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Stir up those bargain dishes for potlucks

| Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's the outdoor potluck time of year again. Every week, our neighborhood has a cookout at the swimming pool. Every family brings their own beverages and meat to grill, and a potluck dish to share. This year, I'm trying to be creative by coming up with tasty dishes my neighbors like that won't tax my weekly grocery budget. Of course, I buy many of the ingredients on sale with coupons so my actual cost would be lower than the shopper who does not use coupons.

Here are some bargain potluck dishes that I like because they're quick to prepare, use common coupon and sale items and cost only between $1 and $3 to make.

Bean dip : This one is always a winner and takes less than five minutes to prepare. The most basic version would be to mix one can of refried beans with some salsa, spread it on a dish, cover it with another layer of salsa and sprinkle shredded cheese on top. This simple version would cost about $1.50, without using coupons. You could add a layer of sour cream or guacamole for about a dollar more. Buy sale-priced tortilla chips for $2 or less or bring carrot sticks for $1. Total cost: $2.50 to $5, depending on how elaborate you make the dip.

Pasta salad : The new whole-grain pastas make this inexpensive dish look more elegant than its price tag. Go to a site like www.allrecipes.com to search for a pasta salad variety you like and modify the ingredients to suit your budget. The simplest salad we like is a box of rotini pasta (free with a coupon) mixed with a vinaigrette salad dressing, frozen peas and shredded carrots. That simple version would cost less than $1, so you can add shredded cheese, Parmesan cheese, chopped cherry tomatoes, mushrooms or any other ingredients you have on hand that make the salad more appealing.

Coleslaw : Buy a bag of shredded coleslaw and add your own mayonnaise, vinegar, oil or whatever ingredients you wish at a cost of about $1.50.

Baked beans : If you took advantage of recent sales and coupons, you might have a supply of free baked beans on hand. You can doctor them up with extra ingredients like brown sugar, barbecue sauce, and ketchup and/or mustard, and bake them to bring a tasty side dish that costs less than 50 cents to make. If you didn't stock up on free baked beans, this dish would cost less than $2 with sale-priced cans of pork and beans. Check recipe sites to find a version that suits you.

Chips and dip : Although this might seem ordinary, if you buy the chips and dip on sale, you'll spend about $1.50 for the chips and $1 or so for the dip for a total cost of $2.50. I guarantee they'll be eaten.

Cookies: They're always a winner with crowds, and they don't have to be time-consuming or expensive to make. Homemade cookies can get expensive to make if you use chocolate chips, nuts and other extra ingredients. However, you can make a great batch of chocolate cookies quickly that everyone loves by using a chocolate cake mix. You can usually buy a name-brand cake mix for less than $1 on sale, or even less with coupons. I use a box of Duncan Hines cake mix from my pantry that costs me 25 cents and mix it with 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 2 eggs (although some recipes call for a half-cup of oil). I bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookies are puffed up and have cracked tops. These cookies are best if you underbake them, let them cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, and then cool them completely on a rack. They'll be chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside, and will last about 10 minutes at the cookout, at a cost of about $1.

If you have any favorite potluck dishes that fit my budget, I'd love to hear about them.

Write Supermarket Shopper in care of Living, D.L. Clark Building, 503 Martindale St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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