How to: Throw a fabulous dinner party on a tight budget
Good food, good wine, good conversation -- that's what makes a great gathering. And those things need not suffer in challenging economic times. You can still tighten your wallet and throw a fabulous dinner party.
"The first thing to go when economizing is fun," says Dana McCauley, a food trend expert and author of Dana's Top Ten Table. "Things like entertaining—and shoes." But that doesn’t have to be the case. While you may forgo that pair of pretty pumps, you can still enjoy the company of friends around a beautiful table with good food and money to spare.
Food for thought
It is possible to serve a three-course dinner with wine for under $100, says Dana. At a special event in Toronto, she and her husband, chef Martin Kouprie, co-owner of the award-winning Pangaea restaurant, each prepared a delicious menu with appetizer, entree and dessert.
The trick is to look beyond the foie gras and filet mignon. Simple, well-chosen quality ingredients are all you need to create an outstanding menu. "Pork shoulder is a wonderful economical cut of meat and extremely versatile," says Martin, who featured it in his Asian oven BBQ pork. Ground sirloin is another great option, adds Dana, who created a faux mignon of blue cheese-stuffed beef patties. "Burgers are going to be so big this year because of the economy."
Martin's Japanese roadhouse-inspired menu also included green mango and rice noodle lettuce cups as a starter and pound cake with green tea syrup and candied lemon zest as dessert. Dana's Canadian bistro-themed meal offered an appetizer of steamed mussels and pear tarte tatin as the finishing touch.
Todd Ziemann, director of winemaking for Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, collaborated with the chefs to match the right wine for each course. Wine, he notes, does not have to break the bank to be enjoyable. What you’re looking for, rather, is the best pairing of wine and food. "Food brings out the elevation of the wine," he explains. "Wine should stay in the background."
To that end, Todd suggests mussels be accompanied by a sauvignon blanc, which has a good acidity that will stand up to seafood and a grassiness that can cut the richness of the butter. Cabernet sauvignon is a good choice for the burger. "The tannin structure of the wine goes with the creaminess of the blue cheese," he says.
A refreshing pinot grigio is the perfect match for the green mango salad—both are light and crisp. And a merlot plays off the pepperiness of the BBQ pork’s hoisin sauce. "The merlot cuts the spice and brings it down, getting you ready for the next bite," Todd explains.
Dressing the table doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, simpler settings allow food to shine. Serve appetizers on white degustation spoons or tapas plates; you’ll be serving less food because of their small size all the while showing how in tune you are to the latest decor trends.
Look through your dinnerware, stemware and serving ware—including grandma’s silver you have hidden away for special occasions—and mix and match. "Take from what you have and accent it," says Dana. Fill in what you're missing with classic styles from inexpensive stores like Crate & Barrel and Ikea, go DIY by making napkins out of fabric remnants or placemats from Japanese paper, and add punch with flowers.
"You don't have to treat every dinner party as a photo shoot," says Dana. "It’s about bringing people together across the dinner table and sharing in wine and food. Friends are worth it."