Dinner Party on a Budget

In less than a quarter century, I have moved over a dozen times. No matter the reason, no matter the destination, I’ve found each move to be particularly difficult. It’s not the familiar sequence of packing, traveling and unpacking that makes me weary, but realizing that I have left my old friends behind and now must find new ones.

Having recently made a cross-country move, we decided it was time to break out our most tried and true friendship-maker: the dinner party. There’s no better way to seduce acquaintances into friendship than offering a free meal. It’s almost a guarantee that folks will show up, that wine will be drunk and that conversation will flow.

The cost of throwing such a fete can be off-putting, but with a little planning a gourmet meal for eight can be pulled off for fewer than one hundred dollars. We took seasonality, color and texture contrast into mind when planning the menu and came up with five courses that both impressed and satisfied.



Celery Root and Apple Soup
Fennel and Beet Salad
Seared Scallops with Kale Crisps
Ancho-Braised Short Ribs
Almond Cake

Money-Saving Tips:
*Make the party BYOB to shave off major expenditure and to allow guests to pair as they like.  
*Use inexpensive cuts of meat that can be braised or stewed
*Make the menu vegetable heavy as it will bulk up the plates, add a punch of color and won’t break your budget. Kale, beets and cauliflower are all seasonal and budget-friendly.

Celery Root and Apple Soup

Celery root, the beast of the vegetable ball, is especially wonderful in purees. It lacks the heaviness of a potato-thickened soup but provides a sturdy enough base to balance the tartness of the apples.

Serves 4-6
Olive oil
½ onion, diced
1 large celery root, peeled and chopped
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 1/2 quarts vegetable broth
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Cream, crème fraiche or sour cream (optional)

  1. Heat a good drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan.
  2. Sweat the onions until tender but do not allow them to develop any color.
  3. Add the celery root and apples to the onions and stir to coat with the olive oil.
  4. Pour in the vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the celery root and apples are tender.
  5. With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
  6. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add cream, crème fraiche or sour cream if desired.

Fennel and Beet Salad

Beets and goat cheese are a classic combination and fennel adds textural contrast. Coriander or tarragon would be welcomed flavors to this subtle salad.


Serves 4
6 medium-sized beets
2 fennel bulbs
1 large grapefruit
Walnut oil
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 4oz log goat cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Wash the beets and cut off the root. Place beets root-side-down in a glass baking dish filled with ¾ inch water. Cover with foil and roast for 30-40 minutes or until the beets are tender. Remove beets from the oven and allow them to cool.
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut the fennel into thin strips and blanch for 2-3 minutes. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
  4. Once the beets have cooled, discard the skins and cut them into matchstick sized pieces.
  5. Mix 1 part grapefruit juice with two parts walnut oil. Add lemon juice depending on the acidity of the grapefruit. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Toss the beets and fennel together in a large bowl and drizzle with the grapefruit vinaigrette*. Serve on top of slices of goat cheese.

*If using dark-colored beets, slice them into rounds and serve them under a pile of the fennel and light-colored beets. If tossed together, the dark beets will color the whole salad an unappealing shade of pink.

Seared Scallops with Roasted-Garlic Sabayon

Adapted From Bon Appétit January 2003
This is a very quick and elegant sauce. I served a dollop of it underneath a single scallop with a side of kale crisps….a little play on fish and chips.

2 heads of garlic
4 t olive oil
1 ¼ pounds sea scallops
½ c clam juice
3 T fresh lemon juice
4 egg yolks
1 t chopped fresh parsley
1 t chopped fresh tarragon
1 t chopped fresh chives

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut top ¼ inch off heads of garlic to expose cloves. Place garlic heads on large sheet of foil. Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil over garlic and wrap loosely but completely in foil; place packet directly on oven rack and roast until very soft, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze garlic from skins into bowl. Using fork, mash roasted garlic until smooth.
  2. Heat 3 teaspoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper. Sear scallops until brown and just opaque in center, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to plate. Tent with foil to keep warm
  3. Meanwhile, bring clam juice and vermouth to boil in small saucepan; remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice. Whisk egg yolks and 2 tablespoons roasted garlic puree in large metal bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in clam juice mixture. Place bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water) and whisk until sabayon is thick and creamy and thermometer registers 160 degrees, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from over water. Whisk in parsley, tarragon, and chives. Season sabayon with salt and pepper.

Kale Crisps

Adapted From Bon Appétit February 2009

2 bunches kale leaves, rinsed and dried
Olive oil
Sea salt

Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees. Remove the stem from the kale with a knife and discard. Tear the leaves into chip-sized pieces. Toss kale with a good drizzle of olive oil and a large pinch of sea salt. Spread the torn pieces onto two or three baking sheets and place in the oven for 30 minutes or until the leaves are crisp.

Ancho-Braised Short Ribs

These are fantastically rich in flavor and do well served with polenta or my favorite cauliflower puree. Make sure to taste the sauce before and after the ribs are done to adjust the seasonings. The anchos can give off a bitter flavor, which is easily balanced with more maple syrup or limejuice.


4 ancho chilies, dried
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
2-3 heaping Tbs chipotles in adobo
1/2c-1c maple syrup
5 limes, juiced
1tsp salt
1 c coffee
Olive oil
1c brown sugar
6 bone-in beef short ribs
1c Red wine (optional)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Soak the ancho chilies in boiling-hot water, about 20 minutes. Once the chilies are pliable, remove the stem and seeds and discard the soaking liquid.
  3. Blend the onion, garlic, chipotles, maple syrup, limejuice, salt and anchos together in a food processor. Stir in the coffee. Adjust seasonings if needed.
  4. Heat oil in a large, deep pot or Dutch oven. Season the ribs with salt and dust them liberally with brown sugar.
  5. Sear the ribs in the oil until a crust has formed, turning to cook evenly on all sides. Remove ribs and set aside.
  6. Pour the ancho puree into the same pan used to sear the ribs. Add a cup of red wine if desired. Bring the puree to a boil.
  7. Return the ribs to the pan and nestle them into the sauce so that they are mostly covered.
  8. Cover the pot with a lit or tinfoil and place in the oven for 3-3 ½ hours.

Almond Cake

From Giada de Laurentiis

Light and only slightly sweet, this is cake is a simple way to end a large meal. I imagine its almond flavors would pair brilliantly with a post-dinner cup of coffee. Be sure to make this dessert the day you plan to eat it as it dries out quickly.

½ c fine yellow cornmeal
½ c cake flour
1t baking powder
1 stick butter, softened
¼ c almond paste, cut into half-inch pieces
1 ¼ c confectioners’ sugar
½ t vanilla extract
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
¼ c sour cream

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease and 8-inch round cake pan with vegetable spray.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, cake flour and backing powder and set aside
  4. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter and almond paste on high until smooth, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and slowly add confectioners’ sugar. Mix until thoroughly combined and light and fluffy. Raise speed to high and add the vanilla extract, whole eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time. Mix until well combined. Reduce speed to medium and add the sour cream and dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool. Remove from pan and dust with confectioners’ sugar.


4 thoughts on “Dinner Party on a Budget”

  1. The menu sounded good. Wished you would have dumped the soup (boring) and added something fun & exciting- an amuse bouche or a spicy Bloody Mary, truffle salted popcorn or a temprura oyster or roasted chili & cheese slider sandwich.

  2. This may be a dumb question but on the short ribs, is it a cup of ground coffee or prepared coffee? They look amazing. Can’t wait to make them.

  3. Hi Andrea!

    I found your blog when planning my own dinner party on a budget! I think your soup sounds fantastic, and I love the idea of short ribs. Thanks for all the inspiration!

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