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Frugal but fabulous ‘tops optional’ party

It’s not what you think it is, so get your mind out of the gutter. It’s a big party for a small price. Here’s how you sneak a potluck past your friends, extended family or co-workers without resorting to the “bring a covered dish” same old, same old. It’s a great gathering idea where the host provides the base for always popular dishes and asks guests to contribute favorite toppings for fun, creative, communal cooking.

Guests love to contribute their special favorites to a party. It gives them strutting rights. As an added plus, it accommodates everyone’s tastes and special needs because each guest can prepare their own plate. Those who don’t cook can bring the wine. Easy peasy!

Top that Tater Gala

Host provides – large, oven-baked potatoes with crispy skins and fluffy centers, butter and sour cream.

Guests can bring – bacon, shredded cheeses, cooked broccoli or other veggies, bacon, chives, chili, bacon, sausage, chopped ham, bacon, caramelized onion, sautéed mushrooms and garlic, gravy, and more bacon.

Set up a baked potato bar with colorful bowls, potatoes (kept toasty warm in a crock pot), large spoons to retrieve and split the potatoes, butter and sour cream, and then all the toppings. Finish with silverware and lots of napkins. Mr. Potato Head can serve as fun, interactive tabletop décor.

My Pizza is Better than Your Pizza Party

Host provides – traditional and whole wheat dough for thick or thin pizzas, mozzarella cheese, pizza pans and the oven set at 400°F.

Guests can bring – pizza sauces (red and white), pepperoni, lots of chopped veggies like peppers, onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, various cooked meats and a variety of cheeses. Encourage originality but don’t forget the Canadian bacon and pineapple!

Invite guests to add their favorite toppings to individual pizzas and share fresh from the oven slices for all to enjoy! Listen to Italian opera or gather to watch the classic movie “Moonstruck” on the big screen TV. Serve Chianti and Italian Sodas. Finish the evening with dessert pizzas:

Bake small crusts until crisp, when cool schmear ‘em with Nutella and top with sliced bananas.

Nacho Momma’s Nachos

Host provides – assorted tortilla chips, shredded cheddar cheese, seasoned ground beef, baking trays, aluminum foil and the oven on broil.

Guests can bring – salsas, peppers, chopped veggies, beans, sour cream, chili, various cooked meats and their favorite types of cheese.

Prepare small batches of nachos using varying combinations of ingredients. Foil lining on the trays makes reusing the trays and clean-up a snap. Serve chilled margaritas, beer and watermelon agua fresca (recipe below). Watch the comedy “Nacho Libre” and have ice cream drizzled with delightful Dulce de Leche for dessert.

Watermelon Agua Fresco recipe: In a blender, add 4 cups water and 2 cups watermelon with seeds removed (or another similar fruit), and sugar to taste. Blend on high for 30 seconds, sieved and served over ice.

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