The Surreal Gourmet

Champagne taste on a McDonald's budget

Published October 28, 1997 11:26AM (EST)

Hosting a dinner party is an extremely rewarding experience. Unfortunately, it can also be a costly one, amounting to hundreds of dollars at times. The prohibitive cost of feeding friends might scare off more frugal hosts and hostesses from inviting their friends over for a night of wining and dining. Well, fear no more! I've conducted a small experiment that proves you can create a magnificent meal for four, complete with wine, for less than it would cost to feed them at McDonald's.

Scenario One

Enter McDonald's, stand in line with the Hulk Hogan crowd, order four cardboard boxes full of battered anonymous chicken parts, four servings of deep-fried frozen sticks (formally known as potatoes) and four artificially colored, carbonated beverages. Proceed to an uncushioned booth beside screaming infants and disillusioned adults. Eat off plastic trays.

Waiting time: 4 minutes

Eating time: 7 minutes

Pleasure factor: 3

Total bill: $20.66.

Scenario Two

Go to your local grocery store. Purchase a plump roasting chicken, fresh
herbs, tasty veggies, a crusty loaf of bread and a $6 bottle of Chardonnay.
Return home, put on your favorite CD, prep meal and proceed to the couch to unwind. Take chicken out of oven and serve. Accept all accolades.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Eating time: 30 minutes

Tools required: A knife, a roasting pan and an oven

Pleasure factor: 9 (10 if someone else does the dishes)

Total bill: $19.19.

Who says you need money to dine like a king? A desire to eat well, a smidgen of creativity, a minor output of energy and the willingness to prepare a few disastrous meals until you get the hang of it are all it takes. The next time you're low on cash but want to treat your friends , try the following rosemary roasted chicken dinner. This fragrant one-pan dish will make your kitchen smell like a million dollars. And check out my five free ways to enhance your meals (following the recipe).

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(Serves 4)


1 3-to-4 pound fryer or roasting chicken

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 tablespoon pepper

6 fresh sprigs rosemary

1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature

4 large carrots, peeled

1 large onion

4 stalks celery

1 head garlic

4 medium potatoes, any kind

1 - 2 tablespoons flour

1. Preheat oven to 550 degrees F.

2. Remove and discard giblets and any other foreign objects that you find inside the bird. Rinse chicken under cold water, then pat dry.

3. Rub chicken inside and out with salt and pepper.

4. Cut rosemary sprigs into 4-inch pieces, put a couple of sprigs inside the cavity of the bird, then slide the rest between the skin and the breast meat of the bird. Cross the chicken legs and hold in place by tucking them under the skin, or bind with some mailing twine. Rub skin with butter.

5. Chop up carrots and celery into 2-inch lengths. Cut onion into quarters and separate layers. Separate garlic cloves, but leave them in their skins.

6. In a large roasting pan, or similar facsimile, make a "nest" in the middle with all of the carrots, celery, onions and garlic cloves. Place the bird, upside down (breast meat down), on the nest.

7. Quarter the potatoes and spread them around the perimeter of the pan.

8. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.

9. After the 20 minutes are up, reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Take the bird out, turn it right-side up, re-cover with aluminum foil and return to oven for 20 more minutes. If chicken weighs more than 3 pounds, add 20 extra minutes for every additional pound during this step.

10. Take off the aluminum foil (save it), baste bird and potatoes with the drippings and cook for 20 final minutes.

11. Remove chicken from oven, place on a plate, re-cover tightly with aluminum foil and let sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before carving (this locks in the juices). While chicken is sitting, toss the veggies back in the oven and crank it back up to 550 degrees. Sprinkle bread lightly with water and toss in oven for the last five minutes while the veggies brown.

12. Remove rosemary from under skin. Carve bird and serve along with the veggies, bread and wine.

13. To make a quick gravy, strain the drippings and slowly whisk in the flour until gravy reaches the desired consistency.

Le Secret: Don't open the oven door, except as directed.

The Adventure Club: Add parsnips, Brussels sprouts and whole heads of garlic (with the pointy third sliced off) to the vegetable "nest."


  • Don't be intimidated by length of the recipe. It's only wordy because I
    have articulated all the steps to make them foolproof.

  • Roasting is not an exact science. Some birds just take longer than
    others, and some ovens may not be the temperature they claim to be. To test
    chicken for doneness before serving, make a deep incision in the thickest
    section of the breast meat and make sure that no pink remains. If chicken and potatoes are not adequately browned, place them under the broiler for a few
    watchful minutes.

Music To Roast By: Various artists, "Amazing Grace" (Island Records): This new
benefit album features excellent reworkings and some surprising
interpretations by an impressive list of artists.

Five simple (and free) ways to enhance what you eat and drink

  • Warm your dinner plates.
  • Warm your tea pot and your tea or coffee cup.
  • Put a lemon slice or mint leaf in your water glass (technically a 10-cent

  • Crisp your dinner bread in the oven.
  • Chill your beer glass in the freezer.

By Bob Blumer

Bob Blumer (aka the Surreal Gourmet) hosts his own program on the Food Channel.
The Surreal Gourmet's Web Site is located at

MORE FROM Bob Blumer

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