10 Frugal-but-Classy Appetizers
Appetizers are one of those things that are so essential for successful entertaining, but can often eat up a big chunk of your entertaining budget. There are few things that make a party as fun as sipping wine and nibbling on a choice morsel while you wander about the room catching up with friends. Great appetizers can also set the tone for a comfortable, delicious dinner by taking the edge off guests’ hunger and giving them a chance to warm up conversationally.
It’s easy to spend a lot on appetizers. Good quality seafood, such as smoked salmon, shrimp, or oysters, will run you a pretty penny. The same thing goes for popular charcuterie such as prosciutto, speck, and paté. With just a modicum of prep work, however, you can make several delicious appetizers without spending a lot of money. Add a bowl of olives and a bunch of grapes, along with some inexpensive wine, and turn on the music; and you’ve got yourself a party. (See also: Quick, Easy, and Festive Cream Cheese Appetizers)
1. Stuffed Mushrooms
Grab a couple packages of large button or crimini mushrooms at your local supermarket. Clean them and remove the stems, and stuff the caps with herbed goat cheese or Boursin (an herbed soft French cheese). A little bit of cheese goes a long way. Top with breadcrumbs if desired, and pop into a 350⁰F oven for 20 minutes. Serve warm.
2. Fancy Cheese and Crackers
You might want to go a little fancier than Cracker Barrel Cheddar with your cheese and crackers, but great inexpensive cheeses can be found at stores like Trader Joe’s or Costco. Try Gouda, Manchego, or an inexpensive Brie (huge wheels can be found at Costco for next to nothing). Place slices of cheese on multigrain crackers or inexpensive water crackers. Top with a thin slice of Granny Smith apple, some chopped walnuts, and a drizzle of honey.
3. Dumplings and Potstickers
Nowadays you can find really good quality Asian dumplings and potstickers at your local supermarket, and they are one of my go-to easy appetizers. I keep a bag stashed in the freezer at all times for an impromptu snack or appetizer for unexpected guests. They are cheap, you can cook them right from frozen, and they take hardly any oversight.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the frozen potstickers, making sure that each one has contact with the skillet surface. Add ¼ cup of water, cover, and let the potstickers steam-fry for 6-8 minutes. Uncover skillet, let the rest of the water evaporate, and fry for a minute or two longer to brown the dumplings. Serve hot (keep hot in a low oven) on toothpicks with a simple dipping sauce of rice vinegar and minced ginger.
4. Caprese Salad Skewers
On bamboo skewers, stick cubed mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil. Done! If fresh basil is expensive in your area, substitute with a bit of jarred pesto.
5. Mango Salsa
Mangoes can be expensive if they’re not in season, but you just need one for this delicious salsa which can be made several hours in advance. Dice up one large ripe mango, 4 medium tomatoes, ½ large red onion and mix together. Add minced cilantro, lime juice, and salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.
6. Rosemary Breadsticks
Grab a package of refrigerated pizza dough at the supermarket (they usually run $1-3). Roll out the dough and cut into strips. Twist each strip to make a stick and place on a greased baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, chopped rosemary, and shredded Parmesan (optional). Bake at 425⁰F for six minutes or until golden. Cool and serve standing up straight in a glass.
7. Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Simple bacon is a cheaper alternative to more expensive cured meats. Dried dates, while not dirt cheap, are definitely affordable. This simple appetizer is super easy but so delicious with its combination of salty and sweet. Cut bacon slices in half crosswise and wrap each half around a large pitted Medjool date. Place seam side down on a baking sheet and bake at 450⁰F for 10-15 minutes until bacon is cooked and crisp. Serve warm on toothpicks.
8. Hummus or Edamame Dip
Everyone loves to gather around a bowl of dip. Hummus is both cheap and delicious, and you can dress it up any way you like. In a food processor, purée two cans of garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained), 2 cloves of garlic, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil or tahini, a pinch of salt, and just enough water to help the processor to blend all the ingredients. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika, and serve with pita chips. For an Asian twist, substitute edamame (green soybeans) for the garbanzo beans — buy inexpensive frozen shelled edamame and blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute to thaw. Finish with a sprinkle of wasabi powder and serve with rice crisps.
9. Simple Crostini
Grab a baguette, slice it into thin rounds, and toast or grill the rounds. Top with a variety of toppings such as simple tomatoes and basil, mashed avocado and sea salt, sweet tri-color peppers, or browned buttery mushrooms. Drizzle everything with flavorful olive oil and serve.
10. Sliced Sausages
Pick up a selection of good quality bratwurst at the deli and grill them. Using a sharp knife, cut them diagonally into rounds. Arrange them on a platter and serve with an assortment of mustards and sauces. For example, try a whole grain mustard, a Dijon mustard, and a “curry” ketchup (available at German markets or Cost Plus). Since each guest will only be sampling a few slices, you can keep your costs down.
Do you have a go-to appetizer that is both frugal and elegant?