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(Daria Kiseleva / The McGill Tribune)

Having a night in: Hosting dinner parties on a budget

Student Living by

As the semester goes on, it becomes harder and harder to find time for socializing with friends, meaning you need to put a little more effort into getting together. When keeping up friendships, nothing says “I care about you” like a homemade meal. But as much fun as a dinner party is, serving up a quality meal is often unrealistic on a student budget. In order to help students with their dinner party plans, The McGill Tribune has created a student budget-friendly menu for hosting the perfect night in.

Setting up your space

In small student apartments, there’s rarely room for a grand dining table, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting your friends together for a meal. In fact, you may find that eating in an intimate non-traditional setting might even bring you closer together. Throw down a spare sheet or a blanket and use some couch cushions as floor pillows. For decoration, consider placing tealight candles in clean glasses and putting them in the middle of the blanket for some cozy mood lighting. If you’ve set up your space and realize you don’t have quite enough cutlery and tableware for everyone, there’s no shame in asking people to bring their own. This way, you don’t end up with someone eating soup with chopsticks, and you cut back on the number of dishes you have to wash later.

Start with drinks

What’s a dinner party without a fun cocktail? If you want to be fancy, there are ways to do this on a budget. The SAQ’s “petits prix” (low prices) section is the best place to grab a cheap and fruity bottle of red wine to use for some homemade sangria. Depending which sangria recipe you decide on, the only additional ingredients you’ll need are citrus fruits, berries, and juice, which you may already have in your fridge.

Easy traditional red sangria

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cored apple, chopped
  • 1/2 orange, rind on, sliced into small pieces, large seeds removed
  • 3-4 tablespoons organic brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup orange juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/3 cup brandy, plus more to taste
  • 1 (750ml) bottle of red wine
  • 1 cup ice

Instructions:

  1. Add apple, orange, and brown sugar to a large pitcher
  2. Stir with a wooden spoon for 45 seconds
  3. Add orange juice and brandy and stir for 30 more seconds
  4. Add red wine and stir until well mixed
  5. Taste and adjust flavour with juice or brandy, as needed
  6. Add ice to chill and stir once
  7. Serve as is, or garnish with additional orange

(Adapted from minimalistbaker.com)

Serve up dinner

Often, the most expensive part of any meal is the meat—so consider skipping this element altogether! There are tons of easy vegetarian recipes such as stir-frys and chilis that will not only taste delicious, but greatly reduce the cost of groceries for your dinner party. In addition, if you have leftovers, these dishes are easily freezable and can be used for a meal later in the week. To save money, plan ahead and make a list of ingredients in order to avoid buying unnecessary items. If you’re unsure of what to make, buy ingredients that could work for multiple dishes.

Easy vegetarian chili recipe

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1-3 tablespoons chili powder (more will be spicier)
  • 2 tablespoons of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4-2 teaspoons of chili flakes
  • 2 peppers, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 (28 oz) cans of whole tomatoes and their juice
  • 2 can of kidney or white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups of frozen corn
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, cheddar cheese, cilantro, diced avocados, or green onion.

Instructions:

  1. With your hands, crush the canned tomatoes until they are smooth
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat
  3. Add onion and sauté for about three minutes
  4. Add garlic and sauté for around one minute
  5. Add spices and stir for about 30 seconds
  6. Add peppers, carrots, and celery and cook for about five minutes, or until they just start to soften
  7. Add tomatoes and their juice to the pan
  8. Bring all the ingredients to a simmer
  9. Once the chili begins to simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low
  10. Continue to stir occasionally for about 20 minutes
  11. Add beans and corn then cook until the chili returns to a simmer
  12. Salt to taste
  13. Serve on its own or topped with additional toppings

(Adapted from theendlessmeal.com)

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