Menus for 10 for under $100
Does the task of creating a dinner party for 10 people for less than $100 sound like mission Impossible? On the contrary, it's not only doable, but it's fairly simple. All you need to consider are a few basic principles for maximizing your food budget.
Tips for planning menus
- Eat seasonally. Not only is it better for you, but it's better for your wallet, too. Foods in season tend to be cheaper at the market because they're more readily available. If asparagus is pushing $5.00 per pound in November, serve Brussels sprouts instead.
- Avoid processed or packaged foods. Make and bake your own, even if you have to keep it down to two or three items. No need to be elaborate!
- Go big on flavor and whole foods. Pay attention to how you're cooking your food so you can make the most of what you have. Pair complementary foods and make them work with each other.
- Think outside the box. Be willing to think unconventionally to stretch your food dollars. Staples like pasta and rice prepared in unconventional ways can be very exciting from a culinary standpoint and can save you some cash at the market. Use more expensive ingredients sparingly and to create impact as accents.
Pork Medallions Milanese
Smashed Red Potatoes
Shredded Brussels Sprouts Sauteed in Butter
If you were to buy enough pork tenderloin to grill or broil for a group of 10, you'd use nearly all of your budget on the meat alone. Instead, buy a couple of large tenderloins and cut them crosswise into slices about 1/2-inch thick. Use a meat mallet to pound each slice until it is a uniform ¼ inch throughout. Coat with flour, then dip into beaten egg, then dredge in bread crumbs. Pan-fry in olive oil until just done, about 2 minutes per side. Let rest on paper towels on a rack in a warm (170 F) oven until all the pork is cooked. Pass lemon wedges with the pork slices.
Cooked this way, pork tenderloin is as tender and flavorful as veal -- but a lot less expensive.
Warm Rolls and Butter
Pasta is inexpensive and makes an elegant appearance in this special baked dish. Pair a white sauce with small shrimp and canned crabmeat and layer it between sheets of lasagna, alternating with a blend of ricotta and cream cheese and sprinkling with shredded mozzarella.
Saute two 16-ounce bags of frozen cut-leaf spinach in a bit of olive oil along with a couple of minced garlic cloves until tender. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a splash of red wine vinegar, if desired.
Crusty French bread
Instead of buying stew meat, which is more costly because it is already processed, buy a piece of chuck beef and cut it into 1-inch cubes yourself. This way, you'll also have more control over how much you trim away.
The most expensive element of this dish is the beef; the second is the wine that goes into the stew. Ask the proprietor at your favorite wine shop to recommend a nice dry red wine that is full flavored and suitable for cooking. Tell him what you are preparing, and emphasize that you are cooking on a budget.
Slow and steady wins the race with this dish. Even a tough cut of meat will melt like butter in your mouth after a few hours of gentle, slow cooking in this stew.