Cheap Eats: The Perfect Cheap and Impressive Dinner Party Menu (Summer Edition)

Here at The Billfold, we love cheap and easy recipes. Here’s an easy and affordable dinner party menu by reader Allison Bello.

I love to cook for people—it’s how I show my love for my friends. Hosting a dinner party can be expensive, though! You want the food to be delicious and impressive, the alcohol to be free-flowing, and the pre-dinner nosh to be satisfying. Armed with $50 and a basic idea that I wanted to keep things as simple and delicious as possible (read: it’s 90 degrees out, so light food and drink, no oven involvement, and less than three pans to wash), I came up with a dinner party menu that received rave reviews from all guests in attendance.

Note: The prices here are approximately how much I pay for these items from the cheapest of my local grocery stores.

The Pre-Dinner Nosh
• 1 wedge goat’s milk gouda: $4 (They have an excellent version at Trader Joe’s. I found mine at Market Basket.)
• 1 jar banana peppers, sliced into rings: $3.50 (I like Pastene sliced hot pepper rings¬—don’t buy the pepperoncini deli rings, which look similar, but taste less awesome.)

This combination is incredibly simple and sounds a little crazy, but I swear it’s the most delicious cold appetizer. Just cut the gouda into 1 inch x ½ inch rectangles, and place a hot pepper ring on each slice, secured with toothpick. Arrange on plate, and enjoy!

The Meal: Sesame Ginger Stir Fry
• 1 package thinly sliced turkey medallions: $4
• 2 bell peppers (I like yellow and orange): $1.50
• 2 small zucchini: $1.50
• 1 red onion: $1
• 2 jalapeños: $1.50
• 1 package pea pods: $2
• 4 cups brown rice: less than $1
• A few tbsp. grapeseed oil (I find this oil to have a nice, nutty flavor that is less overpowering than olive oil but still healthier than vegetable oil; but any oil you have on hand that you like to use for pan-frying is fine.)
• Salt & pepper to taste

The Marinade
• 1 bottle Kikkoman Teriyaki plus Triple Ginger marinade: $3
• 1 small bottle sriracha (I had this on hand, but you can buy it pretty cheap, around $2. It is the BEST hot sauce ever and you will want to put it on everything after this.)
• 2 limes: $1

Pour three parts Kikkoman Teriyaki sauce plus one part Sriracha into a small mixing bowl. Juice two limes into the mixture, and whisk with a fork. Slice the turkey medallions into bite-sized pieces and place into a Tupperware container (or whatever you use to marinate things). Pour marinade over raw turkey, place in fridge to sit for the 30-45 minutes it will take to prepare the veggie portion of the stir fry.

Chop bell peppers, red onion, pea pods, and zucchini into same-size pieces. (I like to make the peppers, zucchini and onion slices about 1 ½ inch long and very thin, and cut the peapods in half.) Finely dice jalapeños and put all veggies into a large mixing bowl. Coat with several tablespoons of grapeseed oil (or whatever oil you prefer), and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.

Put a nonstick pan or wok on medium-high heat, and let the pan warm up. Once the pan is hot, put all of your veggies in and cook for about 10 minutes (enough so that the onions start to get clear and soft, but not so much that you compromise the integrity of the vegetable—I think a good stir fry needs some crunch to it). Once your veggies have reached desired done-ness, pour the marinade-and-turkey-pieces mixture into the pan. Toss everything together until the turkey is cooked through (it should only take a couple of minutes) and the veggies are coated in marinade, and everything is nice and hot. Then, remove from heat and prepare to enjoy!

For rice, I use the 10 minute boil-in-a-bag kind. I prefer brown rice, but any kind will work. I try to time it so that I put the rice on just before the veggies. It’s okay for the rice to sit for a minute because you’ll put all that hot stir fry stuff right on top of it. However you do it, just try to time it so the rice is done a little before everything else.

Serves four VERY hungry people, or six people who have just been noshing on your awesome gouda-and-pepper appetizer.

The Booze: White Sangria
• 1 box of Fisheye Pinot Grigio: $14.99 (for a 3 liter box, which is an incredible deal because this wine is actually very drinkable and delicious on its own; with this much wine, you can make half sangria, and keep half as plain wine so you can offer variety to your guests.)
• 1 box strawberries: $2.50
• 2 peaches or nectarines: $1.50
• 1 box raspberries: $4

Nothing compliments the heat factor in this meal like a light, crisp sangria made from white wine and fresh fruit. I used to put vodka in my sangria, until it started getting people way too drunk, way too quickly. So now I save money and unforeseen costs to dignity for all involved by just using wine and fruit! Do this the night before – the longer the fruit soaks, the more delicious the sangria is. Pour out approximately half of the 3 liter box into a pitcher. Cut up strawberries into fourths and peaches/nectarines into like-size chunks. Pour all the fruit into the pitcher, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit overnight (two nights is even better). Serve chilled.

The Dessert: Accept the Generosity of Your Guests
You know when you invite someone to your place for dinner, and they always ask “can I bring anything?” The answer is always yes, and always dessert!

Total Cost of Perfect Summer Dinner Party: $48.99 (Under budget! Woo! Go take that $1.01 and buy yourself something pretty.)


Allison Bello lives, works, and cooks in the Boston area. She’d love to have you over for dinner. Photo by Shutterstock/R.ashrafov Have a recipe you’d like to share? Email us!



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