Alright, we all know we are in a bit of a recession. Times are tough and we are all trying to save a buck here and there. One of the first things people cut back on is food and entertainment. Lets rationalize for a moment, when times are tough, most of us really could use some diversions and the company of our friends and family. Rather than not hosting a party at all because you are afraid it will cost too much, lets look at ways you can economize and still do something good for your stomach and your soul.
First things first, lets take the basics of our appetizer party structure. 6-7 appetizers. One dessert, one dip, one cheese tray, 2 meat/seafood items and 2 pastry based items. Of course, this can be changed up somewhat in an effort to maximize your spread and minimize the damage to your pocket book. First thing I would do is eliminate one of the pastry items and change it to another dip. Puff pastry and phyllo can be pricy and if you can do just one with a reasonably cost effective ingredient, like cheese, it’ll still give you that crispy goodness we all love but you won’t be too wiped out. Second, steer away from the seafood and aim at cheaper cuts of meat, like chicken wings/drummettes and ground beef or pork. I like to make my Moroccan inspired chicken wings, which you can prepare in advance and then keep warm in a crockpot for a party and meatballs are always a winner. Here are a couple of recipes:
Spicy Mediterranean Meatballs
2 lbs Ground Beef
1 Onion, Diced
2-3 Garlic cloves, Minced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1-6 oz can tomato paste
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
½ cup Beef Broth
Combine beef, diced onion, garlic cloves, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Using your hands, knead meat together with spices until well combined. Roll mixture into 1” diameter meatballs and place on a baking sheet. Heal oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Brown meatballs on all sides. Add onions and bell pepper and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook for one minute or until fragrant. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice. Add tomato paste and beef broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking uncovered until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are cooked through. Season to taste and serve hot.
Monika’s Hot Wings
2 lbs Wings/Drummettes
2-3 Tbl Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbl Honey
2 Tbl Harissa (North African Chilli Paste available at www.zamourispices.com) or Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Pinch Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
2 tsps Garlic Powder
2 tsps Hot Hungarian Paprika
Combine wings/drummettes in a large bowl with all the ingredients. Toss well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hrs. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for approx. 30 mins or until the chicken is cooked through and begins to caramelize on top.
As far as dips are concerned, canned beans are a great way to create dips that are cost effective and tasty. Cannelini beans, chickpeas, black beans, all work well. My personal favorite of course is Hummus and it is something that can be doctored up in many ways with things like roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes or marinated artichoke hearts for a kick. My recipe is different from most in that I take the time to peel my chickpeas. This isn’t a crucial step with most other beans, but with chickpeas, it creates a much smoother, creamier dip and is a step you absolutely shouldn’t skip. Here’s the recipe:
2 cans chickpeas
¼ cup tahini paste
2 Tbls lemon juice
Pinch salt & pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper or 1 tsp Harissa Paste
3-4 crushed garlic cloves
¼ cup olive oil
¼-1/2 cup water
Soak chickpeas in water for approx. 1 hour. Using your fingers peel the outer layer of skin off each chickpea before transferring them to the bowl of a food processor. Do not skip this step. It helps to make the hummus creamy and not grainy. It makes all the difference in the world. Add tahini paste, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, cayenne, garlic and olive oil to chickpeas and process in a food processor until the mix is smooth. Slowly add water to thin the hummus until it becomes creamy and easily spreadable. Serve sprinkled with paprika and drizzled with olive oil, accompanied with some good imported olives and wedges of pita bread.
Lastly, when assembling a cheese tray, focus on domestic, locally produced cheeses as opposed to imported ones. Normally you pay less because you aren’t paying for transportation and I’m all for supporting your local economy.
So, that’s just a few tips to cut back. Of course, the greatest savings is to make things from scratch and not purchase pre-manufactured and processed foods. Not only will you save, but the end result will be infinitely tastier and healthier. Enjoy!