We were all fascinated by the swank dinner party on a budget from the Times last weekend, and it also generated quite a bit of discussion yesterday. The general consensus was that the table was gorgeous and magical -- a setting for a special dinner that went far beyond our usual small arrangements of flowers and candles. It was breathtaking. But the food -- well, it didn't overwhelm us the way the once-a-year-special, magical realist table setting did. So we went shopping. Virtually, via Fresh Direct and Trader Joe's, to see what kind of dinner party we could throw for eight people on a $100 budget. This isn't your average twice-monthly dinner party, remember; any of us could feed eight people very well for half that amount. This is a holiday party, one with glittered snowflakes suspended above the table, and soft glowing lights in birch bark and cotton wool. It's a winter wonderland -- something special and one of a kind -- with food to match and a bit bigger budget to really impress. What kind of food would go along with this setting? Food that would wow your guests as much as the decorations, yet still have the nostalgic, almost retro feel of the winter wonderland theme? We did love David Monn's quote about the food: “People love the permission to be comfortable." Comfort food is always a big theme during tough economic times, and we don't want to forget that with this dinner party. But the food still could stand to be a little more special than potatoes and storebought cake (not to mention well-matched to the decor). Also, don't forget that food costs more than you think. We cook several times a month for a large group of people, and even though we do it for less than $100, when you're throwing a party with wine and dessert your costs can mount very fast. We're also not assuming that the virtual cook we're designing for has anything in her cupboards. We'll allow salt, pepper, flour and olive oil - but other than that we're budgeting for all the ingredients. And finally, this budget breaks down to $12.50 a person, which would barely get you a burrito and beer at Chipotle. Even the original article's $30/head budget for food and decorations is very low for a swank restaurant; you couldn't get a three-course, five-hour meal with wine at a good restaurant for that amount. (Try $130 -- at least.) So, with all that in mind, we set out to create a special, once-a-year meal to match the lovely decor in that piece. Here's our first try. What would you do? Wines and cheeses from Trader Joe's, and everything else from Fresh Direct.
Winter Wonderland Menu for EightThe Budget: $100 Starter: Soft goat cheese on crackers with sliced pickled beets • Carr's Cracked Pepper Thins - $2.79 • Soft chevre, 4-6 ounces - $3.99 • Pickled beets - $5 Starter Total: $12 Soup: Creamy mushroom soup plus Bread • Unsalted butter - $3.49 • 1 large white onion - $.99 • 2 heads garlic - $1.50 • 1 package fresh rosemary - $1.49 • 16 ounces white mushrooms - $3.60 • 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock - $3.59 • Two baguettes - $4.60 Bread and Soup Total: $18
Main Course: Rosemary-garlic pork tenderloin with fig-port cranberry sauce and Parmesan-roasted cauliflower • Pork tenderloins, 2 pounds - $16 • Garlic (already purchased) • Rosemary (already purchased for soup; will be used in pork and cranberry sauce.) • Dried figs - $4.99 • Cranberries - $2.99 • Tawny port - $7 • Sugar - $1.79 • Balsamic vinegar - $2.99 • Cauliflower, 2 heads - $6 • Parmesan - $4.50 Main Course Total: $46 Dessert: Dark chocolate cake with red wine sauce • Dark chocolate - $3.49 at TJ's • Eggs, half dozen - $1.99 • Sugar (already purchased for cranberry sauce) • Butter (already purchased for soup) • Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, $3 at Trader Joe's Dessert Total: $8.50