Holiday Entertaining on a Shoestring

Posted by Lauren Dashwood

Or, How to Survive the Holiday Entertaining Season when you have Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget.

OK, so the holidays can be slightly stressful. There’s the stress of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, the stress of finding a parking spot at the swarming mall, and the stress of not embarrassing oneself at the company Christmas party. There’s the stress – and guilt, from the almost constant eating and drinking of rich, and self-indulgent foods – gravy, eggnog, and shortbread to name but a few. And then there is the definite strain on our bank accounts. While sitting at work the other day and mentally tallying up my already growing holiday costs, I began to think of all the lovely appetizers and holiday feasts that can be prepared quite frugally. I know I am already spread too thin between my elaborate Christmas shopping list, my killer outfit for the company holiday bash and then the entertaining costs; a multitude of wines, shortbread and petite fours that need to be created for various events scattered through December. But there really are some amazing things can be whipped together from household pantry items, canned goods, seasonal foods with extra herbs and other small gourmet touches for extra panache. I would make my mother proud with this list. She has always said that I have Champagne tastes on a beer budget – I tell her that I loathe beer and am thus forced to drink Champagne; unfortunately, this does nothing to dispel her exasperation...

These homey Onion Tartlets utilize the most basic of ingredients – flour, sugar, onions, and shortening, most of which I usually have on hand. These tartlets taste delicious topped with a little bit of grated cheese – any kind of cheese; parmesan, cheddar, goat… whatever tidbits you have lying around. These tarts are deceptively simple and very frugal to make, and pair perfectly with a glass of cheap (and festive) bubbly.

These Salmon Crab Cakes use tinned salmon and imitation crab, both of which can be lovely, delicious and affordable. Crab cakes are the ultimate entertaining food – everyone adores them, they can be carried in one hand and pair well with most other appetizers. Another recipe utilizing canned goods are these Escargot Stuffed Mushroom Caps. I did have my doubts the first time a friend made these for me. I just didn’t think that canned escargot would be palatable. However, paired with the robustness of shallots and garlic, and with a couple generous sprinkles of chopped parsley and rosemary it is a delectable, elegant and deceivingly frugal appetizer to bring to, or serve at, a party.

One of my favourite seasonal desserts to serve at a party, or to bring as a hostess gift, would have to be Cranberry Rosemary Biscotti. These wonderful and savoury biscotti really go over well at the end of a meal, especially during the holiday season when we’re so inundated with chocolate, caramel, and cookies of every description. They’re also delicious as an appetizer, or as part of a cheese course. If we must go whole Holiday hog with butter and sugar, there’s always my favourite cookie – Orange Pecan Shortbread. These little cookies are delectable, a breeze to make and easy on the budget. I am not usually a shortbread lover, but they are light, small and perfect for coffee, snacking, dessert and gifts.

I don’t know yet how my budget will fare over this holiday season. I’ve outlined my cost saving ideas above, as well as some of my time tested and true favourite recipes, and I am optimistic that I will be able to dazzle at parties while staying mostly within my economic means.