Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Let's Party

Sorry this will be a lengthy posting, but to prove how I made party food for 20p a head (at today's prices read 50p - good bread is now a luxury), I need to go into a bit of detail. Much depends upon how many have been invited. The more there are, the cheaper it works out, and the more food you can offer. As hardly anyone eats everything, think of it more as providing an assortment.

First the good news. Guests usually arrive clutching bottles of wine and numerous cans of lager. Hide away a couple of those bottles, serve the white wine with lemonade (spritzers), add plenty of ice cubes and everyone should be happy. You end up with bottles worth more than the party cost in the first place. OK call me mercenary. I look on it as cook's perks! Incidentally, there is no bad news. Unless you count having to actually do some preparation yourself. And the washing up. Always keep in mind that anything bought, like a bag of crisps can cost more than a huge plateful of home-made nibbles.

The important thing about a buffet is, that- however inexpensive - it should taste good, and - perhaps even more importantly, look good. A true feast for the eyes.
Begin planning by listing all foods that use the least expensive ingredients and especially those that can be prepared well in advance.Today I'm just giving some a mention (recipes starred ** already given in previous postings), other recipes will follow later.
Meringues: made from 'free egg whites' - store well in airtight containers. Serve a Pavlova or Meringue Crunch**.
Choux Pastry: make sweet or savoury Profiteroles (filled, they freeze well).
Chef's Tip: make with half butter and half hard block margarine instead of all butter.
Samosas: Small triangles of filo pastry filled with spiced lentils, onion and peas. They can also be frozen to cook on the day. Baklava can be made with left over filo.
Canapes: small savoury biscuits**, spread thinly with butter and toppings of your choice (cucumber and prawn; liver or sardine pate**; tomato and pesto; etc).
Vol au Vents: small square cases filled with either mushrooms, tuna or chicken in a thick sauce (I use condensed soup as a 'sauce').
Tip: Use 'free' chicken meat taken from a boiled carcase.
Spicy Buffalo Wings: again using 'free' chicken wings (freeze and collect until needed).
Quiches: make in Swiss Roll tin and cut into squares or fingers.
Celery Sticks: Fill the curved cavity of a celery stalk with a well flavoured cream cheese (maybe a little Stilton mashed with cream). Cut into chunks to serve.
Tomato Bites: cut small tomatoes in half, scoop out seed and fill cavity with cream cheese.
Tomato Classic: alternate slices of tomato and mozzarella cheese arranged around large plates, sprinkle torn basil on top, or drizzle over a little olive oil blended with pesto.
Savoury Sandwich Gateau: Buy the cheapest uncut loaf you can afford. Remove crusts and slice lengthways into four or five layers. Fill with assorted fillings: minced cooked (free) chicken bound with mayonnaise; flaked canned tuna bound with mayo: hardboiled eggs finely diced and bound with mayo: cream cheese and chives. Wrap the re-formed loaf tightly with foil and chill. To serve, spread with cream cheese softened with a little milk or cream and decorate top with chopped chives or what you will. Serve sliced, each slice could be further sliced into three if you wish.
Dips and Crudites: Serve at least three dips; curry**, raita type**, butter bean ** and/or hummus. These are extremely attractive garnished and surrounded by batons of carrots, strips of red, green and yellow peppers, sliced mushrooms, sugar snap peas, cauliflower florets, home-made bread sticks and bowls of oven-fried potato skins for dipping.
Chicken Liver Pate: Incredibly a tub of supermarket frozen chicken livers costs as little as 45p and once the pate is made it will freeze. Serve with thin slices of toast, or spread on the savoury biscuits.
Smoked Salmon Bites: packs of smoked salmon trimmings are relatively inexpensive, carefully pull the pieces apart and either wrap around cucumber sticks, or line an egg cup with cling film, then arrange pieces of the smoked fish around the sides. Fill with a teaspoon of cold scrambled egg seasoned with black pepper. Fold over ends of fish, press down and chill. To serve, upend onto a plate. ( Tip: packs of smoked salmon will freeze).
An alternative presentation is to peel ribbon strips from a cucumber which are loosely dropped onto a plate, then scatter salmon pieces between them. Anything grated or finely peeled looks a lot more than it really is.
Eggs Mayonnaise: always a favourite. Just halved hard-boiled eggs (one half per person) placed cut side down on a plate, then spoon over each egg a blend of half mayo half cream or yogurt followed by a sprinkle of paprika.

Hot Dishes:
Hot Jacket Potatoes: bake small ones, split and add a teaspoon or so of filling: chilli con carne or spag.bol meat sauce; (free) chicken and sweetcorn; scrambled egg and smoked salmon: (free) chicken and tuna in a mayo sauce. Prawns in a Marie Rose sauce (blend of tomato ketchup, mayo with a dash of Tabasco and black pepper to taste.
Lasagne: Use a small amount of bolognese meat sauce layered between sheets of pasta (home-made is cheapest and best) with a thick cheese sauce and a tomato sauce). This can be frozen, then thawed and bake with cheese sauce and grated cheese on top.
Vegetarian Curry: Use chunks of pumpkin or butternut squash, potatoes, cauliflower, courgettes, lots of onions, all fried off in a chosen curry sauce. Serve with cooked rice or cous-cous. Samosas as a side dish.
If there is money to spare, make giant tins of Sticky Toffee Pudding - so rich you only need to serve small portions. Serve hot and bubbling with a dollop of whipped cream poured over. For an even cheaper version serve home-made ice cream instead of whipped cream.

Most of the above ingredients are very cheap and usually kept in store or the freezer so you don't have to fork out all the money in one go. A few luxuries are included, smoked salmon and/or prawns, and cream. Anything like bread, butter or substitute, milk, eggs, can usually be bought at a low price from supermarkets. Look out for reduced prices on things like cream etc. Hope I've managed to prove that it needn't cost a lot to put good-looking food on the table.
Tip: The reason butter or chosen fat is spread on bread or biscuits is to give a protective layer between the topping or filling otherwise damp foods (tomatoes, cucumber etc) would make the end product very soggy. With pate for instance, you could probably do without.
An extra good tip: A pinch of salt added to melted chocolate really enhances the flavour. It also does a similar thing with fresh pineapple. A pinch of sugar sprinkled over tomatoes or any dish containing tomatoes counteracts the acid in them, and also sprinkled over lettuce improves the flavour. Black pepper ground over strawberries works magic too.