How can I make affordable gourmet dinners at home?

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Answered by: Nicholas, An Expert in the Tutorials and How-Tos Category
Despite what most people will tell you, affordable gourmet dinners at home are possible, and one doesn't have to be a professional chef to create them. Whether food is your passion or you're just looking to impress a first date with a romantic dinner for two, following a few simple steps will ensure that you can create exciting, restaurant quality meals at home without breaking the bank. All you will need are some basic cooking skills, a little extra time for shopping and preparing, and the belief that truly great cooking is within your reach.



The first step is setting your budget, as this will decide how extravagant a feast you will be able to prepare. Remember: you don't have to serve beluga caviar to impress, (and in fact, not very many people even like caviar and half of those who say they do are lying because they're too embarrassed to admit the truth.) If you already have a decent pantry at home as far as staples go; olive oil, spices, etc., you should be able to keep the cost to around $15 per person for two, and $12 for four or more. If these numbers work for you, continue to the next step.

Next, work with the seasons. The freshest and most affordable produce is always what's most abundant and which has to travel the shortest distance from farm to table. Asparagus, for example, is dirt cheap when it is in season, and almost as expensive as a decent bottle of wine when it's not. One of my favorite side dishes or appetizers is a delightful packet of bacon wrapped grilled asparagus with a decadent drizzle of hollandaise, something that can be made for about two dollars a serving ( all organic,) at the right time of year.



Proteins are always going to be the priciest, but that doesn't mean you have to stick with what traditionally screams fancy, like filet mignon or duck. In fact, many top restaurants are switching to a more diverse range of meats and seafood in order to maintain quality while not having to raise prices. For those who love seafood, scallops are always a winner, and one can usually find them frozen in any decent grocery store ( look for wild caught frozen at sea.) Simply follow the thawing instructions on the packaging and you have a top notch product for around $3 per person. For the carnivores, stuffing a chicken breast with spinach, smoked ham, sun-dried tomatoes and gruyere turns a boring staple into an eye opening palate pleaser. And if you must have a rib eye or a filet, if you buy the whole cut of meat at a butcher and cut your own steaks you will pay half of what you pay at the grocery store and you can freeze what you don't use for the next time.

Lastly, and most importantly, keep it simple. The more ingredients you have to buy, the higher your food cost. A famous French chef once said: " Anyone can make something fancy from twenty ingredients, only a true chef can do the same with five." Work with what you have at home, shop at farmer's markets,and price out your recipe ideas before you shop so you won't be surprised in the check-out line. Sunset Magazine and epicurious.com are two great resources for aspiring cooks looking to create affordable gourmet dinners. Bon appetit!

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