Tips for frugal foodies

WASHINGTON — I love throwing dinner parties, but they can get expensive. However, it is possible to put out a fantastic spread without compromising your budget. Christina Davidson, convinced me of that. She and a small group of friends in D.C. have dubbed themselves "frugalicious foodies" because they manage to throw dinner parties on a shoestring budget. Her parties have become so popular that she started a blog called, a how-to-guide on inexpensive dinners.

Here's their secret, which they have agreed to share with everyone: They don't have recipes. They have principles. Here are a few of them:

Burn Your Cookbooks: Don't look at a recipe and create a shopping list of items you won't use again. There's probably a lot you can do with what you already have in your fridge. Or with what you can get on sale at your local grocery store. "Mario Batali doesn't know what's on sale at your grocery store this week," Christina said.

Stock Your Kitchen: Keep your basic cooking supplies around: Olive oil, vegetable oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, honey, flour, brown sugar, corn starch, baking soda and powder, and yeast. Also have eggs, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, garlic, olives, dried fruit, nuts, beans, pasta and rice. You can get a lot of these supplies for much less at ethnic grocery stores. A tiny bottle of curry powder that is $4 at the supermarket is $6.99 a pound at the Indian grocery store. Pick up some pine nuts and chili paste at the Korean market, some chorizo at the Mexican bodega, and some goat from the Pakistani halal butcher.

Stop Wasting Good Food: Christina threw a party on Election night 2008. One of the desserts she served was banana bread, which she made with overly ripe bananas she had lying around her kitchen. "Never waste bananas," Christina told me. Remember, she said, you can freeze food. "Peel, chop, grate, or dice into a convenient form, stick in a bag and toss in the freezer," Christina wrote on her blog. "Then you'll have frozen fruit anytime you want a smoothie, sliced peaches for cobbler, apples for pie. When you want to make zucchini fritters later, you'll have grated zucchini ready to go."

Grow and Make Your Own: Save the bones and make your own chicken or beef stock, which generally costs $3 for 32 ounces. Christina said she makes a 10-quart pot of stock for less than $3 in ingredients. Even though she lives in a small apartment in D.C., she grows her own herbs outside her windowsill. She also makes her own salad dressings, marinades, hummus and a variety of sauces. "You just have to use a little creativity and imagination," she said.

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