Don't you love going to restaurants and having someone else do the cooking, serving and clean up while you enjoy a relaxing hour or two with your family or friends and dine on a dish you wouldn't make at home? However, if the current economy is forcing you to tighten your budget on meals out, you can easily - and economically - recreate the restaurant dining experience at home. Here are five ways to dine on affordable restaurant-style cuisine without leaving your house.
1. Learn how to cook
By no means do you need to drop your day job to attend Le Cordon Bleu, but you should learn some basic cooking skills. You don't even need to master every method of cooking, just decide on the type of cuisine you like and hone your skills to create it. If you like Chinese, learn how to cook with a wok and bamboo steamer. If you love steakhouse meals, bone up on barbecue and grill basics. You can learn additional cooking methods as you become more confident in your kitchen skills.
2. Recreate the restaurant ambiance
Don't rush out and buy expensive china or table settings. But do ditch the paper plates and eating out of the cooking pot. In order to have a restaurant-style experience, recreate the ambience. Use matched glasses, dishes and silverware, lower the lights, have a lit candle centerpiece and have the family, your date or your friends sit down to eat. Having a restaurant theme and recreating the dining atmosphere of your favorite eateries will add intrigue and fun to your meal.
3. Buy food with a budget in mind
In order for restaurants to stay in business, it is essential that food is bought with economy in mind. Likewise, you can save money when buying groceries by following these steps:
Plan your meals. Having a weekly meal plan lets you seek out the best buys and keep a list of foods you need.
Make bigger shopping trips less often – you will save time, gas and money spent on impulse items.
Shop with a list. Scan the weekly sales ads of your local supermarkets and shop only for items you need and foods that are on sale. Write them down and stick to your list.
Comparison shop. Stores make comparison shopping easy. Look for price per unit, ounce or serving among the different food item brands and pick the one that best fits in your budget.
Use coupons. The Sunday paper typically has an insert of manufacturer coupons that can save you money. But be sure to also comparison shop to avoid buying an item that is more expensive – even with the coupon – than the item you normally purchase.
4. Serve multi-course mealsOne of the reasons people love eating out is the leisure way that food is served and eaten. You get an appetizer, an entrée and dessert. Because multiple courses take extra time to prepare, opt to save the restaurant dining experience for special occasions or only on weekends. Additionally, take advantage of prepared mixes, frozen foods and other foods that are quick to prepare.
5. Be adventurous with your mealsWhen you dine out, choosing dishes that you never cook at home makes the restaurant experience all the more enjoyable. And you can just as easily cook new and unusual recipes at home. Page through an issue of Bon Apetit, Gourmet, Eating Well or another food magazine and pick a recipe that is new to you. You can also take recipes you normally prepare and substitute ingredients to create a brand new dish. Not only will cooking adventurously delight your taste buds and give you the creature comfort of dining on restaurant-style cuisine, it will also expand your cooking skills and make eating on a budget delicious and pain-free.
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