Entertaining guru Ted Allen hosts both Chopped and Food Detectives on The Food Network. He also serves as the spokesperson for Robert Mondavi Private Selection wines. We asked the go-to party guy to share a few tips for pulling off a recession-era soirée that’s more chic than chintzy:
Mix up pitchers of frugal yet festive Sangria: This crowd-pleasing Spanish sipper packs enough of a punch that guests won’t miss a costly full bar. And rather than meekly apologizing for the lack of liquid options, Allen suggests boldly declaring “Sangria night” as a theme and just running with it. He prefers starting with a full-bodied red like Zinfandel or Cabernet, and then adding Cointreau or Triple Sec, Brandy and slices of fresh fruit. For a lighter version, pour Pinot Grigio or oaky Chardonnay.
Savor wallet-friendly flavor: Allen loves the flavor (and versatility) of dried beans. For a quick and easy casual dinner, place unsoaked black beans in a pressure cooker for fifteen minutes, and then mix them with rice, cilantro and chopped tomatoes. If you would rather serve a meaty main course, choose hangar steak or flank steak. These chef-preferred cuts are a delicious steal—just remember to marinate them for a day or two to make them super tender. As Allen points out, not even the toniest of affairs requires lobster or filet—the best wedding he ever attended was a pig roast. It’s about the taste, not the price tag.
Embrace the casserole dish: There’s no shame in potluck, Allen says. Especially for holiday gatherings, it gives guests an opportunity to sample other families’ classics traditions. Dividing the cooking duties also means sharing the grocery expenses—a win-win situation.
Think outside the vase: Since food itself can be visually striking, use bowls filled with lemons or apples instead of pricey floral bouquets. If you do opt for stems, use a simple arrangement of one color of flowers, thoughtfully cut so everyone can see over them. Even better, create groupings of natural elements that reflect the current season—sticks you pick in late fall or winter, wildflowers in the early days of summer.