This month, I am tackling the excuse I hear most often for why people don’t entertain: It’s too expensive. I’m about to knock the teeth out of that notion and prove that you CAN host a delightful meal for less than you think. With meat! And wine! And dessert! So, start flexing those frugal muscles and get ready to host a delicious dinner party on the cheap (and your guests will never know)!
*Please be aware this post contains gratuitous meat photos, just in case that sort of thing offends you.*
It’s fast becoming grilling season, so I chose a menu that would give us an excuse to fire up the grill for the first time.
Marinated Skirt Steak with Magical Chimichurri
Grilled Crookneck Squash
Chipotle Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Chilled White Wine
Here’s the breakdown of the cost of each ingredient of this meal for 4: 2 lbs skirt steak $11.40, 3 lbs. sweet potato $2.00, 4 crook neck summer squash $2.60, 1 lemon $0.50, 2 bunches of herbs $1.50, 2 bottles of white wine $6.50 (don’t hate on the Charles Shaw when on a budget), 1 pint ice cream $3.50. Grand Total $28! That’s $7 a person! What?!? Yea!!
I’m going to share with you my favorite trick to making a delicious meal while watching pennies: focus on quality, locally grown, in season produce. I’m talking whatever looks best and plentiful at your local farmer’s market or your own garden. Fresh, in season produce will always be less expensive than trying to find something out of season AND be of much better quality. Even though you might be able to find a $5 eggplant right now at the grocery does not mean it is good eggplant. This is one of those special, rare times when taking the cheaper route will actually yield better ingredients!
The very first summer squash varieties made their debut this past weekend at my farmer’s market, so I snatched some up. Living in the South is grand! Summer squash in April! They were actually slightly more expensive than they will be at the height of summer, but still a solid, quality bargain. Another bonus to in season produce – they’re already delicious so you don’t have to do much to them. A good coat of olive oil, salt and pepper, and a hot grill were all these squash needed.
See what I mean about gratuitous meat shots. Oh yeah, that’s skirt steak in all it’s glory. It’s a chewy, extremely beefy cut that benefits from a nice long marinade and a quick hot grill. It is also very affordable, which makes it perfect for this budget Party On! Topping the steak with a little chimichurri sauce elevates it from plain old grilled meat into a company worthy main dish.
Warning, if you make this chimichurri expect future requests for it from everyone who tries it. Even people who hate cilantro love it. All the flavors combine to create something greater than the sum of it’s parts. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it might be magic.
Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak, serves 4
2 lbs. skirt steak
juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Place skirt steak in a large zip top plastic bag. In a medium bow combine all other ingredients. Pour marinade over steak in bag. Carefully press out as much air as possible from the bag and seal (by removing the air, we’re increasing the total surface area of the meat that the marinade is touching and can cut the time to marinate in half). Marinate in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Fire up grill and remove steak from fridge. Let rest on counter 20 minutes before grilling, then drain off marinade and pat steak dry. Grill over high heat about 5-6 minutes per side for rare (longer for more well-done).
Magical Chimichurri, makes about 1 cup
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Clean parsley and cilantro well. Pull leaves off the bunches and toss into a food processor. Peel garlic cloves and put in food processor. Add vinegar and oil, salt and pepper. Process in food processor until well combined but not totally pulverized. Serve immediately or store in an air tight container for up to 24 hours. Slather it on steak, or vegetables, or bread, or nearly anything edible.
When I’m planning a party on the cheap, I always look to inexpensive starches to round out a menu. The humble Russet potato is always a good choice as is the pretty, pretty sweet potato I chose this time. Don’t overlook rice or pasta side dishes, either. None of these starches cost much money and they are easy to dress up. My sweet potatoes, for instance, got dusted with some of the same chipotle chili powder that I put in the marinade for the skirt steak. It added just enough zing and heat to amp up the guest worthy factor of a roasted potato. I also didn’t peel them before I roasted them, and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the crispy, kind of chewy potato skin.
I hope this little dinner party encourages you to believe that you can be on a budget and still enjoy hosting a dinner party! Feel free to chip in with your cost saving tips in the comments. I would love to hear them!