We don't host any big holiday gatherings at our house .... but I go to MANY family gatherings between now and Christmas. I'm the type of person that really enjoys cooking and so I love the opportunity to offer and bring something to each gathering. Usually when I offer I'm asked to bring some type of snack food. I'll admit, I usually spend much more than I should and by the time the holidays are over, I hate to think about how much I spent just on dishes.... so this year I've challenged myself to bring more frugal appetizers and snacks for our gatherings.
Here are my ideas:
Dip and Crackers --> Yes, many dips out there can be expensive to make (i.e. I'm thinking of my usual shrimp dip LOL) but there are several cheap ones too (such as spinach dip). Not to mention that dips are very easy to make ahead and bring and it's always a crowd pleaser. To dress it up, you can cut out the middle of a big french bread loaf and put the dip in there. It's a nice presentaion with only spending $1 on the bread and you don't have to worry about buying a throw-away dish or having to remember to ake your own home.
Tortilla Rolls --> These are easy, make a great presentation and you have endless possibilities of what to put in them. You spread your ingredients on the tortilla (be careful not to put really wet stuff on there so that the tortilla doesn't get nasty), roll up in a log and slice so that you have pretty spirals. My favorite is ham rolls (flour tortilla, sour cream w/ chives from garden, slices of ham). You can also do some great Mexican-based-ingredient ones or pizza ones (just cut back on the amount of pepperoni; chop it up really fine and just sprinkle a little pepperoni here and there for flavor). Just like anything, you can make this an expensive dish... but I think that the concept is the impressive part and you save money by choosing filler ingredients that you can find on sale, have easy access too, etc.
Chocolate Covered Pretzels --> Look for pretzels at cheaper stores (like the dollar store) or if you are making for a large crowd then opt for a bulk store like Sams. The chocolate can be found on sale around the holidays but an even BETTER idea is to buy up the chocolate after the holidays (like after Halloween) and then just freeze it to be used around Christmas. You can dress these up with cheap sprinkles or whatever else you have around the house. Another cool idea (again, thinking presentation) is to crush up those cheap red/white candy canes and sprinkle on top.
Cookies --> If you get your baking supplies in bulk and/or if you buy them on sale around the holiday time, then making cookies is super cheap. Sugar cooks are especially cheap and you have endless possiblities on decorating them.
Deviled Eggs --> These are a cheap side. Again, you can dress them up easily too. Put the egg filling in a zip lock bag w/ a pastry tip to squirt it in all fancy. LOL. You can sprinkle paprika on top, along with a dash of parsley flakes, to give it some color.
Chex Party Mix --> Ok. This may not, at first, seem like a frugal one but it can be! Around the holdiays they really put the chex mix cereal and other common party mix ingredients on sale. If you use coupons then you can usually get all the ingredients for a reasonable price. The most expensive part, I find, is the nuts. Obviously you could make it without nuts or you could at least decrease the amount. If you use nuts, then stick with the less expensive ones. One good thing about this snack is that it makes a ton! So, you can make ahead of time, store in an air-tight container and use for all of your parties. I make my "Cajun Scrabble" (that's what I call it) by mixing together my mix and coating it lightly with a mixture made of worcheshire sauce, butter, garlic powder and cajun seasoning (gives it some kick). Bake in the oven on 150 or something low like that until all pieces dry. Be sure to stir on the pan every 15 minutes or so because you don't want it to burn.
Mini Calzones --> If you are a baker and can make dough for calzones, how about making mini ones? You can fill them with whatever you have on hand or whatever cheap ingredients you can find. Again, this would leave tons of room for creativity both in presentaiton and ingredients, making it a very frugal option.
What are your frugal holiday appetizers/snacks for gatherings? And when I ask this, I'm looking for things you cook/make/create. Buying a bag of chips doesn't count! LOL.
Have a blessed day,