Chic on the Cheap

I’ve always got a reason to throw a dinner party, but I don’t always have the cash. Don’t let a bourgeois obstacle like money interfere with one of life’s greatest pleasures: entertaining. Last weekend, while struggling to conjure up a cheap yet elegant dish that I could serve my nine guests, I decided to abandon my Martha Stewart complex for one night and ask for help.

The premise is simple: instead of asking a guest to bring their own dish, have them to bring an assigned gourmet ingredient. Then assemble the meal according to your own discriminating standards without revealing what it is you’re actually preparing. For my frugal festivities, I made whole roasted garlic with toasted baguettes as an appetizer, wild mushroom risotto and an asparagus and cucumber salad with homemade lemon and herb dressing.
Whole Roasted Garlic
1 head garlic
Olive oil
Cut off the top quarter of the garlic with a sharp knife. Place garlic in the middle of a large pan (a cupcake pan works well), drizzle with olive oil, and cover with a piece of foil. Crimp the foil around the garlic. Bake in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.
Wild Mushroom Risotto (adapted from Bon Appetit)
5 cups canned vegetable broth
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
12 ounces crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
8 ounces portabella mushrooms, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
1 1/2cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1 wine glass of dry vermouth
1/2cup grated Parmesan cheese (or hard Goat cheese, for those allergic to dairy)
Bring broth to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Add porcini and simmer until just tender, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to plate. Cool mushrooms and chop finely. Cover broth and keep warm over very low heat. Melt butter with oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add crimini mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add porcini, garlic and both herbs; sauté 4 minutes. Add rice; stir 2 minutes. Add wine; cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup hot broth; simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Continue to cook until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 30 minutes. Mix in 1/2 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4-6.


Asparagus Salad


3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 pounds medium asparagus, trimmed
4 cups thinly sliced green onions
3 cups 1/4-inch cubes peeled seeded Kirby or English hothouse cucumbers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon


For dressing:
Whisk first 5 ingredients in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil.

For salad:
Fill large bowl with lightly salted ice water; stir until salt dissolves. Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, reserving 3 cups cooking liquid. Transfer asparagus to bowl of salted ice water to cool. Place green onions in another large bowl; pour hot reserved asparagus cooking liquid over onions and let stand until cool, about 30 minutes. Drain asparagus and green onions well. Transfer onions to clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry.

Combine green onions, cucumbers, and herbs in mixing bowl. Add dressing; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange asparagus on platter. Spoon cucumber mixture over and serve. Serves 3-5.


By using my suggestions for guest assignments as a guideline, the remaining ingredients should cost no more than $20. Or, if you are one of the culinary challenged, lure a kitchen-friendly friend by absolving them of their obligation to bring anything, and let them do the cooking. Mix it up with other dinner party concepts: why not try a Top Chef challenge? Ask your guests to bring their favorite ingredient and test your creativity in combining some or all of them.

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2 responses to “Chic on the Cheap

  1. Those garlics look like flowers from an alien greenhouse. MMM!

  2. Hey Abbey! We had a modified version of your Asparagus with the Lemon dressing tonight. I didn’t have the cucumbers. Nonetheless, it was delish! Thank you!! Love your blog 🙂

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