Welcome to another installment of how to live like a millionaire on a retirement budget.
The recipe ideas I want to share with you are served at the finest restaurants for hefty prices. They may not even be that good either, because as we know, money and quality don’t always add up.
However, you can dine even better than a millionaire by making these wonderful recipes at home for pennies. You might even find yourself entertaining more often when it’s safe to do so, treating your guests like kings and queens.
These dishes use humble ingredients that you probably have in your pantry. Onions, old vegetables, stale bread, flour, eggs. The secret is in technique: what you do with these inexpensive ingredients.
Do you love French onion soup? Order it in a regular restaurant and chances are you’ll get a disappointing bowl of gloppy cheese topping, a negligible amount of salty broth, and a few slices of onions swirling around. You burn your tongue.
Or, you order it in an expensive French restaurant, if they even have it. Divine? Not necessarily. You’ll burn your tongue there, too. The most expensive option is to fly to France and get the real thing. Guess what, you’ll burn your tongue there, too.
I make French onion soup as it should be: at home. In its most illustrious incarnation, it costs pennies. Oh, those clever French. To think that nursing a few onions in a sauté pan and adding some beef stock could result in something so sublime. Then, make use of a stale loaf of French bread you have lying around. Sliced and toasted, it’s the perfect crouton to float on top of your soup.
The only ingredient you spend money on is the cheese, and you can either go high with real Gruyere or go low with whatever is hanging out in your fridge. Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack, and Cheddar work just as well. I opt for Julia Child’s technique, but I’m sure you have your favorite cookbooks and websites that will guide you to this happy meal.
If someone invited me over for homemade French onion soup, I’d say yes in a second. And try not to burn my tongue.
Continuing with those wonderful, thrifty French, another one of my soup winners is Potage. When I was a student living with a family in Paris, I was served Potage several nights a week and loved it every time.
The madame took whatever vegetables she had lying around in the pantry – a potato, a carrot, an onion, a courgette, celery, peas, whatever – and boiled them up in a pot of water. Maybe she’d add a cube of chicken broth or maybe not. She whizzed the cooked veg and water in a blender and then back into the saucepan for reheating, adding salt and pep and a clipping of fresh herbs.
Voilà, a velvety, simple but utterly sophisticated soup that takes the edge off your appetite. I serve it as an easy, impressive first course when I entertain, and I also serve it as a light supper with a salad, crusty bread, and cheese. Great to bring to friends who are suffering from a nasty cold.
Next, we go to Spain for one of my favorite hors d’oeuvres that’s rustic and well, very sexy. When I serve it as a nibble for cocktails, my guests eat so much they don’t even want dinner afterwards. It has many names but I’ll call it the classic “Pan Tomate” – with a Spanish accent!
Slice a good loaf of crusty bread on the diagonal into about 3/4-inch-thick slices. Grill the bread so it has grill marks if possible. If not, toast it. Next, rub cut garlic halves on the toasted bread, and then smear a cut-in-half tomato all over the bread, letting the juices and pulp be absorbed by the bread. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt (the finest you can afford). I like a hit of fresh pepper.
You won’t believe how such simple ingredients make Something So Scrumptious! Remember, it’s all about technique. Of course, you can take it further, topping with whatever you have in your fridge: a slice of ham, a few crumbles of bacon, some chopped scallions, a toss of feta cheese. The Italians have a version of Pan Tomate and it’s called Bruschetta.
Who makes homemade chicken soup these days? I do. Especially when for the price of a chicken and some veg and odds and ends of pasta I dine on something very rare in this world of take out and pizza delivery.
For the price of an egg and 100 grams of flour I make something sublime that I pay a fortune for in a restaurant: fresh pasta. My recipe came from an Italian friend who gave me a class. My life has never been the same.
Gourmet grilled cheese! The secret is in spreading mayonnaise on the outside of the bread instead of butter. Mayonnaise has a lower melting point than butter, and caramelizes, causing a delightfully crunchy and tasty exterior. I add sliced tomatoes, a piece of salami or a pickled pepper inside to amp it up. I have to stop writing now and run into the kitchen.
I can’t leave you dessert-less! Serve any fruit hot and you’ve got heaven written all over it. I’m talking sautéed bananas, grilled pineapple, baked apple. A tiny scoop of ice cream or thick Greek yogurt, crumble a cookie over that and oh my. The best meal in town tonight will be at your house.
What are your favorite recipes that look expensive but are quick and cheap to prepare? Please share. We all want to get in on the deliciousness.