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Expensive tastes

Some women have expensive taste in fashion. Mention the words “Jimmy Choo” or “Manolo Blahnik” and my friend April will start drooling like Pavlov’s dog. Lead my friend Cristina into an expensive handbag store (think Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Gucci) and her face lights up like she’s in love. And I know girls who can drop $200 on a pair for designer jeans without batting an eyelash (“But they were on sale!”).I, on the other hand, have expensive tastes. Plural. As in food.I like fine dining and gourmet cuisine, though my budget doesn’t allow me to indulge too often. But I’m definitely a repressed champagne-and-caviar girl. I love lobster, pâté de foie gras and oysters on the half-shell. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but Kobe beef and a vintage fine red wine can be heaven. Truffle risotto, or organic field greens with aged, authentic balsamic vinegar and Tuscan olive oil – mmmm. Lox and bagels with tea equals a divine breakfast.Don’t even get me started on dessert. Tiramisu, soufflé, chocolate torte, crème brûlée … OK, now I’m drooling. Don’t forget gourmet dark chocolate with 70-percent cocoa content, dulce de leche and New York cheesecake. I’m gaining weight just thinking about it.But I’m not the queen of France, so I rarely get to sate my expensive cravings (which is probably a good thing). Does this mean I eat ramen and serve my guests generic mac-and-cheese from a box? Hardly. (Besides, I loathe ramen).I’ve learned to cook expensive looking, tasting and sounding food, without spending too much. The keys are: a few, quality ingredients, artful plating and, well – faking it. Yes, when all else fails, give your dish a fancy-sounding name and people will be impressed. Don’t hesitate to say you meant to use cooked chicken in the pâté, since goose liver gives some people indigestion. Or that you tried halibut instead of bluefin tuna in a recipe so you could put your own touch on it (when in reality, it’s because the halibut was on sale).Do spend money on the things that are worth it. Who cares if your flour is generic or if you used imitation crabmeat in the seafood quiche? Most people won’t be able to tell the difference. However, there is no substitute for high-quality beef; the cheapest grade will give you the cheapest taste. Fine, extra virgin olive oil can make all the difference in Italian cooking, and Velveeta will never be a good substitute for real cheddar cheese.Take time to present your food well. Sight plays a big part in taste; studies have shown that people served the exact same food but in appealing and unappealing ways can taste a difference. They will almost always say the more appetizing-looking dish tastes better than the one that has been dyed an ugly color or slopped on the plate.Plating doesn’t take much. Use a little drizzle of chocolate sauce to decorate a plate before putting a slice of cake on it. Place contrasting colors side by side and use fresh garnishes, such as a twist of lemon or a mint leaf. Wipe up drips and spills, and don’t heap the food on the plate. These techniques can make your food look 10 times better.So if you or your dinner guests have expensive tastes, don’t think you have to bounce a check to impress them with fine food. Use quality ingredients, present your dishes well, and when all else fails, fake it. You will have a delicious meal and a happy wallet.Then you’ll have more money to spend on champagne-and-caviar occasions.Gabrielle Devenish is the food editor at the Post Independent. She’s not Marie Antoinette, but she still thinks everyone should eat cake. Contact her at (970) 945-8515, ext. 535, or gdevenish@postindependent.com.Affordable tiramisu8 ounces semisweet chocolate1 cup sugar4 egg yolks 11/2 teaspoons vanilla8 ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces, room temperature134 cups chilled whipping cream1 tablespoon instant espresso powder diluted in 11/4 cups hot water, cooled1 12-ounce prepared pound cake, cut into 3 1/2 x 1 x 1/2-inch strips Finely chop chocolate in processor. Set aside. Mix sugar and egg yolks in processor 30 seconds. Add vanilla and process until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add cheese in batches and blend until smooth. Transfer to medium bowl. Cover and chill 1 hour. Beat whipping cream until stiff. Fold into cream cheese mixture. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead.) Pour espresso into large shallow dish. Dip cake strips in espresso, turning to coat all sides lightly. Arrange strips on bottom of 10-cup shallow dish, smoothing with fingers to mold together. Sprinkle with half of chocolate. top with chilled cheese mixture. Sprinkle remaining chocolate over. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead.) Serves 8.- Bon Appétit magazine


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