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The gang's coming over for a round of festive cocktails. What do you do if there's nothing in the larder but a bag of stale no-name potato chips, a tub of expired sour cream and a dollar-store packet of instant onion soup mix? Head to one of these places, where you can find some quickie food solutions.
Impress the guests with contemporary takes on classic canapés from Miss Cora's Kitchen (69 Kensington, at Baldwin, 416-593-2672, misscoraskitchen.com) in the Market. No Ritz crackers and Cheez Whiz these. Cookbook-correct pigs in blankets ($1.50) stuffed with spicy Burkefield Farm's whey-fed pork sausage from nearby Sanagan's, while mini pizza bites dressed with the likes of chicken pesto and sautéed spinach sport whole-wheat flatbread crusts.
Cora keeps it vegetarian with flaky gougère pastry puffs loaded with asparagus cream (all $1.25) and riotously rich peanut butter cupcakes ($1.50/$15 dozen) that no one need guess are vegan. Get in the spirit with a chocolate salami ($14) fashioned from brownie crumbs, dried cranberries, crushed hazelnuts and ganache, then frozen, or macaroon-like Vegan Haystacks ($2) made from coconut, oats and cocoa powder. Better still, Cora offers delivery into the core by bike for a flat $15 fee.
Over in Riverside, David Kokai's Loïc Gourmet to Go (722 Queen East, at Broadview, 416-850-8835, loicgourmet.ca) also delivers by bike. Shift into the holiday season with sophisticated nibbles like chive crepes finished with pea shoots and chicken salad ($2.50), savoury tarts of caramelized onion, shaved fennel and creamy Paradiso cheese from Stratford's Monforte Dairy ($2.75) and Spanish tortillas deliciously layered with Calabrian Crotonese cheese, roasted potato and red pepper ($2.25).
Two doors down at LPK's Culinary Groove (718 Queen East, at Broadview, 416-461-6440, lpksculinarygroove.com), Lesia Kohut and crew get their gluten-free groove thang on with lemon meringue tarts ($2.50), miniature Nanaimo bars ($1) and spicy goat cheese shortbread ($12 bag). Sweet 'n' spicy almonds ($9) and caramel corn ($3) are completely vegan to boot.
Nothing says tradition like a yule log, especially if it's one made with white chocolate ($26.50) from Wanda's Pie in the Sky (287 Augusta, at Oxford, 416-236-7585, wandaspieinthesky.com). The picky eaters among you will also appreciate Wanda's meatless mincemeat tart ($2.45) and 10-inch eggnog-spiked chiffon cheesecake ($42).
And what's a party without cheese, even if it's only a bag of Doritos? Dazzle your pals with extravagant platters of fromage from Lauren Brion and Whitney Brown's Chabichou (196 Borden, at Harbord, 647-430-4942, chabichou.ca). Choose from more than 100 types - both local and imported - from runny raw Camembert and fresh mozzarella di bufala to stinky Stilton and smoked maple cheddar paired with house-made pâté (from $20 per person). Spring for a 30-tier croque-en-bouche ($45) and you won't have to fork out for a tree. They might even throw in a star!
Party food doesn't get much easier than at La Tortilleria (198 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-205-9227, and others, latortilleria.ca), where large bags of house-made tortilla chips go for $8.50 and tubs of mellow red chipotle and green hellfire tomatillo salsa are $3.69 each. Turn them into nachos with a $4.99 bag of pre-shredded asadero cheese from Oaxaca. Across the street, Emporio Latino (243 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-351-9646) sells bags of red and green tortilla chips for $6.25, but you'll have to pick out the yellow ones.
You can't go wrong with just about anything from Akram's (191 Baldwin, at Kensington, 647-351-3116, akramsshoppe.com) Middle Eastern grocery-store-slash-café, including owners Akram and Hayam Dow's famously "not too gassy" falafel (50¢) and lavash pizza slices topped with unripened haloumi cheese and roasted eggplant ($1). Feed an army with veggie 'n' pita platters spread with garlicky shanklish or baba ghanouj ($30) or order a dozen lamb meatballs ($18) and watch a food fight break out. Delivery and set-up available, too.
No teenage beer-drinking party is complete without pretzels. We're particularly fond of those from the Seventh Sister Bakery (53 Roncesvalles, at Marion, 647-349-5591, seventhsisterbakery.ca), though you might want to douse them in sea salt first ($1.50) to help whet the crowd's appetite for suds. Too bad they're only available Saturdays.
Extreme cheapskates can turn 6 bucks' worth of Chinese barbecue pork from Flourish (444 Dundas West, at Huron, 416-599-3288) into cheap aperitifs. Be sure to ask them not to chop the pig so you can cut it into 1-inch cubes back home. Spear with inexpensive novelty toothpicks from Tap Phong (360 Spadina, at St. Andrew, 416-977-6364, tapphong.com) and get Porky Pig on a stick. No one will be the wiser.
Make a splash for minimal cash with veggie pockets from the Sultan of Samosas (1677 O'Connor, at Sunrise, 416-285-6565, sultanofsamosas.com). We're partial to those stuffed with Afghani-style tandoori chicken and the not so Subcontinental steak 'n' potato (both $10.25/dozen). And who can refuse basic veggie samosas when they're three for a dollar, as they are at South India Dosa Mahal (1284 Bloor West, at St. Clarens, 416-516-7701) and BJ Supermarket (1449 Gerrard East, at Coxwell, 416-469-3712), the latter also the home of the two-for-$1 pakora? Don't forget the coriander dip!
And when all else fails, there's always delivery till 4 am from Pizza Gigi (189 Harbord, at Borden, 416-535-4444, pizzagigi.ca), where a 16-slice thick-crusted Super Special piled old-school with pepperoni, bacon, green peppers, onions, mozzarell' and mushrooms sets you back all of $27.50. Tell them Steve sent ya.