How To Make The Fanciest, Most Restaurant-Worthy 3-Course Dinner For About $15 A Person

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There are two things you should know before starting this post, because it is long and full of detail. One, these are the easiest and most rewarding potatoes you will ever make in your young culinary lives, so I hope with all my being that you will put this recipe to good use at some point. It’s my own recipe – doctored up and figured out over the years – so the measurements are imprecise. But so is life! You’ll probably need to adjust it as you go, and I encourage you to. Enjoy the flexibility that is cooking (as opposed to the rigid, scientific scariness of baking, but more on that later).

Two, before you embark on any food journey, you should know about the most fabulous website in the world – which Marc introduced me to, I cannot take credit for this – because it will change your life. Wines Til Sold Out, a discount online wine store, presents the user with one bottle at a time and sells a bunch of them at INSANELY LOW prices until there are no more. Because of this website, our house has a wine rack that is constantly full in the most flossy, ostentatious way with at least 20 different bottles. (And since you buy several bottles of each type at a time, we are able to stock the stuff we like.) Get on this site. The bottle we’re drinking tonight cost us a mere 11 dollars – discounted from over 30. (For the recipe, I am also using another bottle of cooking white wine that I always have on hand, it costs about 9 bucks and gets used over time.)

So, first and foremost, let’s break down what this dinner entails:

-An aperitif (the best part of any meal, which Americans need to latch onto in our cultural narrative). I believe that one should have at least one full drink whilst nibbling and awaiting the real meal, so that is what we’ll do here. Count a glass of the red you’re going to be having later as part of this, or have a bit of white, a beer, or a cocktail. Whatever you have on hand. Something light if possible.

-A full dinner with roast meat, potatoes, and a vegetable.

-A nice, simple, elegant dessert.

And to do this, you will need (rough estimates on prices for two people, things like salt/pepper/oil I won’t count because YOU SHOULD HAVE THIS):

-A nice, crusty loaf of bread — $2

-Olives and peppers for the aperitif — $3 if you fill your Tupperware up judiciously at the olive bar

-Yukon Gold potatoes, enough for two (ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES, WHITE POTATOES ARE FOR THE WEAK) — $1.50

-Green beans (frozen are fine, but fresh feel fancier) – $1.50

-One yellow onion, medium size — $.75

-One bulb garlic —$.50

-A light, thick meat of your choice for two. (Could be chicken breast, pork loin, or whatever. This time I’m using pork butt because the butcher recommended I try it, though I usually use pork loin, but it’s a really adaptable recipe and can use most white/pink meat. ) — ~$9

-Herbs de provence (you get them in a jar, any supermarket. You should always have a jar of this on hand, they are nature’s most versatile herb blend)

-Black pepper

-Salt

-Olive oil

-Some cooking white wine (that you should also have on hand, but if you don’t, add about 7-9 bucks to this cost)

-A handful of berries, I chose blackberries — $3

-A slice of cake from the bakery where you got the bread — $3.50

-A nice, light red (or richer white) BOTH OF WHICH YOU ACQUIRED AT A SENSIBLE DISCOUNT RETAILER, BECAUSE YOU ARE SMART — $10

So there are your prices! A little more than 15 per person, but just about! And there are things you can skimp on if you are in a pinch. So let’s get down to the food itself. First on the list, and coincidentally, most simple: The Aperitif.

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As you can see, there isn’t a whole lot of work that goes into this. Break off a piece of crusty bread, have some olives and peppers (or cheese, or hummus, or whatever you like here) and a nice drink. The aperitif is not supposed to be substantial in terms of food (the point is to get your appetite going), and it’s much more about the experience than the actual course. So take this time to linger, have an olive or so, dash in and out of the kitchen, and generally revel in the criminally-underappreciated “before the actual meal” period of the evening. It will make any dinner instantly feel a million times more luxurious.

Now, onto the preparation of the main course. This meal is called

Roast Meat Of Some Sort With The Sumptuous Chelsea Winetatoes And String Beans

As you can see, this is all incredibly fancy and French. But don’t let it intimidate you! The preparation is extremely simple, all you need is a large cooking dish (like the one seen here), a pan, and a pot in which to blanch your beans. All in all, this recipe takes about 2.5 hours from start to finish, but the vast majority of that is spent enjoying the aperitif while the potatoes roast away. The secret to my potatoes being so unbelievably delicious is in the name – they are cooked with white wine. This renders them tender, aromatic, and the perfectly rich kind of savory. Combined with the herbs, garlic, and onions, you are in for a serious potato-y treat.

To prepare the taties:

-Preheat your oven to about 400 degrees.

-Cut your yukons into nice little cubes about half the size of your standard ice cube, as shown in the photo.

-Cut your onion into nice frito-sized “onion chips,” and mix them all around with the potatoes in your pan.

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-Mince about four cloves of garlic into a nice, fine mince.

-Put your minced garlic into the bottom of a drinking glass.

-Top with a few teaspoons of herbs, and a generous amount of salt and pepper (several good pinches of each), as seen here:

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-Add in about a glass’ worth of white cooking wine. You can (and maybe will) add more to taste as you go.

-Add about three tablespoons of olive oil.

-Add a little bit less than a glass’ worth of water, enough to fill the drinking glass entirely. It will look strange and unappetizing once it’s all combined and strirred up, but fear not!

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-Take about half of this tincture and coat the taties lovingly, as seen here.

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-Place the potatoes in the oven and let them slow roast for about an hour, stirring them occasionally so that they are nice and evenly coated/caramelizing, and adding a bit more of the tincture if they seem dry and sad.

(They will look more or less like this after an hour)

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Now! Onto the meat. (This will happen during the hour that the tates are in their first roasting round.)

One word on this: I’m using pork butt here as I mentioned before, but I would recommend a beginner use loin. It’s a little easier to work with, as it’s a much less marbled cut of meat.  Butt (or shoulder, basically the same) has an excellent flavor that I really love, but if you’re a beginner, keep it simple. Chicken breast and loins (medallions of lamb or pork are also great here) are as simple as you can get.

Anyway. You’re going to want to rub both sides of the meat with a little salt and pepper, and leave the meat out long enough that it can get a bit dry. (As Julia Child taught us, meat must always be dry before searing, or it won’t get all nice and wonderfully brown.)

Once your potatoes are starting to feel a bit cooked (but not brown and crispy yet, this should be like the above photo, after about an hour), go ahead and sear your meat in a medium-hot pan for about 2 minutes on each side, or until it is nice and brown and sear-y on the outside but still has much cooking to go within. (This will depend on the thickness of your roast, of course. If you are doing chicken breast, be even more judicious about how long you sear, because the breasts cook quickly and can get tough.)

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While the meat is searing, and you are still awaiting your potatoes, you can snip the ends off your beans and blanch them in boiling water for about 4 minutes, or until nice and green and lively. Just enough to get them not crunchy and weird before you give them a quick once-over in the pan with a bit of butter and salt (and maybe a squeeze of lemon, if you’re feeling daring).

Once your meats are seared, transfer them to a little cubby you make in your potatoes, and add the rest of the tincture, as seen here.

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Continue roasting for approximately 60-75 minutes, or until cooked through. (Mine took a long time, as it is a big piece of butt!) This will be enough time for your roast to be juicy and well-cooked within, your potatoes to be nice and brown, and your onions to be positively caramelized. Use your judgment here, you’ll know when it’s caremelly and wonderful. It’s not a science, it’s an art!

In the meantime, sautee your string beans in a pan with a pat of butter and a decent sprinkling of salt. You should be able to eyeball this, I trust you.

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Now, take out your roast, and gaze upon it.

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Now plate! Served with a nice glass of red (or white) and a hunk of crusty bread, it’s the perfect, most aromatic and satisfying meal. Enjoy!

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Onto the dessert.

I’m going to be really honest with you here: I am terrible at cooking dessert. To be kind, is not my specialty, and I have burned more tarts than I have saved. The precision of baking – as I mentioned before – alienates me, as I tend to experiment and wing it when in the kitchen. I wish that I were better at desserts, and I hope to progress in writing this blog, but for now I am terrible at them. So what do I do? I get a nice, big slice of cake at a bakery (where I got my bread), and some berries to spruce it up and make it look a little more homemade. (I also love the way the tartness of berries contrasts with the rich, creamy sweetness of the cake. It’s a great combination, and a great end to a meal.)

Cut the slice in half – I find a bit of cake goes a long way – and serve. Nothing complicated here.

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Now, the two of you retire to the couch to watch a profound foreign film and digest the whole thing over a glass of whiskey, and cuddle the night away. (Or, if there are a lot of you, you let the meal run long into the night with great conversation and after-dinner drinks and coffees.)

Despite the length of this post, it’s an incredibly simple meal to execute, and it always feels as indulgent as going out for a big dinner on the town. I am forever an advocate of the dinner party – whether for two or ten – and this has been one of my standby meals for a long time. I hope that you will enjoy it (if you make one of these things, please let me know!), and most of all, I hope you will join me in finding more frugal ways to enjoy a great meal than always going out to restaurants and overpaying for mediocre pasta.

Going out for dinner can be great, yes. But there is a deep satisfaction in knowing you can make something just as good at home – and for a fraction of the price.

Bon appetit!

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