Entertaining On A Budget

October 14, 2010 by Amy Clark

My friends and family know how committed I am to shopping, entertaining and celebrating on a budget.

It’s easy because I make it a point to stay organized, shop from a list and plan ahead.

  • Plan your menu and use a shopping list
  • Be sure you’ve got a list to keep purchases under control
  • I use cash; it forces me to stay under budget
  • I use a price book to help manage the items I buy week after week

The key for me is to plan the party’s main dish and extras around the grocery store’s loss leaders. Then I know I’m getting the lowest prices on meats and other party necessities. I like to make whatever I can from scratch, even the obvious staples – like fresh bread in my bread machine. And I’m happy to chop veggies and fruits, and grate cheese myself – if it saves me money, it’s worth doing!

On the other hand, I’ll sometimes cruise the salad bar to pick up things I need in small quantities. It can actually make good sense if I don’t want to buy a whole package of something like bean sprouts, or a too-big quantity of an item I won’t be able to use up later. This can be an effective strategy when stocking up on ingredients for a pizza bar or soup bar dinner.

Save on the setting

You can dress up the table without spending much. Look around your house for alternative ideas to pricey flower arrangements. For a centerpiece, I place an oblong mirror from the thrift store on the table, and place tea lights or votives down the center. Sometimes I’ll pick up an inexpensive grocery bouquet and add to it with fall greenery that I clip from our yard. Simple is pretty, and keeps the focus on the food!

Time is of the essence

Pick an off time for entertain and you can enjoy a stress-free, less-pricey event.

  • I often host a coffee morning (remember our moms’ coffee klatches?) with java and coffee cakes.
  • My girlfriends and I alternate “happy hours” between 4 and 6 pm. (including the kids); we each bring a dish, and the hostess serves beverages.
  • A brunch party is an alternative to pricey dinner parties, and easily accommodates children.
  • A dessert-and-wine event from 7 to 9 pm makes a nice choice around the holidays – I ask everyone to bring one bottle of wine, and I serve desserts.

Inexpensive ideas for dishes/menus – simple pastas, casseroles, homemade pizza. Always keep cake mixes on hand for cookies, biscotti, coffee cake

Basic Pizza Dough for Beginners

(Courtesy of The America’s Test Kitchen Baking Book)

  • 4 to 4-1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 envelope (2-1/4 teaspoons) instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1-1/2 cups warm water

To make dough in the food processor: Pulse 4 cups of the flour, yeast, and salt together in a food process (fitted with a dough blade if possible) to combine.

With the processor running, pour the oil, then water through the feed tube and process until a rough ball forms, 30-40 seconds. Let the dough rest for two minutes then process for 30 seconds longer. If after 20 seconds the dough is sticky and clings to the blade, add the remaining 1/4 cup flour one tablespoon at a time as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and form it into a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1/2 hours before using.

To make dough with a bread machine: Add ingredients as follows- warm water, olive oil, flour, salt, and then add yeast at the top. Turn machine on and select the dough setting. When the machine beeps, you can roll out the dough onto your pizza stone/pan.

Now follow the Friday Night Pizza routine below.

Add a side of cheese bread: Because of the amount of dough this recipe makes, I can make one large pizza plus an order of cheese bread on the side. For cheese bread, just roll out the dough and brush with olive oil.

Sprinkle with garlic salt and Italian cheese blend or mozzarella cheese. Bake at 450 degrees for twelve minutes or until the cheese and dough are a nice golden color.

Serve with a side of sauce, as highlighted in my Friday-night pizza routine here.

Chicken, Broccoli and Fusilli in Garlic Cream Sauce

  • 5 cups broccoli florets (about 1 large bunch)
  • 1 lb. fusilli or corkscrew pasta (such as whole-wheat rotini)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 T. chopped garlic (about 8 cloves or 3 T. jarred minced garlic)
  • 3 large skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1/2″ strips
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta to the water. Cook as directed, adding broccoli florets to cook with the pasta for the last four minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large heavy skillet over high heat. Add garlic and chicken and sauté until chicken is just cooked through, about 3 minutes.

Remove chicken. To the same pan, add wine, broth and half & half and boil until sauce thickens slightly, about 8 minutes.

Add pasta, broccoli, chicken and cheese to sauce and toss until mixture is heated through and coated evenly with sauce.

Perfectly Pulled Pork Sandwiches

(Adapted from All Recipes)

  • 1 (4 lb.) Boston butt (or pork shoulder)
  • 1 (12 oz.) can or bottle root beer
  • 1 (18 oz.) bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 8 hamburger buns, split and lightly toasted

Place pork in a slow cooker; pour root beer over meat.

Cover and cook on low until well cooked and the pork shreds easily (I cooked mine for eight hours). Shred the meat and drain the root beer from the slow cooker.

Return meat to cooker; stir in barbecue sauce and toss gently.

Serve over hamburger buns (preferably with root beer floats!).

Fast Coffee Cake

  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 package yellow cake mix
  • ½ cup oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 4 t. cinnamon
  • 4 t. sesame seeds (optional)
  • Powdered sugar

Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Mix first five ingredients together, then swirl the sugar, cinnamon and optional sesame seeds through the cake batter.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees.

Allow cake to cool in pan for 45-60 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Kenmore recommends…

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Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark has been the driving force behind MomAdvice since 2004. In addition to running a successful community for women and running after her two kids, she has appeared on The Early Show, and in Parents magazine, Redbook, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, MSN Money and The New York Times.