Correspondents Dinner Rundown

This weekend’s dinner was a huge success! There is nothing like spending a Saturday night hobnobbing with celebrities (and by hobnobbing, I mean standing next to and staring at celebrities).

First things first, the outfit. After much hemming and hawing, I opted to wear a dress I already owned. I tried to get this dress from Rent the Runway, but I couldn’t get it in time for the dinner.  I looked at other options, but the ones the I liked were all well over $200 to rent. As we know, I had a $150 budget for the dinner so that wasn’t going to work. I decided to spend my budget on primping instead. I got a mani pedi at my favorite nail place, Vicky’s, and then hit VSL for my up do (thanks to my fairy godmother). Here is the final result (photos courtesy of my fabulous and patient neighbor). You might recognize the earrings from an eBay oops earlier this year.

MS_WHCD2

The hair was ok. I  always have high hopes that it will look different when I get it done, but it always ends up looking the same. In the back was a simple bun – no photo needed. I wanted to do something easy since I was going to a cheaper place. I will say that she did a nice job, and I was happy with my $58 spent. I think next time I need to put more thought into what I want and maybe I’ll get that spectacular look I was hoping for.

The party, on the other hand, did not disappoint. I get sheepish about approaching celebrities for pictures, so I don’t have a ton of those. I did manage a spectacular photo bomb in my friend Kyle’s picture with Ty Burrell at the ABC party. When I realized what was happening, I knew I had 2 choices – duck or embrace the moment. Clearly, I embraced.

CKR_MS_Ty

Amazing right? Something about movies stars turns me into a total nut. Sigh. At one point during a mid-dinner ladies room run, I found myself sharing the bathroom with Amy Poehler, Olivia Wilde, and Morena Baccarin from Homeland. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a picture in the ladies room, so I just I washed my hands for a very long time and then left when I was on the verge of being a real creep.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing evening. I was happy with my outfit, and I didn’t spend a million dollars either. Total budget breakdown below:

Dress and jewelry: FREE
Hair: $58 plus tip (courtesy of the hair fairy)
Nails: $42 plus tip (sponsored by my Aunt who took one look at my toes on friday and said “I hope you’re going to do something about those”)
Uber ride to the party (to arrive in style): $22
Taxi home: $8

Total expenditure: $148
Minus subsidies (Thank you Aunt T and my fairy godmother!!): -$118
GRAND TOTAL SPENT: $30

Not too shabby for a star-studded evening if I do say so myself! What do you think?

 

An Ode to the Hair Fairy

I have a new godmother. A FAIRY godmother to be exact. I have had regular godmothers since I was born – three of them to be exact – but this is my first fairy godmother. And man, did she show up at the right time.

My mom called me yesterday to tell me that someone dropped an envelope for me at her house, and curiously the return address was from “the hair fairy”.  We both were stumped (and still are, to be honest) about who it could be. Anyway, I finally got to pick it up this weekend, and lo and behold my hair fairy has given me a “sponsorship” for my White House Correspondents dinner up-do. Woo hoo!

I’m headed to VSL Hair Design in Dupont Circle tomorrow where there up dos start at $58. My grandmother always focused on the front of the “do” versus the back. She said that no one should be spending any time looking back there. So with that in mind, I’m looking to do something simple in the back and looser in the front. Perhaps something like this, courtesy of Dianna Agron.

T-minus 12 hours till dinner time. Do we think this will work?

Springtime Sunday Dinner – Menu of Champions

DinnerSetUp

Last night, my brother and I collaborated on a long overdue birthday dinner for my dad and stepmother.  We put on a spectacular party if I do say so myself – all very Discountess-friendly.

We planned a menu that used a lot of the same ingredients, which helped make the grocery shopping more efficient and cut down on waste. I don’t know about you, but it really fries me when I have to buy a bunch of fresh herbs only to use one tablespoon and have the rest go bad.  I felt totally vindicated when we conjured up this menu because it used up most of the ingredients we had to buy!

We started with Ina Garten’s Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas on a toasted baguette. Not only was the recipe easy, but it used basic pantry items that I had on hand.

For the main course,  we had roasted salmon. Since it was the star of the meal, I didn’t scrimp on the cut of the fish. I headed to an old family favorite, Cannon’s Fish Market, in Georgetown. They gave me a center cut of an 8 lb fish (I only needed about 3) for $28.89. I roasted it with a bunch of dill, parsley, lemon and green onions in the center, finished off with some salt and pepper. I drizzled olive oil on the top, added thinly sliced lemons, and tossed it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Doesn’t it look pretty?

SalmonDinner

I made a “salsa verde” to go with the salmon that used up the rest of the fresh herbs. It was a sleeper hit! We rounded out the main course with a new potato salad and fresh asparagus. Wine was courtesy of my trip to California. And for dessert, individual strawberry shortcakes, recipe courtesy of Bisquick.

All in all a lovely meal, and for my part, the total tally did not exceed $80 (which will eventually be split between the two of us). Not bad!

For those who want it, I’m including the Salsa Verde recipe below. I highly recommend it! Easy and delicious. I don’t know how capers and mint go together, but trust me, THEY DO.

Salsa Verde

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, pressed

1 handful capers

1 large bunch parsley, washed and coarsely chopped

1 handful fresh mint, washed and coarsely chopped

Juice of  1 lemon

1/4  cup olive oil

Salt and cracked pepper to taste

Place the garlic, capers and fresh herbs in a blender. Add half the lemon juice and olive oil, and pulse a few times. Add more oil and lemon juice as needed to create a sturdy, herb-heavy sauce, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with salmon. Can be made a day or two in advance.

I’ll Have the Mussels

Just yesterday, I was reminded how I’ve changed my ways since becoming the Discountess. I had dinner with friends at Bistrot Le Zinc, a cute little neighborhood spot in Cleveland Park. Despite being a local spot, their prices are a little on the high side. My friend had a Living Social deal though, so the dinner promised to be less expensive.

As the waiter came over to take our order, he talked about a bouillabaisse special. For those of you who don’t know what bouillabaisse is, it’s basically a french fish stew (and I love it). Their special had fresh shrimp and scallops in it, and it sounded delicious! I was all set to get it, when I remembered to inquire about the price. And thank GOD I did. Turns out, my yummy stew was going to cost me $34. Say what?! The conversation with the waiter went something like this:

Me: I think I’m going to get the bouillabaisse. What is the price on that?
Waiter: It’s $34.
Me: I’m sorry, did you say $24?
Waiter: No no, it’s $34.
Me: Thanks, I’ll have the mussels.

At $18, the mussels were far more reasonably priced, and still quite delicious. They serve them in individual Le Creuset pots, which is a nice touch.

In my old days, I would have gone with my gut (literally), ordered the stew, and gotten the sticker shock when the bill came. But now, I was at least aware enough to ask for the price before ordering. It might seem like a small thing, but it was a win for my bank account and my new-found frugality.

Now, I have an extra $16 burning a whole in my pocket. I think it’s safe to call that a victory.

 

Red Carpet Chili Dinner

My Oscar party and critique session was a huge success! Thank God I strategized in advance – it turned out to be the perfect action plan.

For hors d’oeuvres, we had hummus and carrots and crackers with cream cheese and pepper jelly. And wine of course! I happened to own all of it, even the pepper jelly, which I actually made with a friend a few weeks ago.

The one-pot meal was ideal. It was delicious, inexpensive, and so easy. I’d highly recommend this for an easy meal for a big group. I was able to heat it up on its own, so I could concentrate on the travesty that was 2013 Oscar fashion (check out this excellent recap from my friends at Cardigans and Couture).

Here’s the recipe:

Firehouse Chili

1 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
11/2 lbs. ground turkey (you can use ground beef as well)
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 10 oz. cans Rotel tomatoes, undrained
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 16 oz. cans red kidney beans, undrained

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven. Add the meat, stirring to break up the lumps, and cook until brown. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeno and cook until the onion is limp. Drain off any excess fat from the pan.  Add salt, cayenne, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Add tomatoes, sauce, and beans. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours more.

Serves 8.

For the fixins bar, I had red onion, cheese, sour cream, avocado, chopped tomato, fritos scoops, and fresh chopped cilantro. Of course, I forgot to take any pictures, but it looked something like this:

A friend contributed the salad, which she threw that together right before we ate. Another 2 ladies contributed cookies for dessert (including my favorite homemade molasses cookies – thank you Christina!). And the rest of the ladies brought wine and champagne.

Everyone ate a ton and talked even more. When I turned on my TV this morning to watch the news, the volume was at 74. Clearly, the TV couldn’t compete with our strong conversation skills!

But, I have to say the best part of the party was the clean up. One lap with a trash bag, and it was all done. Genius!

Here is my total tally for the dinner party (note: I made a double recipe of the chili to have some extra for dinner this week):

Turkey – $7.99
Kidney Beans – $1.89 x 2
Tomato Sauce  – $.65 x 2
Rotel – $1.99 x 4
Jalapenos – $.11 x 2
Fritos Scoops – $3.89
Sour Cream – $2.50
Cilantro – $1.09
Avocados – $1.70 x 2
Hot House Tomatoes – $1.65 x 2
Paper bowls – $2.29

Grand total to serve dinner to 8 of my dear friends and me: $37.72

Dinner for 9 under $40 = one happy Discountess!

Easy Skillet Pot Pie

My mom came over for dinner and Downton Abbey this week. She believes that On Demand is a magical thing that only occurs on my TV, so she has to come to my house (with 2 dogs in tow) to watch it. We had a great time hanging out and catching up on last week’s episode.

When I have a great cook over for dinner, I automatically get nervous about what I’m going to make. And my mom is a great cook. To add insult to injury, I  haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks! I did get a box of fresh veggies from my CSA last week so I decided to start there. I also had baked some chicken breasts earlier in the week, which I wanted to use up.

I decided to make a skillet pot pie. It was a first for me. I based my version off an Epicurious recipe, but had to be creative with some ingredients based on what I had. Plus, Epicurious’ version was a little too calorie-laden, so I lightened my version up with less oil and flour. Trust me, it did not sacrifice flavor.

I have to say despite many experiments within the recipe, the dish turned out beautifully. It was easy to make, and did not take long at all. I would highly recommend it for last-minute guests or a low-key dinner with friends.

potpie

Skillet Pot Pie

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup frozen white pearl onions, thawed
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 1/2 c. shredded brussels sprouts
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 c. shredded chicken (I used chicken breast, but you could also use about 1/2 a rotisserie chicken as well)
1  sheet frozen puff pastry (I used Pepperidge Farm), thawed
1 egg

Place a rack in upper third of oven, and preheat to 425°F. Heat oil in an 8″ cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add garlic and herb de Provence to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes.

Add brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing often, until it’s a little wilted. Sprinkle flour over. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, 1/2-cupful at a time, then add squash. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is just softened and broth is thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Add chicken to skillet, stir, and season with salt and pepper.

Unfold pastry and smooth out the creases. Place the pastry over the skillet, allowing corners to hang over sides. Mix the egg and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl, and brush pastry with the egg wash. Cut four 1″ slits in top to vent before placing it in the oven.

The recipe said to bake pot pie  for about 15-20 minutes until pastry is beginning to brown. Then, reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes until pastry is deep golden brown and crisp. Each oven is different, so I’d urge you to watch your puff pastry in the first 10 minutes (or so) to make sure it doesn’t brown too quickly. I ended up turning the oven down after 10 minutes and moving the pan to the bottom of the oven to cook for the rest of the time.

Let the pie cool for 10 minutes before serving with a salad on the side. Et viola!

NOTE: This is sort of a “kitchen sink” type recipe, so you can experiment with a lot of different combinations of veggies. You can also speed up the cook time by chopping the vegetables and shredding the chicken in advance. Easy peasy.

The Best Inexpensive New Years Party. EVER.

BDC

I really don’t like New Years. Lots of hype, added cost, and the night never turns out how you wanted. I’m way over the crowded DC bar parties where you end up paying $150 for a 4 mile long line at the bar. No thank you.

However, last year I discovered (with the help of my dear friend and future Discountess contributor, Sara HP) the best New Years party in town at Bistrot du Coin (BDC). It’s unique, fun, and most-importantly, cost-effective.

Since I happen to have the closest abode to the restaurant, we gathered at my house for drinks before dinner. I had a bunch of leftover hors d’oeuvres and champagne from my Christmas party, so no shopping was required. Sara HP also brought over delicious prosciutto and fontina and pesto pinwheels to round out the food (The recipe is super easy and tasty! I definitely recommend it.).

BDC does 2 seatings on New Years – one early and one late – we opted for the later one at 9:30.  We left my house at 9:10 and took the D2 straight to DuPont. I love the bus. LOVE. It picked up right outside my house, and dropped us 2 blocks from the restaurant. It was much easier than finding a taxi, and while walking is totally possible, it was cold and half of us were in heels. So, clearly that wasn’t happening.

We ended up with a group of about 12, which was a great size. We ordered bottles of wine and appetizers for the table, and the main course was straight off the menu. No pre fixe nonsense! If you’ve ever been to BDC before, then you know the food is fantastic. Clearly, they did not disappoint last night. Escargot anyone?

escargot

After a delicious dinner, they passed out sunglasses, hats, and noisemakers to the crowd. BDC hired a deejay, who was spinning some choice tunes, so we danced around and waited for the clock to strike 12. After the New Year, they pushed all tables to the side and a huge dance party broke out in the middle of the restaurant.

BDC Group

Ride to the party: $1.60

Cost of dinner (tax and tip included):$65.00

Ride home: FREE (This was total luck. I caught a ride with a friend who drove to the restaurant.)

GRAND TOTAL: $66.60 for an awesome evening with great food and friends…and a strobe light. An excellent way to start the New Year!

strobelight

AND SCENE.

Off the Beaten Path Birthday Dinner

So my brother’s birthday was this weekend, and as far as birthday’s go, it was a semi-big one so I felt a get-together was in order. Keeping an eye on my coins was important, but I also wanted it to be fun for him and our friends. Enter the best idea ever…

I got a reservation for 17 of our nearest and dearest at Thai X-ing, a local Thai supper club in Ledroit Park. Kudos to my mom for sending me the link! It turned out to be the perfect place. A dinner for 17 can be difficult to figure out – and this one was not without some logistics – but we managed to make it work.

Thai X-ing is actually a regular D.C. row house that has been converted into a restaurant. It has fabulous nooks and crannies for little tables. We were actually in an upstairs room at a big feast table. There was one other party in the room with us when we sat down. Sadly, they were no match for us, and they quickly left us to ourselves. It was probably for the best because at one point we commandeered the iPod speakers to play Top 40 hits and sing at the top of our lungs. This party was not for sissies.

If you’re thinking of hosting a group birthday dinner, I’d highly recommend this place. Here’s why.

1. The food was amazing. They were also very accommodating to one person in our party who had a food allergy. Granted to really enjoy it, you have to be adventurous and willing to try everything, but it was all so delicious I can’t imagine not wanting to taste everything!

2. No menus, one price. The meal itself was $50 a person plus tip. Our friends were gracious enough to contribute a bit extra to pay for my brother’s meal, so the per person grand total was $65 for everything. Not bad for a full 5 course, homemade Thai meal! Everyone brought cash, so we were able to count and pay quickly without having to deal with splitting the check over multiple cards.

3. BYOB. This was actually perfect, especially for the Discountess. As his birthday present, I provided the alcohol for everyone. I checked out my trusty Rodman’s circular. For those who’ve never been to Rodman’s, you’re missing out. It’s a great place to get wine, beer, specialty groceries, etc for good prices. Anyway, they had Beck’s 16 oz. can cases on sale for $20 – I picked up 3 cases and a magnum of delicious french red wine for $13.99 (no seriously, it was really good!). Mom contributed 6 bottles of white wine from her stash, and we were good to go! The beers were especially key, by the way. Much easier to carry into the restaurant and far better to deal with when cleaning up! They let us roll right in with a cooler. It was awesome.

In short, this was a perfect place to have a fun dinner with friends. Everyone had a great time, especially my brother.  Sunday was a slower day for some, but it was a small sacrifice to make to the party Gods.

P.S. I know I owe you a November budget rundown. I’m working on it. It’s ugly, and I’m having a hard time facing it, especially in print…