It seems most people are watching their pennies these days, and dining-in has become the option of choice to get together with friends and family. However, having guests can be a costly exercise if you don’t plan your menu wisely. Is it possible to serve an impressive meal whilst still keeping a check on your budget? Yes it is! The following winter entertaining ideas should provide you with some inspiration:
Soup is an ideal choice for a starter, particularly now the colder weather is with us. Everyone enjoys and appreciates homemade soup. Soups are generally easy to make and most can be made fully in advance, only requiring heating at serving time – perfect for entertaining. Whether it’s a creamy pureed soup or a chunky soup such as French Onion, served with a garnish and some fresh crusty bread it makes an elegant and versatile entrée. Other economical ideas for a starter are risotto or a pasta dish.
For the main course, budget-friendly chicken is always popular and can be prepared in so many ways: curried, roasted, braised. A dish such as Coq au Vin (chicken braised in wine) is a wonderful winter-warmer.
If you prefer to serve meat for a main course, one of the great things about winter food is much of it is slow-cooked and the best choice of meat for these types of dishes are the cheaper cuts such as chuck, blade and skirt. The connective tissue, fat and sinew that hold the muscles of the meat together are broken down in the braising or stewing process, rendering the meat tender and releasing gelatinous juices to create a rich and full bodied gravy. Dishes such as Braised Lamb Shanks, Beef Curry, and Osso Bucco are excellent choices for this time of year.
Accompany your main course with fillers such as potato, rice and pasta, which are not only inexpensive but always popular. Always choose seasonal vegetables (see below for this month’s guide) as they are not only cheaper but of superior quality.
Dessert is usually the least expensive part of the meal, and there are so many economical options. Puddings such as chocolate or Sticky Date, fruit crumbles and other warm desserts are always crowd-pleasers. One of our most popular dishes made in our cooking classes is Chocolate Volcanoes: individual chocolate pots with a molten centre – easy to make, economical, can be prepared in advance and just require baking at serving time.
If you’re serving wine with the meal, this can often be the most expensive component. Thankfully there is an ever-increasing selection of quality wines at reasonable prices available. Get to know your local liquor store and ask them for advice and suggestions. Your guests will likely bring a bottle of wine, so why not ask them for a specific type of wine so you can be sure it will go with the meal you’re serving to save you having to purchase?
If you found this article useful, our “Entertaining on a Budget” cooking class is for you! Please see our website for details.