Lou's Clues: Dirt cheap dinner parties

Hello, WalletPop readers! Chef Louie here again, bringing you the best in cheap eats with dinners meant to save you mucho dinero! This week, we're going to broach a subject that many think can't be done on the cheap: dinner parties!

If you're like me, you love eating with friends, but you hate all the expense and time that goes into buying all of the ingredients, the drinks, the supplies. Some of you probably even hate all the time that goes into prep and cooking. Well, hate no more, because this week I am introducing you to the concept of the Chef Louie Dinner Party, where the cooking is as much an opportunity to party as the eating!

So what exactly is the Chef Louie Dinner Party, you ask? Simple. A Chef Louie Dinner Party is a party where everyone picks a dish to make, then brings their ingredients to your place for prep and cooking. Everyone -- friends, parents, kids, etc. -- gets to share in the work and expense, and cooking together can be an absolute blast! It really lives up to its name -- a dinner party -- where the whole dinner process is a party, not just the eating!

As the host of the party, you should generally take responsibility for choosing a theme, and preparing the main dish. My favorite theme (surprise, surprise) is Italian. Instead of the many slow-cooking meals that this theme has to offer, let's settle on some quick and tasty fare that will be inexpensive and relatively easy, yet elegant enough for a holiday or special occasion: a handmade ravioli dinner. Ravioli are easily made with fillings that can be customized to anyone's taste, and can fit even the tightest budget. Add this to the yum (and fun!) factor for the children and you have a sure winner!

Try this easy Ravioli Recipe:

Start with a package of won ton wrappers. You will find these in the produce department and they're usually under $3 a pack -- enough to feed an army. I prefer these over their twin, the pasta wrapper, because the won ton wrappers are a tad thinner. For adults, these can be folded in half for square ravioli, or corner to corner and trimmed for an adult-sized mezzaluna (half moon). For the kids, try quartering a sheet to make squares that are the perfect size for little mouths.

As a rule, use 1 tbsp. of filling for an adult ravioli, and 1 tsp. for a kid-size. Once the filling is placed on one wrapper, brush a little egg wash around the edge with your finger, then add the top wrapper and seal by pressing a fork gently along the edges. (This also creates a neat-looking edge for your ravioli.) One you have them filled, toss them in boiling, salted water, and these fresh ravs will cook in 10 minutes.

Here are a few fillings that will please:

Cheesy Italian: Start with 1 cup of whole milk ricotta, add 1 egg, salt and pepper to taste, a dash of nutmeg, and 1/4 cup of Parmesan, Asiago, mozzarella, and Romano. A little fresh, chopped parsley goes well here, too. Mix all ingredients together, then portion into the ravioli.

Zesty Sausage: Take about 1 cup of Italian sausage meat out of its casing, add 1/2 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese, one egg, and start filling!

Shrimp Scampi: Yes, that's right -- shrimp scampi. This is a good one for when you want to impress your guests -- but make sure you check for any shellfish allergies first! Take a can of those tiny shrimp (really inexpensive stuff), 1 tablespoon of Italian breadcrumbs, 1 egg, some chopped parsley, 1 pat of softened butter, 2 tablespoons of white wine, and enough ricotta cheese to stiffen the filling (usually about 1/4 cup). Salt and pepper to taste, and add 1 tbsp. of fresh minced garlic to complete this amazing filling.

Next week I will share my 20 minute sauce and a dessert that will please you as well as your budget!


Chef Louie hosts Good Day Food & Wine, a nationally syndicated weekend radio show. A culinary veteran, Chef Louie pledges to empower you in the kitchen and supermarket, and help you eat better, entertain better and keep more of that hard-earned money close to home. Sign up for his free e-newsletter here.
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