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When simple/cheap is better than haute

Do you have any examples of dishes where you prefer the cheaper simpler variety to a fancy rendition? My personal all time favorite food is Shells and Velveeta. I'll add some black pepper but it gets ruined when people try to fancy it up with other cheeses or mustard or whatever else. I've had a million fancy Mac 'n Cheeses and nothing compares. Another good example for me is a Grilled Cheese sandwich. You can keep your garlic or avocado or multigrain bread, give me white bread (wonder bread) and american cheese and nothing else comes close.

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  1. The BLT. Toasted white bread, mayo, standard bacon, iceberg lettuce and a fresh tomato. No niche bacons shrouded in pepper, no complex pestos, no herb-marinated sun-dried tomatoes, no micro greens, no aïoli.

    Just a good old-fashioned diner BLT. With plain chips and a dill pickle spear.


    19 Replies
        1. re: hyacinthgirl

          fourthed, with a side of Kraft box mac n cheese

          1. re: Cinnamon

            fifthed - the perfect sandwich as is

        2. re: cayjohan

          Cay (and the rest of the BLT 5!):

          I know what you're saying. But I had probably the best BLT of my life yesterday and it was in the "haute" category. It was definitely pricey, but oh, so delicious:
          THE BLT
          Applewood smoked bacon. brie cheese. sundried tomato aioli. romaine lettuce. toasted country bread

          I also prefer a grilled cheese (at home) on sourdough bread--American is usually my cheese of choice for comfort food, but I also like havarti with honey mustard.

          That said, on the other side of the coin, there's nothing like "cheese dip"--melted Velveeta with a jar of salsa mixed in and a bag of tortilla chips for dipping. Talk about all that and a bag of chips!

          Guess I'm an equal opportunity eater. ;)

          P.S. to Cay re diner BLT--our local diner serves jalapeno bacon, which is FAB...but I believe their standard BLT is as you describe it.

          1. re: kattyeyes

            Oooooh yes, I forgot to mention cheese dip. Good call, kattyeyes!


            1. re: LeahBaila

              Or Velveeta melted with Hormel chili. I won't cop to making it, but if there's a crockpot bubbling away at a party, I'm there with bells on.


              1. re: cayjohan

                I'm going back to DC next week. I'll try that - but my requirement for eating stuff like that is that it has to be cheap (as indicated by this thread)! I like good and healthy at any price - OR - now and then decadent and dirt cheap! Chef Boy -R - Dee ravioli for $0.69 a can! If Hormel and Velveeta actually cost as much as making chili and topping with some SafeWay cheddar or roasting a chicken I'll just do it myself.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  If you're gonna do it, you've gotta go all the way. Pick up a block of cream cheese (the lower fat Neufchatel is fine). Spread on bottom of glass baking dish. Cover cream cheese with Hormel. Top with shredded cheddar and bake. Eat with tortilla chips--we like Tostitos.

                  Edit: I got too excited reading about eating junque and didn't read your $ part--the "recipe" I just quoted you above HAS to be less $ than making your own chili...however, when you're home, there is nothing like making that same dip from scratch with your own meat and taco seasonings. But I eat both (the cheap and the haute!)!

                  1. re: kattyeyes

                    I'm going to do it. But I'll shop: the recipe has to cost way less than scratch. Thank you and Whooppie!

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      Sam, chili dip (and its close cousin, taco dip) are so worth it! Hormel shouldn't be more than $2, but you're probably going to want to pick up some Sriracha or chilies to give it some life, which might put you just over the edge budgetwise.

                      1. re: JungMann

                        Couldn't Sam bring his own ground chilis to save from having to buy Sriracha here? Some ground chipotle would amp up the Hormel nicely. Don't you wish Sriracha came in little convenience packs as ketchup does? There is an idea!!!

                        1. re: kattyeyes

                          Good luck getting liquid fire past security!

                          1. re: kattyeyes

                            Yes, I always travel with chile flakes.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Yes, eccentric botanists tend to travel together, to ensure that nobody loses the room key, etc. But do you also bring the ground capsicum?

              2. re: kattyeyes

                I ask you--is this not the most beautiful BLT you've ever seen?

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Da faincy people blended up da 'maters in what they call that ay-oh-lee stuff. Dang, it was good, whutever it wuz.

                    1. re: kattyeyes

                      And it doesn't look like they scrimped on the bacon either...looks right nice!

            2. I don't think I have one example where I prefer simple/cheap over haute. For me, it's based on what I feel like having that particular day.

              1. Sauerkraut & weiners, tacos, corn dogs (gas station), tuna fish sandwich, ...

                15 Replies
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  totally agree on the tuna fish sandwich. canned tuna with lots of mayo, that's the way to go.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Hmmm...am trying to imagine haute retooling of the corndog...

                    1. re: cayjohan

                      it's a new trend in NYC right now.

                      1. re: demigodh

                        Where can I find these haute corndogs?

                        1. re: KTinNYC

                          PDT and Shake Shack (UWS location) come to mind at first. I think there's a new place in Park Slope as well that serves fancy corn dogs/hot dogs.

                          1. re: demigodh

                            The Crif Dog/PDT corn dog isn't particularly haute or retooled and I'd be surprised if SS would change the classic either but maybe I'll go check it out.

                            1. re: KTinNYC

                              I could be wrong. Not basing it off of personal experience. I did read an article on some food blog recently about how corn dogs are the new craze (replacing burgers).

                          2. re: KTinNYC

                            Elettaria makes a corn dog out of their housemade sausage, though the batter is lighter, more like tempura.

                        2. re: cayjohan

                          Tiffany Faison in Top Chef did it where instead of a hot dog, she used chorizo duck sausage. And instead of mustard was a camembert cream sauce.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            Huh...I must be living under a rock! Survey sez: go with the downscale version on this too. I'd hate to imagine the NYC price tag on a duck chorizo corndog!


                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              Don't forget the "monk-y (monkey?) dogs" one of the teams made for the monkfish challenge!

                            2. re: cayjohan

                              My husband had a foie gras corndog in Seattle last weekend. He really liked it.

                              1. re: cayjohan

                                it may not be "haute", but Alton Brown's version looks delicious - with jalapeno!


                                1. re: cayjohan


                                  had corn dog shrimp once...pepper jelly dip, fried dill pickles on the side...superb

                                  1. re: chef4hire

                                    Okay, I have to roll over on this one. That sounds perfectly, piggishly wonderful!

                              2. I would say - that any good old fashioned simple sandwich is a million times better than the stuff that the NYC delis are all offering these days - trying to pass them off as "haute".

                                They try to add a million ingredients into them that do nothing but drown each other out.

                                "Cajun chicken, salsa,watercress, avocado, chipolte dressing on country grain bread"
                                Give me a chicken salad on white!

                                "roast beef, cheddar cheese, sauteed mixed peppers, sharp watercress, and sharp dijon dip on a fresh onion hero"
                                I'll have a roast beef with mayo on Italian bread

                                Stick to the simple when it comes to sandwiches!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: NellyNel

                                  For the examples you give, I'm going to have to be contrarian and say "I like it haute". Chicken salad on white is what you have when you vacuum all the flavor out of a tuna salad sandwich. And that second sandwich you describe has me preheating my oven and heading for the butcher.

                                  1. re: cali2ia

                                    Well there must be a market for all the fussy sandwiches! I, myself will stick to the simple!!
                                    (Although i will say I bet if the haute sandwich was made at home with good quality ingredients - it just might be yummy - However these deli sandwiches are sitting around all day and cold and with much too much condiment applied -
                                    Yhey are TRYING to be haute, but they actually aren't!

                                2. I have said this before, but I really do prefer my pizza to be what I consider 'regular'- dough stretched thin, baked up light and crisp, topped with pepperoni, a good mozzarella and just enough sauce.
                                  I will eat and don't hate a busy pizza, with unusual crusts and toppings (all fancied up)- I had a goat cheese and mushroom pie on a cruise ship once that was AMAZING... but when I crave pizza its just a regular pizza pie I want.

                                  1. I do not care for intricate vegetable dishes. I prefer the vegetable to stand alone with either olive oil or a light sprinkling of herbs and maybe some salt and pepper - nothing more. I am probably one of the few people who prefer plain asparagus to asparagus covered in hollandaise. I also prefer my salads without dresing.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: enbell

                                      I agree with you on the asparagus- the only thing I want on it is a bit of butter and salt.

                                      1. re: nimeye

                                        I often don't even want butter and salt: I most often eat asparagus lightly steamed and with nothing on it at all, especially when it's the first spears of the spring.

                                        Honestly, my answer for this question is "simple is pretty much always better." Especially if you're using decent ingredients, over-thought preparations just ruin the effect. Please, folks, you don't need to put shaved truffles on EVERY dish!

                                    2. I had a beautiful 9 course meal where everything was a variation on a theme. So beautiful. So... full of it. Not that I did not appreciate the dinner. Believe me, it was crazy expensive - I had no choice but to adore the experience and the food was lovely and fresh BUT - we slipped into a bar after dinner and I was so hungry, I ordered a burger. Never was a burger so divine.

                                      Now, I revel in simplicity. I better... it is my life. I grow probably 80% of what I eat. Food is better un mussed up. And the best comfort and appeal is when you snuggle up to something like mac and cheese or meatloaf that - however heinous, was something your mom made probably every other week of your life. Goopy mac n cheese, overcooked greens with pepper vinegar and a thick slab of greasy meatloaf laden with chili sauce... give that to me any day over Per Se's "oysters and pearls".

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                        I am so with you. I hate to say it, as lovely as the food at TFL looks in photos and no matter how well written to describe the dish. I just know I'd be hungry 10 minutes later.

                                      2. Proseco and peach puree... canned tuna and olive oil.

                                        1. Totally echo your view on the grilled cheese
                                          Simple cupcake (cake and buttercream frosting) vs. those topped with cookie dough and injected with filling (ahem, Crumb's)


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: LeahBaila

                                            Here in the South, we put mayo on the sandwich before we grill it - extra yum. Grilled in butter on both sides. We like extra sharp shredded cheddar between two slices of American - decadent!

                                          2. Fried bologna on white toast with mustard, catsup, mayo, and thinly sliced onion.

                                            3 Replies
                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                If it's foie gras or pate and brioche fried with a good European butter order me two!

                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                  Amen! That's the haute version, Sam.

                                            1. Corned Beef on Rye with a bit of Mustard.

                                              9 Replies
                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                  Guess that'd be corned boeuf. But I can't imagine it!

                                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                                    haha, agreed KT. we're getting a little off base

                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                      Kobe Corned Beef with some overly thought out Mustard.

                                                      It was a pretty damn small sandwich too.

                                                      1. re: JanPrimus

                                                        Someone corned Kobe beef!? Where does one find this abomination?

                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                          I think in Hell. That's a sacrilege!

                                                            1. re: JanPrimus

                                                              Wow, incredible. But after reading that old chowhound thread I seriously doubt that the poster had real Kobe corned beef at $5.85 per pound even if it was 6 years ago. It seems as if the market just labeled some corned beef Kobe or someone got a ridiculous bargain. The Allen Bros. version is $99 for 64 ounces and they are selling "brisket, hand-chopped, then mixed with potatoes, onion, garlic, and spices". This maybe one of the silliest things I've ever seen.

                                                        2. re: KTinNYC

                                                          Yes, Apricot glazed and roasted on a bed of sliced potatoes to draw out the salt. Then hand carved and served on cocktail rye..................

                                                          as opposed to steamed or boiled, machine sliced and served on full sized rye with mustard

                                                          or truly cheap: cut from the fatty flap (2nd cut) but what a great taste.

                                                          I NEVER eat first cut corned beef for a sandwich, it's lean and tasteless.

                                                      2. In addition to BLTs, which many of us agree are great in their simplest form, I'm going to vote for burgers. I've enjoyed some of the 'haute' burgers with foie gras, etc. but if I'm craving a burger, I'd really prefer to keep it simple and not pay $30 or so for it.

                                                        1. I can't believe my sista alkapal hasn't shown up with what's obviously missing thus far:
                                                          Knorr's spinach veggie dip in a bread bowl--accept no substitutes!

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                                            Mmm...spinach dip. I'm making some tonight, in fact. But what would the "haute" version be? I'm thinking wilted baby spinach, aioli, either creme fraiche or Greek yogurt, in an artisan sourdough boule...but I can't come up with a substitute for the soup mix!

                                                            1. re: theferlyone

                                                              From what I've read here on the boards, the "haute" version (non-processed, no soup mix) version doesn't hold a candle to the original. I am partial to the artisan sourdough boule myself, but the inside stuff's gotta be Knorr and the original recipe!

                                                              1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                Even mo bettah in my estimation (and cheaper, and simpler): the original California Dip - Lipton's onion soup mix and full-fat sour cream. The best culinary invention of the mid-20th century. Something about that chemical umami thing going on. Pass the ruffled potato chips please.

                                                          2. Simple and cheap is always better than haute when simple and cheap ingredients were fresh, good quality and deftly handled and haute ingredients were not.

                                                            Give me a simple honest bowl of beans and rice done right over an over-reaching poorly executed fancy anything any day.

                                                            1. Plain french fries. Give my a good hot batch of McDonald's fries with catsup or boardwalk fries with vinegar. I'm tired of the truffle/garlic/rosemary/etc flavored fries.

                                                              1. Simple/cheap vs. haute is getting some very different interpretations from various hounds. Simple/cheap in the sense of plain, fresh ingredients, put together simply, as compared to a complex version that a chef has interpreted is one comparison. But prepared foods, like boxed mac'n cheese don't really fit into that category. There's nothing at all fresh about these things. And it's simple only because someone has done the work for you - measuring, making thinner pasta that boils quicker, pre-mixing a processed cheese food mixture, whether powder or semi-liquid, adding lots of salt and hfcs... So once again, we're talking about nostalgia and so-called prepared comfort foods. Which, as we all know is always an interesting topic, that I won't get into here (whew). But I did want to point out that conflating prepared foods with simple/cheap doesn't necessarily make any sense.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: applehome

                                                                  In reading this thread, applehome, I was having the same thought. When I saw the title I was thinking some kind of meat sauteed with a simple sauce, a perfect steamed vegetable with butter, roasted potatoes. That kind of thing. Noodles with butter and freshly grated cheese. Whatever. But everyone's ideas are fine and dandy, aren't they?

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    Interpretation is a wonderful thing unless someone else interprets things different than I do! :)

                                                                    1. re: JanPrimus

                                                                      Yeah, I refer to as don't go poking MY sacred cow!

                                                                  2. re: applehome

                                                                    Me too. Often I love simple foods - say a bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwich, but I DON'T want to eat crap white bread filled with chemicals. I didn't grow up eating velveeta, so I have no nostalgia with it. I can make a perfectly plain macaroni cheese, but it is made with real cheese.

                                                                    Guess I agree with applehome. My family was actually rather poor, but my mum insisted on real food to the extent we could possibly afford it.

                                                                  3. I think some of the most interesting dishes in the world are made with pulses and rice or other simple grain products (including noodles). I can enjoy dishes that take elaborate preparation. Whether you'd call them haute cuisine or not I don't know. Some traditional cooking can be rather labor intensive. But my absolute favorite food is rice and beans. And I love lean artisan breads, which are in fact much simpler than commercial sandwich bread. And stir-fried vegetables. And I am fond of cheeses and simple braises and stews. I wouldn't consider any of these food haute cuisine. And normally they are very economic and simple to prepare.
                                                                    But consider: what makes a food haute. Is a miner's pasty from Michigan's Upper Peninsula haute cuisine? (No pun intended.) Essentially it is a variant on pocket pies and things like samosas. So would a samosa be haute cuisine? Or Jamaican patties? Or Mexican Empanadas? I'd call all of these foods basic vernacular cooking. And most of the time, I'd take vernacular cooking over what I would call cuisine recherche. And, by the way, where I grew up, avocados were a back-yard fruit. So there is nothing fancy about them to me. But in Kenya, where I lived later, apples were an expensive foreign luxury.

                                                                    1. i guess by simple cuisine vs. haute I mean to focus on dishes that we all know and that have standard preparations. For those foods, you can have the basic preparation or a fancy interpretive one. Obviously some "standard basic dishes" are very complex but some aren't, and sometimes those that aren't are made complex in haute cuisine. Those are the dishes i'm referring to.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: demigodh

                                                                        But that doesn't clarify the issue of prepared foods being "simple". They're simple for you, the end-user, as it were - pop open a can or a box and follow some simple directions. But they're far from simple to manufacture, breaking down hydrocarbons to their base structures and recombining them in some sort of frankensteinian chemistry lab that couldn't possibly be replicated in a home kitchen. Simple and fresh is a real movement in food - the idea is to go from the farm to the plate in as few steps as possible, preserving the base flavors and nutrients and utilizing simple techniques. In my mind, that runs completely counter to Velveeta mac'ncheese and other factory prepared foods.

                                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                                          ah, fair enough. i'll try to clarify what i'm getting at. Perhaps "simple" food was a misleading term. Frankly though, I think it gets at what I'm trying to say. In no way am i referring to farm fresh versus processed or quantity of ingredients or labor required or anything related to how you're distinguishing simple foods from the rest. As I mentioned earlier, by "simple" i mean what I said in my last post: "dishes that we all know and that have standard preparations". Macaroni and Cheese, if made with hand cut fresh noodles and organic straight from the farm cheese would be, for the sake of this thread, a haute version of a simple food.

                                                                          1. re: demigodh

                                                                            I don't usually use hand-cut noodles for macaroni and cheese, though I do know how to make them. Macaroni out of a box (though I confess it is organic if I can afford it, for health reasons). And certainly not usually artisanal cheese. But I make it with a) macaroni b) cheese c) a béchamel (white sauce) d) usually onion and garlic, as I love'm.

                                                                            That is a pretty standard preparation. Not everybody grew up making it from velveeta. I'm sure my mum bought the cheese when it was marked down, making it a very affordable dish.

                                                                            There is nothing snobbish about the simple but genuine peasant and working-class dishes Father Kitchen mentioned. Empanadas have long gone down into the mines in Chile just as pasties have in Cornwall and Upper Michigan...

                                                                      2. Spaghetti and meatballs, just the regular old homemade stuff.