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Birthday Dinner for 6 on Tight Budget

My family is coming to town next week and I have decided to cook dinner for my dad's birthday which was last week. I am on a tight budget (no more than $50 for 6 people) but would like to make something a little more upscale than tacos or spaghetti. My dad loves all kinds of seafood and I was planning to start with some mussels. I don't have any ideas about the main course but know that we will be going to dinner in the North End one night and Chinatown one night. For desert he loves anything "key lime" including the traditional pie or cheesecake. I would love your recommendations for a family friendly but still seemingly "fancy" dinner. Thanks in advance!

Edit: It might be helpful to know that we are in Boston!

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  1. Could mussels be the main course? Add frites (oven-baked or fried), bread, and salad. His beloved cheesecake is pretty filling, would this be enough food for your crowd?

    eta, I should have checked the price of mussels before replying. Could be out of the question.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fern

      This sounds like a good idea, one of my sisters doesnt like mussels but I suppose I can just grill some chicken to throw on her salad. Thanks!

    2. Paella is festive and economical for a large group...and you can incorporate plenty of seafood!

      3 Replies
      1. re: BeeZee

        I have been wanting to make paella but have never tried it, does it take a while to get right or do you think I would be safe making it for the first time for this occasion?

        1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

          I wouldn't make paella for the first time for a crowd. It can be a little hard to master, plus, saffron's not really cheap and you need a lot of ingredients for it. I would go with the mussels for dinner. You could do it make 2 or 3 sets of mussels with different flavors - white wine, garlic and parsley; chorizo, sauteed onions and peppers; and basil, chopped tomato and cream. That with salad and crisp homemade frites sounds great to me. I would suggest key lime mousse or parfait so you don't have to make a whole big pie.

          1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

            Paella is a great affordable meal. You can prep 75% ahead of time and do the finish in the stove.
            If you have Trader Joes near you you can get the frozen seafood mix, it has everything. You can get small thighs at your grocery store. Don't skimp on the spanish chorizo, it really brings a great flavor along with the sofrito.

            On Food TV.com there are plenty of recipes, pick the easiest one. If you do not have a paella pan, you can use a pizza pan.

        2. This two layer key lime pie, originally from Bon Appetit, would be great since your father likes pie and cheesecake:


          You could do a linguine with clam sauce, along these lines. To save money, go with half fresh clams and some good cans/bottles of clam.


          Add a side of asparagus, some good crusty bread and you're all done.

          4 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            That 2 layer key lime thing looks very simple and I'm saving it for when our key limes are ready (we planted the tree 4 years ago and I think it's finally got fruit on it!)- so thank you chowser-roo.

            1. re: chowser

              Do you think that I could make the pie a day or 2 ahead of time? I don't really want to be spending time baking when the family is in town.

              1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

                For all the times I've made it, I've honestly never had it last overnight because it goes so quickly. I think it would be even better left overnight so flavors have a chance to meld and the lime taste could come out but I'm not sure about two days. Make sure it's completely cooled before refrigerating.

                1. re: chowser

                  Awesome! I'll make it the night before and let you know how it turns out.

            2. You can do a tri-tip roast either on the grill or in the oven. It is often overlooked, but I believe it is one of the best roasts to serve. There is minimal fat and it has max flavor. Give it a good dry rub with garlic, then grill on indirect heat or put it in the oven. Cook to an internal temp of 130, and you will have a nice rare.

              1. I love mussels with pasta! how about Paella ( already suggested). you cant go wrong with a perfectly roasted chicken, with some nice veggies.

                1. What about a seafood pasta, using the Mussels, smallish shrimp, bay scallops, some calamari rings and bodies and maybe 2 0r 3 small clams per person. all of this in a sauce starting w/ olive oil and garlic to which you add good canned plum tomatoes and a little white wine, cook for a few minutes and add seafood toward the end. linguine would be good. you should be able to do this for under $40 I'm sure.

                  1. Thanks for all the recs! I am definitely going to make the 2 layer dessert and I think I will go with 2-3 different kinds of mussels with frites and a salad and bread. Everyone was so helpful, and I cant wait to try some paella.

                    1. Bouillbaise is another good seafood dish that you can stretch your dollar with.

                      Serve it with fresh baguette, some flavored butter and a nice salad.

                      1. There used to be a place in LA called Killer Shrimp. They had one main dish, a giant bowl of shrimp in a broth. here is the recipe.


                        1. Basil Mango Shrimp Cocktail. Spice your shrimp with Old Bay and saute in a bit of olive oil. Peel and pit a mango and put the flesh in a blender with about a dozen ripped fresh basil leaves, and whirrrr to puree. Spoon the puree into margarita glasses and hook shrimp over the rims. Serve chilled.

                          1. Steamed Mussels with Leeks, Garlic, Thyme, White Wine, and Butter

                            3 pounds mussels
                            Extra-virgin olive oil
                            3 tablespoons butter
                            2 leeks, white parts only, finely chopped
                            4 garlic cloves, minced
                            1/4 bunch fresh thyme
                            1 cup white wine
                            1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

                            Rinse the mussels under cold running water while scrubbing with a vegetable brush. Remove the stringy mussel beards with your thumb and index finger as you wash them. Discard any mussels with broken shells.

                            Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables cook down to a pulp, about 5 minutes. Add the mussels and give everything a good toss. Add the white wine. Cover and steam over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, until the mussels open. Stir occasionally so that all the mussels are in contact with the heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and a drizzle of olive oil to the sauce remaining in the pot and swirl to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately.

                            FOR DESSERT:
                            Key Lime Martinis
                            Graham cracker crumbs, for rimming the glass
                            2 lime wedges
                            6 T. vanilla flavored vodka
                            ¼ cup key lime liquor
                            2 T. pineapple juice
                            2 T. heavy whipping cream

                            Pour the graham cracker crumbs into a shallow dish. Rub a lime wedge around the edge of a martini glass and roll the edge in the graham cracker crumbs. Chill the glass for 30 minutes or until ready to serve.

                            Combine the vodka, key lime liquor, pineapple juice and cream in a shaker. Fill the shaker half full with ice and shake until well blended. Pour into prepared martini glass, garnish with a lime wedge and serve immediately.


                            Key Lime Cupcakes
                            1 cup all purpose flour
                            3/4 cup self-rising flour
                            1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
                            1 1/4 cup sugar
                            2 large eggs
                            2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
                            1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
                            1/4 teaspoon neon-green food coloring
                            3/4 cup buttermilk
                            1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
                            1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
                            1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
                            1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
                            1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
                            Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners. Whisk both flours in medium bowl. Beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar; beat to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then next 3 ingredients (batter may look curdled). Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions. Spoon scant 1/3 cup batter into each liner.
                            Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool.
                            Beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth. Spread over cupcakes.

                            1. Are you a Costco member? I saw some great prices there last Saturday for seafood- shrimp, sea scallops and I think they had mussels. I went to the Dedham Costco. Damn, I wish my husband would eat seafood!.