03/02/2009 at 01:00 AM EST
Each year when the Academy Award nods are announced, hosts often aim for cleverly themed dishes: Harvey Milk-shakes? Benjamin Button-mushroom pizzas? But when Food Network star Bobby Flay has an Oscar party, "the thing I care about is the food. Have good food and let the Oscars take care of themselves." At PEOPLE's request he created a no-fuss menu for eight that costs less than taking eight pals to the movies. ($58.50 paid for everything, including Prosecco for the cocktails.) "I chose things that were whimsical and had a lot of flavor. The dessert is a version of one we do at one of my restaurants," says Flay, who along with his wife, actress Stephanie March, will spend Oscar night hosting a party for 400 to benefit the Miami Beach Film Society and Cinematheque. "It's huge and not economical, but it's for charity," he says.
Flay's home menu also caters to the TV-entranced: "You want food that people can pick up, served family-style." Another must? Fresh popcorn! "Think of it as keeping the coffee warm," says Flay, who here offers a sweet-and-spicy twist, though March prefers when he makes it with Parmesan cheese and pepper. "I had a little debate with my wife about the popcorn." And a little debate—Who will win best picture? Whose was the best dress?—may be the key ingredient to a successful Oscar night with friends.
SERVES 8 FOR UNDER $60!
UP TO TWO DAYS BEFORE
Make the pudding (minus the whipped cream)
THREE HOURS BEFORE
Shape the burgers. Make the relish, cole slaw and whipped cream; clean the shrimp
90 MINUTES BEFORE
Cook the burgers and shrimp; assemble dishes
WHEN GUESTS ARRIVE
Pass out Oscar voting ballots (available at oscar.com); pour cocktails
Pop fresh popcorn
Sparkling Pear Cocktails
Mini Burgers with Barbecue Sauce, Coleslaw and Pickles
Grilled Shrimp on Tortillas with Avocado Relish
Individual Upside-Down Chocolate Pudding Pies
Sweet and Spicy Popcorn
Get the recipes—and see an exclusive demo video with Bobby Flay—at people.com/oscars