Tuesday, August 30, 2011

$20: The Dinner Party

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2011 at 9:31 AM


For this week, Clare and I tried to throw a dinner party for just twenty bucks. That’s three courses for four people, and as it turns out, plenty of leftovers (the number of folks at the table, I should add, was restricted by room and not the amount of food. I think we could’ve accommodated two more people based on the amount of food left uneaten after the meal).

With the help of Clare’s mother, we came up with what was a relatively quick and simple vegetarian meal, made up mostly of various salads: watermelon salad, couscous salad, and nectarine salad along with frozen banana “ice cream” for dessert.

In pricing the ingredients, we didn’t include the spices or oil and vinegar under the presumption that these can (and should) be found in every kitchen. And, like the 30 Bucks a Week blog, we decided not to count the accompanying adult beverages.

And now we present our receipt:


I can’t think of a time when either Clare or I payed attention so attentively to the register’s monitor, and we were both disappointed that, as you’ve probably noticed, the total cost came to $25.19.

It’s possible, though, to bring that number down a bit if you consider the amounts of certain ingredients that were actually used. The container of crumbled feta, for instance, which cost $3.49, was only about half used, along with the mint, almonds, couscous, etc. and by that reasoning, we could knock off about $3.20 bringing the total to $21.99. Well, damn. I’m sure if you didn’t count leftovers as well — which admittedly is probably stretching it too far — you could probably take off at least a couple more bucks.

Or you could simply say we’ve gone over budget. But, still...$25 ain’t bad. And I think we all agreed that everything exceeded our expectations, which, for me, were set high to begin with.

Anyway, here’s the meal:


And the individual dishes, beginning with the nectarine salad.


Like our avocado, goat cheese, and kale orzo from last week, we found the nectarine’s sweetness paired beautifully with they creaminess of the feta, and to top it all off, the dressing was particularly fantastic.

What you’ll need for 5-6 servings:

- 2-3 Nectarines
- 10 oz. spinach
- walnuts
- Gorgonzola cheese (we went with feta to keep the price down)


- 3 T. cider vinegar
- 3 T. apricot preserves
- 1/2 tsp. powdered mustard
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Extra apricot preserves to taste


Mix dressing, toss with salad ingredients

Couscous Salad


This turned out extremely well, and surprisingly filling...and with that sauce. Ah, delicious!

What you’ll need for 5-7 servings:
- 1 1/2 cup couscous
- 14 oz. can chicken or vegetable broth (we went with veggie)
- 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed
- 1 cup cucumber, chopped, peeled, and seeded
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- salt and pepper to taste


- 1/2 cup plain yogurt (Greek)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2+ T. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 tsp. curry powder
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric

(Stir together in a small bowl, season to taste, refrigerate. Good made ahead.)


Boil broth and pour over couscous in serving size bowl. Let stand until absorbed (about 15 mins). Fluff and set aside.

Cut green beans into 2” pieces, and steam or blanch in small saucepan. Remove and cover with cold water. Drain and set aside.

Shred carrots and chop cucumbers. Let stand in strainer till juices have drained away.

Combine beans, cucumbers, carrots, onions, currants, almonds, and parsley. Fold in dressing. Season to taste. Can be served at room temperature.

Watermelon Salad


What you’ll need:

- Sliced ripe watermelon
- Sliced, peeled and seeded cucumber
- Mint leaves


Sprinkle with salt and sugar. Toss with balsamic vinegar. Garnish with mint leaves.

Banana “Ice Cream”


“Ice cream” is in parenthesis here because it’s not actually ice cream. Really, it’s just frozen, mashed bananas, which isn’t necessarily the most appetizing name for a desert. Anyway, done right, this should have the same consistency with real ice cream. We ended up using some of the leftover pecans and almonds to garnish.

And I’d like to apologize for the absence of a photo of the finished product. We were too excited to think about grabbing the camera and inhaled the whole thing instead.

What you’ll need for 4 servings:

- four bananas, peeled and sliced


Slice bananas and place into gallon sized bag, remove air, and seal. Place in freezer until frozen, and blend until smooth consistency.

And our leftovers:


To finish it all off, the libations:

To accompany the meal, we enjoyed a pitcher of Pimm’s cup which, along with the mojito and the dark and stormy, is among the best summer-time cocktails I can think of. Pimm’s is a gin-based liqueur from England and can be found in most liquor stores.

In terms of recipes, there’s a great number out there with heaps of variations regarding garnishes, but the two core ingredients typically remain the same: Pimm’s and lemon-lime soda. Cucumber, strawberry, apple, and a whole slew of other options are often called for, and from what I can tell through my experimentations, just about any fruit will do (though I’m sure there are exceptions). I’ve always found it to taste amazing.

What you’ll need for a pitcher of Pimm’s cup (about 4 servings):

- 6 oz. Pimm’s
- 2 bottles (24 oz.) lemon-lime soda
- at least 4 wheels lemon
- at least 4 wheels lime
- at least 4 slices apple
- at least 4 pieces nectarine
- 2 treys ice

Simply combine ingredients in pitcher, stir, and serve.


To follow the banana “ice cream,” we split a bottle of Life and Limb. This is a dangerously smooth American strong ale brewed in collaboration between DogFish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, DE and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, CA.

This is the second batch of the special beer, and it’s brewed with both maple and birch syrups, the sweetness of which effectively masks the 10.2% abv.

Think coffee, chocolate, hints of maple syrup, and dark fruits. Thick enough to be a sipper, and utterly fantastic.

Because it’s a small batch, there won’t be much available in your local liquor store, so if you’re interested, you’ll need to act quickly.

Well, that’s it for this week. Next week, Clare will be trying to live on nothing but $20 of food, and I’ll provide commentary and moral support.

Hope all is well until then!

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