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Jan 31, 2014 03:39 PM

Need low(ish) budget menu for great wine

I've invited a couple for dinner next Friday. He's a wine expert and I'm a bit financially strapped right now (they don't know that). I'm to email my menu to him and he will bring the accompanying wines. When they provide the wine, the wine is always excellent.

I'm looking for something delicious and interesting to make while keeping the budget down. It should be something that works well with wine, so probably not Mexican or Asian. Labor and skill are not a problem, nor is kitchen equipment.

Some things I already have on hand:

Vialone Nano risotto rice
white hominy grits
dried porcini
homemade chicken stock
good sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
4 new jars of grainy mustard (??? how did that happen?)
lots of basic pantry items

Obviously, risotto is a possibility but it's not a main course and it requires a lot of last minute attention. Chicken and pork are always cheap but I just can't think of anything interesting to do with them right now.

The wife of the couple doesn't eat peppers; I can't eat gluten.

ETA: Just checked the herb garden and I've got some fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, spearmint and chives but not a lot of any of them.

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  1. I know there are many italian stews and braises that are served over a bed of polenta. (You could use the mushrooms or sun dried tomatoes in one of those.)

    That could be very nice, gluten free and - no peppers!

    Have a crisp salad on the side, bake up some meringues or do cheese and nuts for dessert and you are good to go!

    P.S. Polenta can require attention, but many folks are raving about oven baked polenta, so that could be a very good easy option! Here's how Russ Parsons of the LA Times does it -

    2 Replies
    1. re: happybaker

      Happy, those baked polentas look so good I'm wondering if I need meat at all. I'm thinking now that I'll do one of these Thursday when I've got a single female friend coming over. She hardly eats anyway, so I like the simplicity of your idea. Baked polenta, salad and meringues for Pat on Thursday. I had forgotten meringues, so I'm glad you mentioned them.

      1. re: amoule

        I'm glad you liked them!

        The one with mushrooms looks really good and a restaurant near me (sadly now closed) used to offer topped polentas as part of their happy hour menu. I'd get one topped with mushrooms and cheese, a glass of white wine and be a VERY happy girl.

        The menu you are suggesting looks flavorful and light - perfect for a girl night : ) You could even do a plain baked polenta, topped with cheese if your salad is going to be filled with stuff.

    2. The last time I cooked for my best friend and her husband, who are both big wine people and have a huge cellar, I made these two dishes, and both were very well received.


      I purchased the pancetta from the deli counter at my supermarket, he cut off a 4oz hunk for me and I chopped it myself, that way I didn't have to spend the money on a larger package.

      They're very affordable and can utilize ingredients you already have. You could also add a nice spinach salad with a bacon vinaigrette to start. I also did Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert, but I don't know how to make that gluten-free.

      For your sundried tomatoes, this spread/pesto is very good.... it's good w/ crackers, pita, or crudite.

      ETA forgot to add that I served the chicken thighs on top of the risotto on each plate.

      3 Replies
      1. re: juliejulez

        Wow JJ - those recipes look awesome!

        And I knew polenta could be done in the oven but risotto? No idea. What a great twist!

        1. re: happybaker

          Yeah it turned out really well, perfect for a timed dinner, since you don't have to stand and stir.

        2. re: juliejulez

          I didn't know risotto could be baked either. Your pairing of the lemony chicken with it looks delicious too, and continuing the lemony theme with a lemon cake is inspired.

        3. Oh how fun!
          To start i'm thinking a seasonal green salad- whatever tender greens look good, your chives, finely chopped sun dried tomatoes, some walnuts/pecans/whatever you have on hand, and a mustardy vinegrette. I think many effervescent wines as well as dry whites would be a great pairing.

          For the entree this mushroom ragu is really delicious and hearty, you can use your grits (as the polenta) and the dried porcini. Just pick up a combo of button mushrooms and cremini, and whatever more exotic ones you find that are a good price.

          A simple veg side could be this great combo using winter greens with lemon and olives:

          Or, this italian ribollita was a hit with my friends, this would use your rosemary, chicken stock, and if you have dried beans in the pantry those as well. The toasts that he suggests you could swap in grits that you make and chill on a sheet pan, then cut into long rectangles and bake until firm.

          Obviously you could add meat/sausage/whatever to the dish if you want to.
          I made the ribollita the day before serving and it was better than the day i made it.

          For dessert i love nutty desserts with sweet dessert wines. This walnut cake is simple- honestly i used 1 cup walnuts and swapped veg oil for the walnut oil and it was delicious, probably better with homemade whipped cream.....

          5 Replies
          1. re: Ttrockwood

            Ttrockwood - these recipes look great too!

            And I really want to try that walnut cake.

            So glad Aamoule asked the honest question - the replies are so helpful!

            1. re: Ttrockwood

              Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Ttrock. I hadn't really thought of going vegetarian, but why not? It makes the wild mushrooms affordable. The photo of that ragu is making me salivate.

              I'm going to make that recipe for greens with olives and lemon tonight, as I happen to have all the ingredients on hand and need to do something with the greens anyway.

              Your suggestion of a nutty dessert reminds of a recipe I wanted to try from Martha Rose Shulman. It's made from almond flour, which I have, and 2 whole oranges -- including the rind:


                1. re: amoule

                  I love that simple greens sautee! Then again, i adore olives too....
                  That cake looks delicious! I've had great success with her desserts before and the almond flour will have a nice richness to the cake. Its going on my to make list!

                  1. re: amoule

                    That is a wonderful recipe, very popular around here.

                2. How about a porcini risotto and then crust some chicken with dried porcini powder and herbs and grill it. Slice the chicken and serve on top of the risotto. You could make a simple salad with vinaigrette to start. For dessert, you coud do a cheese plate with fresh grapes, figs, nuts, honey, etc.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: boogiebaby

                    That sounds delicious. Porcini risotto is my favorite. I wonder if it can be baked ... I need to look into this. A cheese plate for dessert is good idea for wine.

                  2. If you have an Asian market nearby, they often have while duck at about 2.50 a pound. Simple roast duck matches many red wines

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: seattle_lee

                      We definitely have Asian markets here, near Seattle. The last duck I bought was very disappointing -- tough and it didn't have much meat -- but I bought it at the regular market. Maybe the Asian market will have better duck than the last. I will definitely look into this.

                      Oh -- you're in Seattle! Hi, neighbor!