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How to Throw a Holiday Cocktail Party for Under $100

by Claire Willett

Want to throw a fabulous holiday get-together for a crowd without spending a bazillion dollars?  Claire’s recession-proofed menu includes ample quantities of filling, delicious food, in addition to flowers and a fabulous cocktail, all for under $100 at Trader Joe’s.  Yes, Virginia, you CAN be a domestic goddess without breaking the bank.

The trick here is a strategic balance of fresh and prepared foods, as well as making the best use of what you already have at your house.

Antipasti & Cheese Plate
Spiced Pork Tenderloin
Mushroom Turnovers
Lemon Tart
Assorted Sweets
HOUSE COCKTAIL: The “Santa Baby” (pink champagne with muddled sweet cranberries)

This menu/shopping list relies on a few assumptions that I would like to address head-on.

1) This will comfortably cover up to around 20 people who eat regular-person amounts of food at a cocktail party.  I don’t know if your particular friends are the kind who leave food untouched or the kind who hoover English cheddar like it’s going out of style, but most people don’t eat tons and tons at a cocktail party.

1.5) Timing is vital here.  If your party starts at 6 or 7, people will expect dinner and you’ll be screwed because everyone will be starving and pissed at you.  This is an ideal proportion of food for like a 4-5 p.m. start time, or an 8-9 start time.  If you had to dinner-ify this, you could add a big bag of Trader Joe’s fancy French beans (saute them with olive oil and garlic) and a bag of fingerling potatoes (halve them, toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast them with the pork) for less than $10.  You will also probably need another pound or two of pork if it’s the main course of dinner, plus something for our vegetarian brothers and sisters that might suffice as a main course so they’re not just eating green bean sandwiches and silently hating you.  Have the cheese, olives and peppers out as appetizers with half the bread, and serve the other half with dinner.

2) Out of 20 people, it is virtually guaranteed that, unless your friends are horrible mooches, at least 3 or 4 will offer to bring something.  ALWAYS SAY YES.  Don’t be proud.  Accept the free merchandise.  The answer to that question is always, “A bottle of wine.”  This is a win-win.  People feel better about themselves when they don’t show up empty-handed, but they will also appreciate not being expected to actually cook anything or put in a huge amount of effort.  If they want to cook something, give them some guidance.  This is a cocktail party.  We’re aiming for finger food.  Nobody should be trucking in with a vat of mashed potatoes.  Good safe options are bread, crackers, cheese, fruit or veggie trays, nice cookies, olives or nuts.

3) Clear plastic tumblers and decent plastic or paper plates are perfectly fine if you also jazz them up with really cute cocktail napkins.  This only goes for cocktail parties.  If it’s going to be a dinner, I’d use real plates and silverware.  Unlike many people fancier than I, though, I have no problem with paper napkins at dinner if they’re dressy and cute.

4) I am operating under the assumption that you already have at your house the following staples: salt, pepper, spices, sugar, vegetable oil, olive oil, pan spray and coffee.

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