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Project Food Blog Challenge #1: Defining The Cheap Gourmet Blog

Today is the day! The FoodBuzz Project Food Blog Challenge has begun and I am excited! The Cheap Gourmet blog is about to receive a new level of exposure and the sky is the limit. I'm so glad you're joining me on this adventure.

The first Project Food Blog challenge is to define my blog and what it offers. I invite you to join me for a virtual cup of coffee (or margaritas) as we stroll down memory lane.

The Cheap Gourmet food blog was born on February 18, 2007. The first post was a recipe for grilled gourmet lunch meat sandwiches. That's an oxymoron, wouldn't you agree? Gourmet lunch meat. How can that be? But, that is what this blog is all about. Turning the ordinary into something extraordinary, for cheap.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in the traditional suburban Leave It to Beaver household. Mom took care of the family and dad worked two jobs. We didn't do without, but we rarely had extras. And, we never went out to eat except for very special occasions.

Sister, Dad, Mom, Baby Brother, and Me

Fortunately, my mom was an amazing cook. Although she had a tight budget, she always managed to serve three homemade meals every day. Mom made a lot of crock pot meals, meatloaf, casseroles, fish and chicken. She baked fresh bread or yeast rolls daily and we always had some type of homemade dessert.

It wasn't until I moved away from home that I realized how much time mom spent in the kitchen. Although I "assisted" with cooking as a child, I think I was more of a nuisance than a help. I had no clue how to cook for myself and spent hours on the phone finding out how to make potato soup, roasted chicken, or that yummy pasta casserole with bacon and tomatoes


Secret pasta casserole recipe handed down from my grandmother

As an adult, I spent several years working in food service. In the 90s I worked as a vegetarian chef at a health food store. The Executive Chef, Leslie, took me under her wing and opened up a brand new culinary adventure. As a girl who grew up in the Midwest, I had never eaten tofu, tempeh, seaweed, or vegan "beef" jerky. But, once I learned how to prepare them I really enjoyed them - except for the seaweed.

Leslie encouraged us to create one new vegetarian dish every day. If it turned out well the item became the Special of the Day. It was fierce competition in the kitchen and serious trash-talking took place. To this day, I still remember when my recipe for Spring Vegetable Soup beat out the reigning chef.

Sadly, Leslie encountered serious health problems and could no longer work. The store hired a new kitchen manager who ruled with an iron fist. So, I packed my knives and went to work for a private country club.

That was a life-altering experience. I discovered true gourmet food and fell in love with the succulent delights only the wealthy could afford. Black truffles, Kobe beef, lamb chops, and Osso Bucco. My saliva glands are gearing up into overdrive. How about yours?


Osso Bucco with creamy mashed potatoes, sauteed veggies, and demi glace

Every day was a learning experience. We served food from morning 'til night and accepted special requests. We frequently hosted private parties with over 200 guests. In order to survive in that kitchen we had to constantly be on top of our game. It was challenging, but extremely rewarding at the end of the day.

Every dish had to be meticulous with foods precisely positioned on the plate. There could be no drips, drops, or fingerprints on the plate. The Executive Chef was a highly-charged man who took his reputation seriously. Although I learned a great deal from him, he sucked the joy out of cooking and we parted ways.

I went on to open a small catering business and had the time of my life. As I got older, the demands of the job were more than I wanted. So, I packed up my knives and traded them in for a keyboard.

The Cheap Gourmet is a culmination of my culinary experiences. My mother taught me how to cook tasty, affordable meals. She was a penny-pincher, coupon clipper whom I lovingly referred to as "cheap."

Leslie introduced me to the simplistic beauty and bountiful flavors of fresh, organic vegetables and taught me that healthy doesn't have to be tasteless. The country club introduced me to gourmet cooking and the artistic side of food presentation. Catering helped me meet the needs of a wide range of people in a variety of settings.

This blog lets me share vegetarian, vegan, gourmet, and old fashioned home cooked meals. There are recipes for appetizers to entrĂ©es and cocktails to holiday dinner parties.  Visitors can locate cooking contests, money-saving coupons, gourmet samples, and kitchen product sales. There is something for everyone.

If anyone had told me I'd be competing in a Food Blog Star contest when I started this blog, I doubt I would have believed them. Of course, I never realized that I would make so many friends, rub elbows with celebrity chefs, attend private food blogger parties hosted by popular restaurants, or have the opportunity to have three renowned culinary geniuses read my words. Just goes to show extraordinary things really do happen to ordinary people.

Hanging out with Hell's Kitchen Winner, Danny Veltri (center) at his restaurant, Flip Flops
in New Smyrna Beach, FL


I greatly appreciate you taking time to read my Project Food Blog challenge post. Take a moment to join so you can cast a vote my way (wink!). Voting begins Sept. 20th and I will post a reminder announcement on that day.

To cast your vote click on the profile button below. Thanks so much for your support!