Holiday entertaining, in my extended family, often consists of Bing Crosby on the stereo, kaleidoscopic veggie platters with a ginormous centerpiece of some sort of pasty dip, and overcooked steak for dinner. To fortify myself for such things, and because I am a snob, I bring hostess gifts I love: Cato Corner’s Hooligan cheese; a bottle of Riesling; black-and-white cookies for my mom (which I loathe, but she loves). In doing so, I am invariably dubbed “the fancy foodie cousin.” I can live with that, since I have a knack for procuring pricey-tasting grub for relatively cheap.
Over the course of researching my InStyle article, I surveyed some other “fancy” folks—a few of America’s top tastemakers, if you will—to find out their best cheapskate holiday party tricks.
STEVEN MEIR, Sommelier, Bar Boulud, NYC
Crémant du Jura, $23, NV André et Mireille Tissot.
“Crémant is the generic term for a sparkling wine made outside of Champagne. It generally has less bars of pressure, creating a softer, rounder wine. This one has wonderfully refreshing notes of Golden Delicious apples, baking spices, white flowers, and toasted brioche. I love it as an aperitif, with seafood, or with spicy Thai food. Sparkling wines are also a wonderfully luxurious finish to a meal, reinvigorating the palate and balancing the sweetness of dessert.”
SYLVAN BRACKETT*, Chez Panisse creative director-turned-caterer, San Francisco
“Ask your fishmonger for steelhead salmon eggs, which are much less expensive than sturgeon caviar. Buy them in their skeins, run hot water over them to separate them, and cure in very salty water for about 10 minutes. They are translucent and jewel-like. Put them in a crystal bowl over ice and serve with a horn spoon as you would sturgeon eggs, on hot blini (small buckwheat pancakes) topped with crème fraîche.”
HARRY SLATKIN, candle-maker
“I go to flea markets and collect vintage cocktail napkins in sets of ten or twelve. I don’t usually go in for the corny holiday ones; I like browns and greens and embroidered ones. Usually when they’re antique they’re a little bit faded, so they all have a little bit of that holiday moment.”
SCOTT GOLD*, author
D’Artagnan mousse trufféeNew Orleans native Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, recommends this truffle-flecked chicken and turkey liver mousse. “Though not as decadent as the goose or duck liver in a foie gras pate, this is a wonderful substitute. The texture is beautifully silky, and at $7 for an eight-ounce serving, the price is certainly right. Serve with a side of fruit compote (I like peaches).”
EMILY FARRIS*, author, Casserole Crazy: Hot Stuff for Your Oven
“For holiday decorating, I go to the 99-cent store and get the cheap gold and silver balls and hang them at varying lengths from my ceiling with a clear thread or fishing wire. It’s festive without being too flashy or tacky, and it never costs more than $20.”
LAUREN SMITH AND DEREK FAGERSTROM
Co-owners of San Francisco’s Curiosity Shoppe, authors of Show Me How.
“For a cheap and easy cocktail, pick up a case of prosecco (the Italian sparkler that is typically much less expensive than Champagne) and a jar of Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup. Drop a bloom in the bottom of a champagne flute, add a teaspoon of syrup and fill with prosecco. Beautiful, delicious, and your guests will never forget it! We usually buy our prosecco by the case at Trader Joe’s, and it averages out to about $7 per bottle.”
LULU de Kwiatkowski, stylist
“Make an amazing punch. Get a big glass bowl, add bottle of vodka, 2 bottles of sparkling water, a bottle of white cranberry juice, and a ¼ bottle of red cranberry juice, and put 2 pomegranates’ worth of seeds all in the bottom (pre-packaged at many stores). Toss some mint on the top, and add a big ladle. It’s gorgeous, and has those holiday colors!”
* Full disclosure: I count Sylvan, Scott, and Emily among my friends, but their tips were too good to resist showcasing them.
I’m off to find some hibiscus flowers and prosecco now. Have a lovely weekend.