Sometimes it’s the people with the least money who seem to get the most out of life. My friend Heidi Von Palleske is an actress who constantly teeters on the precipice. Despite some successful films, and the odd windfall, her Champagne taste has never caught up with her Spaghetti-Os budget. Heidi coined the phrase “unmonied elite” to describe herself and the rest of us who never have more than a few bucks in our bank accounts but who always manage to travel in interesting circles and manifest an enviable lifestyle — albeit hand-to-mouth. The unmonied elite never let an insignificant obstacle like money interfere with the ability to indulge in any of life’s great pleasures. Nor should you.
The Party Platform
About $15 of seed money should cover the basic ingredients to be provided by the host. All guest ingredients are less than $10.
It’s important that every guest bring a component of the meal so everyone has a stake in the successful outcome of the evening. If you already have some of the ingredients I’ve designated as “Guest Assignments,” exchange them for something from the “Host Requirements” list, or substitute with flowers, music or party favors.
In addition to his or her designated ingredient, each guest should be asked to bring a bottle of wine.
Be sure to inform guests that their ingredient is but one piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle. Describe in detail the specific method of torture that’ll greet anyone who’s late, and allude to the mysterious curse of the root canal that has haunted previous last-minute cancellations and no-shows.
To avoid Murphy’s Law, be very, very specific when assigning guests their ingredients, and politely suggest that they don’t wait until the last minute to go shopping. That said, part of the fun of a “not luck” dinner is going with the flow and making do with whatever the guests arrive with. (“They didn’t have corn oil so I bought corn syrup.”)
If you’re a social butterfly of the culinary-challenged breed, lure a kitchen-friendly friend or two to do the cooking by absolving them of their obligation to bring anything. In this case, you must assume responsibility for the unassigned ingredient.That credo is especially true in the kitchen. Fifty cents worth of fresh garlic, ginger, shallots, chilies, lime juice or lemon zest can instantly transform any ho-hum dish into a techno-flavored rave in your mouth. By developing the confidence to add them in bold quantities, you can throw together simple meals that are as impressive as they are inexpensive.
When the mood strikes to throw a fabulous dinner party before that proverbial check arrives in the mail, a “not luck” dinner party is just the meal ticket.
The premise is simple: Instead of the tired “pot luck” routine, where guests are asked to bring prepared dishes, pick an upscale recipe that requires minimal cooking time and assign each guest one of its gourmet ingredients. After all the guests have arrived with their designated components, simply connect the dots and assemble the meal. (To succeed as a member of the unmonied elite, you must be savvy as well as resourceful. When delegating the ingredients, take into account each guest’s finances, proximity to the store and punctuality to determine who brings what.)
The following menu relies on the ingredients, not the cook, to do the hard work. It serves seven guests plus the host. The whole meal should take less than 30 minutes to assemble, start to finish. If cheese fondue doesn’t ring your bell pepper, pick another quick-to-assemble recipe from your favorite cookbook, and write out your own list of guest assignments.
At a “not luck” dinner party, nobody’s feelings are hurt when the tuna casserole goes untouched — and best of all, there’s no tuna casserole.
Rubbing shoulders around the molten cheese and fishing out wayward chunks of crusty bread make fondue parties a natural mixer. What were our parents thinking when they sold the fondue set for fifty cents at that garage sale?
Let the guest who brought the greens wash them while you whip up a simple vinaigrette.
According to Swiss tradition, anyone who loses a piece of bread in the cheese must go around the table and kiss each member of the opposite sex.
1 lb. Emmental (Swiss cheese), coarsely grated
1 lb. Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
1/4 cup flour
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
3 cups dry white wine
1 garlic clove, cut in half
2 oz. kirsch (cherry brandy)
2 loaves fresh crusty French, Italian or sourdough bread, cut into bite-size chunks with one edge of crust on each bite.
1. Place cheese in a large bowl. Sprinkle flour, nutmeg and pepper over top, then toss thoroughly so flour evenly coats cheese.
2. Heat wine in a medium-size pot over medium-high heat until tiny bubbles begin to rise to the surface.
3. Slowly add cheese to wine, allowing each handful to melt before adding another.
4. When cheese is fully melted, add kirsch.
5. Rub inside of fondue pot with cut side of a garlic clove.
6. Transfer entire mess to fondue pot; maintain flame hot enough to keep cheese melted but not boiling. Place fondue pot in center of table and let guests dive in.
1. Chop and serve.
1. Fondue pot (to be begged, borrowed or stolen) plus candles or Sterno
2. Greens for a simple salad
3. 1 lb. Emmental (Swiss cheese)
4. 1 lb. Gruyère cheese
5. 1 (375ml) bottle kirsch
6. 2 loaves crusty French, Italian or sourdough bread
7. 1 lb. Toblerone or other Swiss chocolate
1/4 cup flour
1/4 t nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
3 cups dry white wine
Fixin’s for a simple vinaigrette