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inexpensive meals worthy of dinner party

I'm looking for dishes or ingredients that are nice enough to serve at a dinner party but that don't cost a fortune when the guest list creeps past eight people. Of course, where I live (Hawaii), everything costs a fortune, but especially anything "gourmet" -- kalamata olives, prosciutto, radicchio, fennel, organic anything -- if you can find it at all. I've never seen a bean, canned vegetable or ground beef dish that I would serve to company... any ideas?

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  1. I recently made a bunch of galettes in all different sizes and with different combinations for fillings. They look really pretty and impressive, but are not hard to make. Make a galette dough (you can find a recipe online or I can post one later) and roll out to a circle (how large depends on how much dough you start with). Top with such things as butternut squash/caramelized onions, bruschetta type mixture with any kind of cheese, sauteed leeks or other onions with cheese, eggplant and goat cheese, etc. Endless number of combinations and works well for dessert. Then you just fold up the edges around the filling and bake. You could even have people make their own, like pizza.
    Does any of that make sense? Have fun!

    1 Reply
    1. re: ScarletB

      In the same vein as Galettes - I really love making fancy pizzas at home. Pizza dough is so cheap and easy to make at home. You can top it with fancy ingredients and no one will be the wiser.
      Some of my favorite combos are -
      - Artichoke hearts, chicken and cherry tomatoes sprinkled with Piave cheese.
      - Shrimp and Arugula on a garlic brushed crust (cook the shrimp Separately and add in the last miute of baking. Toss the arugula on after you pull it out of the oven.
      - Shrimp scampi - use your favorite scampi recipe and go to town.

      I've also had great success making mini-deep dish pizzas in muffin tins.

      Pair your pizza with two unique salads and you're golden.

    2. Risotto is good - fancy, but still fairly easy on the budget. And roast capon - it's nice to serve a roast bird, and capon is both large and tender while still familiar tasting, and reasonably priced.

      Pasta is another dish I like for entertaining larger groups nicely on a budget -- all it takes is an unusual pasta shape and a slightly different sauce, and you've got a very nice plate that's still very affordable -- for example, an angel hair with a sauce of very finely diced roasted red and green peppers and balsamic vinegar.

      1 Reply
      1. re: AnnaEA

        good ideas -- i get hung up thinking about the meat/fish component, especially in the era of low-carb. but small amounts of things paired with an unusual starch would be fun.

      2. Fancy can be all in the presentation -- look at all the upscale restaurants that are serving meatloaf these days. If you have some large ramekins, for example, you could make individual Shepherd's (or more properly when made with ground beef, Cottage) Pie.

        Or you can go the other way: call your dinner "Sunday supper" and have a more informal meal, like chili with good bread. As long as you serve something yummy for dessert, everyone will be pleased (and probably relieved -- a lot of people are intimidated by "fancy" dinner parties that they feel they have to reciprocate).

        1. one of my favories is chicken wrapped in filo dough.... filo is a few dollars, but a box of it can wrap enough for 8 people or so... I s&p the chicken, place on two sheets of filo that are buttered between them, and then will add some type of filling such as herbed goat cheese, a mixture of mayo, lemon juice, green onions and tarragon... wrap it up like a burrito you can also do it with fish too. 350 for about 30 minutes... you know it's done when it is browned on top..... endless possibilities

          1. Bodacious, I'm not sure where in Hawaii you live, but I live in Honolulu and am in love with the Kapiolani Community College Saturday morning farmers market. You could get a boat load fresh veggies (many organic and some quite unusual and therefore in the gourmet spirit) and make an amazing giant serve-yourself-salad. Grill up more vegetables, some meat, fish, and or tofu in small amounts and surve with a great vinagrette and bread (homemade? cheap!) or rice and you're done. And it's all local -- local to Hawaii and Local as in Hawaii -- how gourmet. The market also sells desserts sometimes and has great flowers...

            1 Reply
            1. re: slowfoodgrrl

              I agree with this person. I also live in Hawaii (the Big Island) and there is so much fresh organic produce here, it's actually more difficult for me to find something that isn't. For entertaining larger parties, you could have appetizers consisting of ahi, marlin, and tako poke and maybe even some grilled scallops wrapped in prosciutto ham. dinner can be vegetarian lasagna, a stir fry, sesame ginger tempe... I've noticed health foods here seem to be much cheaper than places I've been to on the west coast. There are many many possibilities don't be afraid of exploring places you might not have considered checking out before for both ingredient and recipe ideas

            2. P.S. Sorry I can't resist sharing this -- It is so good. I made this for a dinner party of I think 8 or 9 and served with brown rice, salad or broccoli (can't remember) and date balls for dessert; there was some curry leftover. The guest of honor was vegan, hence the menu. (And I'm a grad student. Vegan usually means cheap.) This is one of my favorite curries, hands down, and the leftovers are divine. Yes, this really feeds 8 people, as long as they are not training for a marathon or something. Enjoy.

              Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry
              Time: 50 minutes
              From the New York Times, March 1, 2006, by Nigella Lawson

              2 medium red onions, peeled
              1 clove garlic, peeled
              1 bird's eye pepper, Thai chili or other very hot small pepper with its seeds
              1 2 1/2- to-3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
              3 tablespoons canola oil
              1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
              1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
              1 teaspoon ground coriander
              1 teaspoon ground cumin
              1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
              3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
              2 pounds (about 3 medium) orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2- to-1-inch cubes
              1 3/4 cups coconut milk
              1 tablespoon tamarind paste
              2 1/4 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth
              4 to 5 cups (about 4 15.5-ounce cans, drained) canned or cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
              2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves -- ***I use much more and sprinkle it on individual plates -- really a must-do for the flavor and to punch up the look for a party***
              Cooked white rice for serving (optional)
              Steamed broccolini for serving (optional).

              1. In a food processor, combine onions, garlic, hot pepper and ginger. Pulse until finely chopped. Place oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion mixture and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
              2. Add hot pepper flakes, ground ginger, ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, cardamom pods and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to mix. Add sweet potatoes and stir until well covered in spices. Stir in the coconut milk.
              3. Dissolve tamarind paste in hot broth and add to pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until sweet potatoes are just tender, about 25 minutes. (Taste potatoes to be sure they are cooked all the way through, and allow additional cooking time if necessary.)
              4. Add chickpeas and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Adjust salt to taste. Transfer to a warmed bowl and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve, if desired, with white rice and broccolini.
              Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

              1 Reply
              1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                where in honolulu? i'm coming over for dinner!! thanks for the recipe and tips!

              2. Ruth is right. Presentation. For that, I might choose rolled or wrapped up stuff--grape leaves, butterflied chicken breasts, chinese cabbage, fresh lumpia, eggrolls, enchiladas, tamales. These and similar dishes require a bit of prep; are inexpensive; and when plated well can be very fou fou! Plate a couple of wraps/rolls on clean white plate, add the accompanyments, do the old squeeze bottle sauce artistry (only if you're not sooo last week on this).

                1. Polenta is inexpensive in many parts (I don't know about Hawaii). You can fry up polenta squares and serve with an inexpensive cut of slow-cooked pork/beef shoulder. Or you can serve any number of things over soft polenta (roasted veggies, grilled kebabs).

                  As for beans, serve an appetizer of homemade hummus using garbanzos or white Italian beans, with your favorite herbs blended in. You could use the hummus as a topping for a main-course "pizza," too.

                  Similar to what Mel suggested, you could make B'stilla with ground beef. It's impressive looking, delicious and inexpensive. Actually not that hard to make, either. Serve with couscous (if that's not so gourmet on Hawaii that it's crazy expensive).

                    1. re: Megiac

                      I was going to suggest this as well. It's cheap but delicious and perfect for a dinner party since you start it early and it only gets better with time.

                      1. re: jenjunum

                        I agree---braised short ribs are fantastic. Especially when made the day before.

                        1. re: nissenpa

                          does anyone have a recipe for this? pork or beef?

                    2. Homemade Pates and/or Terrines are one choice. The ingredients required to make a Pate de Foies de Volaille (chicken liver pate) serving about 8 is about $5.00. And a terrine of say pork/veal/beef/pistachios is about the same. Lyonnnaise Potatoes are cheap and delicious as are carmelized carrots (add a splash of boubon and lemon juice for some edge). Saute whole garlic, add fresh chicken stock, stale bread, parmesan cheese and a little cream, blend in a food processor, top with parsley and you have a good soup.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Chinon00

                        Fully agree with Chinon00--pates and terrines are like my suggested wraps and rolls--simple, inexpensive, but reflect some effort and technique, and can be presented well.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          i have to admit having no experience at all making pates or terrines. can they qualify as the centerpiece? i love pate, but it seems risky for a group.

                          1. re: bodacious

                            Good point. A terrine would qualify, a pate maybe not.

                      2. Could you give us examples of some of the inexpensive foods available to you in Hawaii and maybe we can come up with ideas. Fresh fish instantly comes to mind but I don't know if I'm correct. This would save time and effort that would otherwise be wasted on inexpensive mainland food that is either too costly or unavailable to you. Also, what is your idea of "inexpensive"?

                        Julia Child said that meals can be elegant, easy or economical -- choose two of the three because nothing fits all three categories. It sounds like you'd like elegant and economical....??? Give us some additional information and I'll bet that CHs come up with some fantastic ideas for your dinner parties.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Sherri

                          fish is actually pretty expensive here, as is produce. most readily available are packaged asian foods. inexpensive to my mind is under $20 a person. i like elegant, something that is not bucket o' something, and because every occasion in the island means a mish-mash multiculti potluck, something DIFFERENT that people do not see all the time. that said, it cannot be too far out or people might not like it -- which would be disappointing if the dish is time-consuming (which seems to be the tradeoff on expensive). great ideas from all, though -- now i have to hunt for recipes!

                        2. Sorry to double post--just thought of another few: home made gnocci. It's not that hard to make and you could serve it with pork/boar ragu or any other sauce made with inexpensive local ingredients.

                          Garbanzo bean salad is also completely company worthy: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?db...

                          ... as are turnip mashed potatoes.

                          1. Chicken thighs are very cheap but dinner party worthy if it's a really rich recipe like this one by Suzanne Goin. Deviled chicken thighs with braised leeks. I haven't made it but have heard good things. Think it's very labor intensive but the ingredients don't sound too bad. There are links in chowhound as well about this dish, if you search, but here's a photo:


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: traceybell

                              Chicken thighs are a great ingredient to start with. Relatively inexpensive and tons of flavor to work with.

                              One of the most successful, well received dinner parties we threw was actually shrimp summer rolls in rice wrappers and pho. We put it all out on platters and in gorgeous bowls and it looked elegant. Everyone really loved it and we all had a great time.

                              1. re: traceybell

                                I thought of Goin's Deviled Chicken Thighs as well. Although it uses inexpensive cut of chicken, it is an incredibly complex tasting dish layered with flavor and is likely to be quite different than most people would make at home. I served it with soft polenta which was perfect. You can google for an oven version, which is quite easy to make. Polenta gives pretty good bang for buck, but mashed potatoes will be good too. There are several steps but this recipe is not difficult (begin by marinating the night before.) You can do the steps before the guests arrive and try to time it so you pop it in the oven just as they arrive. Leeks can be very expensive and a reasonable alternate would be to use sliced onions (and you will not have to braise them as long up front. Here's another link with the recipe and a few pics,mine looked better, though:

                              2. Two things I've often served a crowd that are economical are spareribs and chicken wings. They're not foie gras, but they're both flavorful and delicious and usually around $2/lb. I've dressed them up and dressed them down, and they're always a hit. With some dumplings as appetizers, and vegetables and rice as sides, I had no problem serving 15 easily for well under $50.

                                1. How about doing the "theme" dinner. Mexican...lots of warm tortillas, black beans, stirfry peppers and onions in a wonderful platter, fresh salsa or two, fresh guacamole, baked rice (www.epicurious.com mexican baked rice..easy, cheap and fantastic) a big tossed salad, homemade icecream in cinnimon baked tortilla (shaped like a cup) with a nice mexican chocolate sauce. Put out some sliced cucumbers sprinkled with coarse salt, chili pepper, and fresh squeezed lime, taco chips and all the fixings and of course presentation presentation. Bright tablecloth, bright paper napkins, wonderful music, great friends, candles what more could one want and it is cheap!!!! Another easy and cheap would be Greek...if interested let me know.

                                  Either way - have fun.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: luvmyfood

                                    Ground Beef, Eggplant, Potatoes, Bechamel = Mousaka. Fantastic and very inexpensive and tastes oh so rich!

                                  2. I agree on individual portions and serving elegantly.

                                    Quiche is very budget friendly; make a number with some salad, and bread.
                                    Individual meatloaves are great.
                                    Downhome chili w/ cornbread, served in individual ramekins and broil onions and cheese on top.
                                    French Onion Soup served the same way
                                    Great meal of Beef Stew, Hush Puppies, Potato Dumplings
                                    Can do a variety of salads based upon cheap grains, beans, and rice
                                    Of course pastas are cheap as well!

                                    1. for a dessert try my mum's pavlova...

                                      4 egg whites
                                      250 grams caster sugar
                                      1 teaspoon white vinegar
                                      1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
                                      1 dessertspoon cornflour.

                                      Beat egg white with a pinch of salt at maximum spped for 8 minutes. reduce mixer spped and gradually all caster sugar, vinegar, vanilla. remove beater and gently fold in cornflour.

                                      Mix shoudl be very thick and highly glossy.

                                      Grease and flour an oven proof dish and heap the mixture into the plate to form a circle.

                                      Preheat oven to 200c. As soon as you put the pav into the oven, reduce temp to 100c and bake for one hour. Turn oven off and leave pav in until completley cold. (Mater Beige bakes her pavs last thing at night, and leaves them in overnight)

                                      Decorate with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Strawberries and passionfruit pulp are typical Aussie accoutrements, but I hav had success with fresh cream whipped with Baileys and topped with shaved chocolate...

                                      Surely you can get those ingredients pretty readily?


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: purple goddess

                                        The World's Best Cabbage by Molly Stevens---very cheap and I have gotten 3 rave reviews from people who tell me they hate cabbage and only took it to be polite. They have all asked for the recipe and my neighbor is even coming over tomorrow to watch me prepare it---she doesn't believe that the recipe is only a few ingredients.

                                        Chicken Thighs! I just discovered these the other week and we have made this recipe twice already and used chix thighs in a Goa CHicken recipe. Below is the moroccan recipe---incredible!! I used plumped golden raisins instead of dates.

                                        Category: Chicken Thighs

                                        Serves/Makes: 4 | Difficulty Level: 3 | Ready In: 2-5 hrs

                                        1 teaspoon salt
                                        1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
                                        1/2 teaspoon ground saffron
                                        2 teaspoons ground cumin
                                        8 boneless chicken thighs
                                        2 tablespoons butter
                                        1 tablespoon olive oil
                                        1 large onion, chopped
                                        1 cinnamon stick
                                        1/2 cup water (I use chicken stock)
                                        8 seedless fresh dates
                                        2 teaspoons honey
                                        1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted

                                        Rub combined salt, pepper, saffron and cumin into chicken and marinate several hours or overnight.

                                        Heat butter and oil in large pan, add chicken and cook until browned. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of oil from pan, add onion and cinnamon and cook, stirring until onion is soft.

                                        Return chicken to pan, add water and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes until chicken is tender. Just before serving add dates and honey and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with almonds and chopped cilantro.

                                      2. My go to meal, for dinner parties.....inexpensive and wonderful.

                                        Chicken Marbella - Siler Palate Cookbook!

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: mcel215

                                          i was totally going to suggest this too! my mother always makes chicken marbella for dinner parties when there are too many people to do something expensive. it's really tasty and easy as well.

                                          some other idea:

                                          * any stewing meat that requires slow cooking will generally be cheaper - short ribs, shanks, pot roasts etc and they can be very elegant

                                          *for an appetizer i would suggest either "white onion soup with chive oil" or "bourbon chicken liver pate" - both from epicurious.com. have made both of these numerous times for dinner parties - they both look and taste great but cost very little.

                                          * or it might be fun to do a 'breakfast for dinner' party. you can do a really elegant breakfast (baked eggs with cheese and herbs, fancy pancakes, fruit salad, bloody maries) for much cheaper than an elegant dinner. just an idea.

                                          1. re: mcel215

                                            that's such a great idea that.... i've used it. chicken marbella is one of my standbys. ;-)

                                          2. Recently discovered those small pork loins that come vaccuum sealed (not the flavored ones). For each, pour a few tablespoons of cream into the bottom of a long, narrow pan (maybe a loaf pan), add a teaspoon or so of good quality whole-grain mustard and a shallot that you have minced and cooked gently in olive oil until transparent. Stir together, add the pork and coat it, and bake at 350 until done to your taste (I use an instant-read thermometer). Remove to a nice serving platter and slice prettily; cover with foil to keep warm. Scrape the pan drippings and any drippings from the slicing process into a small saucepan, add more cream and cook down until you have enough of a light sauce - you don't need much. Adjust seasonings (maybe more mustard, maybe a bit of sugar, whatever you fancy). Pour sauce over meat and serve. You could cook four of these and have plenty for eight people.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Marsha

                                              That is a great, great little recipe

                                              1. re: Marsha

                                                yum Marsha, and easy on the cook too. Pork loin is a great suggestion and the sauce your here sounds very yummy. And you could do great sides with this one.

                                                1. re: chef chicklet

                                                  i've never seen these at the supermarkt but i'm going to hunt... sounds great.

                                              2. We host dinner parties all the time... here are our hints to keeping the cost down...

                                                #1 rule... keep it simple! Start, Entree, Sides, Dessert and Drink. Sometimes we want to make too many things. Simple is better not only when preparing but also when serving. Plus it allows you to have one knock out piece!

                                                #2 rule... keep your audience in mind... we ALWAYS do this. We hosted a BIG Neighbor BBQ last year and kept it at a nice budget because we knew our neighbors weren't the picky the type, we used bagged salad, served up sausages and fixins. It was a huge hit because we did splurge a bit on the sausages, but most everything else came from smart and final.

                                                #3 Always splurge on at least ONE thing... This not only makes your guests feel special, but also gives you something to talk about (My guests know even though I keep it simple, I do keep it interesting. :)). Everything else, TJs, Ethnic Supermarkets, even the Farmers market can help in keeping raw material cost DOWN... :D

                                                Some inexpensive (But still impressive!) Dinner Party Ideas:

                                                * Bistro Night: French Onion Soup and Chicken, Mushroom and Pesto Paninnis with a Field Green Salad (splurge on a good champagne to serve)

                                                * Southwest BBQ: The Santa Maria Premarinated Tri Tip from TJs is not only excellent, but SO inexpensive and it feeds 6+ adults easy! Plus with a nice cut of meat, you can go simple on the sides, Mashed Taters, Baked Beans, Salad... For this I splurge an on an interesting Beer...

                                                * Cassoulet: I can not rave enough about this hearty and cheap one plate recipe...


                                                No sides required, this recipe has everything... For this meal, I splurge on Dessert, something like Macarons from my favorite french bakery...

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Dommy

                                                  the greatest tragedy of moving to hawaii... no trader joe's.... no whole foods... only one really good farmer's market on saturday mornings that's far from my house... boo hoo.

                                                2. I love to challenge myself to see how little I can spend when I entertain. Start with a "signature cocktail" to serve your guests. It can be anything--whatever's on hand. I like to mix concord grape juice with gin and bitters for a "concord grape martini." It's sets the "dinner-party mood" but won't set you back much if you're easy on the liquor.
                                                  Soups are a great budget-conscious first course and rate high on the elegance meter. Both these will literally only cost a few bucks.
                                                  Creamless cauliflower soup: http://www.chow.com/recipes/10850 (if parsnips are hard to find, just do all cauliflower).
                                                  Celery soup: http://www.chow.com/recipes/10759
                                                  For a main course, go with low-cost items that will feed a crowd. If you want meat, get economical cuts like tri-tip http://www.chow.com/recipes/10775 or chicken leg quarters.
                                                  Of course, you can NEVER go wrong with either of these roasted chickens served mashed potatoes or roasted veggies:
                                                  Otherwise, pasta is a no-brainer: http://www.chow.com/recipes/10446
                                                  Finally, you can always stick to a vegetarian meal. This gumbo z'herbes can be made with whatever cooking greens or vegetable tops you can find, while the other ingredients are cheap; serve it with plain white rice. http://www.chow.com/recipes/10906 (People love this one)!
                                                  good luck!

                                                  1. Beans, canned veggies, ground beef + pasta shells, tomatoes, herbs = Pasta E Fagioli

                                                    One of my favorite soups. I don't used canned veggies, but it usually doesn't matter too much in soups.

                                                    I usually bake my own bread as an appetizer or make a fabulous dessert. Pasta's always good and I second Marsha's rec for pork tenderloin. If you live near a Costco or bulk warehouse, look in their meat section. BF and I usually get pork tenderloin and do a ginger/soy/peppercorn marinade, flank steaks with bottled spicy ginger marinade from the grocery store, or a slab of salmon for cedar planked salmon. Bought in bulk, it's not that expensive.

                                                    1. I thought I'd weigh in on dessert. One thing I've done many times in the past that is so easy and elegant is Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes. I've made them a day in advance at times and baked them right before serving. Chocolate sauce in a squeeze bottle and a light dusting of powdered sugar makes for a simple, inexpensive and elegant dessert. Here is a link for the recipe I use.


                                                      I have made it with fine chocolate and once with chocolate chips (I know!!...it's all I had and it was made on a whim) and it comes out rich and tasty either way. I once made this for a teenagers birthday party for 16 people. While I didn't have 16 ramekins, I did end up using plain little custard cups, the Pyrex type and while they didn't look as nice, they tasted just as good. This served with a nice coffee is perfect and will have your guests amazed!

                                                      1. I have often served a Middle Eastern meal to company and made them very happy. The moussaka uses ground beef. The hummos uses chick-peas aka garbanzos, which are beans. I agree with you, though, about the canned vegetables---do a nice fatoosh salad instead.

                                                        1. I started making this dish (link below) for entertaining when I was in grad school and had very slim funds and have continued making it because it is delicious and demanded. Many have asked for the recipe and are astonished at how easy and inexpensive it is! Add a salad and some crusty bread to soak up the juices and you're good to go! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...