DINNER IS SERVED
Unfortunately for my dinner guests, the rules set down by my editor forbade me from adding any “outside ingredients” to the dollar store vittles, other than those specified on the package instructions (e.g. oil, butter, water) or dried spices. In other words: no adding chanterelle mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes to the off-brand mac-n-cheese mix.
Now I know you’re not gullible enough to believe I was able to whip up a gourmet meal using only unadulterated dollar store food. (And no, I couldn’t. Didn’t. Friggin’ editor.) But that wasn’t the point. The point, my friends, was to prove that wine can transform even a sorry dollar store dinner into a fun-filled feast. Tah-dah.
With that disclaimer, let’s get to the menu:
The dollar store’s snack selection didn’t leave much room for creativity, so I set out bowls of the assorted chips and party mix along with the jarred salsa. The highlight of my spread was undoubtedly the “fish steaks” in hot sauce (sardines swimming in a suspicious bright red liquid), served straight from the can with “fancy” wheat crackers. (Total cost: $6)
To give the dish some kick, I mixed in a chopped canned chipotle pepper and about 1/2 tablespoon of the adobo sauce into the bright orange goo (also known as “premium cheese sauce”). Since I couldn’t find any breadcrumbs, I pulverized the “fancy” wheat crackers in a food processor, mixing them with melted butter, then sprinkled them on top of the casserole. Then I crisped the whole thing under the broiler. Emeril himself couldn’t have done any better. Bam! (Total cost: $3.50)
LINGUINE WITH MUSHROOM STEM MARINARA
To make the sauce, I sauteed the canned ‘shrooms with crushed garlic, then added dried basil, oregano and organic canned tomatoes. About 30 minutes of simmering thickened the concoction up nicely. And guess what? It actually tasted good! (Total cost: $4.50)
I added a couple of diced canned jalapenos to the corn muffin mix before baking. The finished product was kinda dry (nothing a stick of melted butter wouldn’t fix), but the spicy peppers were a nice contrast to the sweetness of the corn. (Total cost: $1.39)
LITTLE DEBBIE DELIGHT
If you’ve never had a Little Debbie Star Crunch, you’re really missing out. (Imagine a caramel patty coated with Rice Krispies and covered in milk chocolate.) I was afraid the snack cakes wouldn’t live up to my childhood memories of them, but I was oh-so-wrong. (Total cost: $1)
MUSCAT MARINATED FRUIT
Have you ever seen canned strawberries at your neighborhood grocery store? No? Well, there’s a good reason: strawberries should never see the inside of a can. Never. Ever. They look nothing at all like actual strawberries - or any kind of fruit - and end up as squishy pinkish nuggets the size of raspberries. And they taste even worse than they look. I tried to tone down their fruitless, metallic nastiness by mixing them with canned pears and leaving them to marinate in sweet muscat wine for an hour, but it didn’t really help. (Total cost: $2. And my soul.)