Cheap and Easy Holiday Entertaining

Turn into Martha Stewart with a can opener and 20 bucks

What do you do if people want to hang out at your house this holiday season but you’ve blown what little cash you have on new booties? No need to panic. When people come over, they love to bring a bottle of something—in fact—they will insist. Let them. All you have to do then is provide the munchies. Here are the least expensive cocktail accoutrement I’ve ever invented or come across. All of the food below will cost you less than $20, and make you feel hostess-y, possibly downright festive.

Hummus: Open two cans of garbanzo beans (or chick peas). Drain, reserving some of the juice, and pour beans into a food processor. Add a few splashes of olive oil (about two tablespoons), the juice of half a lemon, some ground sea salt, some ground pepper, and a healthy heaping tablespoon of jarred garlic. Add tahini if you have it. Whirl. Add reserved juice if necessary. Voila. Garlic hummus for less than half the cost of store-made hummus.

White bean dip: Open two cans of cannellini beans, drain and rinse, and reserve juice. Spray a flat baking sheet with cooking oil, then spread the beans out in a single layer on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle granulated garlic, ground sea salt, and as much crushed red pepper as you like. Bake at 350 for about half an hour, tossing halfway through baking time. When the beans are toasted to a golden brown, place in food processor (and yep, you just need to rinse out the leftover hummus before you whip this one up) with about two tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, and about two tablespoons of the reserved drained juice. Whip it. Whip it good. This will cost you about $3, and yet Tria serves about one-eighth of the amount you’re going to have for $4.50.

Note: The dish seems similar to the hummus, but this white bean dip has a much looser consistency—more like mayonnaise to the hummus’s almost peanut butter-like texture—and it is far better served warm. The hummus should be served cold or room temp. If you have some jarred roasted red peppers, chop them up and add them to either one of these.

Olive and feta tapenade: Open one can of cheap basic black olives (often on sale for $1), drain by letting juice pour through your fingers (bear with me). Open one jar of traditional green olives with pimento (also often on sale for $1) and drain in the same manner. Dump both olives into a small bowl, allowing any olive juice remnants in each can to also go into bowl (that’s why we didn’t drain in a colander!). Using your hands (most fun) or a butter cutter (just fun to say) or whatever, rough chop the olives. Open a four-ounce package of feta cheese and crumble into bowl. Pour about one-quarter cup of olive oil into bowl, and sprinkle all with about one-half teaspoon of oregano and crushed black pepper to taste. Toss. This one is all about presentation: Pour all of this onto your prettiest plate that has some kind of lip or is fairly concave. The idea here is that the olives, feta and oil should cover the surface of a plate, making it an easy place to dip pieces of your $1 baguette, which you’ve cut into one-inch rounds.

Popcorn: Make popcorn in leftover bacon fat and sprinkle with parmesan cheese or chili powder. Go ahead; you know you want to.

Beet dip (trust me): Open two cans of beets, sliced or cubed. Drain, then put in food processor with one tablespoon of horseradish and a half teaspoon of coriander and half teaspoon of cumin. Pulse once or twice. We want the consistency to be rougher than the hummus and white bean dip, and beets have so much more water they need hardly any food-processing. I’m kinda jealous of this dip as it is both pretty and fat-free—a goal I have yet to achieve.

Which makes me think: If you’re going to save all of this money and calories, maybe you could go to Di Bruno Brothers and pick up some tarentaise cheese and Marcona almonds.

Even though the guests are bringing booze, now is the time to make a festive punch out of the NJ-fruit-based wine you accidentally bought while traipsing around tasting at the NJ Wine Festival last summer. Any flavor of fruit-blend wines works fine with a bottle of cranberry juice and a cup or two of vodka or dark rum. Extra Martha Stewart points if you have cranberries in your freezer that you can throw in just before serving. This also gives you the chance to use that punch bowl you got as a wedding gift or bought at someone else’s “we’re divorcing” yard sale.

Since we’re going retro with all of these canned items, I suggest you also keep a 99-cent graham pie crust and a 99-cent box of lemon-pudding pie filling in the cabinet, and a 99-cent container of Cool Whip in the freezer. If you have any warning at all that company is coming you can whip up an old-school lemon pie, pop it in the fridge for later, and not even have to don an apron.