There’s nothing more social than a good meal with good friends. But if you want to stick to a budget, it’s easy to be antisocial. After all, dining out is often expensive, and so is serving a fancy dinner for a crowd.
Hosting at home can be cheap though with a little menu planning, even if you don’t want to make it a potluck. The key is in the presentation. Pretty much any food can be dinner-party worthy so long as it looks great. Chef Lisa Schroeder of Mother’s Bistro & Bar in Portland, Ore., suggests thinking outside the box on plating: scoop desserts into a martini glass, use mini skillets for cornbread or frittata, or serve pot pie in soup crocks. There’s also something to be said for a garnish — sprinkling a little cinnamon or paprika on a white plate, adding a sprig of basil or mint, or a swipe of chocolate sauce. (While you’re crafting a menu, don’t forget to include some cheap, homemade cocktails to use up all those bottles lingering in your liquor cabinet.)
Here are a few party- and budget-friendly recipes to add to your repertoire:
Cost: $9.44, or $1.18 per serving
Frugal Foodie recently made a watermelon-free version of this gazpacho recipe, but blended the tomatoes separately from the other veggies. The result: a red soup and a green one, which she layered in glasses as a party appetizer.
Cost: $5.36, or $1.34 per serving
The bright colors and flavors make this recipe from our Romantic $10 Challenge perfect dinner party fare. (Careful, though, it’s an aphrodisiac.)
Cost: $4.76, or $0.60 per serving.
You probably already have most of the ingredients on hand for this fast, low-cal appetizer, says home cook Sara Schoonover. Slice a sourdough baguette thin, toast in oven. Dice three tomatoes, a handful of basil and a clove or two of garlic very small. Toss together. Toss with a little olive oil from pantry. Spread toasts evenly on a serving tray, top each with about a teaspoon of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle plate with Parmesan.
Vegetable Cottage Pie
Cost: $6.43, or $1.61 per serving.
Make one big serving of this recipe from our Meatless $10 Challenge, or make mini versions in ramekins for a fancier look.
Cost: $5.63, or $0.94 per serving.
Isra Hashmi of The Frugalette turns to this recipe for something fast and impressive: Cube six slices of whole wheat bread and bake for 10 minutes, until dry but not brown. Let cool, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir in a five-ounce bag of spinach and a quarter cup of feta. In another bowl, mix two tablespoons olive oil, two teaspoons mustard, and the zest and juice of half a lemon. Add six eggs and beat until blended. Add two cups milk and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour egg mixture over bread cubes and stir until they are evenly moistened. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray, and then pour in bread mixture. Let stand at room temperature for two hours or refrigerate overnight. Sprinkle a quarter cup feta over top and bake about 40 minutes. Turn on broiler, drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil and broil until golden brown.
Ginger-Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Cost: $9.82, or $2.46 per serving.
Presentation in lettuce cups makes this recipe from our $10 Dinner Challenge perfect party fare – it’s pretty and easy to clean up.
Cost: $9.85, or $1.23 per serving.
Frugal Foodie likes to make mini versions of this Rachel Ray recipe in ramekins. Prep the pasta before guests arrive, and then let them pick their own toppings to wrap things up.
Molten Chocolate Cakes
Cost: $5.35, or $0.89 per serving
“It’s so easy and amazingly delicious,” says food stylist Rachel Sherwood of her dessert recipe. It’s foolproof, too. “I never tell anyone I am serving molten lava cakes,” she says. “In the rare moment I do over cook them, then I still have delicious rich chocolate cake.” Top with raspberry sauce.
Caramel Rice Pudding
Cost: $1.50, or $0.19 per serving.
Have desert ready to go before dinner is on the table with this recipe from our Slow-Cooker $10 Challenge.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.