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Oct 9, 2006 11:31 PM

Can someone be a true budget gourmet?

Budget and Gourmet are opposing words to begin with; there is nothing budget about gourmet food and nothing gourmet about budget food items. Ok so I can buy something when it is on sale, and collect coupons, but that will only get me so far. Anyone have any budget tips out there that would like to share how they could achieve the true budget gourmet status.

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  1. Find a good farmers markets and good vendors (depending on where you live, some vendors go to terminal markets to buy the same produce trucked in that you'll see at some stores) where they sell from their farm. Ask them what's good and fresh. In season produce is cheapest and tastes the best. Go from that. Like in the summer, you can get fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic. Anything you make, with minimal cooking will taste great. Even better, grow your own herbs. Fresh herbs add a special touch to everything.

    3 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      I shop our farmers' market religiously, but it ain't cheap! Prices (and quality) are much higher than at supermarkets. If you live in an apartment and can't grow your own veggies, fresh and local is a luxury. This is true for all markets that I'm familiar with (mid-west, SF and NoVa).

      1. re: pikawicca

        Prices are cheaper at the farmers market I go to...than at the grocery store. I love supporting local farmers...and yes, the quality is great.

        I certainly believe you can do gourmet on a budget. Absolutely.


        1. re: pikawicca

          It's not the particular farmers market that makes a difference but the vendors. I look for farmers or at least farms. I have a friend whose father would go to a terminal market in the morning and pick up the same produce you'll see at supermarkets and then sell it at a farmers market. It was very profitable and most people didn't know the difference.

      2. VBeatso, as a Food Historian, this is a very interesting topic for me. "Gourmet" is a relative term and what is highly valued in one culture at a particular time is often held in low esteem by another group.

        At the turn of the century, in Victorian American, chicken livers were an unheard of treat for a person of average means. The same person could not possibly hope to eat a fresh egg daily. Today, both these items fall into any American's budget category and are little valued because of their abundance.

        New England, Colonial America, lobster was as commonplace as PB&J is today. It held no cachet and was completely ordinary food. What was extremely special was fresh pineapple - something that is available to "Average Joe" every day of the year in a local supermarket today.

        Is it the chicken livers/eggs/lobster/pineapple itself in question or is it the perception that what is difficult to obtain and or costly has more value?

        Instead of blithely accepting commonly held category labels of Gourmet/Budget, simply change your thinking. Ignore what everyone else says and make decisions for yourself about what constitutes special or gourmet foods for you.

        You'll have fun, eat well and save money - hard to beat that combination!

        3 Replies
        1. re: Sherri

          "... in colonial days in North America [lobster] was so plentiful and cheap that it was used to feed prisoners and indentured servants in place of valuable cod and mackerel. One group of Massachusetts servants became so fed up with their diet of lobster that they took their owners to court and won a judgment that it not be served to them more than three times a week."

          1. re: Sherri

            I totally want to be a food historian (seriously, I've looked for grad schools regarding the subject matter. I would love to find out about your studies (ie, where/when you did them) and the professions available to this type of work. can you email me at newberry(dot)gillin(at)gmail(dot)com???

            1. re: CulinaryKate

              I reiterate. Read "Heat" by Buford, because he talks about researching such topics as when eggs were first introduced to pasta making. Might give you some ideas.

          2. It's amazing how one can be a gourmet cook on a budget. You'd be surprised what great dishes you can make even if you go to Aldi's or T.J. You don't have to spend a fortune on great produce or meat in order to be able to cook a great dish. Grow some of your own, get really,fresh,fresh produce, great herbs, great butter and olive oils and use good cooking methods. If you go to Latino grocery stores and markets, you'd be surprised at the low cost and high quality of produce.Just paying a lot for something doesn't make it gourmet and not paying a lot for something doesn't make it low quality. Study recipes, use the freshest food you can and be prepared to allow time to cook not using prepared foods. It's not only a monetary investment but also a time investment. Once you've acquired all the staples, you'll be able to achieve gourmet meals for a lot less money than you thought possible.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jackie de

              I second that. Mexican and Asian markets are the best place to get groceries. Cheaper than farmers' markets (sometimes cheaper than even Aldi), but still better. In my mind, gourmet is more about time and complexity of preparation than expense.

            2. Okay, I'll take a stab at this. At the risk of being flamed, I would say no, gourmet and budget don't overlap alot. Yes, beans (e.g., curried lentils) can be good and cheap, and buying locally and in season can result in budget cooking that is healthful and flavorful.
              But if you're gonna buy good quality (I read as local, humanely-raised) meat, and superior dairy products, etc. you're gonna pay some bucks (versus freezing a mass-produced chicken on sale at the supermarket). Okay, you may save something by making your own stock from said sale supermarket chicken, but probably not when you calculate in energy/gas cost.

              Good food is not cheap. Good quality parmesan costs money, as do eggs from hens that get to run around in the pasture eating bugs. OTOH, I am happy with a meal of cannelini beans, broc rabe and garlic, braised in (extra-virgin!) olive oil.

              2 Replies
              1. re: NYchowcook

                I considered myself a "gourmet" long before I had the income to to support it. Right out of college, I used to love to prepare delicious food, from scratch, with the finest quality ingredients I could afford. I would buy parmesan reggiano, but use it sparingly. When I couldn't afford top quality ingredients, that didn't stop me from doing my best to prepare tasty cuisine. I would make stock and sauces from scratch, and stretch my limits cooking-wise by trying new recipes and new methods all the time. I only could afford to go out for a "gourmet" (read: expensive) meal once a year, but that didn't mean I didn't eat well. When I had the opportunity to try new, different or exotic ingredients, I jumped at the chance.

                I think "gourmet," like "chowhound," is a state of mind.

                1. re: NYchowcook

                  I do buy non-industrial meat and superior dairy products...but I use them sparingly in my recipes...which include farm fresh local produce...and I do it for less than what I used to spend at the store on induststrial produced meats (including chickens). I guess it depends on what the word budget means to different people.

                2. Yes, that's true,but what exactly would you be doing instead of making your own stock or cooking? Perhaps finding a market or store that has that great parmesan,a farm that has organic chickens and eggs at a reasonable price it worth finding. If you'd be watching t.v., shopping or talking on the phone, instead of finding these places, then how much would you be saving in the long run? We tend to think time is money which is true, but not everthing can be measured in billable time. Sometimes even just cooking stock can not only be a great savings but also a great creative outlet. I agree with you, I love a simple well prepared meal as well and for me, that makes it my gourmet meal.