Frugal Foodie: A New Year’s Eve Feast

Ringing in the New Year doesn’t need to blow out your wallet. Bibiana chef Nicholas Stefanelli shows us how to cook a festive dinner for eight for less than $50.

Short ribs with red wine—one of four courses in a New Year's Eve dinner for less than $50. Photograph by Caitlin Fairchild

>>For photos of the cooking process and finished dishes, click here. 

“If I were throwing a New Year’s Eve dinner party,” says Nicholas Stefanelli as he dices an onion, “I’d make it a potluck.”

The sentiment is understandable—no host wants to break the bank on a party or spend the entire night in the kitchen. But the Bibiana chef met the Frugal Foodie challenge—dinner for eight for less than $50, not including pantry items—while also cooking a meal that could be prepared almost entirely ahead of time.

Stefanelli planned on making braised lamb, but at the grocery store he realized it was too expensive, so he switched to short ribs. He picked up lentils and Arborio rice from the bulk aisle and sifted through blocks of cheese, all priced by weight, for that perfect-sized piece. In the checkout line, he came in three dollars over budget and joked it was the wine and Parmesan, which in his house count as pantry items.

At my apartment, he rinses the dried lentils, covers them with water, and brings them to a boil—a process that saves the time of soaking them overnight. Stefanelli seasons the ribs and browns them in a sauté pan. He explains that the meat can be done a day in advance. After he discovered my crockpot, he decided to use it for the braising. That way, the ribs could go into the refrigerator and be reheated at party time.

After sauteeing the celery, onion, and carrot in a large soup pan, Stefanelli adds stock and lentils. Then he whisks lemon juice, sugar, and eggs to make a lemon curd. He pours the thick liquid into martini glasses, covering them with tin foil and stashing them in the fridge. Both the soup and dessert can also be made a day in advance.

Only the risotto needed same-day preparation. Then again, you could make it a potluck, assign that dish to a friend, and stick to the most important task—keeping everyone’s glass filled with Champagne.

All recipes serve eight.

Lentil Soup

1¼ pounds dried French lentils
¼ cup vegetable oil
1½ carrots, diced
¼ onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
Parmesan cheese rind
Extra-virgin olive oil for garnish
Parsley for garnish
Pepper to taste

Rinse the lentils. Place them in a large soup pan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. When the lentils rise to the top, drain them and set aside.
Add the oil to soup pan and place over high heat. Add the carrots, onions, and celery. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the lentils back to the pot and cover with water. Add the Parmesan rind. Bring the soup to a boil and then simmer about 45 minutes. When ready to serve, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season to taste with parsley and pepper.

Short Ribs With Red Wine

8 beef short ribs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ onion, diced
1½ carrots, diced
1 turnip, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, diced
5 whole cloves
½ teaspoon coriander
1 garlic clove, diced
1 bottle red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

If using an oven, preheat it to 350 (you can also use a crockpot).

Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Add the oil to a sauté pan and place it over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meat and brown it on all sides. When browned, set the meat aside and add the onions, carrots, turnips, and celery to the pan. Cook until soft.
Grind together the cloves and coriander. Add the garlic, cloves, and coriander. Cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the bottle of red wine. Return the meat to the pot, cover it, and bring the liquid to a simmer.
Move the pot to the oven and cook until tender, about 2 hours. Or, place it in a crockpot, bring it to a boil, turn to low, and cook for 2 hours.

Risotto alla Marchigiana

1¼ sticks of butter (10 tablespoons)
¼ olive cup oil
½ onion, diced to same size as rice
2 cups Arborio rice
Sparkling wine, as needed
6 cups chicken stock
¼ pound ground Parmesan cheese
¼ pound ground Pecorino cheese
Zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Add 2 tablespoons butter and the oil to a large sauce pan set over medium-high heat. Just before it begins to foam, add the onion. Cook 1 minute. Add in the rice and let it toast. Pour in enough sparkling wine to cover rice and deglaze pan. Lower the heat and add ½ cup of chicken stock. Stir in. Continue to add stock gradually, stirring continuously, until the rice is done—about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the cheeses, lemon zest, cinnamon, and remaining butter. Serve immediately.

Lemon Curd

4 eggs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 lemons, zested and juiced
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Whipped cream, for garnish

Mix the eggs and sugar in a bowl. In a non-reactive pot set over high heat, bring the lemon juice and zest to a boil. Slowly whisk the juice into the eggs (don’t add too much at once or the eggs will cook), whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pot set over medium heat. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Remove the mixture from the stove and let it start to cool for 2 minutes. Slowly stir in the pieces of butter. Spoon the lemon curd into serving glasses, cover the curd with plastic (press the plastic onto the curd so it doesn’t develop a skin), and chill in the refrigerator. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter

Follow the Best Bites Bloggers on Twitter at

More>> Best Bites Blog | Food & Dining | Restaurant Finder