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How To: Throw A Party On A Budget

Emilie GreeneBy Emilie Greene Thu 18 Jul 2013 6:31 PM EST | 3340 Views
(DL) – Hello, (another) Emilie here with some tips on how to host on the cheap.

Whether you are a college student, a struggling 20 or 30-something, or just looking to entertain without depleting your account there are plenty of ways to throw a cocktail or dinner party that is impressive but not expensive.

The Food

What’s a party without some hors d'oeuvres ? If you’re looking to branch out from the usual chips and dip, try crostini. A crostini is a fancy way of saying “toasted bread with a topping”. You can get a baguette for no more than 2 dollars at your local market. Be sure to get a good quality and more importantly, fresh bread. It makes all the difference and your guests will appreciate not biting into something stale.

Now that you have your bread, what to top it with? You can go the traditional route with a tomato and basil based bruschetta, or you can mix it up with some of these recipes.

Crostini with Zucchini & Feta

Serves 4
5 very small zucchini or squash
Zest and juice of one lemon, plus more juice to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup packed parsley leaves, or 1/4 cup thinly sliced mint or basil
1 baguette, sliced into thin rounds and toasted

(complete recipe - ingredients &  preparation instructions)

Mushroom Crostini

Serves 1
2 medium size mushroom (white button), sliced into 1/2cm (1/5″) thick
1 sprig of parsley, finely chopped
1 slice of sourdough bread
2-3 sage leaves
10g (1 tbsp) grated cheese (I used Gruyère, but Parmesan works fine too)
A garlic clove, mashed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Olive Oil Béchamel

250ml (1cup) milk
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper and nutmeg

(complete recipe - ingredients &  preparation instructions)

If you are looking for something more substantial, try a taco bar or serve pizza. They are relatively inexpensive and allow guests to customize to their choosing. To further cut costs, skip the prebaked crusts and buy pizza dough. Be aware, if you use fresh dough there will be extra prep work, but the payoff is worth the effort. If you want to have guests make their own pizzas, buy packets of pita bread. Depending on whether your market carries them or not, get the fluffy kind without pockets. They are an excellent (and lower calorie) substitute for traditional pizza. 

For dinner parties, do not underestimate the appeal of a potluck. This is especially great for guests with allergies or special diets because it ensures that they will have something to eat while alleviating your stress about meeting their needs. A potluck may seem lazy, but it really is a great option for a casual get together and who knows, you may end the night with a few new recipes!
Here’s some more small bite and main course ideas to get you started.
Flatbreads with Goat cheese, caramelized onions and basil

Serves 4 as a main dish or 6-8 as an appetizer (using 7-inch round flatbreads)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing on the bread
2 yellow onions, sliced into 1/4-inch half moons
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
4 flatbreads
4 ounces goat cheese
8 -10 large fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
Pinch of crunchy sea salt such as Maldon

(complete recipe - ingredients &  preparation instructions)
Caprese Skewers with Balsamic Drizzle
1 cup balsamic vinegar
cherry or grape tomatoes
mini mozzarella cheese balls (could use regular sized ball, and cut into bite-sized pieces)
fresh basil leaves, cut in half if large
salt & pepper

(complete recipe - ingredients &  preparation instructions)


When choosing wine for your party you don’t have to reach for the top shelf. There are plenty of mid-range domestics that cost less than $20 and taste as good as their pricier counterparts. If there are local vineyards in your area give them a try. Otherwise, California wine is going to be your best bet. There are no concrete rules to picking wine to pair with your food. Go with what you like to drink. If you want to drink a white with your steak, go for it. Or if you prefer a red with some vegetables, that’s great. You can always ask guests to BYOB their favorites too.

Seasonal beer is a great way to add variety to your normal go-tos. Breweries often put out interesting flavors such as Dogfish Head’s current summer run of Aprihop (an IPA with notes of apricots), or you can jump on this year’s trend of a lemon and honey infused shandy. Depending on your brand of choice the price range will vary, but some places will allow you to mix and match a six-pack for a set price. This is a great idea for smaller gatherings, but for larger parties you are better off going with a case. Depending on the tax in your state (and again, your brand) you can get a case for around $15.

In addition to wine and beer you might want to offer cocktails. Pick two signature drinks to keep things simple and less costly. If you’d like, put the liquor on the side so that those who don’t drink alcohol can also take part.
Meyer Lemon Mojitos

(complete recipe - ingredients &  preparation instructions)

Winter Sun Cocktail
(complete recipe - ingredients &  preparation instructions)

Mango Iced Tea

(complete recipe - ingredients &  preparation instructions)

Flavored water is a great way to add an interesting touch (and keep your guests hydrated). You can infuse strawberries and basil, lemon and rosemary, and cucumber and mint. Feel free to play around with flavors and be sure to serve it in a clear container for presentation. If you’d like something fizzy, use seltzer or sparkling water instead.
Sparkling Water with Raspberries
Subtle themes help you focus on ambiance, while obvious themes lend to a higher energy party atmosphere. Are you merely entertaining a few friends that would enjoy simple but personalized place settings or do you want to announce in invitations to a 70’s disco theme for a larger crowd? Adding a theme to your night results in your guests becoming more involved which in turns means less cancellations and higher attendance.

Themes often dictate your choice in music for the entire evening. For a real conversation piece try stepping into music history. Record stores and thrift shops will often sell used vinyl for around a dollar. Sometimes you can find real gems so don’t be afraid to really dig around. If you don’t have a record player and everyone is tired of the same playlists on your iPod, try music sites like Spotify or GrooveShark Radio. Some of these sites require a paid membership to use, but it offers unlimited streaming and a vast catalogue of artists.

Places like Ikea and Target sell glassware sets that cost around $20-$40 dollars. Before purchasing, think about how often you will be using them. You don’t want to waste money on an expensive set of tumblers that will only be brought out once a year.

For outdoor parties a great way to add ambience is with hanging lights. You can find these at any home and garden store or places that sell décor. Globe lights look especially good draped above a patio. Tea lights can be bought by the bag for under $10 and can be placed around a room or apartment for a sophisticated touch to a cocktail party.
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