Too Thrifty Chicks: Cookouts don’t break the bank with help from friends
by Markeshia Ricks
Special to The Star
Sep 01, 2013 | 1714 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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There’s little we love more than getting together with friends to eat, drink and make merry, and a summer cookout is the perfect opportunity to do all three. But when putting together a casual gathering with good eats and drinks, what do you do when one friend is allergic to strawberries, another doesn’t eat mushrooms, some are strict vegetarians, some are eating “clean” and the rest are flexitarians like us — and still stay under budget?

We are blessed to have friends who appreciate our frugal ways, so they had no qualms helping us keep this thrifty gathering cost-effective by kicking in $10 apiece. Especially when it meant they didn’t have to cook a dish. Asking friends to chip in might be considered a faux pas in some circles, but if you’re sweating how to afford feeding everyone on your guest list, it’s something to consider. Most friends don’t come empty-handed. They want to contribute something, so you might as well ask for something you need.

When it comes to determining the menu, K.I.S.S. is the name of the game. Keep It Simple Stupid. The majority our guests love seafood and fresh vegetables. One friend doesn’t eat any meat or fish, and we were afraid she might starve to death. But she requested macaroni and cheese as her main dish, much to all of our delight, because that meant we got to eat it too.

Our friend Kim makes the most amazing sangria, so we asked her to bring that instead of contributing money. We blended up our own summer fruit drinks including an adult beverage and … let’s just say a good time was had by all. The best part? Our thrifty cookout cost about $80, $30 of which came out of our pockets. The cost of amazing memories with friends? Priceless.

This menu was a serious hit with our friends. Check it out and maybe you’ll be inspired to break out your grill one more time for a fun and economical gathering.

Wild-caught salmon skewers, seasoned or tandoori style

Cut previously frozen salmon fillets into bite-sized pieces and stack three to four on regular-sized skewers. Let salmon marinate 30 minutes to an hour in seasoning of choice. We seasoned one batch of salmon skewers with salt, pepper and a lemon herb blend. For the rest, we mixed half a packet of tandoori seasoning that you can probably find on the international aisle of your local supermarket with a small container of Greek yogurt. Cook on the grill until fish is firm and flaky.

Wild-caught shrimp skewers, in barbecue or homemade pesto

Use previously frozen shrimp of a good size to get about three to a skewer. Coat shrimp let marinate for 30 minutes to an hour in sauce of choice. We made our homemade pesto using basil, walnuts, grated parmesan cheese and olive oil. For the barbecue shrimp, we used a zesty store-bought barbecue sauce from Trader Joe’s and added some teriyaki stir-fry sauce. Grill until shrimp are firm and pink.

Baked sweet potatoes

Slice potatoes in thin rounds and fold in packets of foil. Add some cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar and roast in the oven until tender. The steam inside the packet will cook the potatoes.

Fresh creole corn

Take fresh, sweet ears of corn and cut in half. Put a pat of butter for each half ear in a packet of foil with as much corn as you can hold without spilling. Add a creole seasoning such as Tony’s or Zatarain’s and a generous amount of garlic powder. Wrap in foil and roast in the oven until tender.

Farm fresh squash and zucchini

Toss with olive oil, grill in a grill pan on the stove, outside if you have the space (we didn’t), or roast in the oven.

Reese’s baked mac ‘n’ cheese

You’ll need pasta and at least two kinds of shredded cheese, any kind you like as long as it’s not pre-shredded. We used Monterey, pepper jack and Gouda. You’ll need ¼ cup of milk, butter and seasonings such as garlic, onion powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.

Cook pasta until al dente, then stir in about half the cheese and butter. Add enough milk to make it creamy but not watery. When the cheese has melted, transfer to a baking dish. Add the leftover half of cheese and stir until it is well mixed. Top with another ¼ cup of shredded cheese and breadcrumbs if you’d like. Bake until brown.
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