Gourmet dinner on a budget

Even the simplest dishes look great if prepared with care.

Even the simplest dishes look great if prepared with care.

A lot of people are complaining that they cannot afford to eat out as often as before, prices are too high, less money in the home budget, cost of babysitting, etc. The cost of eating out is indeed high and that is why I recommend that you take great care when planning a meal out.

Pick the best places and my motto is ‘one really good meal is better than three average ones’. If asking advice from friends be very cautious as one person’s gourmet meal is another’s disaster. If you are disappointed then complain, we are generally very bad at complaining but it really is the only way to improve the standards out there.

Meanwhile, how do you get a gourmet meal for about €10, including a glass of wine? The answer is to cook it at home. Most of us are blessed with kitchens to die for and they are generally under utilised. We have drawers and cabinets full of candles, fancy wine glasses, beautiful plates, and all manner of table decorations, not to mention dozens of pristine recipe books. Dig them out, use them, and create your own special night. Rent a DVD for the kids, that’s three hours of babysitting for a fiver. Another formula is to invite friends and agree that they bring the starter and or dessert, then a few weeks later you reverse the process.

For a very simple menu, you could try some Parma ham with a couple of fresh figs or some melon (you can buy more than enough Parma ham in Aldi or Dunne’s for €3.75 ). You can of course pay more but the ones in Aldi and Dunne’s are quite good. Time to prepare: two minutes.

Main course could be fillet steak at €5 for each piece, or black sole on the bone at €6 per piece, or fillet of pork at €2 per person (there are some great deals for fillet of pork, recently Dunne’s had them for €4 per fillet and each fillet will serve two adults ). Serve with your favourite vegetable and roasted rosemary potatoes. To cook the potatoes simply par cook, then chop into small cubes, drizzle in some olive oil and chopped rosemary, put on a hot tray, and leave in the oven for about 15 minutes.

For dessert, cook your own apple pie or apple crumble recipe. Perhaps add another fruit to liven it up. The shops have lovely Irish apples right now and they are not expensive. Make some custard and add a tiny drop of whiskey to it. Buy a bottle of wine for €9.99 and that works out at €1.60 per glass (six regular servings to a bottle ). My figures may not be exactly correct but my point is that a really good meal can be cooked easily and for a moderate amount (less than a takeaway pizza ).

Finally, to those of you who love really good coffee and feel that the cost of drinking it at €2.50 a shot is getting expensive, buy your own machine and learn the art of coffee making (if you want help look at www.coffeegeek.com ). While I love to have a coffee in town I generally make my own (about 25 cents per cappuccino ). That means having a coffee in town is a treat and not just something you do every day.

We seem to have adopted the coffee culture in a way that our European cousins find amazing, it’s as if we cannot wait to empty our pockets as we pass any coffee shop. I wonder is there something in the Irish genes which makes us want to drink our beverages anywhere except at home? A really good coffee is a great way to relax so wherever you go make sure there is someone who knows how to pull a good coffee, not just pressing two buttons and whizz bang, the cup is full.

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