Blogging The New York Times: How to Throw a Cheap(er) Holiday Dinner Party

We don't usually find much cooking inspiration in the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times, but yesterday the cover story had a dinner party for eight that ran $30 a person—booze and winter wonderland-themed decorations included. The main course: baked potatoes. That's one way to cut costs...

The writer, Alex Williams, got event planner David Monn to help him create a swanky party on the cheap. We love this genre of reporting—throw big-time pro (who's used to big-time budgets) a curve ball and watch him or her shop at the 99-cent store. Always enlightening.

Monn cut paper snowflakes out of computer paper, put birch bark in the fireplace, and rolled white batting down the dining table. His reasoning made sense: "Winter is white, and white is cheap." He bought Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's (which, according to Williams, is now Three Buck Chuck) and made an impressive-sounding chestnut soup.

But for the main course, Monn suggested twice-baked potatoes. We happen to love twice-baked potatoes, where the flesh of a baked potato is scooped out, mixed with butter and cheese, and stuffed back in for another run in the oven. These apparently had mushrooms and other toppings to make them more substantial, although the details on the potatoes were a little thin. We wish there was a recipe. And we were thoroughly unimpressed with the dessert, a store-bought angel food cake with canned icing and flaked coconut. Ew! It would not have been hard to do something from scratch that cost less.

The point we took away is that people love comfort food, even if the party is meant to be upscale, and recession-friendly gatherings can still be festive and fun.

Related: Jacques Pépin Cooks Dinner for Six with $24

(Images: Rob Bennett for The New York Times)