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It Only Tastes Expensive

A gourmet meal gets a budget makeover
Sara Lovelady
It Only Tastes Expensive: Main Image
You can get the same delicious tastes and textures for less than half the price

In rough economic times, nearly everyone is looking for ways to trim their spending. And since 15% of the average American’s paycheck goes toward food and beverages the shopping cart is an obvious target. But if you think that slashing the amount you spend on groceries means you’re relegated to life of PB&J and mac 'n' cheese, you’re in a for a pleasant surprise.  A few basic principles can transform a meal ordinarily made up of costly components into a menu that will please both your taste buds and your wallet.

Fancy Gourmet Meal

  • Appetizer:        Sautéed asparagus spears with shallots
  • Entrée:            Panko encrusted halibut with pesto 
  • Side dish:        Portobello mushroom risotto
  • Dessert:          Chocolate pot de crème

Approximate total cost (depending on regional prices): $50

You can get the same delicious tastes and textures of the above menu for less than half the price with a few creative substitutions.

Gourmet Budget Secret #1: Know What You Can Sub

When you can’t face the cost of halibut, other white fish such as tilapia and catfish have a similar mild taste and firm texture. And why shell out the extra bucks on shallots? Once they’re sliced and sautéed, only a gourmand could distinguish them from inexpensive yellow onions.

Gourmet Budget Secret #2: Know What You Can’t Sub

It’s the little things that make a difference. So swap out one fish for another, but don’t lose the panko crust. That delightfully crunchy coating gives this entrée its gourmet touch—and panko breadcrumbs typically only costs a couple bucks for a can.

Budget Makeover Meal

  • Appetizer:        Roasted green beans with onions
  • Entrée:            Panko-encrusted tilapia or catfish with cilantro mayo
  • Side dish:        Brown rice pilaf with sautéed crimini mushrooms
  • Dessert:          Chocolate pudding

Approximate total cost (depending on regional prices): $22


Trim 1 lb green beans and toss in bowl with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 chopped yellow onion. Spread over baking sheet and roast at 400° for 40 minutes, turning occasionally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.


Set out three dishes. In dish one, place 1 cup flour. In dish two, lightly beat three eggs. In dish three, place 1 cup panko. Coat fish in flour, then eggs, then panko, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes at 400°, turning the fish after 10 minutes.

To make cilantro mayo

Stir 1 cup mayo, 1/3 cup fresh chopped cilantro, 1 clove chopped garlic, 1 tbsp lime juice, 1 tsp grated lime rind, and salt and pepper to taste.

Side dish

Sautee 1/2 pound crimini mushrooms with 1 tbsp olive oil on medium heat until liquid evaporates. Add 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth. Stir mushroom-broth mixture into 1 1/2 cup cooked short grain brown rice.


Follow directions on box.
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