Take steps to make parties less expensive

Stylish holiday entertaining doesn't have to put the new year's budget in the red.

With a few savvy strategies for shopping, cooking and presentation, hosts can serve memorable meals that don't consume a lot of cash, says local culinary-arts instructor Amy Spence.

"You can make it look pretty and inviting and beautiful with very little money," she says.

The teacher at Cascade Christian High School will offer her first class to the public next week at Oregon Health Management Services in Grants Pass. The class is set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17, at OHMS' Community Health Education Center, 128 S.W. I St., Grants Pass. Call 541-471-4208 to register; for more information, see www.ohmslive.com

Like all OHMS classes, "Cooking for Company on a Budget" is free, but donations are appreciated. Students will help prepare a full dinner for six to eight guests from appetizer through dessert, says Spence.

"I just thought this was perfect for around the holidays."

Trimming grocery costs starts with nixing the big cut of meat for one that can be portioned into small pieces and interspersed with more economical ingredients. While shrimp "seems fancy," says Spence, it's often available for $5 per pound, a quantity that feeds eight people when mixed with the pasta.

"You can get the smaller shrimp," she says. "You don't have to get the big prawns."

For a meatless appetizer, use mushrooms, which still supply savory flavor. Instead of serving sauteed mushrooms on expensive, packaged crostini, Spence crisps triangles of crustless white bread in the oven. The same bread can be used to make croutons for salad and is even more cost-effective — and suited to the recipe — when purchased from grocers' day-old racks. Homemade vinaigrettes, rather than bottled, and from-scratch desserts, rather than boxed mixes, save more money, she adds.

Always cheaper is in-season, fresh produce, says Spence, who also preserves berries that she picks in the summer. She says she recently topped individual cheesecakes with homemade raspberry jam. Chances are that even cooks who don't spend summers canning already have specialty products in their pantries — relishes, chutneys, syrups and spreads — that can be pressed into service for entertaining, she adds.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.


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