I once announced to a room full of people that I had found the ultimate secret to a budget-friendly night out in New York City: the illustrious $7 buzz.
The room was silent. One girl gasped. What was my trick? What magical $7 open bar special had I found hidden in the city of $10 draft beer?
My secret: Don’t eat all day, and then get a single $7 margarita at Dallas Barbeque.
All kidding aside (though the Dallas Barbeque shout-out is genuine), food makes a rare appearance at parties these days. Whether it’s out of laziness, failure to venture into college kitchens or simply fear of what might result from combining appetizers with a Beta late night, one thing is true: The culinary party scene is dead.
Though you may not feel that you’re missing anything by avoiding the peanut bowl at Richter’s, in reality, food brings much more to a party then a quick salty fix. Given 20 minutes and a few ingredients, you can make any party classier, warmer or even just slightly less obnoxious (if “classy” doesn’t float your boat). Read on, for the real way to cure your February blues.
For a Sangria or tequila-based southwestern affair:
Oh Sangria, the best way to dress up a pint-sized jug of Carlo Rossi. Though you’re on the right track by hiding cheapness with an ingenious theme, with enough creativity you can class up your affair with a posh spread without breaking the bank. You can actually save money this way: People won’t drink the tequila as fast if they have their hands on your own bite-sized concoctions.
Quesadillas: Fry some pint-sized tortillas in some butter, while you cook up some veggies of choice (grilled onions or sauteed mushrooms and peppers work nicely). Put some Monterey jack cheese in between the tortillas and veggies and bake in the oven at 350 degrees (until the tortillas are crisp again). Cut into eighths, or sixteenths if you’re expecting a lot of people.
Gazpacho: Chop half a pound of tomatoes and half a pound of cucumbers, and throw them into a blender with a dash of olive oil, some old bread, a couple spoons of vinegar and some garlic. Add water if it’s too thick, and throw it into little plastic shot glasses. Garnish with olive oil and everyone will think you’re a genius. Feel free to double — or even triple — the recipe with no added work.
Guacamole: Mash an avocado or two with some lime juice and a small chopped onion. Add some chopped cilantro if you like it. Really, you’re done.
If there’s Jell-O Shots on the menu:
I threw a very elaborate housewarming party this year — there were two types of cocktails, and the kitchen was running for days making pretty much every dish I’d ever wanted to make. But the two most popular dishes came from my “I don’t really cook very much” roommate: simple meatballs and from-a-mix spinach dip. A little part of me died that day.
In truth, there’s something to the party standbys, and with a little ingenuity, classic concoctions are perfect for downing in between Jell-O shots.
Minute Meatballs: Soak some white bread in milk and then mix in one pound of ground beef, a small chopped onion, half a cup of Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Form into those famous little balls and broil in the oven for five minutes until cooked on all sides (you’ll have to turn them). Serve with a side of marinara sauce and you’re golden.
Seven-layer dip: I’ll admit it — I love Rachel Ray. Her seven-layer dip is great. You can look up the full recipe, but here’s my own rendition. Heat refried beans with some hot sauce (bottom layer) then add green salsa with some chopped scallions. On top of that goes a can of black beans with a sprinkle of cumin. Heat that in the oven with some cheddar cheese while you chop tomatoes, onions and mix some sour cream with lime juice. Pile it all on top. Finito.
A Swanky Wine-Based Soiree
Though it may seem like food is a given at these, it doesn’t take much to go beyond your from a bottle olive mix or from the market cheese plate. With a minimal effort, it’s easy to go far beyond such by-the-book classiness.
Mini Pizzas: Buy pizza dough from your local market (Shaw’s has it) and form it into little cookie cutter-sized pizzas. Cook some slivered onions in butter on low heat until golden brown and place on the pizzas with a sprinkling of gorgonzola or goat cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes (or until brown).
Bruschetta: Contrary to popular belief, bruschetta is not a pasty tomato mash stuffed on a stale piece of bread. Bruschetta actually refers to the bread itself — what you place on it is completely up to you. Toast some bread in the oven with olive oil and you can top it with pretty much anything you want. Chop tomatoes, garlic and basil, mixing with olive oil and salt for the classic. Or mix some endive with vinegar and spread some mashed pinto beans on top. Or spread on some olive tapende. Or melt a slice of brie and top with jam or quince paste. Or pesto and toasted pine nuts. Or, had enough? Select three and you’ve got a full spread.
The Frat Approximation:
Though the keg at Beta might seem a dismal affair, some freshly whipped cream and a sprinkling of Parmesan … wait, never mind, nothing can cure Beta. Bring a Tupperware of Ghirardelli mix brownies or Betty Crocker mix cupcakes, and hope for the best.