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What Is Your Most Elegant Yet Inexpensive Homemade Dish?

One of mine has got to be octopus salad:

1 can of ready to eat Goya octopus in olive oil
1 bunch of arugula
1 potato boiled and cubed
1 dozen whole olives (calamata)
1 tomato diced (plum)
1 tbsp capers
chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
caper juice
1 large garlic clove minced
salt and pepper

Combine ingredients adding salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Serve on bone white dinner plates with Portuguese roll sliced on the bias and an assertive high acid (inexpensive) white wine. Serves two.

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  1. I guess my first question is, define elegant because it can mean different things to different people. To me elegant means simple yet sophisticated all at the same time.

    Octopus salad definately sounds elegant.

    For me: Butternut soup with a tiny bit of cummin and fresh lime at the discretion of the diner. Actually many soups hit the elegant mark...a good roasted tomato soup or lobster bisque can slay at the dinner table.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ML8000

      elegant AND inexpensive. Another example is a chicken loaf topped with dijon mustard and cranberry chutney served with mixed green salad. This gets really cheap when you have leftover chicken or turkey:

      ground cooked chicken or turkey
      1 egg
      milk (warm)
      carrots, celery, onions (slightly sauteed)
      whole oats
      sour cream

      Combine and bake for 45 min.

      1. re: Chinon00

        ??? Okay, lobster isN'T inexpensive...although leftover lobster can be. Any way, butternut squash tomatoes are inexpensive.

    2. Deviled eggs
      Steamed artichokes with Hollandaise
      Shrimp cocktail

      1. Oh there is that pork trotter recipe from the Buchon cookbook> It takes several days to prepare. Damned good stuff!

        3 Replies
        1. re: Candy

          Since when is "several days to prepare" simple?

          1. re: ajs228

            I don't know the recipe but it OP said elegant and inexpensive. Trotters aren't too pricey..

            1. re: ajs228

              I don't recall seeing simple in the post title. Elegant and Inexpensive yes. Served up with a sauce Gribiche it fits both criteria.


          2. Candy, I been reading a lot of your post and have learned a lot from you. I just gotta know- where were you raised and where do you live now? The sociologist in me is dying to know.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Spencer

              My e-mail is on my profile. Contact me directly and I'll fill you in. It will be off topic.

            2. Meringue is underrated in the United States. Three egg whites, a cup of sugar, and ten minutes standing there with the electric beater and you've got meringues Chantilly or aux fraises or au chocolat or whatever. Or you can add chopped walnuts then bake the meringue in sheets and put the sheets together with whipped cream to make a Dacquoise. Or just make kisses and serve them with ice cream. The expense almost doesn't exist and these desserts are always showy and good.

              1. a) Well-presented beef carpaccio
                b) Teriyaki cachama, an Amazon fish related to pirhana
                c) Smoked capybara served as Virginia smoke ham
                d) Cheese-arugula omelette with a tad of caviar in the egg mix
                e) French carrot soup served cold with foo foo touches
                f) Plated salads each with just a touch of something expensive
                g) Apple galette instead of apple pie
                h) Well presented melon slices with maple syrup for dessert
                i) Use of French sauces on less elaborate and less expensive main dishes.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Sam, have you actually eaten capybara? I lived in Brasil for two years and have spent much time in Argentina, yet I only got a swanky pair of boots from the critter---never saw it on a menu. Is it primarily a home-cooked thing that I missed out on, and what does it taste like?

                  1. re: diropstim

                    There was a lot of smoked mahas (capybara) in the Pucallpa, Peru, market. I would steam it to get the moisture back in balance. It really did taste like a Virginia smoked ham: I lied to my guests for a bit. They bought it! Smoked does taste like ham. Next time I see one running around missing a pair of boots, I'll know what happened.

                    1. re: diropstim

                      man, i had the same reaction! i have spent a good chunk of time in Brasil and i'd never seen anyone eat capybara! I used to go running in this park where every once in a while one would show up sitting by the water.

                      1. re: annimal

                        diropstim and animal, I also worked in Acre and Rondonia in the Brasilian Amazon and never ate capybara there either. Only in the Peruvian Amazon; and even there not in restaurants.

                  2. Vietnamese spring rolls. Really they are just a hand-held salad and everyone seems so impressed because they are colorful and their mom didn't make them for cocktail parties.

                    Butternut squash pizzas with rosemary, thyme, caramalized onion and a touch of asiago cheese.

                    1. eggs benedict with fresh hollandaise
                      chicken or veal marsala
                      chicken cordon bleu with a white wine sauce

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rhnault

                        I will second the eggs Benny (wish I had thought to add it) and throw in double-boiler scrambled eggs with a little heavy cream.

                      2. Cheese souffle. Much bang for your buck. Elegant, cheap, and easy.

                            1. re: lollya

                              The mozerella di buffula is awfully expensive but it makes the caprese wonderful.

                              1. re: Candy

                                It is so fantastic though isn't it? A good balsamic is most definitely the catch for me.

                            2. Roasted pork tenderloin with a cranberry-balsamic sauce
                              Butternut squash and apple soup
                              Chicken curry with dried fruits

                              1. I make this pate recipe when I want to bring something nice to a party but I'm feeling broke (and/or lazy). Chicken livers are v. cheap and you can make this recipe in about 15 minutes, yet it is quite elegant and delicious when complete.


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: hopalong

                                  The curried chicken liver pate on there is also super easy and very elegant. It always impresses people.

                                2. chicken wrapped in filo dough with either a tarragon sauce inside or stuffed with herbed goat cheese

                                  1. I agree with the souffle suggestion. Dessert souffles are always a big hit because no-one seems to make them at home.

                                    My easiest dish is pasta carbonara which can be made with bacon instead of pancetta to keep cost down - this was my standby dish in my student days. This is always a popular dish with my friends who wouldn't think of making it themselves.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: cheryl_h

                                      1. Chicken Mirabella
                                      2. Baked Panela
                                      3. Orzo Salad with Red and Yellow Peppers and Capers
                                      4. Cold Green Beans Vinaigrette

                                    2. African sweet potato and peanut soup (as long as there are no allergies)

                                      Pear and blue cheese salad

                                      1. Scrambled eggs and lox with a sprinkling of caviar on top. Doesn't have to be the greatest caviar either since it's used so sparingly.

                                        1. Don't know if this is elegant or not ... I'm more of a comfort food cook, save elegant for dessert. But ...

                                          Risotto made with arborio rice, chicken stock, and onion, celery, and carrot diced fine, with freshly ground white pepper (sometimes needs no salt)


                                          Salad of baby greens, sliced blood orange, and homemade dressing of balsamic vinegar, bit of olive oil, ginger, superfine sugar

                                          1. Homemade charcuterie, like rabbit sausages served with frisee salad or chicken liver crostini with preserved prunes

                                            Consommé, either beef or tomato are lovely light ways to start a meal with a real depth of flavor. I usually serve the tomato with a little melon dice and a poached shrimp dusted with pimenton.

                                            Cured beef tenderloin, an expensive cut sure but it can be served to lots of people so it is inexpensive per serving

                                            Walnut crusted Goat Cheese Soufflés can be made ahead and reheated, they have a lovely luxurious texture and you don't need top quality goat cheese

                                            House-cured gravlax or house-smoked salmon, again an expensive cut that can be served to lots of people

                                            Shirred eggs with truffle butter

                                            Warm homemade cookies straight out of the oven

                                            Warm homemade yeast rolls straight out of the oven

                                            In many ways, meals where each component is perfectly cooked, ready at the same time, and served warm are the ultimate luxury. That happens regrettably rarely...

                                            1. Not so sure about elegant, but the dish this year that received the most raves was homemade manicotti with fresh basil and roasted (homegrown) 4-colour heirloom tomato sauce, served in individual cast-iron dishes.

                                              Steak frites with roasted marrow and mustard demi-glace sauce.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: AmandaEd

                                                Do I need to buy demi-glace for this sauce?

                                                1. re: Chinon00

                                                  If you don't have any frozen, yes. But it's ridiculously worth it. Found the recipe in Bourdain's cookbook. Can paraphrase it if you'd like.

                                              2. Homemade Zuni roast chicken.

                                                1. Simple classic sugar, milk, egg, bread dishes -
                                                  sweet and savory bread buddings, stratas
                                                  profiteroles or any cream puffs, eclairs, pate a choux
                                                  meringues, including baked alaska
                                                  good plain for desserts but can be adapted as hors d'oeuvres, sides or light entrées with very small amounts of expensive additions

                                                  1. Chocolate Chai Decadence Cake and New York Cheesecake...both recipes I got from Anna Olsen on Food Network...her stuff usually come out great!

                                                    Other than that, my uncle's french salmon in dill cream sauce (so easy to make!!!)

                                                    1. Braised pork shoulder - braise with tons of carrots, fennel and onions, some white wine and grainy mustard. When meat done, puree and reduce the sauce a little.

                                                      1. Individual chocolate souffles served with raspberry coulis on the side. Everyone always swoons over them. They look fab in their individual ramekins, and they are easier and cheaper than they look!

                                                        1. I second Vietnamese salad rolls. Actually, I think anything rolled up automatically looks fancier.

                                                          Which brings me to another nomination - strudel. Sweet or savoury, it's easy to make and cheap (I mean, how much for a box of filo or puff pastry?).

                                                          Stuffed dishes look elegant, too. OK, maybe not baked potatoes with the works, but I sometimes serve orzo salad inside a hollowed tomato, and it looks much better than plated the regular way. Fill popovers with stew or something creamed and it'ds instantly classy.

                                                          For dessert, just make individual sizes of whatever - cake, soufflé, bread pudding, flan, etc. If it's mini, it's fancy.

                                                          1. A fairly simple yet elegant presentation element for a salad.
                                                            Make salad bowls out of shredded Asiago cheeese. Also saves on clean up, ya can just eat the salad bowl.

                                                            1. Love smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, red onion, squeeze of fresh lemon - all on small sour dough round. yummmy!

                                                              1. Ya know, the bunch of us should arrange a covered dish get together... Mother of God!

                                                                After reading this thread I'm totally energized to eat extra good today!
                                                                Like I needed an excuse...
                                                                I forget what excuse I used yesterday!

                                                                I have to agree that Risotto consistently delivers a profound reward...

                                                                I do some variation every couple of months...

                                                                The other day I did a particularly beautiful one...

                                                                I toasted the Arborio with sautéed onions, shallots, olive oil, and garlic like reg'lar----added some dry Sherry--- but I added a few things to the hot broth that made it red... Panca pepper paste (Latin grocery item, flavorful but not too hot), Tomato 'powder' (thespicehouse.com), and some paprika... So, as the thing progressed, it got prettier and prettier...
                                                                Near the end I folded in a lil' Half & Half, 2 jars of whole roasted red peppers--chopped, and chopped sautéed asparagus...

                                                                Creamy orange colors, with red and light green...

                                                                Magnificent, and super tasty, blessed at the table with some select extra virgin and grated Asiago...

                                                                Note: Get some of that jarred Panca Pepper Paste and add it to braises and brothy dishes...
                                                                Some heat, great color and flavor...

                                                                It elevates the brothy parts unbelievably...

                                                                1. Creme brulee, any flavor.
                                                                  Inexpensive, elegant, easy and so very rich and yummy.

                                                                  I would make it every week if it wouldn't make me gain a billion pounds.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: QueenB

                                                                    Years later -- I second Creme Brulee and add...

                                                                    Sussex Stewed steak - it's wonderful and it's just chuck, onions, beer and whatever you choose to add. Chuck is the best meat to use. Serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Why is it elegant? Amazing flavor. Buy the chuck on sale. Mushrooms a good addition. Everyone is happy when they eat it.

                                                                    (angus) beef heart stew - use whatever mushrooms, onions, carrots, thyme and serve with rice, noodles, potatoes. Elegant? Again, the rich flavor. Delicious, very cheap, and healthy too. I use whatever red wine or beer is around that needs to be used up.