Cook Gourmet on a Dime

Lili's Bistro chefs suggest substituting expensive ingredients

Two Fort Worth chefs say people trying to save money can still eat well for less with a simple trick.

Lili's Bistro in Fort Worth knows how to serve up scrumptious meals with a gourmet touch. The restaurant's signature dish, its famous waffle fries, are topped with Gorgonzola cheese.

But chefs Vance Martin and Heather Hogan say there is no reason to abandon gourmet fantasies just because you are tightening your purse strings.

"Don't feel deprived, even if it's a rough time," Hogan said. "Just be a little more shrewd with it."

Their first tip: Make clever substitutions.

"One of the biggest sellers on Lili's menu is our beef medallions, which is beef tenderloin medallions that we hand-cut," Hogan said.

But instead of pricey tenderloin, Hogan said you can substitute a cheaper cut of beef. Just pound it out to make more tender.

"What we've done is taken a London broil -- much, much less expensive -- pound it out a little bit (as) a way to increase your yield and have a really tender piece of meat," she said.

Hogan even sometimes uses meaty portabella mushrooms to stretch the dish further.

The same trick works for seafood. Several varieties have similar flavors and textures, so when shopping, ask for a less-expensive alternative.

And if the recipe calls for wine, try using beef or chicken stock instead. The result is not exactly the same, but the stock will still add flavor and richness, just as the wine would.

If you've never seen a leek in your life, you'll survive with using scallions or white onions.

No sea salt? No worries. Table salt works fine for most people.

And while the tartness of sun dried tomatoes is delicious, some cooks say you can get by with drained canned tomatoes.

And if the recipe asks for something such as prosciutto or pancetta, try using unsmoked bacon or ham.

Hogan said fresh herbs can be pricey, too, if you don't grow your own. She said it is fine to stick with dried herbs, just use less.

"You're entertaining on a dime," Hogan said. "And no one will know."

Here are some recipes courtesy of Lili's Bistro, which Martin said have been altered so they can be prepared for less:

Beef Medallions
(Serves 4)
1 pound London Broil Steak
4 Portobello Mushrooms
2-3 zucchini (4 slices per person)
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup + 2 T olive oil
1/2 T granulated garlic
1/2 T coarse black pepper
Marinade: Combine Worcestershire, oil, garlic and pepper.
Slice steak into 16 medallions. Gently pound to tenderize. Marinate at least 1 hour.
Wipe dirt from mushrooms with a damp cloth.  Cut in quarters. Saute mushrooms in 2 T oil until just tender. Add to marinade.
Cut zucchini diagonally in 1/4 inch thick slices. Season with salt and pepper. Grill or saute until tender.

Saute mushrooms and medallions over high heat until meat reaches desired cook temperature.
To serve, alternate slices of mushroom, medallions, and zucchini around the plate. Place potatoes, fries, or favorite starch in the center.

Gorgonzola Fries

Gorgonzola Fries are one of Lili’s signature items (voted best fries in Fort Worth in the 2007 Fort Worth Weekly "Best Of"). The recipe below makes this dish available to the home cook and makes some slight alterations in order to cut costs. At Lili’s we top our cooked fries with 4-6 ounces of Gorgonzola crumbles, serving 2-4 people. This recipe allows you to make the Gorgonzola go further and allow more guests to enjoy the flavors of the best fries in Fort Worth.

1 bag Ore Ida waffle fries (found in the frozen food section)
1 5-ounce container chopped Gorgonzola cheese
1 cup half and half
16 ounces sour cream
½ t salt
½ t cracked black pepper (plus more for garnish)
1 T lemon juice
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt to taste

Prepare fries in oven according to package directions, but make sure fries are crispy. Season to taste with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt immediately when removed from oven. Whisk other ingredients together until combined. Serve beside hot fries for dipping, or drizzle over fries. Top with chopped green onions and additional cracked black pepper to taste.

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