For our "Best Values in the City" story in the June issue, we asked three writers to come up with a menu to feed a dinner party of eight for less than $50. The following are the recipes that will allow you to re-create their plans yourself, whether you go for Jason Tesauro's indigenous Southern comfort food, Debi Shawcross' budget fiesta or Stephen Versen's wine lovers Italian dinner party. Enjoy!
Indigenous Southern Comfort Food
Fresh Shrimp Spring Rolls with Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce
4 ounces of rice vermicelli noodles
12 8-inch round rice paper sheets
1 cup of mint
1 cup of Thai basil
1 cup of cilantro
Green leaf lettuce, lightly chopped
8 ounces of medium-sized shrimp, cooked, deveined and sliced lengthwise
Place rice noodles in a large bowl, cover with very hot water and let cook for about 30 minutes or until softened. Drain well, running cold water over the noodles.
Fill a deep pie dish with warm water. One at a time, dip rice sheets in warm water until they begin to soften. Drain and remove to a cutting board.
Arrange a portion of the noodles along the lower half of a rice sheet. Top with a little mint, basil, cilantro, lettuce and shrimp. Fold up the bottom of the rice sheet and roll like a burrito. Repeat with remaining ingredients. As you're working, cover rolls with plastic wrap to avoid drying. Slice each roll on the diagonal and serve with dipping sauce.
Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce (Nam Jim Satay)
Makes 1 cup
1/4 cup of peanut butter
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 to 2 tablespoons of red curry paste
1 teaspoon of fish sauce
8 tablespoons of coconut milk
2 to 3 teaspoons of brown sugar
4 to 6 teaspoons of lime juice, or to taste
Thai chili sauce, to taste
Combine peanut butter with all other ingredients except the lime juice in a small saucepan over low heat. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little chicken (or vegetable) stock. Add the lime juice, tasting as you progress to check the balance of flavors. Thin with a little more coconut milk or water if sauce is too thick.
Burgundy-Marinated Pork Loin With Grilled Potatoes and Focaccia
5.4-pound pork loin
1 bag of carrots, chopped
1 bag of celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups of red wine
5-pound bag of red potatoes
1/4 cup of Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Marinate pork loin overnight in wine with generous amounts of coarse sea salt and pepper. Remove from the refrigerator in time for it to warm up before cooking. Sear on three sides in a skillet over high heat. Place chopped carrots and celery with some of the marinating liquid into a deep pan. Nestle loin into vegetables, dust with salt and pepper and cover with foil. Cook in oven at 375 degrees, 20 minutes per pound.
Quarter potatoes and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. Near the end of cooking time, wrap potatoes tightly in foil and grill over medium heat until caramelized and softened.
Hand-stretch and toss the dough until thin and large enough to cover the grill surface. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. Grill on medium-high heat 2-3 minutes per side or until golden with black grill marks. Slice into strips and serve hot.
2 boxes of stove-top banana pudding
1 box of vanilla wafers
1 pint of whipping cream
Prepare pudding on stovetop according to package directions. Add a sprinkle of nutmeg and a dash of cinnamon. Crush vanilla wafers into small chunks. Layer wafers, hot pudding and sliced bananas into a glass, repeating as glass/ingredients allow. Let cool in refrigerator. Before serving, top with one whole wafer, a slice of banana and freshly whipped cream. Dust with fresh ground nutmeg and serve.
Shredded Mojito Chicken Soft Tacos
1 fully cooked rotisserie chicken
Mojito Sauce (recipe follows)
1 (16-ounce) package of 8-inch flour tortilla shells
1 head of iceberg lettuce, cored, sliced thinly
8 ounces of sour cream
2 cups of salsa
Remove all meat from chicken, discarding skin and bones. Shred chicken using two forks. Transfer shredded chicken and prepared Mojito Sauce to a large skillet. Warm over medium heat until just heated through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl.
To heat and soften tortillas, place a stack of 6 tortillas between 2 slightly dampened paper towels. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, or until warm. Tip: To keep tortillas warm, wrap in a kitchen towel.
Set-up: Place lettuce, sour cream and salsa in serving bowls and arrange next to Shredded Mojito Chicken and warm tortillas. Your guests may now build their own soft tacos, choosing the fillings they desire!
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup of chopped onion
1 cup of orange juice
Juice from 2 limes
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of black pepper
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
Combine garlic, onions, orange juice and lime juice in a 2-cup measuring glass. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully pour (I suggest wearing oven mitts to protect your arms) contents of measuring glass into pan with hot oil. This will splatter, so please be careful! The results of adding the hot citrus to the oil creates an amazing flavor release. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer five minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Let mixture cool slightly, then transfer mixture to a blender and pulse about five times to combine flavors. (Sauce may be made one week in advance; reheat when ready to use.)
Black Beans with Peppers and Tomatoes
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 (14.5-ounce) cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
11/2 tablespoons of ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (add more if you like spicy)
1/2 teaspoon of oregano
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil, then add the onions, peppers, garlic and salt. Cook until the vegetables are softened, about five minutes. Add the black beans, stirring to combine. Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, ground pepper, tomatoes and cilantro. Cook until heated through, just a couple of minutes. Add the butter and mix well. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Frozen Lime Cup Tequila Shooters
12 limes, ends trimmed and cut crosswise in half
2 1/4 cups of fresh orange juice
5 tablespoons of grenadine syrup
1 (generous) teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 cup of tequila
Squeeze lime halves in citrus juicer to extract as much juice as possible. Transfer 3/4 cup of lime juice to bowl; cover and chill. Reserve remaining juice for another use. Using scissors, cut out membranes from hollowed lime halves. Enclose lime cups in resealable plastic bag. Place in the freezer until fully frozen, about 4 hours.
Mix orange juice, 3/4 cup of lime juice, grenadine, salt and cayenne in blender. Transfer mixture to pitcher. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about two hours. (Can be made one day ahead. Keep chilled. Keep lime cups frozen.)
Arrange frozen lime cups on serving tray. Pour orange-juice mixture into 12 lime cups and tequila into the remaining 12 cups. Serve immediately.
Cinnamon Sugar Cookie Crisps
Makes 15 to 18 cookies
1 (.25-ounce) package of active dry yeast
1/4 cup of warm water
2 cups of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 11/2 tablespoons of sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of milk, scalded and cooled
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
In a small bowl, mix the yeast with warm water and set aside to soften. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two forks until only small crumbles remain. Combine the milk, egg yolk and softened yeast in a small bowl and add to the flour mixture. Mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl mix together 3/4 cup of sugar with the cinnamon and set aside.
Place the dough on a lightly floured cutting board and knead for about one minute. Roll into a 10-by-18-inch rectangle and brush with the melted butter. Sprinkle three-fourths of the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over the buttered dough. Beginning at one 18-inch side, roll dough jelly-roll-style to close. Cut roll into 11/4-inch slices and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Gently press slices to flatten out a bit. Brush tops of all slices with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.
Wine-Lovers Italian Dinner Party
Penne à la Vodka (adapted from Cook's Illustrated, November 2006)
2 (28-ounce) cans of whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small onion minced (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
2/3 cup of good-quality vodka
1 cup of heavy cream
2 pounds of penne pasta
4 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh basil
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Purée half of the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Dice remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine pureed tomatoes and diced tomatoes in liquid measuring cup; add reserved liquid to equal 4 cups.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Add onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly golden around the edges, about three minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until alcohol flavor is mostly cooked off, eight to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in cream and cook until hot, about one minute.
Add pasta sauce to penne pasta that has been cooked al dente. Stir in basil and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; top with Parmesan.