I have always enjoyed throwing dinner parties and trying new recipes and ideas to impress my guests but in the current financial climate with food costing more and more by the month I think people are less expectant of a the traditional formal dinner party and are more receptive to informal ideas – food reserved for an informal family supper is finding itself the centre-piece at your dinner party table!
I would go as far to say that it is easy to go to the supermarket and spend a lot of money on fabulous ingredients but it is the canny creative chef that can make a brisket of beef delicious or a joint of boiled bacon in to a dinner party dish. I love spending time in the kitchen and with time to spare you really can rustle up great food.
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So, let’s start with appetizers on a budget. I will start with a few recipes which are very simple as well as cheap to prepare. Some dishes may take a long time to cook but little time to prepare. For example, Homemade French Onion Soup takes little preparation but needs to cook for at least a couple of hours but is well worth it! Topped with Melting Gruyere Toast this is a winter warming delight.
For an easy prepare ahead starter Smoked Mackerel Pate is incredibly quick easy and delicious as is Chicken Liver Pate. Stuffed mushrooms are cheap and easy and can be filled with whatever you fancy including stilton and leek, brie and pine nuts or my favourite Tasty Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms.
For something central and impressive (and slightly less common) I have two starters I would consider. The first is Roasted Garlic with Balsamic & Olive Oil served with Ciabatta. I first had this is a restaurant in Port Douglas in Australia – it was so simple yet so delicious and original. The second is a little more common – Baked Camembert with Herby Potatoes. This is a fun dish that goes in the middle of the table to be shared.
All of these starters can be made at minimal cost but always ensure you garnish beautifully with good quality fresh green leaves (watercress, rocket) for that desired restaurant look!
Cheap, But Impressive Main Courses
For main courses there are a variety of choices. The best meals I believe are those cooked with value cuts of meat but with a lot of love and attention. My favourites here include Boeuf Bourguignon (a classic but always a hit!), a good quality Boiled Bacon with Mustard Cream Sauce, rich Coq au Vin or Slow Cooked Lamb with Flageolet Beans. Belly Pork is becoming more readily available and is both great value, totally delicious and comes with a disproportionate amount of crispy crackling! I recently cooked Jamie’s Beef and Guinness Pie with Puff Pastry which was completely delicious and actually better second time around once I had frozen some of the leftover pie filling. Equally good is Chicken, Leek and White Wine Pie.
The great thing about these dishes is deciding what side dishes to serve. Even though Mashed Potato is a winner my guests always love delicious Potato Dauphinoise. Any of these following are bound to impress: Traditional Garlic Potatoes, Parmesan Roasted Potatoes, Pommes Boulangere or good old homemade chips all work well.
More informal main courses could include Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce, Beef Stew and Dumplings, Slow Cooked Brisket of Beef with Winter Vegetables or even a Frittata – my two favourites include Chorizo and Spring Onion Frittata and Salmon and Broccoli Frittata. A Frittata with a lovely fresh green salad and some Homemade Parmesan Garlic and Herb Bread is a hearty relaxed filling meal. Spaghetti Carbonara is a great budget meal but done well is one of my favourites!
Fish can be fairly pricey but if you shop around you can find some bargains to put in a Fish Pie. Asda were recently selling Salmon Fillets at £1 a go which is affordable for a dinner party ingredient. This could be incorporated in to Fish Cakes for another great dish.
I won’t go in to detail here on desserts as there are many simple credit crunch puddings which do not require expensive ingredients. Any good cookbook should be able to point you in the right direction!
For wine shop around! There are always great bargains to be had in the major supermarkets. Competition is fierce and there is always decent quaffing wine at under £4. Don’t feel that you have to spend at least a fiver to get decent stuff! Asda always have a 3 for £10 offer – it is worth buying a few to try to find which ones you like or do not like. For fear of sounding controversial do not be taken in by the “Wine Clubs” who offer wines at half their original price. This simply is not the case and I would think seriously before buying!
Although not always the cheapest option I still regularly use Majestic Wine. I worked there for a year or two after University and the education they offer is amazing with on the job tasting ensuring that you know what you are selling to your customers tastes good. You need to buy six bottles minimum but offer good discounts. They almost always have a good Aussie white or red under £5 if you buy more than two. Majestic also offer great value on Champagne and sparkling wines. We were always taught that a good quality sparkling wine was much better than cheap Champagne so bear that in mind!