Friday, February 7 marks the opening of the the 2014 Winter Olympics at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia. As the resort city finishes preparations for the opening ceremony, consider our affordable yet gold-medal-worthy suggestions for hosting your own Russian-themed Olympics viewing party.
Despite an initial budget of $12 billion, the cost of this year's Winter Olympics has skyrocketed to a jaw-dropping $51 billion. Fortunately, such excess isn't necessary when planning your own special event. Fine hospitality is a long-standing Russian tradition, and attention to details will get you into the spirit without sacrificing any thrift.
In lieu of a traditional sit-down dinner of borscht, beef stroganoff, and plum vareniki, serve an ample selection of appetizers, which is less costly and lower stress than a full meal.
Set out plenty of crackers and sliced black bread (see below) as an anchor for the spread. Fill the table with a subset of the following: sour cream, pickled cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, minced onion, smoked salmon, cut veggies, hard-boiled eggs, jam, butter, cut colds, cheese slices, and, yes, caviar. Let your guests create a plate to their liking, from simple bites to sandwiches.
Russian cuisine is near synonymous with caviar. In Russia, both sturgeon roe (black/grey/brown caviar) and salmon roe (red caviar) are popular. For your cheap Russian-themed Olympics party, opt for red caviar -- it's considerably less expensive. We priced both at Finecaviar.com, where 4 ounces of red goes for $15 and 4.5 ounce of top-quality (Beluga) black carries a sale price of $612 (full price is $720). Unless you live near a gourmet market, check out Red-Caviar for good deals and a wide selection. According to Linda Stradley of What's Cooking America, figure on 2 ounces for every four guests.
Russian black bread (a.k.a. pumpernickel) is a dark, savory must-have loaf at any Russian-themed Olympics party. You should be able to find one at a local European-style pastry shop; barring that, try Target, which sells a 16-ounce version by Pepperidge Farm for $3.19. Alternatively, order from an online purveyor.
Baking the bread yourself is yet another option, but one that requires a long list of ingredients as well as considerable time and effort. If you have a bread machine, you can short-circuit the process and still enjoy the earthy aroma and home-baked result. Prepared Pantry sells a loaf-sized mix for $4.39.
There's no competition here – vodka is the only contender for a Russian-themed Olympics party. And a good quality pour is cheap enough. Several years ago The New York Times conducted a blind tasting of 21 new, high-end vodka brands. The tasting coordinator playfully added a bottle of Smirnoff, considered a second-tier label, into the mix. Guess which came out on top? These days a liter of Smirnoff sells for $16 to $20.
Aside from its cheap price, vodka's versatility makes it very host-friendly. It can stand alone or mix with sodas, juices, energy drinks, squeezed lime, and so on. Martin Dennis, a bartender on New York City's Upper East Side, says such flexibility elevates vodka to best seller status at the pub.
Photo by sxc.hu/michaelaw
Russians have a thing for tea; surveys show that about four out of five Russians drink tea on a daily basis. Brew a large pot, preferably the black variety, and serve hot along with simple tea cookies.
Deck the room in Russia's national colors of white, blue, and red. Given the popularity of these hues stateside, you'll have no trouble finding balloons, streamers, and baubles at the local dollar store. Stock up (and save what can be salvaged) in anticipation of July 4.
Watching the opening ceremony will take up a good portion of your Russian-themed Olympics party, but plan a few bonus activities. If there's another TV in the house, stream or rent Doctor Zhivago. Prepare a few rounds of "winter sports" charades; this year's Olympics include 15 disciplines such as Alpine skiing, figure skating, luge, and bobsleigh. The game is sure to evoke laughter while helping players brush up on their knowledge.
Meanwhile, keep the youngsters busy and involved with Olympic-themed crafts. Activity Village has a raft of ideas as well as printable coloring pages and puzzles.