Gourmet Dinner Party on the Cheap: How the Right Grocery List Can Help

17 11 2011

Photo by Evan Bench | flickr.com

I plan on reviving this blog over winter break once I get my life back in some form. In the meantime, here’s a guest post by Melissa C. of the Blog Content Guild offering some handy tips on entertaining at home with a simple trip to the grocery store — just in time for the holidays!

With a bottomless wallet, who can’t throw a pretty sweet dinner party?  But, what if you want to show your friends a fun, classy evening at your humble abode on a shoestring budget?  A little planning put into your grocery list can let you do just that.  There is no shame in asking your guests to bring something to the party other than their fabulous selves.  Most people are more than happy to show off their contribution to the evening’s fare.  The most important piece of the dinner party puzzle is having a place to host it and a leader to herd it!

It is a common courtesy to show up to a dinner party with a gift for the host, and wine is pretty standard.  Encourage this, and maybe even take it a step further.  Have a “steak” party where everyone shows up with beer or wine and a favorite cut of meat.  You can please your vegetarian friends too by grilling up some eggplant, red bell peppers, purple onion, zucchini and Portobello mushrooms for sides that double as a veggie main course.  Using what produce is in season can also save you a few bucks.

If you plan on cooking a lot at home for guests or even just for yourself, consider buying a few herb plants.  A plant can cost $3-4 and yield for months and sometimes years. Think of all those pesto, salad dressings, marinades and dipping sauces!

When guests arrive, have a few hors d’oeuvres set out, like sliced apples and cheese, crackers, bowls of nuts and grapes.  Have an ice chest ready to house the beers and wine glasses and openers handy for people to help themselves.  Offer to marinate the steaks and/or veggies with a basic marinade prepped before the party of extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper, chopped fresh rosemary, oregano and thyme, maybe even a little fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar if you like.  Place the steaks and veggies in separate zip-lock bags with the marinade and let them sit while you welcome your guests.

Right as you pull the steaks off the grill let them rest for a couple of minutes while you toss fresh, mixed greens with this basic vinaigrette.  Serve family style or set up a buffet line and tuck in!

After people have feasted on salad, grilled veggies and steak, it’s time for dessert. Pick up a pound of coffee from a local café or roaster for a better tasting, less expensive alternative to imported coffee from a gourmet market.  Also, to save money, you are better off baking a cake before the party. Carrot and chocolate cakes don’t call for anything too expensive and are generally great hits with any crowd.

When you have purchased a few things to munch on before dinner, produce, and ingredients to make your own dressing and marinade and bake a cake, you are good to go; a fairly large group can be fed for under $100, if you plan your grocery list just right!

–Melissa C.

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