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These simple and delicious ideas take the pressure off your next celebration

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With grocery prices skyrocketing, spiced nuts and a loaded cheese board may be off the table this year, but hosting a party of any size shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive. Here are some simple and delicious food and decorating ideas that will take the time and financial pressure off your next celebration.

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Host breakfast or brunch

Food and alcohol costs tend to be lower than for a dinner menu – pancakes vs prime rib, coffee and mimosas vs wine, beer and spirits. Bonus: Peoples’ schedules are often more flexible midday, and it’s a great arrangement for families with young kids who might otherwise melt down in the early evening. (Come for brunch, then go home for a nap!)

Brunch recipe

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Tanya Pilgrim/The Globe and Mail

Sweet or savoury Dutch baby

There are few things easier to whisk together than a Dutch baby, and the dramatically puffed pancakes always look impressive coming out of the oven.

Make it sweet, with berries, syrup and whipped cream, or savoury – grate over some cheese as soon as it comes out of the oven, and scatter with fresh herbs at the table. If you’re using an 8-inch skillet, the listed quantities are best; for a 9-10 inch skillet, increase to 3 eggs, 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup milk. The baking time will remain the same.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup milk (dairy, oat, nut or pea-based)
  • pinch salt
  • grated extra-old cheddar, gouda or parmesan, dairy or plant-based, for finishing
  • chopped fresh parsley or thyme, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Heat the butter in a medium cast iron skillet. While it’s heating, whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and salt; don’t worry about getting all the lumps out.

Pour the batter into the hot pan and immediately slide it into the oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the pancake is puffed and deep golden. Generously grate cheese overtop as soon as it comes out of the oven, and sprinkle with herbs. (Alternatively, pile some berries, compote or sautéed fruit onto the pancake, and serve with syrup and/or whipped cream.)

Serves 4.

Pack a punch

Rather than set up a full bar, mix up a punch that can be a mocktail or a cocktail, just serve alongside a bottle of vodka or gin for anyone who wants to imbibe. There’s an old Barbadian rhyme about the ratio for a good punch: one of sour, two of sweet (any combination of citrus, cranberry and pineapple juice fits the bill for sour and sweet), three of strong (booze, if you like), four of weak (something bubbly, like soda water or ginger ale).

Punch is a great use of any pulpy mandarins, apples or other fruit – toss them in the freezer to slice into your pitcher or punch bowl, along with a handful of cranberries or a sprig of rosemary.

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Consider after dinner nibbles and sips

Host a party later in the evening, rather than over dinnertime, and offer bar snacks. Nuts are pricey, but peanuts, popcorn and pretzels are more affordable. Toss freshly popped corn with melted butter or oil and any spice blend you like – a curry blend, berbere, Tajin, or some chili and garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper.

Do the same with peanuts – warm them first to bring oil to the surface and help spices stick. Warm pitted dates in a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of chili flakes, a sprig of rosemary and a strip of orange zest, and finish with flaky salt. Fry saltine crackers in vegetable oil until deep golden.

Bar snack recipe

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Spiced pretzels

  • Dress up thick or thin store-bought pretzels with this quick seasoning for a tasty, inexpensive nibble. This quantity is easily doubled or tripled to feed a larger crowd.
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or oil
  • 1 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoons powdered or granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary (optional)
  • a few drops of hot sauce (optional)
  • 3 cups (approximately) pretzels (any shape)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter or oil, brown sugar, balsamic or Worcestershire, garlic, rosemary and hot sauce. Add the pretzels and toss to coat. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until deeper golden and a bit glossy-looking.

Serves about 6.

Shamelessly accept help

When people ask what they can bring, tell them – with no reservations. Choose a broad theme (cheese! Something crunchy/sweet/salty! A salad!) or let them pick. Collaboration makes a party easier and more affordable, and guarantees you’ll have more than enough food.

Deck the table with local finds

Pick up inexpensive plates, glassware and jars at thrift shops and store them (your own private party rental stash) then pull out when you have more people to feed.

Celebrate with a sweet tooth

Host a dessert party – everyone loves a spread of cakes, cookies and fruit desserts, and people’s capacities for sweets tend to be limited, so you won’t need as much.

Dessert recipe

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Tanya Pilgrim/The Globe and Mail

Bananas foster Eton mess

An Eton mess is a simple, wonderful thing – a pile of bashed meringues, whipped cream and fruit. It’s a perfect marriage with bananas Foster – bananas sautéed with butter and brown sugar, with warm winter spices and perhaps a hit of rum.


  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, golden syrup or honey
  • Some warm spices: a cinnamon stick or shake of cinnamon, a bit of grated nutmeg, a star anise
  • 3-4 bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • A shot or two of rum or a squeeze of lemon juice (a tablespoon or so)
  • 1-2 cups sweetened whipped cream
  • 1/4 toasted chopped pecans, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 250 F. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. In a large, clean glass or stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy – the mixer should start to leave a trail through them. Gradually add the sugar mixture as you continue to beat until you have stiff, glossy peaks. Beat in the vanilla.

Drop in big spoonfuls on a parchment or foil-lined sheet and bake for an hour, until barely golden, cracked and dry. Set aside until you’re ready for them.

To make the bananas, heat the butter, brown sugar and syrup in a large skillet set over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth and emulsified. Add a sprinkle of grated cinnamon and/or nutmeg, or add a cinnamon stick or whole star anise.

Add the bananas to the pan and cook, flipping the bananas as they turn golden on each side, until they’re just tender, about 5 minutes. If you like, whisk in a shot or two of rum, or a squeeze of lemon juice.

To assemble the Eton mess, break up the meringues (you may not need all of them) onto a platter or into a shallow serving bowl; remove any whole spices and spoon the bananas and caramel sauce over the meringues, and top with big dollops of whipped cream. Sprinkle with pecans.

Serve immediately, or wait for half an hour or so if you want the meringues to soften.

Serves 6-8.

Spruce it up without shopping

Decorate with items you have around your house and yard – ornaments and other baubles, sprigs of greenery from your trees, candles or string lights tucked into glasses and jars. Enlist kids to cut out paper snowflakes.

Share the joy of leftovers

Host your party during the last weeks of December, and ask everyone to bring something they already have in the house – leftovers, surplus chocolate, that fruitcake they were gifted they have no intention of eating …

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