Entertaining on a Budget: The Guide


Photo by Regina Charboneau

If you have read any of my articles on entertaining you know my number one rule: "Don't be a martyr."

Holiday entertaining doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. I decided to go to the grocery store and find short cuts for busy people who want to entertain but can't find the time. Pre-made items can easily substitute some of my traditional, from-scratch dishes. The end result isn't always apples to apples, but you shouldn't shy away from taking the odd short-cut here and there.

With either route, the good news is that you can entertain 20 friends for under $100. Even though I am a chef and cooking comes easily to me, I tried to put myself in the shoes of friends in other fields who don't have the time to cook. I also wanted to be aware of the cost of entertaining--it doesn't take long to spend hundreds of dollars at the grocery store when planning a party.

My goal here was to try to create a budget-friendly menu that could be prepared in less than two hours.

Anyone can go to some of the better gourmet stores out there and create an amazing spread without cooking a thing. There are some gorgeous pre-made items that are also very expensive. My goal here was to try to create a budget-friendly menu that could be prepared in less than two hours.

I love entertaining during the holidays: The backdrop is there the minute my tree is trimmed. If my house is decorated, I am having a party. Even if you don't do a tree, you can achieve a holiday atmosphere with a few poinsettias and some colored ornaments placed in a glass bowl.

Why not start with a simple cocktail party from 5 to 7? You'll need at least one beverage with and without alcohol, a couple of snack items, and a couple of appetizers that will fill people if they are drinking. I find when people are drinking they typically do not crave sweets, and so an easy trifle makes a presentable addition to a party. You may also want to buy some assorted candies and chocolates and display them in a pretty bowl. Go ahead, make it easy on yourself.

Another idea for entertaining a crowd without spending a lot is a big pot of soup with crusty bread and flavored butter. Just whip up some butter and add pureed dried tomatoes. Another option is having a late-night dessert party with a coffee and liqueur bar. Complete the package with fresh whipped cream. There is always the possibility of getting a couple of friends together to help share the work and cost of hosting a party.

Here is the menu I came up with, complete with a shopping list to make it even easier. I've recommended short cuts for each recipe or idea provided. I tried to do a few "knock offs" of some of the recipes in my repertoire using pre-made items.

For example I recommended buying biscuit dough instead of preparing my butter biscuits, making a quick caramel custard with instant pudding and caramel sauce instead of making my crème brulee custard, and mixing whole berry cranberry sauce with Major Gray's mango chutney instead of my cranberry-mango chutney recipe. The end results are still impressive--your guests will appreciate your effort no matter the amount of time or money you put in. Remember, the holidays are all about celebrating friendships.

Click here for the shopping list.
For more ideas for dishes to serve at holiday parties, click here.