Our latest Frugal Feast featured a novel twist: frugal wines! To date, the rules of the road for our monthly feasts have been as follows: healthy, well-balanced dinners where the host's task is to source ingredients low on the food chain, mostly organic, supportive of local farmers and all for no more than $5 a head. Wine, beer and all other libations have always been “BYO”: bring your own.
But seeing as our hostess, Alexis, is a wine professional who regularly hosts eclectic tastings and other events aimed at demystifying wine, we decided to pool our BYO budget and hand her the reigns, giving her the additional challenge of finding - and educating us on - the best, most affordable wines to accompany the meal.
Alexis had 11 guests in total, so her food budget was $55. We also pitched in an extra $10 each for wine (roughly how much we would spend on an average bottle), giving her $110 with which to do her magic.
Here's the delicious menu Alexis came up with:
- First Course: Purple Mustard Green Salad
- Second Course: Purple Potato Salad
- Main Course: Roasted Squash, Mushroom and Spinach Pizza (Goat cheese optional, but excellent)
- Dessert: Poached Apples with Syrup and Candied Walnuts
And if that wasn't enough, here are the wines she served, in this order:
- Cava, Josep Masachs, Spain, NV
- Riesling, Kuentz-Bas, Alsace France 2010
- Beaujolais Villages, Domaine de Bel-Air, France 2010
- Ribera del Duero, La Planta, Cosecha, Spain, 2010
I’ll let Alexis take it from here, reflecting in her own words on her double frugal duties, improvisations and all:
"I love to host parties so I was very excited for the Frugal Feast challenge. Admittedly I started brainstorming several weeks before the dinner but I didn't lock myself into any recipes because I planned to go to the Farmer's Market the Thursday before. In not setting an exact shopping list I left myself open to items and combinations that wouldn't have occurred to me had I gone seeking specific vegetables such as the purple mustard greens and awesome "Moo" radish. Obviously I had to buy the "Moo" radish on name alone."
"Not having a set menu did, however, leave me wandering around the farmer's market scoping vegetables and muttering to myself as I did mental math and checked off ingredients by courses. Note: I went to the Columbia University market on Broadway which is year round and also on the smaller side—by smaller I mean fewer purveyors, not choices. And it’s a good thing because there is such a thing as too many options."
"Other than the market I bought the whole wheat pizza dough and goat cheese from Whole Foods and benefitted from a donation of veggies that one of the feasters couldn’t finish from her CSA."
"The salad is my own invention, the potato salad is modified from the Cook's Illustrated version and the pizza was also mine."
"The dessert was a basic poached apple recipe, I read several versions and made up my own according to what I had in the cupboard. But the candied walnuts are the clincher."
"The wine was all purchased from PJ's in Inwood which has a great selection and knowledgeable wine staff. I started with a Cava which is an inexpensive sparkling wine from Spain. The quality of Cava is dependable and they are very affordable. This was good for the guests to sip on while we waited for everyone to arrive and settle in. "Conversation lubrication" if you will...though the Frugal Feast bunch is pretty sociable to say the least!"
"The second wine was the dry Riesling from Alsace paired with the mustard green salad. The aromatic Riesling with slightly bitter salad was a nice mix."
"The Beaujolais (not Beaujolais Nouveau) was a light bodied red wine for the mid-course potato salad. Main course was a Ribera del Duero a big, oak-y, fruity wine for the winter themed pizza."
"The total for the wine was $101.04 and since I had $110 to spend, I served a homemade cherry liqueur with dessert. Just like with the food, when you get a group to pool their resources you can get better value items. So we had 8 bottles for 11 people and all the wines were good."
"I had a great time. We had 11 fun and interesting guests, the food and wine came in on budget and were enough to satisfy the crowd. I am already thinking about when I can host next..."
I think we'll take her up on that!
But until then, below are Alexis' recipes and, in true Frugal Feasts fashion, her shopping list and receipts.
First Course: Purple Mustard Green Salad
Purple Mustard Greens
Massage the mustard greens with the Olive Oil, Rice vinegar and salt. Top with thin slices of "Moo" radish and fried scallions.
Second Course: Purple Potato Salad
Purple Potatoes (9)
4 tblsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 tblsp Sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tblsp Dijon Mustard
3/4 of a bunch of Scallions, sliced small, white and green parts, kept separate
6 slices Kosher Pickles, diced
Slice potatoes into 1/2" pieces. In a large skillet (not a pot) bring potatoes, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, salt, sugar to a boil then lower heat and cover. Simmer 15 minutes until soft when pierced with a fork. Drain into colander reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add to the 1 cup of cooking liquid the mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1/2 cup of potatoes. Mash until smooth. Gently fold liquid mixture, diced pickles and scallion whites into potatoes.
Keep at room temperature up to 4 hours. Top with scallion greens when serving.
Main Course: Roasted Squash, Mushroom and Spinach Pizza (Goat cheese optional, but excellent)
Soft Goat Cheese
Whole Wheat dough (3)
Peel, seed and slice squash into 1/4 thick slices. Toss with Olive Oil, sprinkle with salt. Slice the heads of garlic exposing the cloves, sprinkle with olive oil. Roast both for 15-20 minutes on 350 until soft.
Sauté mushrooms and onion in a pan with olive oil until soft.
Heat oven to 425, stretch dough using olive oil, and spread over upside down baking sheet. Layer squash, mushrooms and onion, mashed garlic, olive oil, raw spinach and crumbled goat cheese. Grind pepper over pizza. Bake approximately 15 minutes,
Dessert: Poached Apples with Syrup and Candied Walnuts
Walnuts (or other raw nuts)
Granny Smith Apples (6)
Sugar (2 1/2 c)
Vanilla 2 tsp
Cinnamon 1 tblsp
Water 2 qt
Juice from 1 lemon
Quick hostess note:
"The quantities listed are for the portions I made for this event, and each of these recipes are super easy and fast. I did have to bake the pizzas one at a time, though you could do two, just note they may take longer to cook. I listed, but did not assign value to the items that I feel are standard household items."