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Going out on New Year's Eve can cost a fortune. From drinks to dinner to dancing, you'll spend more in one night than you have all month. Want to celebrate the new year without straining your budget? This year, why not stay in, save money, and make it a fun, memorable night with a friendly New Year's Eve cook-off with friends?

Just like in television cooking show competitions, gather a basket of ingredients and have teams create a meal for a New Year's dinner at home. Judge the culinary creations, but in this case, everybody wins during this great night in with friends. Here are some tips to plan your cook-off countdown.

Buying Food for the Baskets

Before the big cook-off, you'll need ingredients to divvy up for each team. Unless you have a huge kitchen, keep it to two or three teams in total. Preferably have no more than three members per team. Think about what your friends enjoy eating; don't get too adventurous. Think about a balanced basket of veggies, protein, grains, etc. For instance, a well-rounded basket could include an eggplant, a spring salad mix, salmon steaks, and wild rice. Perhaps you'd like to pick a theme like “Italian Night” or “Vegetarian Delight.” But since it's New Year's, consider indulging – no calorie-counting on this special occasion! Just make sure you factor in how many guests you'll have so you purchase the right amount of food.

Teams and Prep

When your friends arrive, pre-pack the baskets so everything's all ready. Set up stations in your kitchen with plenty of space between teams so there's no peeking or getting in one another's way. Assign the teams to their stations and explain the rules: they each have to use all the ingredients in the basket (plus spices and seasonings, oils, etc.) to create a dinner for the cook-off. They'll be timed (say an hour) and once the timer goes off, the food must be plated. Consider giving each team some pre-cook-off time once they see what they're working with to plan out their meal and strategy. Now it's time to wash up and get cooking!

Dining and Judging

Once the meals are cooked and ready to be served, everyone will take a seat at the table and get a portion of each team's dish. Place note cards on the table so everyone can jot down their thoughts about the food, presentation, etc. Use a 1-10 ranking system for a variety of criteria for each dish such as creativity, flavor, plating, etc. You'll have a lot to eat, but that's the best part! When everyone's done dining, collect the cards and tally up the scores.

When you figure out which team scored highest, reward them with a box of chocolates you picked up while shopping. And don't forget to send everyone home with leftovers…that's if you haven't devoured every dish.

With a cook-off countdown party, you'll save a ton of money and have fun as you feast. Ringing in the New Year can be affordable and even more entertaining than anything you've done in the past. You may just start a new tradition!


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