Tuesday, August 9, 2011

5 Tips for Hosting a Budget-Friendly Dinner Party

VN's signature Macaroni & Cheese 

The Topic: Fabulously inexpensive dinner-party tips with VegNews Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
The Dish: I love hosting friends and family for dinner. The best way to show off delicious vegan food is by cooking fantastic meals for the people I love, and it helps to answer the common question, "What does a vegan eat?" I recently hosted a dinner party for the VegNews staff and friends using only recipes from the magazine or VN.com (with one minor exception. More on that later).  In total, I hosted 15 people for dinner and spent approximately $70, which breaks down to $4.67 per person. (Full disclosure: I used a large bag of Daiya cheddar cheese we had at VNHQ so I didn't buy that.) Here are my five tips for hosting the ultimate vegan budget dinner party.
1. Resourceful Recipes
When cooking for a large group, search for crowd-pleasing meals like VN's signature Macaroni & Cheese, patatas bravas, or Marinated Kale Salad. Why? You can easily double or triple these recipes without having to buy expensive ingredients. The patatas bravas I made were mostly potatoes, tomato paste, cayenne, and some vegan mayo. While the macaroni and cheese might look expensive, I nixed the breadcrumbs on top and the main cheese sauce is potatoes, carrots, shallots, onions, cashews, and vegan margarine. Simple ingredients equals big savings.
2. Stress-Free Planning
I used to get super stressed when I had people over. I cut out the anxiety by simply planning out when I was going to cook what and writing down a schedule. I first made the desserts because they would last the longest in the refrigerator and freezer. The items that needed to be served hot, like the grilled cheese sandwiches and the sauce for the patatas bravas, my husband and I made a few hours before the actual dinner.
3. DIY Ice Cream
Making your own ice cream is easy. Yes, an ice cream maker is an upfront cost. I have a KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment that cost about $80, but just like a juicer, the investment is worth it. With your favorite non-dairy milk and some simple ingredients, you can make a quart of vegan ice cream that will taste just as great as any frozen pre-made pint. 
4. BYOB 
Ask your guests to bring the booze. After all, you're doing all the cooking. Plus, they can bring what they want to drink. Without having to buy alcohol, beer, or non-alcoholic drinks, you can keep your dinner-party costs down.
5. Use what you have. 
Pull out all of your plates, silverware, glasses, and serving dishes. Who cares if it all matches? Everyone is looking at the food anyway. You save money by not buying paper plates and cups, while also keeping your party eco-friendly. I used to think it was easier to buy biodegradable plates than to handle all the dishwashing, but after attending a brunch party where the hostess had everything laid out down to silverware and cloth napkins, I decided to go the same route.
The Complete Menu
Pumpkin Cheddar Biscuits (September+October 2011)
Marinated Kale Salad with baked tofu and avocado 
Grilled Cheese on sourdough (my husband's top-secret recipe)
Beer-Battered Tempeh "Fish" with Tangy Tartar Sauce 
Patatas Bravas (November+December 2009)
Coconut Cream Pie (May+June 2011)
Hot Chocolate Ice Cream (July+August 2011)
The Final Word: With careful planning and a budget, dinner parties are a great way to entertain and subtly educate those you love about the food you love. Yes, veganism isn't only about the food, but with a kickass menu you can show those who think a cruelty-free diet means eating only hummus and pita that the world is our soy-oyster when it comes to awesome eats.

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