IT WAS TO have been elegant. A sit-down dinner party for 12. Men in black tie. Women in silk and velvet. And the food -- pheasants flown in from Michigan where they had been freshly shot; opulent shimmering vegetable tarts as one of our hors d'oeuvres; delicately poached briny oysters in a beurre blanc sauce . . . This was to have been our victory dinner. We hadn't chosen the wines yet, but we weren't even looking at the Californians. And then it happened. The Deomocrats lost the Senate. We junked our elaborate plans. After all, now we were quite unemployed -- we being Senate Committee staffers who work for defeated Democrats. Our dreams of pheasant and oysters had vanished in a cloud of Republican victories. But we are resilient, and even in the darkest of times, with the future uncertain, we Democrats cling to our basic sensual love of a good time and good food. I attended two dinner parties after the fall, where even if the spirits were flagging a bit, the cuisine was inspired, down-home cooking and relatively inexpensive to produce. A renovated row house near Dupont Circle was the scene for a feast created to "celebrate" the end of the 96th Congress. A certain Democratic staffer on a once (in the searingly near past) powerful Senate Committee had pulled together a party for 20 people, only to find that he had actually formed an all-night Greek chorus of wailing Democrats predicting the demise of Western Civilization As We Know It. But that was over the crudities -- nothing fancy, mind you; no imported Greek olives or fennel out of season, but the old carrots-and-celery-and-sour-cream-dip standby. Our host, dangling in employment limbo, had learned long before to cook well and cheaply, first as a student abroad, then as a graduate student here. His talents for both economy and culinary skill were well demonstrated that night. "I only cook from scratch and use bargain ingredients. How else can you have a dinner party for 20 people without spending a small, fortune?" he testified. First, a salad: crunchy and very fresh iceberg lettuce laced with cucumbers, mushrooms, green peppers and carrots. then, casseroles of chicken tetrazzini, a mixture of chicken chunks and cooked pasta in a rich cream sauce, layered with fresh sauteed mushrooms and cheese. As we gathered around the table our gloom began to dissipate, and we dug into the substantial fare. Talk brightened as we polished off the two rather large casseroles of chicken. By the time dessert was presented -- two homemade pies, one apple, one pumpkin chiffon -- the mood of the crowd had turned into high black humor, the taste of political defeat sweetened by culinary success. At the next dinner, which took place in a small frame house in Arlington, I shared food and talk with a smaller group -- public interest types -- most of whom have been living on about $100,000 a year since the late '60s. This group has really mastered the art of cheap, good eats, and will have much less adapting to do than their better-paid establishment counterparts. On a project to save the environment in Alaska? Send home a bunch of fresh frozen salmon. Out in the Midwest tracking down an illegal chemical waste dump? Ship home a side of real Iowa beef. Tonight, however, was pasta night. There was a feeling that things were down, but not out. They had been the loyal opposition for so long even with the Democrats in power, that some saw the Republican renaissance as an omen from fate to redouble their efforsts to keep the air clean and the waters pure. fAs we congregated in the small kitchen, the bounty from the big back-yard garden provided the basis for the late fall dinner. There was crisp, freshly picked spinach (which grows well in cool weather) for a large salad tossed with fresh sliced mushrooms and garden lettuce shoots. We went on to large amounts of buttery pasta sauced heavily with homemade pesto -- a whiff of the summer crop from the garden -- and mounds of delicious winey meatballs. The piece de resistance was David's Quick Mousse, absurdly wonderful stuff indulgent enough to assuage, even if for only a few moments, the fears of the yawning pit of unemployment and a future as an out. Democrats or Republicans, let them eat mousse! PHEASANT A LA HELENE ($55.54 to make) (12 servings) 6 pheasants, cleaned 2 cloves garlic, minced Juice of 2 lemons Parsnip greens for stuffing 12 cloves 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter 1 pound bacon 3 cups red cooking wine Flour to dust pheasants Rub inside of pheasants with garlic. Rub inside and out with lemon juice. Stuff pheasants lightly with snipped parsnip greens and 1 or 2 cloves each. Place in pan breast side up. Rub with butter and wrap each with 3 strips bacon. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Baste while in oven with 1/2 cup red wine for each pheasant (or less). Thirty minutes before finished, dust pheasants with flour. Serve over wild rice or a Persian rice (a saffron rice with dried fruits, pine nuts and almonds). KAREN'S PESTO ($7.05 to make) (Makes 2 1/2 cups or 10 servings) 1 1/2 cups fresh basil, or 3/4 cups basil mixed with 3/4 cups fresh parsley 3/4 cup olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 cup pine nuts 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese Puree basil leaves with 1/4 cup olive oil in a food processor. Blend in garlic cloves. Add pine nuts and blend to form paste. Add cheese and remaining olive oil. Blend until it has the consistency of chunky peanut butter, or finer if you prefer. If sauce is too thick, add more olive oil. Toss with hot buttered pasta, about 1/4 cup sauce per serving. Leftover sauce will keep in refrigerator for several weeks and up to 1 year in the freezer. MEATBALLS A LA LARSEN ($2.41 to make) (4 servings) 1 pound ground beef 1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs 1 egg 1 teaspoon oregano 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley 1 clove garlic, minced Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 stick butter 1/4 cup red wine Combine beef, bread crumbs, egg and seasonings. Form into meatballs the size of a walnut and brown in butter. Add red wine to pan juices. Cover and simmer until done, about 15 minutes. Serve with spaghetti and pesto. APPLE STREUSEL PIE ($5.87 to make) (Makes one pie) Unbaked pie shell 3 pounds apples 1/2 granulated sugar (or less) 1/4 cup hot water 3 tablespoons bread crumbs 1/4 cup brown sugar (or less) 3/4 teaspoon cinamon Peel and core apples. Slice them 8th or 16ths. Place in large pan that has 1/2 cup granulated sugar and water. Heat apples, turning frequently, until crisply tender. Don't cook them until soft! Remove from heat. Cover the bottom of an uncooked pie shell with bread crumbs. When apple mixture is cool, add to pie shell. Springkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes. Cover apples with topping and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer. Topping: 6 tablespoons cold butter or margarine 3/4 cup flour 1/2 cup pecans 3/8 cup sugar Blend all ingredients. CHICKEN TETRAZZINI (14.05 to make) (Serves 6 to 8) 5-pound chicken or 2 1/2 pounds chicken breasts 1 pound spaghetti 1 pound mushrooms 1/4 cup butter 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 2 cloves of garlic, crushed 6 cups white sauce (see below) 2 cups Parmesan cheese Simmer chicken in water to cover for 40 to 50 minutes. Drain, saving the stock for the sauce. Remove chicken from bones and cut into 1-inch strips. Saute mushrooms in butter with garlic, salt and pepper. Set aside. Make white sauce (see below). Set aside. Cook spaghetti. Drain. Mix with 2 cups white sauce and 1 cup cheese. Spread pasta mixture in baking dish. Spread mushrooms on top. Spread 2 cups white sauce over mushrooms. Add chicken in an even layer, and top with remaining white sauce. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes. White Sauce: 1 cup melted butter or margarine 9 tablespoons flour 2 cups warm milk (or cream) 4 cups chicken stock 1 teaspoon salt Blend flour into melted butter and cook, stirring, over low heat for 3 minutes without letting it brown. Slowly add milk and stock.Cook, stirring, until thickened, then simmer 5 minutes. Add salt. DAVID'S QUICK MOUSSE (With apologies to James Beard) $5.51 to make) (8 servings) 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup hot water 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate 3 tablespoons rum 3 egg yolks Vanilla or creme de cocoa to taste 3/4 cup walnuts (or macadamia nuts) Boil sugar and water. Whip cream until very thick. Break up chocolate finely in a food processor or blender. Add sugar mixture, rum, egg yolks and creme de cocoa. Blend for a few seconds, until fluffy. Add nuts and blend slightly. Fold in whipped cream. Freeze for 2 hours.