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$1 per person dinner party


Shalmanese
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Celebrating both the recession we are currently in and the depression we just got plunged into 80 years ago, I am planning to host a hobo dinner party where I attempt to cook an entire multi-course meal for $1 person. Is this even possible? What are some great ideas for cheap yet satisfying dishes?

If $1 per person proves too much of a challenge, I might amend it to $1 per course which should be significantly easier.

PS: I am a guy.

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Do you have a hunting or a fishing license? :biggrin:

Seriously, though, I'm probably one of the most frugal cooks on the planet and I can't come up with a satisfying $1 meal- at least, not satisfying in relation to a half decent portion of meat. Having done a fair amount of catering, 1/2 lb. of meat is really not enough for most people. I'm thinking minimum 3/4 lb. Find me a halfway edible boneless meat that costs less than 1.50 a lb.- it just doesn't exist.

You could go the vegetarian route and maybe hit that $1 realm, but... that's not going to be satisfying.

You could probably do it for $2, but not for $1.

As far as doing it for $2, it'll be less about suggestions you find here for particular dishes and more about being able to work with what's on sale. I also think your chance for success is going to depend a lot on how much work you want to put into it. As you spend less, in order to achieve spectacular results, labor goes up- way up. Turning low fat/low flavor $1.99/lb sale chicken breast or $1.99/lb sale bottom round into something beautiful usually takes an incredible about of labor. In many ways it's like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Eggs are cheap. Personally, I've learned to loathe them- at least prepared in the normal ways- fried, boiled, scrambled, etc. Quiche is nice, but the cheese in it would kill your budget. I haven't done one in a while, but maybe a souffle might be a nice addition. Again, though, you'd have to be careful with how much/what type of cheese you use.

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Should be doable for $1 per course, especially as some courses may be achievable for less than $1.

There is a difference between serving 6 people, with a total budget of $6, and serving 20 people, with a total budget of $20. Economies of scale would come into play, for example, a 4 oz. slice of pate of $4 and a demi-baguette of $3, could be easily split on crostini for 8-10 servings, whereas the same amounts would need to be purchased for 4 servings, as the product needs to be purchased in manageable "whole" units. Are you calculating the per person cost based on the "potential" number of servings available from each recipe batch, or the actual cost of the recipe?

But on to menu suggestions, any of these should be doable for $1 each:

Cheese rarebit: use small amounts of more flavorful cheeses, and day-old bread for the base.

Bean bake ("almost" cassoulet): start w/ dried beans, and the "ends" of cured meats from the delicatessen

Potato & leek, or potato & kale soup

Meatballs and rice; splurge on some port for the sauce

variation on eggs could include a Strata: sliced day-old bread, some protein flavorings (i.e., cheese or bacon), eggs, milk (use powdered milk to leave more $$ for cheese and butter!)

For portion sizes, based on the USDA guidelines, DAILY protein requirement for most adults is about 6 ounces in total for the day. So, a 3 oz portion in any course would be completely adequate, especially considering the theme of the dinner party.

Karen Dar Woon

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You'd have a very difficult, if not impossible, time doing that where I live but prices in this small, remote town are not on par with what things cost in most places. I could probably manage $1/course if, as Karen DW mentioned, there was going to be enough people to scale the total budget up to a decent amount. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Since we're nearing Thanksgiving, if you could find a loss leader turkey somewhere, either for 30 cents a pound, or maybe even free, that might be a great place to start.

Sacks of potatoes and bags of beans are pretty affordable.

Canned tuna also.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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If you really apply yourself and seize every opportunity, I think you can do it for a dollar for the whole meal. I agree with the comments above that it's all going to be about taking advantage of sales and loss leaders. The stuff like rice, beans and potatoes will be no problem. It's just a question of getting a super-cheap piece of protein.

Maybe a butcher will give you scraps for free so you can make a soup.

Lots of supermarkets have a rewrap rack where they sell the old produce that's about to go off.

Etc.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Stuff the protein in something like ravioli, and you don't need much of it.

Yes, or put it into a sauce of some kind and pour it over a starch. Also don't need much of it.

And if you get a protein with lots of different parts - like a chicken or turkey - you can think of imaginative ways to use it all.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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A few questions: how many people? how many courses? what part of the country? what season of the year?

Economies of scale & locale are important: I make a seafood gumbo (crab, shrimp, oysters, smoked sausage, ham) for 200 that runs about $1.50 per serving. Obviously, if I lived in Kansas, this wouldn't be possible.

The first universal thing that springs to mind is red beans & rice....a pound of dried beans runs less than $5 and will feed a dozen people. A pound of rice is less than 50 cents and will provide four servings...so you could do a nice entree for about 80 cents a head, assuming that you have basic seasonings already on hand to spice up the beans. Buy two boxes Jiffy cornbread mix at 79 cents each (13 cents per serving for the mix, plus 36 cents for the two eggs) for a side dish. This brings your total to around .95 per person; this leaves sixty cents (ETA: out of $1 per person, assuming a dozen guests) for "extras". Not a fancy meal, but perfectly nice Southern home cooking that won't cause rickets.

Of course, you could substitute black beans, pintos, garbanzos, or whatever's on sale at the food co-op, salvage grocery store, or dollar store. Speaking of the dollar store, I noticed POUNDS of land o'lakes butter in the refrigerated section for $1. Now that's a good price....

Edited by HungryC (log)
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My first thought was a soup with a smoked ham hock - you can a lot of flavor and it hearkens back to the soup kitchens of the Great Depression. And I'd price out yeast and think about making some bread - it's special for most people, but also old-fashioned in some ways. Depending on the soup it could be a starter or the main....

Sounds like fun whatever you do!

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Hobo dinner got me thinking of Mulligan Stew.

Wikipedia yielded this:

ade of meat and vegetables -- whatever is available or can be begged or stolen. It is an American term, honoring an Irishman whose first name has been lost but who may have made a tasty Irish stew." Robert Hendrickson, Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins

Woody Guthrie spoke of a similar approach, tater stew, in his Talking Dust Bowl Blues

We got out to the West Coast broke,

So dad-gum hungry I thought I'd croak,

An' I bummed up a spud or two,

An' my wife fixed up a tater stew --

We poured the kids full of it,

Mighty thin stew, though,

You could read a magazine right through it.

I had the official version of Mulligan Stew once at the National Hobo Convention in Britt Iowa. Giant cauldrons of Mulligan Stew shared for free with all the folks attending, hobo or not. Pretty much flavored water with a few peas, carrots and a trace of meat.

Seems this might be the way to go, especially if you're up to a bit of begging and stealing.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Agree with the previous poster about hunting and fishing would be about the only way I can see it working -- or foraging, gardening, etc. I just can't wrap my head around being able to prepare an entire meal for $1. Things like eggs, rice, potatoes, etc. have been mentioned, and while economical, they're not free. Eggs are well over a dollar a pound. I don't know how many potatoes you could get for $1, but not enough to feed everyone. Even for a potato soup you're going to need dairy or maybe even chicken stock. Even for the beans, you need at least onions for the vegetable seasoning. I don't know about grocers giving you anything for free, even though they throw it away, which is ridiculous. However, you can cook cheap, and it could work for $1 per person -- maybe -- as long as you don't have to count the cost of things you already have on hand in your pantry.

Chicken livers are one of my favorite economical ingredients. You could make a pate or crostoni (they ate a lot of stuff on toast) for an appetizer, or fry them then top with a sauce for an entree (a sherry-based sauce goes really well with them, use with other chicken giblets and make a dirty rice.

If you're doing it for a party theme, make it a little easier on yourself and up it to $2 per person so you can enjoy Two Buck Chuck along with your meal! :biggrin:

Rhonda

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Sacks of potatoes and bags of beans are pretty affordable.

Canned tuna also.

Re; tuna. I used to think the same thing. Have you priced canned tuna lately? Have you weighed the yield from an average 5 oz. can? Let me tell, the result is NOT pretty. A 5 oz. can yields about 3.5 oz. of meat. With cooking loss, that translates into about 4 oz. raw. At about a buck and a quarter per can, that's $5 a lb. $5/lb is NOT cheap, even for fish. Even on sale for $.99 a can that's still $4/lb- a decent price for fish, but not cheap at all compared to sale chicken or beef.

And $1.25/can is low end tuna. TJs albacore (one of the better tunas) is $1.60, effectively putting it in the $6/lb. realm.

Maybe tuna is effectively inexpensive because one tends to eat a can in a single sitting (and not more), but pound for pound, canned tuna is not cheap.

Edited by scott123 (log)
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Sacks of potatoes and bags of beans are pretty affordable.

Canned tuna also.

Re; tuna. I used to think the same thing. Have you priced canned tuna lately? Have you weighed the yield from an average 5 oz. can? Let me tell, the result is NOT pretty. A 5 oz. can yields about 3.5 oz. of meat. With cooking loss, that translates into about 4 oz. raw. At about a buck and a quarter per can, that's $5 a lb. $5/lb is NOT cheap, even for fish. Even on sale for $.99 a can that's still $4/lb- a decent price for fish, but not cheap at all compared to sale chicken or beef.

And $1.25/can is low end tuna. TJs albacore (one of the better tunas) is $1.60, effectively putting it in the $6/lb. realm.

Maybe tuna is effectively inexpensive because one tends to eat a can in a single sitting (and not more), but pound for pound, canned tuna is not cheap.

Well, yikes.

Okay. So skip the tuna.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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If you're into it, then check at the fish mongers for heads and bones. They'll make a great stock with the addition of some bay leaves, thyme, celery leaves (which obviously, you have saved from other days). Sometimes the "trim" will include chunks of fish cut off from the perfect portions of fillets :)

At my neighborhood produce markets, there is often a rack, right beside the till, of $1 bags of produce. One day there was a 2 lb bag of bell peppers :)

Karen Dar Woon

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Yes it would help to know the parameters.

Just looking over the circular from a supermarket near me, there are a lot of interesting options. But ultimately it's going to come down to what's being promoted near you.

I see something here called "pork loin combination," bone in, for 99 cents a pound. That could form the basis of a soup *and* some kind of Southwestern pork-and-beans dish served with rice -- at least that's what I'd do with it. I imagine you can get turkey even cheaper this time of year. They're also selling 18 eggs for $1.49. A coddled egg over grits, or something of that nature, could be a whole course for just cents per person. There's a whole section of the circular with 10-for-$10 offers, including Bumble Bee tuna and canned tomatoes in 28-ounce cans -- and the 10-for-$10 special is mix-or-match.

There's so much that can be made from just flour and water. Or if you get cheap eggs you can do a fresh pasta.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It's very possible to pull this off, especially if you use dry legumes and rice or pasta. There are a lot of great Indian dishes that can be made with just an onion and maybe some canned tomato for a sauce. I'd also look at investing in some carrots and onions as cheap flavor.

Do you have a 99 Cents Only store nearby? Mine carries bags of three organic heads or romaine for the magical 99 cent price tag. Add a simple vinaigrette and the salad course is done. (it WILL be a small course) They also frequently have whole heads of cauliflower and broccoli, which can help with your main dish. And, they do sell beans, rice, pasta, potatoes and onions. I frequently buy yukon gold potatoes and red onions there. (the beans tend to be 1# bags, pinto beans 2# bags, the rice 2# bags and the pasta 2# bags)

I would include a soup course at the start. It fills people up, and can be made with vegetable stock from trimmings. Or, tomato soup using a #10 can of tomatoes - $2.99 at Smart & Final -for a larger party. (saute an onion and some dry basil in a dab of oil, add tomatoes, cook then puree)

I occasionally make a curried potato soup that's just an onion and a couple potatoes browned in oil with some curry powder, then water is added, cook til tender, mash a bit, season and add a glug of milk and a handful of chopped carrots and/or frozen peas.

Then , of course, there's Grocery Outlet. I have seen amazing stuff there.

Off the top of my head, menu for 10:

Shredded Romaine & Grated Carrot Salad with a Mustard Vinaigrette

Tomato Soup

Curried Pinto Beans & Carrots with Brown Rice

Rice Pudding with White Rice

Cost

99 cents each: romaine, 2#carrots, 2# onions, 2# pinto beans, 2# brown rice, 2# white rice, milk

$3: #10 can of tomatoes (use for soup and a little for sauce)

total $10

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Not really a full menu, but some ideas....

Expanding on Steven's suggestion, I'm always amazed at how much polenta a small handful of grain will produce....and in truth, I don't think it always takes a ton of butter, cheese, or other dairy to make the stuff taste good. Salt and roasted garlic are good flavorings for the background....and if your eggs are relatively affordable, a poached egg as the centerpiece in a bed of polenta sounds like a fine meal to me.

Juila Child's potato soup, made with just vegetable, water, salt and a bit of butter, is great. Instead of pricier leeks, I have substituted onions before and been happy with the results.

If inexpensive meat is an option for you, leg quarters are often $0.50/lb in a weekly circular in my area. You can make broth, and use meat/broth for chicken and dumplings (I'm thinking of simple rolled dumplings that are little more than flour, leavening and water.)

Homemade spatzle is another option to consider, along with the usual flour-based suspects like pasta.

Edited by Sony (log)
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I'd also like to hear your restrictions. $1 per person sounds pretty hard to me, but $2 sounds pretty reasonable. Don't forget breakfast foods! They tend to have a lower per person cost and are very filling and satisfying.

Budget Bytes is one of my favorite blogs for budget cooking. Her entrees usually run around $1-$1.50/serving and are always generous, and side dishes are often in the $.60/serving range.

This writer had a high-end party planner do a winter party for $30/person, but I that included decor and drinks, and I already see lots of the suggestions that I could do cheaper (especially as a Midwesterner with cheaper prices and as a crafter with a lot of my own suppplies).

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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