A while ago, someone posted a challenge: feed 4 dinner guests an elegant meal for less than $20. Since it is almost the season for inviting many people over to eat way too much food, I thought I would share the result of my dinner party for 8 last weekend, with modifications to make it cheaper. (Also, I could not find the original thread, so I just decided to start a new one.)
So, a couple of keys for saving money:
1) Keep the preparations simple. Salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil will take you a long way if you choose things in season, cook them well, and vary your methods (i.e. steaming vs. roasting, as opposed to all steamed).
2) Try to repeat ingredients to have less waste. e.g. Use sour cream in both dips for appetizers and chocolate cake for dessert or heavy cream in both soup and for whipped cream at the end.
3) Forget garnishes. Just vary the color of your food.
For the most part, these are actual prices at either our local grocery store or Costco. If I am guessing at the price (usually because I already had it) I put it in parenthesis. This list assume you don't own ANYTHING, including salt and pepper, and also accounts for the amount you'd actually have to buy even if you only use a tiny bit of the package, so the real cost is even less.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Small Bottle: (3.00)
Butter, Unsalted 1 lb: 1.50
Main Course: $32.71
-NY Strip Steaks (aka shell): 4 lbs x 5.49/lb = 21.96
Grill, Broil or Pan Fry with salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of olive oil. It looks great sliced on the bias, brown and crusty on the outside and red and juicy on the inside. Plus, it's a cut of meat with great flavor.
-Mashed Potatoes - I know, they don't seem that elegant. But most people LOVE mashed potatoes, and they can be elegant if you sort of layer the meat on top instead of mounded on the side.
Russet Potatoes: 1.99/5 lb bag (use 4 lbs)
Whole Milk: .89/1 qt (use 2 cups)
Butter (use 12 T)
-Green Beans: 2 lbs x 1.19/lb = 2.38
Simmer and dress with olive oil, salt, pepper
-Roasted Mushrooms: 5.49/2.5 lb pkg (use 2 lbs)
Toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and roast until all the juices are gone and mushrooms are meaty and firm.
First Course: $7.86
-Butternut Squash Soup - This looks very pretty and elegant in one of those flat soup/pasta plates with a dollop of plain yogurt in the middle.
Butternut Squash: 3 lbs x .59/lb = $1.77
2 Shallots: .51
Butter (use 4 T)
Heavy Cream: (3.99)/qt (use 1/2 c, save rest for dessert)
Dark Brown Sugar: (.99)/1 lb box (only need a spoonful)
Plain Yogurt: .60/8 oz
- Creme Brulee
Heavy Cream (use 3 cups leftover from soup)
Granulated Sugar (.99 for a lot)(use about 3/4 cup)
12 egg yolks: .99/dozen
Dark Brown Sugar (use a few tablespoons for the top)
Grand Total: $49.05 - 3 course meal for 8 people
A little over budget, but not too bad. If you only serve the main course with sides it comes to $39.21.