The following is a guest post from Sarah Danielson.
Creating the fabulous meals you see in fancy restaurants and on cooking shows doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Part of what makes cooking like a gourmet chef possible is the use of rare and expensive ingredients, but for those of us who can’t afford caviar wishes and champagne dreams, there is a workable alternative.
By simply learning some of the tricks of the trade and selecting a few well-placed extras in a dish, you can easily fake your way through any gourmet meal. Here are some tricks to help you make your dinner table into The Galloping Gourmet (for less).
— Meat cuts. Believe it or not, this can consistently be the most costly part of cooking (you might buy a $20-a-bottle spice like saffron once in a blue moon, but gourmet recipes frequently call for primo cuts of meat). However, there is a way around breaking the bank with your beef purchases.
By learning which cuts you can use in place of the expensive ones (and tricks like tenderizing that will make the switch less noticeable), you can create the same recipes but cut the price in half. Also, find out which days meats go on sale at the market (usually before new shipments come in) and stock up.
— Substitutions. You’re not always going to be able to afford the necessary ingredients for the gourmet dishes you want to make. Luckily, the internet can help you here. It’s not that you can buy the ingredients cheaper online (although that’s always a possibility); rather, you can find tons of ways to substitute other ingredients for a similar result.
— Getting saucy. One thing you’ll never find in gourmet cooking is a plain, grilled chicken breast or an untreated steak. Sauces are the crème de la crème (pardon the pun) of gourmet cooking, and you might be surprised how easy and inexpensive most of them are to create.
White sauce, for example, is basically made with milk, butter, and flour, while hollandaise has a base of butter and lemon. With a few common ingredients that are already in your kitchen, you can make amazing sauces to spice up any dish.
— Garnish with gusto. A lot of the appeal of gourmet cooking comes from the taste, but before you entice the palette you need to tantalize another sense. Making your dishes not only presentable, but also pretty, will prepare your guests for a gourmet experience. So learn how to garnish appropriately to create an appealing plate.
— Embrace viticulture. You don’t have to become a sommelier in order to impress your friends with your knowledge of wine, but it couldn’t hurt to invest in a wine guide (a simple one could run you anywhere from about $5 to $20) that will teach you how to pair dishes with compatible vino.
Even if the food isn’t exactly five-star, enhancing it with the perfect wine can bring it up a notch. And with so many vineyards producing delicious discount bottles, you can easily find a few good ones in your price range.
Your turn: What tips and tricks do you have for cooking gourmet food on a budget?