With a little creativity and a little planning, Catherine Lamb shows us how to make the most of a tight budget—without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: Throwing a dinner party doesn't have to bust your budget. Focus on dessert, ask friends to bring alcohol, and you won't have to spend more than $40.
Hosting dinner parties can be intimidating for many reasons, chiefly because you are expected to provide so much more than just dinner. Guests want ambiance, appetizers or hors d'oeuvres, drinks of some stripe, and a dessert to round things off. But what if we pared down the dinner party, cut out the middle man, and gave everyone what they really wanted in the first place—something sweet, seasonal, and topped with vanilla ice cream?
Yes, I'm telling you to throw a dessert party. Specifically, a crumble party. By streamlining your concept, you also streamline your budget; instead of spreading the wealth among three courses, you only have one. Crumbles, unlike their pie cousins, are exceedingly low-maintenance—nearly impossible to mess up. They can also be made in advance. On top of that, they are universally adored (and not difficult to make gluten-free or vegan).
More: Want to throw a crisp or a cobbler party instead? Be my guest.
So, a few weeks ago, I challenged myself to throw a crumble party for a few close friends with only $40. Here's how to did it:
1. The week before the party:
Send out the invite to your guests (I invited seven). I like to make sure to have a couple of old reliables, plus a couple of acquaintances I'd like to get to know better. Assign two people to bring vanilla ice cream and two others to bring a bottle of prosecco each. Boom! Drinks and accoutrements are covered.
2. Several days before the party:
Purchase your ingredients, especially if you'll be using stone fruit in your crumbles. This gives you a time buffer in case you can't find a single ripe peach in the entire store/market. (If you forget to plan ahead, just follow these tips to speed up the ripening process.)
The vast majority of your budget should go towards purchasing fruit. If I were a better, more-organized person, I would have gone to the farmers market to ask for "seconds"—the soft, extra-ripe produce that farmers often sell for a lower price. Since I am not that person, I hit up the discount section of my local produce market first. (They recognize me there; I'm the girl that always buys browning broccoli and wrinkled tomatoes.) I emerged down $5, up some bruised plums and a half-full pint of blackberries.
Next, I went to the grocery store and blew the rest of my budget on peaches (on sale, though!), raspberries, and blueberries. Into my basket also went four sticks of butter and some brown sugar, since I assumed (correctly) that everything else I needed for crumble could be foraged from my pantry. The grocery shopping was complete, and I had $.14 remaining. I'm saving them for a rainy day.
3. The day before the party:
Mix up your crumble toppings. I decided to make three crumbles, because everyone knows that three's a party, right? Each crumble started from this basic not-recipe recipe, and I riffed from there.
- Peaches with a pecan sandy situation (inspired by this recipe) made with brown sugar and toasted pecans
- Plums and blueberries with an almond-oat topping made with rolled oats and almond extract
- Mixed berries with a classic crumble that was decidedly minimalist, made with only butter, flour, and sugar
I stored each topping in an airtight container and put them away in the fridge.
More: If you're not entirely comfortable with the whole not recipe thing, just click here.
4. A few hours before your guests arrive:
Slice your fruit and toss with a few tablespoons of sugar (more if your produce is slightly underripe or tart). Tumble into their respective buttered dishes—don't worry too much about the size of the fruit or the pan—crumbles are exceedingly forgiving. Top each dish with its respective crumble mixture, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Go take a shower, since you are inevitably covered in fruit juice.
5. Right before your guests arrive:
Preheat your oven to 400° F, then pop in your crumbles. Let your friends in, accepting their compliments on how incredible your house smells. Pop some of the prosecco you asked them to bring, then serve it in jars or tea cups, because it's shabby chic. For some reason, Sam Cooke seems like an appropriate artist to listen to in this situation.
After about 30 minutes, check your crumbles. They're ready when their craggy lids are bronzed and fruit juices are bubbling up around the sides. Let the crumbles cool slightly before serving and set the ice cream on the counter to soften. Serve scoops of crumble with ice cream, making sure to provide plenty of napkins and paper towels—in fact, bibs are not a terrible idea. Be sure to send everyone home with an airtight container of leftovers, perfect for breakfast.
Do you ever host specialized dinner parties (or dessert parties)? We'd love to hear your tips!