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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