Budget gourmet cooking requires more than a discriminating palate. To create a budget food menu with gourmet flavor, you also need to choose wisely when deciding which recipes to use and where to shop for ingredients. With enough strategic menu planning and creativity, you can make budget meals that are worthy of a gourmet restaurant menu.
Menu Planning for Budget Gourmet Meals
When browsing recipes for budget menu ideas, the cost of ingredients will likely be one of your main concerns. As you select your recipes and ingredients, consider the following tips:
- Don’t be intimidated by ethnic recipes that call for obscure ingredients. You can usually find these ingredients at ethnic food markets. Even if you don’t live in an urban area, you should have a few ethnic grocery stores within a reasonable distance. Ethnic food markets will generally save you money on staples like rice noodles and avocados. On the other hand, avoid pre-made foods such as sauces, which tend to contain loads of sodium and other unhealthy ingredients.
- Read user ratings and comments on gourmet websites. These interactive user reviews allow you to choose recipes that have already proven themselves, which means you won’t need to spend time and money experimenting.
- Recipes that feature in-season produce tend to carry a lower price tag. Out-of-season produce has to travel long distances, which drives up the price tag. In-season, local produce is generally cheaper and tastes better too. Have you ever tried to look fresh after a long flight? Produce feels this way, too. If your mango traveled from Chile, it will taste like it. You can buy in-season produce from the farmer’s market, where prices are often much lower than the supermarket. Your produce will be fresh, ripe and ready to incorporate into your gourmet food menu.
- Skip recipes that call for fancy kitchen equipment. You can pick up that cherry pitter or double boiler when you find it on clearance, and try the recipe later.
- Small twists can elevate humble dishes. Pomegranate guacamole, white pizza with Meyer lemon shavings, and banana sour cream bread come to mind. Your gourmet food menu will cost less if you forgo exotic specialty items such as white truffles and saffron in favor of interesting juxtapositions.
Buy Bulk Foods for a Gourmet Budget Food Menu
Because bulk foods don’t have to be packaged, they cost much less to produce, and therefore carry lower price tags ounce-for-ounce. Most natural food stores contain bulk food aisles, and some communities have stores dedicated entirely to bulk foods. Bulk shopping allows you to pick out exactly how much you want, meaning that you don’t have to buy a whole box of red quinoa in order to get the cup you need.
Bulk ingredients to look for in your budget menu ideas include:
- Dried beans
- Dry baking supplies such as flour and sugar
Clear jars full of cooking ingredients add a rustic appeal to your pantry. If you want to create a habit of making budget gourmet meals, build a reservoir of gourmet ingredients. Plan ahead by saving and collecting jars; you can buy them cheaply at garage sales and dollar stores. Clean them well, take them with you to the store, and fill them with ingredients that will inspire you to cook.
Gourmet Food Presentation on a Budget
The more you work on your presentation skills, the fancier your budget food menu will look, without any extra cost. Some simple concepts you can use to improve your gourmet food menu presentation include:
- Colorful dishware. Brightly-colored dishware will hold more appeal, so incorporate foods that create bright contrast and harmony.
- Contrast. Use big plates and comparatively small portions.
- Garnish it! If a dish has a bland color, give it a pretty garnish. Bright red paprika and rich green parsley can brighten up a multitude of dishes.
- Sauce first. For sauce recipes, dab your sauce onto the plate first, and then arrange the other ingredients on top.
- Square plates. You can bargain shop for these–and your big plates–at discount stores, thrift stores and garage sales.
Budget Menu Ideas: Gourmet Desserts
No gourmet food menu is complete without dessert, and even novice bakers can succeed at gourmet baking. The number one rule in gourmet dessert menu planning is to follow the rules. Unlike cooking, baking requires careful measurements and precise execution. Look up any terms–such as whisk, blanche or scald–that you don’t know, and go by the book for the following rules:
- Dry measuring cups and liquid measuring cups yield different results, so don’t use the two interchangeably. The dry cups are usually solid plastic and stacked together. The liquid ones are clear with measurements drawn onto them.
- Mix wet ingredients in one bowl and dry ingredients in another, and then mix the two together. If you do not mix these ingredients separately, they may not spread evenly throughout the mixture. No one wants a salty cookie. Salty fudge, however, is a different story!
- Pre-heat the oven completely before putting your dessert in to bake. Otherwise, the fat will melt faster than the rest of the mixture, with greasy results.
When picking dessert recipes, go with exotic, gourmet choices. Instead of chocolate cake, make a chocolate torte–a denser variation of cake. For a recipe that features peanut butter, use almond or cashew butter instead. If you dare, bring elements of the savory world into your baked goods. Jalapeno sorbet, anyone?