Big party. Small budget.
January 12, 2010 3:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm organizing a monthly event where I will be feeding appetizers to up to 100 people. I'm a good cook, who will have much of the food pre-prepared. Unfortunately, I have a negligible budget. I need what is prepared to be tasty and diverse crowd pleasers, using ingredients that are as inexpensive as possible -- possibly available in bulk -- while still containing some protein. Carbs should be fairly healthy, unrefined, inexpensive ones. There can be some items made with flour, but not to excess. There will also need to be vegetarian dishes. Extra points for food that can be frozen and prepared as needed. I am a good cook, have a wide variety of spices, etc., rice for basmati and sushi. I also have good access to Indian, Asian, and Mexican supermarkets. I'm fine with doing extensive cooking in advance, so long as what I have is both affordable and easy-to-serve on the night of the event. Any ideas / recipes?
posted by markkraft to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Just some random ideas: hummus and pita/crudites for dipping. Works also with baba ganoush. Both together give you some variety.

Indian, you could do tandoori skewers, chicken for meat, cauliflower or eggplant for veg, maybe one or two pieces on the end of a skewer (the lollipop effect) maybe offset with a cherry tomato for color.

Thai spring rolls with the rice paper wrappers. For that many people, you'd need helpers to do an assembly line. Matchstick carrots and cucumbers, shred spinach, add shredded chicken or duck for protein, maybe tempeh for veg. Supply sweet chili sauce and peanut sauce for dipping.

For Japanese, kushi-age, which is essentially bit sized tempurah on a stick. Can be done with squid, pork, chicken, pumpkin, sweet potato, shrimp, the list is endless.

Mexican, you could do taquitos filled with shredded something (pork, chicken, beef). Braise the meet in water/diced chillis, cumin, garlic, and citrus, then shred. Re-season with cumin, garlic, chili powder. Saute some thinly sliced onions, then add shredded meat to the onions, do a dry stir-fry of it, let it get a little crispy. Roll tightly in tortillas and fry in shallow oil. Slice each taquito into bite size, stick a toothpick in it.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:31 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

whole wheat pitas and assorted hummuses
assorted empanadas
ground turkey meatballs
stuffed mushrooms
crab rangoon
pot stickers
egg rolls
posted by drlith at 4:36 AM on January 12, 2010

South Asian snack foods might do well.

Chana chaat is something that can be prepared in advance and is basically cold chickpeas with a tart, spicy dressing. Optional but tasty extras: small proportion of diced potatoes, diced tomatoes, corriander, fresh green chilies and onions. You can get a box of chat masala from an Indian shop (Shan is a good brand) for 2-3 dollars. It's best made a day or two before. On the day, you can top it with papri (also from the Indian store) which is basically a tortilla chip made of chickpea flour.
posted by tavegyl at 4:37 AM on January 12, 2010

When you say negligible budget, can you be more specific?
posted by miss tea at 4:47 AM on January 12, 2010

White bean and rosemary dip and crackers, or pita chips.
posted by mmmbacon at 5:36 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Emilyisnow at 5:41 AM on January 12, 2010

Vegetable curry.
posted by Splunge at 5:54 AM on January 12, 2010

Ah... appetizers, sorry. Coffee.
posted by Splunge at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2010

Fried polenta? In dry grits form, polenta is super-cheap; you can cook it up (with spices you like, and I recommend lime juice - just check recipes for ingredients that sound good) and pour into a big flat pan, then cube it up. Pan-fry to get one or more sides of each cube golden-brown and crispy, then serve on skewers/toothpicks with sauces. Would taste good warm or cold; I haven't frozen polenta but I bet it would work.

Caramelized onion flatbread? Onions are cheap. Bread is cheap if you make the dough, and not really expensive if you don't; depending on which supermarket I'm at, the balls of pizza dough (in bags in the bakery or deli section) are either $1-2. Some recipes have cheese, which pushes the cost up, but you don't have to go super-fancy, just a touch of parm or mozz would be fine.
posted by aimedwander at 5:59 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pita and hummous is never wrong. Vegans appreciate having something to eat.

Also: Olive tapanade, lentil spreads, raw veggies ("build your own sandwich" style).
posted by beerbajay at 7:07 AM on January 12, 2010

Baby crustless quiches/frittatas. Basically, take a quiche recipe and throw out the crust part; so all you have left is the cheese and the egg filling part. Mix that all together and instead of pouring it into a quiche crust, pour it into well-greased muffin tins. Mini-muffin tins are an even better choice. Bake until the filling is set, pop out of the tins, and you're good to go.

I also once catered a party for about this many people that had a somewhat fiddly but impressive-looking thing -- fortunately the fiddly part was all in the advance prep, and when I was there I was just slicing something. Conceptually, it was kind of like a Swiss roll cake, only with egg taking the place of the cake -- I beat enough eggs to fill a Swiss roll cake pan lined with parchment paper, and popped it in the oven until the egg set. Took it out, rolled it up so it would be rolled-up while it cooled. Then I unrolled it, spread a filling in, and rolled it back up again. Once I got to the venue, all I had to do was slice it and serve; it made little egg-and-spread pinwheels. I made a couple different kinds; I stirred chopped cooked spinach into the egg for one variety. The fiddly bit came with the whole unrolling-and-rerolling thing, as the egg had a tendancy to want to split and tear instead of roll.

Then there's always Devilled Eggs. Not vegan, certainly, but lacto-ovo vegetarians could get them, and it may be good for the last-minute aspect of things (prep things up to the point where you'd be slporping the filling into the egg white halves, then pack the filling in one bowl and the egg white halves in another container; when you get there, you just spoon the filling into enough egg whites to fill a plate, and save all the rest in the kitchen to top off the plate as you go).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 AM on January 12, 2010

I've seen a recipe for split-pea fritters in "How to Cook Everything" that are both vegetarian and have to be pretty cheap since it's basically just split peas and some spices, then fried. Here's a version with chilis and onion.
posted by cabingirl at 7:39 AM on January 12, 2010

To go with EmpressCallipygos' idea, how about Spanish omelets? Eggs, potato, carmelized onions and something as a filler. For example, spinach, bell peppers, chopped spicy sausages, cheese, zuchini, eggplant, pretty much any of those. The flipping onto a plate-sliding back into the pan is a bit tricky, but they serve well at room temp, or reheated. One pan-full could be divided up into lots of bite-sized pieces. Maybe, for about 100, you'd be looking at 5 or 6 omelets, so you could have two each of cheese and spinach, chorizo, and eggplant and bell pepper.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:39 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

. Rice balls - basically cooked rice with veg and other savory flavoring, deepfried, served with sauce(s). Delish even if not piping hot. Scrambled egg could add protein.
. Inarizushi, pockets of deep fried tofu, with rice and other stuffings.
. Veggie sushi.
. Carrots, onions, cabbage are all inexpensive and can be made exotic with herbs, spices and various means of cooking.
. Cabbage stuffed with rice and either meat, tofu, veggies, braised in tomato sauce.
. Bean dip, many varieties out there, with bread, corn chips, crackers or veggies.
. Hummus is ubiquitous, but still much enjoyed. Try finding new ways to present it - on celery sticks or romaine hearts, with anchovy or artichoke.
. Brushetta is basically a slice of baguette, toasted, with a savory topping. Hummus, minced roasted onions, rich tomato sauce.
. Tiny tuna melts
. Deviled eggs
. Samosas - peas or lentils add protein.
posted by theora55 at 7:42 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chilli could be good, it freezes well and is easy to make. You can make one for the meat eaters and one for the veggies.
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:26 AM on January 12, 2010

Soups! Small portions are a good appetiser, its best cooked in batches and can be very cheap.
posted by Joh at 10:11 AM on January 12, 2010

This corn chowder is delicious, even more so if you add some bacon and red pepper, cheap and easy.

Another good thing that's cheap and easy: combine one can of black beans, one can of frozen white corn (or a can, I suppose), and half a purple onion, and a jalapeno if you like some heat. Dash of salt, pepper, Tablespoon of oil, juice of one lime. Serve with chips, or on a tortilla, or over salad, or just about anywhere. YUM.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:49 AM on January 12, 2010

Tortilla wraps have been mentioned above, but Spanish Tortilla is delicious. I've never met anyone who doesn't like it.

Cook, cut into pieces and serve, tapas style.
posted by Kiwi at 10:51 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, sorry Ghidorah. You mentioned it! But I like them better plain....
posted by Kiwi at 10:53 AM on January 12, 2010

I just recommended these cheese puffs on another askme post, and I'll do it again. They're not the healthiest, but they are very good and require freezing before cooking. I have been messing with the recipe a little- I used cracked wheat sourdogh instead of white french bread and it was very good. My next experiment will be to see if I can get away with low-fat cream cheese and maybe another egg white to offset a little less grated cheese.
posted by dogmom at 12:54 PM on January 12, 2010

Response by poster: "When you say negligible budget, can you be more specific?"

Basically, I'm fronting the cost, but will be compensated if the night comes off well. Given that I'm organizing the event, I think it will do well enough, but it could take a few months for word-of-mouth to spread.

Having good food is a definite selling point for the event, so it's something I want, even though it's an upfront cost.

A lot of the ideas are good, though I suspect I could use more ideas that are both meaty and inexpensive. Inexpensive desserts would be useful too, btw.
posted by markkraft at 1:26 PM on January 12, 2010

I could use more ideas that are both meaty and inexpensive.

Chicken liver pate isn't as hard as you'd think, I've heard. The basic principle is "saute chicken livers, add seasonings, puree to mush in a food processer, chill."

I'll grant I've never priced them, but I don't think chicken livers would be that expensive because you have that "ewww, it's innards" thing going on so the demand isn't high. And since you're talking about something that is essentially a dip made of meat, the serving size wouldn't be huge either.

(My apologies to any pate afficionadoes whom I have no doubt horrified with my "meat dip" characterization.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on January 12, 2010

Fried wontons with ground pork, water chestnut, sesame oil, or whatever else you like. Wrap and freeze. Spray with oil and bake instead of frying for decreased prep time (the end effect is also different, the skin is crispy and thinner, you may or may not like this).

Chicken wings with a yum glaze, maybe Emeril's Sweet and Spicy Asian wings.

Kielbasa wrapped in puff pastry and served with gourmet mustards.

Marinate skewers of pepperocinis, cherry tomatoes, feta, olives, artichoke hearts, cooked small tortellini, and salami in your favorite vinaigrette recipe.
posted by artifarce at 4:36 PM on January 12, 2010

(was just following the "meat" lead, for those of you who would consider me to overly carnivorous :) ).
posted by artifarce at 4:43 PM on January 12, 2010

Cheap meat --- don't know where you're at, but the grocery store near my place has chicken legs for like .75 a pound; throw 'em in the slow cooker with cumic, chili, garlic, onion and tomatoes or tomato paste overnight, then shred the meat and you've got a perfect taquito or empenada filling. The bones make the sauce rich and thick; throw it in the fridge and it turns solid, there's so much lip-smacking gelatin in there.

Also, you might consider pork shoulder; it's about ten bucks for ten pounds, you could do it shredded w/ barbecue sauce or in the puerto rican pernil style. If the former do mini-sandwiches with wonder bread and a pickle slice --- perfectly traditional, perfectly delicious and perfectly capable for feeding such a crowd for less than $20-30 bucks, figuring $10 for the pork, $6 for two loaves of bread, $5 for a big jar of pickles and the most of spices you should have on hand.

Dessert --- mini trifle, of say, a brownie, Smitten Kitchen's caramel pudding, and some real whipped cream. Layer into a clear dixie cup and serve. If you have flour, sugar and cocoa on hand you can make the brownies from scratch for probably four bucks a pan (eggs and oil or butter), three pans, say, $10 bucks, the pudding, if you've got van extract you could make enough to feed an army for probably about $5-10, and two pints of cream. Less than $20 total, could be make ahead.
posted by Diablevert at 8:59 PM on January 12, 2010

Rillettes can be made ahead, and are in fact better after hanging out in the fridge for a couple days. It's basically pork shoulder + pork fat + seasonings, so it's pretty cheap for a protein as noted above. Recipes are around the net but here's off the top of my head....

Cube your pork shoulder and fatback, toss in pot with h20, bay, thyme, garlic, and peppercorn. Bring to boil, skim, reduce to simmer for 3 hrs or so. Drain the meat and beat with a spoon or put in mixer with paddle attachment for a bit until somewhat uniform in texture. Season liberally (you're gonna serve it cold) with salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. Pack into ramekin\terrine mold and toss in refrigerator. Serve with baguette slices, mustard, cornichons, pickled shallot, etc.

You can also make this with duck or lamb but that's obviously going to increase your cost.
posted by sanko at 10:07 PM on January 12, 2010

Also check out the bo ssam recipe from the Momofuku book. Time consuming but ingredients aren't expensive (pork shoulder again) and it's goddamn delicious.
posted by sanko at 10:11 PM on January 12, 2010

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