Everyone loves a good party. But do economic challenges and tight wallets signal the end of fabulous meals and dinner get-togethers? Limited cash doesn’t have to mean looking cheap, serving ho-hum fare, or sitting at home alone. With the right menu and a little planning, you can treat your guests to a gourmet meal and do it on a budget.
As our wallets feel the pinch, more and more people are turning away from upscale groceries in favor of conventional groceries, warehouse groceries, and farmer’s markets. A great way to adapt to a budget is to buy a lot of simple, fresh ingredients and then selectively sprinkle in gourmet items here and there to create exciting meals.
Trader Joe’s is the perfect example of a grocery store where you can still find a gourmet bargain such as premium cheeses, specialty sauces and mixes, and affordable wines. A crumble of goat cheese, a sprinkle of pine nuts, and some sun dried tomatoes can turn an inexpensive bag of dry pasta into a Mediterranean delight.
A great way to leverage affordable ingredients and stretch gourmet goods is to throw a fondue party. Nothing says elegant or high-end like fondue. Think about it as the upscale indoors equivalent of a campfire – good friends gathered around a cozy meal. The display is impressive but simple to make. It can all be prepared ahead of time. Cheese fondue is typically served with cubed bread, but you can add a huge array of colorful (and affordable!) vegetables. Cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and green beans are just some of the dipper veggies that can make every dollar stretch. With the money saved on dippers, you can afford to splurge a little on some nicer quality cheeses for the sauce.
No fondue party is complete without some wine. Go for something that is bright and acidic, but with enough fruity and earthy flavors to go with cave-aged cheeses like Gruyere. A light and fruity Cabernet Sauvignon is a great choice. Visit a Trader Joe’s store or wine store that has a selection of affordable wines. Or simply expand the party into a wine tasting and ask each guest to bring their favorite bottle.
Take a Stab at Cheese Fondue
Choose a selection of cubed crusty bread and raw or cooked vegetable dippers such as broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, snap peas, green beans, or cooked potatoes. Vegetables ready to microwave in their own bags reduce prep work to just minutes. Choose any dippers you like, as long as they are firm enough to be stabbed with a fondue fork.
½ lb. Emmentaler cheese, grated
½ lb. Gruyere cheese, grated
¼ lb. Havarti cheese, grated (optional)
1 Tbsp flour
1 clove of garlic, halved
1 ½ cup dry white wine
1. To prepare vegetables (any selection of broccoli, cauliflower, squash, zucchini, potatoes, sugar snap peas), simply microwave in packaged bags, or boil in salted water until crisp-tender. Arrange dippers on a platter and set aside until ready to serve.
2. Mix cheeses in a bowl. Toss with flour. This is all you should do before guests arrive. Cheese fondue should be prepared just before serving.
3. When guests are ready, rub the inside of a fondue pot or saucepan with cut sides of garlic. Discard remaining garlic. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and fold in cheese, stirring constantly until all cheese melts. Do not let boil or cheese will harden.
4. Arm guests with fondue forks and serve fondue with a big platter of dippers
Note: If you have Kirsch (a clear cherry liqueur), add 2 tsp at the very end.
Prep time: 10-20 minutes
Serves 6 good friends