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In a pickle: How to cook a gourmet meal on a budget

Newlywed, new mom and first-time home buyer, Sarah is currently playing out her exciting life in Phoenix, Arizona. She recently gave up her job in finance to stay at home with her baby girl, who between bath time and feeding time, keeps ...

Gourmet meal, small budget

Cooking gourmet meals at home doesn't have to cost a fortune. There are simple, subtle things you can do to create gourmet meals without having to spend your next paycheck.
Grilled salmon dinner

We all wish we had a chef to make fabulous, healthy and satisfying meals, but unfortunately that's just not the reality for most of us. Instead of only eating gourmet food when you go out for a special dinner, create the look and taste with a few simple tricks designed for those looking to eat five-star gourmet food at home all while on a budget.

platePresentation matters

When it comes to gourmet, it's not just about the taste but about the presentation as well. Cooking gourmet is an experience — and the presentation part is not something that's taken lightly. Even a bowl of macaroni and cheese looks 10 times better if it's sprinkled with fresh Parmesan, topped with breadcrumbs and has a sliver of fresh parsley situated in the corner. Here are some simple ways to make your food more presentable:

  • Keep the plate size proportionate to the meal you're serving.
  • Use plain, white plates so the focus is on the food.
  • Place the main dish toward the front of the plate.
  • Use garnishes, such as fresh basil, chives or specially sliced vegetables.

spicesSeason like a pro

Herbs and spices are a great way to enhance the flavor of a meal without having to spend much at all. If a meal is seasoned well, it instantly becomes more unique, tasty and gourmet. Since seasoning food is an art form, it's something that needs to be practiced before it can be mastered. To get started, follow these tips:

  • Add herbs when the meal is almost done, preventing the flavor from cooking out.
  • Add spices early when cooking meat, allowing the meat to have time to fully absorb the flavor.
  • Experiment by adding what you think sounds good, just make sure to only add a little bit at a time to avoid ruining the meal (you can always add more but you can't add less).
  • Remember to add salt — salt brings out the flavor of foods while reducing the bitterness.

saladPrepare multiple courses

When thinking gourmet, think multiple courses. Start the meal with a few quick and easy appetizers followed by a hearty salad before presenting the meal. By having multiple courses, you can cook less of each food since there will be more options to fill up on.

Learn about wine

Wine can be a very expensive hobby, so don't buy a variety of high-end bottles expecting to learn all about vino. Instead, invest in a basic wine guide for around $5. This will show you what wines go best with certain dishes, and you can buy a bottle based on your own personal budget. Remember, it's the details, not the dollars that make you a gourmet food and wine expert.

Here's a guide on how to choose the best wine glass >>

More on gourmet food

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The best gourmet foods for spring entertaining
Must-try gourmet Italian food and wine

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