think the key is to pick items where the ingredients are fairly inexpensive, and then make them tasty with skill. So a cheese platter, which is nice and easy, is probably too expensive, if you want to do it well, but taking a block of Philly cream cheese and turning it into roasted red pepper and garlic cheese spread is cheap and quite tasty (I can post the recipe if needed). Things like home-made hummus and tapenade can go well with crackers.

                                                If you can get cheddar not too expensively (say at a Costco), cheese straws can work well - savory, easy to make, and delicious. Marinate your own olives rather than buying deli ones (I like a mix of strips of lemon zest, a few chili flakes and a bit of garlic, with some olive oil).

                                                If you can find inexpensive pre-made tart shells (or are willing to make your own), you could do mini quiches - flavour with spinach or a bit of ham. Deviled eggs are cheap and popular.

                                                Deep fried pasta can make an unusual and tasty snack food - I boil the pasta, toss with oil, and then deep fry it in small batches until crispy, and topping with powdered spices and salt after it comes out of the oil.

                                                For beverages - mulled wine can be done pretty cheaply, and you can make mulled apple juice the same way for a non-alcoholic alternative. Have sparkling water and tea and coffee to fill out the mix.

                                                Make chinese dumplings (home-made, or premade) and serve with dipping sauce.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                  I agree with you on the potluck. Especially mid-week. If I were a guest, rushing home from work to try to pull something together to attend someone else's party is the LAST thing I want to do - especially during the holiday season!!!

                                                  Thanks for all the ideas!

                                                2. i'm thinking of doing a party in mid january -- a brunch. there is just too much competition for dates in december. people are stressed and stretched. january, mid-month, people are happy to get out of the house and don't WANT a big feast.

                                                  brunch open house is good for saving $ because i think the foods can be lighter, less protein-intensive.

                                                  i like the idea of a punch.

                                                  so…sorry to rain on your holiday parade. hope whatever you do, you enjoy yourself -- and don't overspend!

                                                  ~~~~~~
                                                  edit: reading some other replies, i like the idea of a soup party, too. you can have assorted breadsticks, breads, a nice hearty salad, and beer and wine for alcoholic drinks -- or mulled apple cider.

                                                  a chili party would be a welcome variation on this -- or have it as one of your soups.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                    fwiw, i never have people over in december either. i'm too busy with work and there are so many competing events.

                                                    <<shrugs>>

                                                    hopefully the op has a core group of sure-things to invite. :)

                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      You aren't raining on my parade... my husband is! He veto'd the holiday party ... something about me always taking on too much during the holidays (he is right).

                                                      I AM going to save these ideas for future get togethers... and there will be a soup and/or chili party in the near future!

                                                      1. re: The Oracle

                                                        Late January is always a great time for a party. Isn't anything else to do then, is there?

                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                          superbowl….so combine the two! ;-).

                                                    2. Using seasonal root vegetables simply prepared can cut costs AND be appropriate and delicious for savory apps. For example, roast whole beets, slice thinly and serve with just a touch of a rich cheese on a cracker or toast point. Or, pickle beets, pearl onions, mushrooms, and/or Brussels sprouts yourself (easy to do ahead, too). Olives can still be relatively inexpensive as a nosh (our Costco has big jars of mixed olives that I would consider fine as a cocktail snack for most gatherings; you could also get fancy and add some additional seasonings to the olives and/or warm them up and serve with slices of baguette). Some crackers can be home made with few ingredients (flour, fat, spices) and are an easy way to elevate savory apps or serve by themselves. Something like hummus doesn't need to be boring (or expensive) if you whip it up at home the day before (add smoked paprika, roast garlic or peppers, or a bit of roast pumpkin, or whatever else you fancy to mix it up). Buy some raw walnuts or pecans or peanuts from the bulk bin and make your own spiced nuts a day or two before the party (recipes abound on the Web).

                                                      Something like wasabi peas or rice cracker mixes can often be purchased in bulk, too, and makes for nice little bowls of nibbles.

                                                      I like your mulled wine idea! I admit I'm more a salt/savory-lover than a sweet tooth, which is why I'm quick with the savory apps suggestions. :)

                                                      1. Grill up some flap or flank steak for fajitas or burritos. It could be fun and interactive, with your guests making their own at a "bar".

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: monavano

                                                          This is also a fun party, I like to do one in the summer, with grilled mushrooms for the vegetarians. Always goes over well, and a little meat goes a long way.

                                                        2. Warm savory quiche with a mixed green salad and a nice vinaigrette is not expensive. Maybe coffee and a home made cake or cookies for dessert. Home made pizza is very easy and inexpensive to serve. Good luck on deciding your menu.

                                                          1. We're also in the middle of prepping for our big holiday cocktail party -- it's a Hanukkah party (even though Hanukkah's over). We do this every year and now get 60+ people, and the centerpiece is lots and lots of latkes, which are about as cheap as you can get, especially since russet and sweet potatoes are always on sale around the holidays. You can also fritter other cheap vegetables (zucchini and cauliflower are our favorites) and make them look fancy topped with some cumin-laced sour cream and a few pomegranate seeds.

                                                            I'm also loving everyone's soup ideas. You could do a big pot of soup or stew (in advance), some homemade bread sticks/scones, and have everyone bring their favorite holiday cookie to share. Provide little boxes so people can take some home!

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: Mediumgoof

                                                              We did this one year, too, and added some Indian bajias, another oil-fried wonder. And I don't think a single person at the party was Jewish, but everyone loves good food.

                                                              1. re: pine time

                                                                bhajis are delicious, but they need to be served hot and fresh. otherwise, they are sort of leaden.

                                                                do you have someone cooking the fried foods, so you can enjoy the party yourself?

                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                  Don't know if it works for bhajis (which I've never had but sound delicious) but we precook and freeze the latkes, then re-heat them in a hot oven during the party.

                                                                  1. re: Mediumgoof

                                                                    i really don't think it would work for bhajis. why? i'm guessing because there is less "meatiness" and bulk to the bhajis (being fresh veggies**) and the crispness of the batter is of greater importance. when cold, they are no longer crisp, but rather leathery or just limp and a little oily.

                                                                    ** having said that, bhaji is just a fritter, and you can fritterize anything (in my neck of the woods, at least). searching for a nice fritter photo & recipe, i came upon this shrimp fritter, with fresh coriander and onion and chiles. http://cookbook.co.za/chicken-recipes...

                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                      Yeah, they were cooked to order on the patio (I don't like the smell of day-old oil the next morning). Mr P and I took turns as the fry cook so the other could circulate at the party. You'd be surprised, though, how many guests hung around the fryer, ready for the next batch! We did once make 200 samosas ahead, froze, then gently reheated--that worked well, but don't think any fritterized thing would hold up.

                                                                      And, yes, alkapal, we have fritterized every vegetable that we grow.

                                                                      1. re: pine time

                                                                        hanging around the fryer -- i'll bet! reminds me of waiting for fresh hush puppies!

                                                                        i agree about the oil smell in the house. p.u.