I grew up lower middle class, and while life was very good, meals were generally designed around food that could feed a family for several meals in an affordable way (hello pasta, casseroles, etc). Steak was a considered special. I remember eating it on my dad's birthday and a few other times a year. Now, that I follow a Paleo-based diet and (thanks to a higher standard of living attributable to my parents' hard work) might eat steak once or twice a week. Anyone else here have similar experiences? Thoughts about how to make certain meals "special" are appreciated.
It's kind of a nice problem to have, isn't it? To eat well so often that most meals could be considered special?
If I want to up the "special", I like to try a more elaborate recipe than I usually have time for. I guess putting more than the usual amount of effort into cooking makes one appreciate the final product more? In addition to that, I might make more than one course. For example, a tasty appetizer that I normally wouldn't have fussed with, and maybe a paleo-friendly dessert.
"Special" can be anything that you have rarely and you enjoy. These days my main limit is time, so what makes a meal special for me is the time invested. I can pop a ribeye into the oven or go without any night, but if I want, say, tom kha gai, I have to get on my bicycle and go to the Asian grocery store, buy the groceries, ride home and do the cooking. I have pork chops brining in the fridge now for a special Sunday dinner. "Special" could also mean seasonal food like dungeness crabs, romanesco, asparagus, blood oranges and cherries, or harder-to-find foods like quail or duck eggs or sweetbreads or venison.
It's really just a paradigm shift about what food is "everyday" and what is "special" We used to think pasta was "everyday" and steak was "special". Now we know better. Now we know that spending the most money we can on the best quality food we can afford is not extravagance but necessity for the very best health and quality of life. I know that for me my food budget has doubled in the past few years and I have had to cut back on other things that I used to consider necessities in order to do it. At first it felt extravagant and somehow very wrong. Wasteful in a way. Now I see it as an investment.
There are some foods that are too expensive for me to eat on a regular basis and those tend to make up my "special event" foods. I agree with crab. Lobster, rib eye, filet mignon are ones I buy for special meals. I also agree with buying special ingredients or trying out a new recipe to elevate a meal. I also buy flowers for the table, use "the good plates", buy more expensive wine, and light the candles that normally remain unlit. It's really just about readjusting your own cues that signify specialness in your world and that can be anything you decide you want it to be.
I have the same situation. I grew up under communism, where getting any kind of meat was a struggle. If we had some, it was often things like bologna, cheesehead, sausage, liverwurst, chicken and offal. Maybe once-twice a week at the most. Chicken legs (if we had them) was only a Sunday treat. Sometimes we had no meat for weeks. I don't think I had a real steak till i was an adult ;-) Just eating meat everyday is a treat. As others said, I generally have no time to prepare more elaborate meals, so when I do, it is special. Or when I get something that is more expensive (as I usually eat ground meat and cheap cuts, no steaks).
What's ironic is that what we used to eat as normal foods are probably now considered as "special" or "treats." I make my son gluten free pancakes on the weekends and wee will have gluten free pasta once in a while as a treat, where those were staples growing up because of how cheap they were.
Others have offered up terrific suggestions!! I think branching out to new game and other animal proteins is a really great way to broaden your palate while also making something "special". I took home a duck from the grocery store a few weeks back and gave my first try at roasting duck - I was delighted with the results and felt as though I had conquered something I normally reserved for ordering on rare occasions at Asian restaurants. Since that duck was $20 or so, it's cost prohibitive to be a staple in our house, but now I know that I could do it again when the occasion called for the splurge. :)
Also, Mark's Daily Apple has had a LOT of "non-mainstream"* animals featured in the recipes lately. Follow this link to the Primal Blueprint Recipes page and see recipes for kangaroo loin, caviar, bison roast, grilled ostrich, venison chops, grilled quail, goat stew, roast duck, and plenty of offal (yet still delicious! har!) recipes.
*If these animals aren't mainstream, does that make them hipster?