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Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day


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My girlfriend has been complaining about my spending money on top quality ingredients when I cook for her. Copper River Salmon, Kobe Beef, Heritage Turkey, Bordeaux wines, D'Artagnan foie gras, and I could go on about the exotic produce, spices, and my recent molecular gastronomy kick.

So, for this Valentines Day, I want to let her know that I got the message and still love her. (She has a great sense of humor!)

I want to create a dinner experience using the cliche bottom of the barrel ingredients, but prepared in a very gourmet style with a surprisingly great taste. I want to source as many ingredients from either the 99 cent store or the gas station. Here's a rough sketch of some ideas I have so far...

Menu scrawled in crayon on the back of a fake Arrest Report

Andre sparkling wine chilled in a mini metal trash can with strawberry Pop-Rocks in the plastic champagne glasses for added flavor and fizz.

Wine from a box served in mason jars.

Hot Dog Napoleon - Alternating layers of thinly sliced hot dog and wonder bread on top of a gelee of pureed relish and topped with spherical ketchup and mustard caviar.

"Fwaw Graw O Torch-On de Spam" (in the shape of hearts)

Something using Top Ramen that I haven't figured out yet

Rum Soaked Twinkie Flambee with a Hershey's Dark Chocolate Syrup and Orange Tang Sauce

I'll be wearing ripped jeans, white tank top (wife beater), a loud tie, baseball cap, and a dinner jacket. The music selection will start with "Dueling Banjos" and move on to "Let's Get It On" by Jack Black.

Obviously, I need help brainstorming this if I'm going to pull it off. Would like to have more courses. Could use suggestions on menu planning, recipes, decor, and music. It's all in the name of love. ;-)

"it’s always advisable to use a very good sardine instead of a not that good lobster." - Ferran Adria

Neale Smull - Gastronaut

(I'd say my style is Contemporary Fusion... Con-Fusion)

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The problem is that everything except possibly the dessert sound absolutely disgusting...

It would ruin the joke but result in infinitely better food if you just used dirt cheap ingredients cooked in haute cusine way (potatoes, leeks, chicken liver, beef cheeks...)

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I don't know, TheSwede, it doesn't sound that disgusting. Anyway, I feel like the humor behind the ingredient's sourcing is more the point than preparing something incredible on a budget. If nealesmull is to make it with stuff that was cheap but not obviously so - not things you'd think, "God, he must have shopped at the gas station on the way home for this" - it just wouldn't be as funny.

That said, I have no ideas at the moment, but I'll check in later. Your girlfriend sounds awesome if she'll enjoy what you're cooking up for her (literally and figuratively).

Edited by feedmec00kies (log)

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

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Nothing too appetizing in that list although I give you an A+ for originality and being so clever!

If we're talking gas station, they usually have canned soups, chips and dips, sometimes some frozen fish sticks or what not -

Good luck and keep us informed.

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I would sub a 40 oz malt liqour for the sparkling wine and I think mason jars are too upscale. See if you can find Blackburn's jelly & jams at your local supermarket. Their jelly jar has a handle so you can rinse it and use it for your after dinner instant coffee.


ETA: Link + Don't forget nothing says "this is a special occasion" like paper plates and sporks.

Edited by JimH (log)
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OMG I love this idea I did a 21st bday for one of my kids like this we had 40 ozers and Boonsefarm ...in brown paper bags ..cheetoes with a really nice home made onion dip ...the cake was made of Hostess cakes of all kinds piled up ..you have to have some kind of great decorations too ....like use newspaper comics ducktaped as the table cloth

ohhhhh you have to have that spray cheese in a can make little stars on a cracker and then put a caper on top or something for garnish!!!!

do not forget beernuts!!!

you are a sweety and she will love it!!!

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?


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Gas station Frito pie microwavable chile poured right into the single serving Frito bag

vienna sausage sliced into Ramen?


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers


Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

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vienna sausage sliced into Ramen?


I was thinking something like that, too!

Except add some ketchup and use the ramen noodles to create a tomato-based pasta dish. I'd go for corned beef rather than vienna sausage, but vienna sausage is probably more appropriate. It could be gussied up (did I really just use that word?) by cutting it into cute little heart shapes.

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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Goormett Mac'n cheese:

gas station nacho cheese sauce on ramen noodles.

I love the "frito pie to go" idea upthread. Top it with the same nacho cheese sauce.

"roulade" - gas station burgers, sliced thinly into rounds (try to rescue those painted on grill marks), stuffed with ?god-knows-what, rolled and tied.

(stuff with ?chopped sliced pickles, olives from the nacho bar and ..?)

Or you could call it 'boliche'.

If you can manage tiny slices of those, served on goldfish crackers, go for it.

The 99c store usually has inexpensive but not necessarily recognizably so ingredients in cans.

Please please please please please please take and post pictures. Please!

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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vienna sausage sliced into Ramen?

Or one of my broke college days favorites. Cook the noodles, drain, stir in the seasoning pack and scramble a couple eggs into it.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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AND, for the OP, you better get a nice Valentine's day present to accompany all the "goodies". A bracelet or earrings would be nice. Pack it in a Walmart bag.  LOL.

Hey! I got my wedding ring at Walmart. Seriously. It was like 80 bucks. Real gold and everything!

Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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I think it was two seasons ago on Top Chef they had to make a meal out of things they purchased at a convenience store. Can't remember what they made but I think it was along the same line-if you went to the shows web site or the egullet food and tv thread about the show you may be able to find something.

Really good idea--I bet it'll be lots of fun!!

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sorry it took me so long to get back and write a report.

Here’s how it went down......

I kinda cheated a little bit here and there on my theme with the food. I could have gotten hot dogs from the 99 cent store but my intentions were to make her giggle, not kill her. ;-)

I wore old ripped jeans, a white tank top, the loudest and tackiest cheap necktie I could find tucked under the shirt, a baseball cap on backwards and 99 cent store flip flop sandals. For three days, I went without shaving. I looked like a dressed up version of the criminals on the police tv show “Cops”. I wanted to get an obnoxiously tasteless tablecloth but couldn’t find one. My second choice was setting down valentines day newspaper ads in red with hearts all over. Couldn’t find those either. I turned a few Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans into rather attractive votive candle holders and had a taper candle in a brown beer bottle. I tried to find sporks (the plastic combination of a fork and spoon in one) but couldn’t find those either. Napkins of course were tacky printed paper towels. I also offered a bib made from a 99 cent store plastic bag. The TV is connected to the computer, so I put on a fireplace screensaver. Other candles were lit around the house.

On the table, I had a tin bucket with USC’s logo printed on the side (her school) and filled with ice. The bubbly selection was Andre California Champagne ($3) with a screw-cork and sporting a USC beer cozy. Surprisingly, the Andre wasn’t completely bad but certainly not Schramsburg. I also had a Tinkerbell gift bag (Her favorite Disney character). In the bag, I had a pair of hideous pink leopard print flip-flop shoes and a plastic tiara with a heart on it that lit up so she could dress the part. Since I haven’t given her a ring yet, I got her a candy ring pop. (commitment lasts about 200 licks) I also included a pair of “Love Cuffs”, red plastic fuzzy handcuffs. It’s amazing what you can find at the 99 cent store. We never used the “Love Cuffs” but discovered that they make a great cat toy. ;-)

When she arrived, I had “Dueling Banjos” playing on iTunes followed by the sappiest love songs I could find. Later, the playlist moved into better tunes and a bit of barbershop quartet.

I scribbled the menu on the back of a fake arrest report and decorated it with hearts. Of course, the title was “Hold On To My Beer... I’m Gonna Try Somethin”. On the inside, it said “Men-You”.

Here are the courses...

Andre’s Broken Heart Cocktail – Plastic Champagne glasses filled with Pop-Rocks (for extra fizz) and crushed heart candies (the kind with little love notes printed on them) topped with Andre sparkling wine. Surprisingly tasty.

Franzia Red “Chillable” Box of Wine – This was served in mason jars. She always makes fun of box wine but neither of us can remember actually trying it. This turned out to validate our suspicions. It tasted like a mix of Kool-Aid and fruit juice that had been left in the summer sun for a few weeks. Needs more “inner tube” aroma. Interesting that it notes on the box “Table Wine with Natural Flavors”. Not sure what that means.

Jerk Tarts con Whiz – I wanted to rehydrate beef jerky and wrap it around pieces of apple. The beef jerky I got wasn’t long enough so I had to improvise. I put pieces of apple between pieces of jerky and filled the edges with Bacon Flavored Cheese Whiz (spray can cheese) then I heated it up on a mini cast iron skillet. Shockingly yummy.

Fwah Graw O-Torch-On de Spam Avek Bull-Burst Sauce – I treated canned Spam kinda like foie gras au torchon. I rinsed it to get rid of as much salt as I could and then poached it in butter. Next, I sculpted it into heart shapes and seared it. The sauce recipe I borrowed from Mario Batali who stole it from another chef. Melt a package and a half of original Starburst fruit chew candy with one can of Red Bull (carbonated energy drink). Again, surprisingly good. We will definitely make the sauce again.

Napoleon Duh Weenie – My goal was to deconstruct a hot dog and reconstruct it in a gourmet fashion. I seared a hot dog on my cast iron skillet and sliced it into thin disks. Using a tin can from Campbell’s Tomato Soup, I cut circles of Wonder Bread. I mixed ketchup and mustard separately with powdered methylcellulose to create a hot firm gel and cut it into circles with the can. I cut a sweet white onion in a circle as well. Next, I layered all of the circles, including the slices of hot dog, into a tower (napoleon). On top I made a heart with Cheese Whiz and filled it with ketchup spheres or “caviar” made with sodium alginate, sodium citrate, and calcium chloride. I placed a swoosh of a relish gel on the plate made by pureeing sweet pickle relish, straining it, adding agar agar, heating it, letting it set, and then pureeing once again. This had a touch of irony. I cheated and got decent hot dogs made from good organic meat with no chemicals... and then used a bunch of molecular gastronomy chemicals. Many giggles.

Lemon, Lime, and Basil Slurpee – We needed a palette cleanser. My girlfriend gave me a toy Slurpee machine for Christmas a year ago. I love Slurpees from 7-11. It’s basically a slushy beverage made with a soft drink or juice. I made one using Sprite soda infused with fresh basil. Oddly, it worked quite well and revitalized our taste buds for the next courses to come.

Padded Thighs and Ramen with Flamin Hot Cheeto Love Nuggets – This was a spin on Pad Thai. I made it with a package of Hot & Spicy Top Ramen noodles (20 cents!), julienned green onions, carrots, red bell peppers, chopped peanuts (airline size package), bean sprouts, and cilantro. The sauce was made from peanut butter, a bit of dark chocolate, and some other stuff already in the kitchen (hoisin, honey, red wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, Sour Sriracha, oyster sauce, etc.) I added sliced up microwave chicken nuggets and plated it on a bed of blanched arugala. I topped it with powdered Flaming Hot Cheetos and had a lime wedge on the side. It was served with pink bendy straws instead of chopsticks. We giggled a bit before running to get a fork. The dish was a success.

Convenience Luv On Fire With Chocolate Tang Sauce – This was more about the flambee spectacle than anything else. I soaked Twinkies in dark rum. My thought to set it on fire came from bananas foster. I sauteed butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Just before plating, I added more rum and lit it on fire. It burned for a short bit but the flames were too blue to photograph. Strangely, the Twinkie was not charred at all. This goes back to the theory that Twinkies are made of asbestos. I served this with a surprisingly good chocolate sauce using Hershey’s and Orange Tang powdered drink mix.

Truck Stop Truffles – Finely powdered Oreos blended with cream cheese and then dipped in chocolate. These were surprisingly easy and tasty. So to further complicate things, I finished them off 8 different ways.

Rolled in Cocoa Powder – Kinda standard truffle.

Drizzled White Chocolate – Again, kinda normal but good.

Rolled in Nutella Powder – I made the powder by mixing Nutella with Tapioca Maltodextrin. Very good!

Rolled in Walnut Powder – Pureed walnuts also mixed with Tapioca Maltodextrin.

Rolled in Malted Milk Powder – Like an inside out malted milk ball.

Rolled in Flaming Hot Cheeto Dust – Great red color but... Well it sounded good on paper at 1am.

Rolled in Orange Tang Powder – Good enough for the astronauts. This was awesome!

Topped with Honey Granules – Looked great and added a sugary crunch.

I topped the pile o truffles with 2 pink Marshmallow “Peeps” birds kissing. Bonus points for being extra sappy.

Well, the dinner was a success. She laughed the whole night. Almost everything tasted great and was a bit of a surprise to us both. I think it was proven that it’s possible to great meal without foie gras, kobe beef, and truffles. However, we had to throw out the box wine.

After all that, the kitchen was a disastrophe! I wish I had a biohazard suit.

Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions!

Not sure how to post pictures here but I posted some on chowhound


"it’s always advisable to use a very good sardine instead of a not that good lobster." - Ferran Adria

Neale Smull - Gastronaut

(I'd say my style is Contemporary Fusion... Con-Fusion)

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Wonderful, I really enjoyed reading your menu and descriptions!

I can't figure out the eGullet photo upload either. :)

How can you top this next year?

Slow food only, local food only, processed food only? How can you surprise her? I'm feeling so inspired. This would be a fun dinner party idea.


Grace Piper, host of Fearless Cooking


My eGullet Blog: What I ate for one week Nov. 2010

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O. M. G. That was absolutely priceless ! Your imagination (not to mention talent !) is awe-inspiring. Congratulations on a perfect event, and I certainly hope your SO realizes what a prize you are !

*I am soooooooo not worthy.......bowing down*


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