Author Topic: Restaurant quality meals  (Read 5611 times)

sevensquirrels

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Restaurant quality meals
« on: April 26, 2017, 02:55:10 PM »
I need some help reducing the amount I eat out... and I think it would help a lot of the quality of my food was better. It's not *bad*, but I get a lot of feedback that it's boring. I think it's because... while I'm not bad, I'm definitely a self taught home cook that follows recipes to a tee, so my meals end up being nothing to write home about.

For reference, here's what I'm considering for next week, including recipes:

https://www.budgetbytes.com/2017/01/chicken-broccoli-pasta-lemon-cream-sauce/
https://www.budgetbytes.com/2016/07/slow-cooker-coconut-curry-lentils/ (plus chicken)
http://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/peruvian-style-roast-chicken-with-green-sauce.html with rice and grilled onion/tomato
https://www.budgetbytes.com/2017/01/bibimbap-ultimate-bowl-meal/
https://norecipes.com/tonkatsu with rice and veggies

I try to have each recipe no more than once per month, no "style/region" of food more than twice per week, and no meat more than twice per week to keep it as interesting as I can. But I get the sense that the recipes themselves or something about the way I'm cooking them just doesn't give them the same "je ne sais quoi" that you get with a meal out. I tried adding more salt, to mixed effect... but it's definitely something else that's missing.

Anyone have some really good recipes to share? Tips and tricks on cooking methods like frying/baking/grilling to make stuff come out more of a professional quality? Also preferably things that take under 45 minutes because I work full time and have an hour commute each way.*

*(Before anyone asks, yes I have interviewed for closer jobs and gotten multiple offers so I could take a closer job -- for a 20-30k (40%) paycut) :(

englishteacheralex

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2017, 03:15:17 PM »
I have TONS of things to share on this topic but in the interest of brevity and not taking too long a break from work, I'll just put one:

America's Test Kitchen

This is a subscription based PBS show with a million cookbooks you can buy and a quarterly journal you can subscribe to. I'm too cheap to pay for anything except two of the most promising looking cookbooks, but I watch the free episodes all the time online and have scored free copies of the magazine from friends and the library when they give magazines away.

They have the best recipes of anyone. I can't go back to randomly googling recipes anymore. ATK recipes often are a little more complicated than I'd like, and the great thing is that you can usually eliminate a couple of steps or change out a few of the more exotic ingredients and the recipes are so bang-on that the outcome will still be pretty good. The other great thing about them is that if you watch the shows consistently, it is really a great foundational cooking education. I've learned so many principles of good cooking from ATK that now I can usually throw things together from scratch without looking at a recipe and it'll come out pretty good because I know a lot of basics about cooking from watching the show so often.

An episode of ATK is a GREAT use of 22 minutes of your time. You'll always learn something. Just google America's Test Kitchen and start watching episodes.

ketchup

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2017, 03:17:41 PM »
With a wide range of healthiness (the second recipe is hell on your teeth), these are probably my most "restaurant-like" meals from the past few years that come to mind:

http://paleomg.com/maple-chili-pork-chops/ (just don't overcook them)
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/236920/sweet-and-sour-ground-pork-stir-fry/
http://autoimmunewellness.com/bistro-chicken-salad-garlic-thyme-vinaigrette/
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/45736/chicken-tikka-masala/

Cranky

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2017, 03:34:13 PM »
Work your way through Julia Child. It's fun, and you learn a ton about what makes food "work".

Sydneystache

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2017, 05:30:53 AM »

Raenia

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2017, 06:06:26 AM »
This is my current favorite recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/potato-gnocchi-recipe1

It's not in your 45 min window, but most of the time is passive, waiting for the potatoes to bake.  Plus it makes enough for 5-6 meals, and freezes very well.  I usually make them on the weekend or a night I'm not busy, freeze them on a tray, then once they're solid divide them into single serving baggies.  If you don't have a ton of freezer space, you can scale down the recipe.  To actually cook them when you want to eat, you just toss them in boiling water for 3-4 min and melt some butter on top.  Maybe a little sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Del Griffith

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2017, 06:06:54 AM »
When I find a good-looking recipe online, I now make sure I read the reviews before I make it. A few times, something I'd find on Pinterest (which I highly recommend joining for recipes if you haven't already) would have a lovely pictures to go along with it so I'd just go for it and end up disappointed. Now when I find a recipe either there or at allrecipes.com, I like to see the feedback from people who have actually made it since I find this can be really helpful. Reviewers seem to give honest feedback, offer what they did or would do differently, or write something not actually helpful like 'this looks great!' when they haven't actually tried it. That has been very useful for me when trying to make something tastier.

FindingFI

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2017, 06:51:16 AM »
So some degree, it comes down to practice and learning what flavors go well together.  Read some cookbooks and see what ingredients are commonly combined and what cooking methods are used.  And don't be afraid of seasonings, spices, and marinades to add flavor. My go to seasonings are salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder; they go on just about everything.

A few of my favorite recipes:
http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/pineapple-teriyaki-salmon
http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/baked-shrimp-with-feta
https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/chicken-bacon-avocado-chopped-salad/
http://www.adashofsanity.com/rustic-chicken-marsala-bake/
http://www.jocooks.com/main-courses/beef-main-courses/one-pot-beef-stroganoff/ using shaved steak instead of cubes
http://damndelicious.net/2014/11/22/chicken-sun-dried-tomato-cream-sauce/

MrsWolfeRN

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #8 on: April 27, 2017, 07:03:33 AM »
It sounds like you are trying really hard and your family need to be more appreciative. Can everyone take a turn cooking?
Now, repeat after me: "if you don't like how I do something, fucking do it yourself"

Freeme

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2017, 07:19:33 AM »
I love all the recipes on Mel's Kitchen Cafe, family friendly and simple ingredients.

horsepoor

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2017, 07:43:13 AM »
Make sure you are using quality ingredients.  It might seem un-Mustachian, but some things seem basic, but if the flavors are good, you won't want to go out to eat anymore.

One thing I find essential is homemade stock.  I know it sounds daunting, but it's easy to do, and you can cook it down to a concentrate and freeze it in cubes.  Quality stock makes any soup or stew amazing.  My husband purports to hate sweet potatoes, but I made something very close to this https://www.savorylotus.com/creamy-sweet-potato-bacon-chowder-dairy-free/ last night and he raved about it; I credit the homemade turkey stock for the rich, delicious flavor.

You can also finely mince fresh garlic, mix with a little olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays to save time.

Use fresh ground pepper if you don't already.

A flaky finishing salt can make foods seem fancy, and it's like a penny a serving.

Good eggs, good butter, quality herbs and spices etc.

If you think you'll stick with it, you might want to consider buying an immersion circulator and/or an Instant Pot.  Both of these kitchen appliances have made my busy life much easier.  The $100-150 initial cost is pretty easily made up for if you're able to avoid a few meals out.

Tetsuya Hondo

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2017, 08:32:14 AM »
Ditch the recipes and focus on the foundations of cooking. Learn how to properly cook different things, make good sauces, combinations of ingredients, etc. first. Taking a cooking class on the basics would a very good investment, give you better results, and help you to enjoy it a lot more.

Case in point, I've always found cooking to be very difficult and frustrating. No matter how carefully I followed recipes they never seemed to turn out right. Then I met my wife. She never follows recipes. If she uses them at all, she quickly consults them, giving them a quick look, and then does her own thing, adapting as needed. Her mother is a trained chef and she grew up helping with her cooking classes, so she got a good grounding in the basics. It turns out, you can't follow the recipes to a tee as many factors can change the outcome (e.g., freshness of ingredients, brands you use, altitude, etc.). You have to continually taste and adjust as needed. And until you know what to look for, that's hard to do.

nereo

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2017, 08:53:02 AM »
+1 to American's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated and Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking.  Cook's Illustrated has also published numerous thick collections from their magazines ("Best Recipe", "New Best Recipe" etc.)

Both are written to help the home cook understand HOW to cook, not merely step-by-step instruction manual for preparing a specific dish.  There's a big difference between recipe books (which dominate the sector) and instructional cookbooks.  Seek out the latter.  A good instructional book should explain the WHY in addition to a list of ingredients and their quantity.

A few other's worth mentioning:
Alton Brown (both his cookbooks and the Good Eats program)
James Peterson's Essentials of HOme Cooking (more a guide to improve skills and techniques)
Eileen Yin-Fei Lo MTAO Chinese Cooking - (for learning Chinese)

There are many others, but good instructional books are in the minority compared to the (literally) millions of pretty recipe books out there.

Beyond that, I'll echo another poster about using fresh spices and chop your own garlic.
Like any craft practice is essential... I'll often make the same dish a half dozen times before I feel comfortable with it. 

ChandraNH

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2017, 09:28:13 AM »
I second learning the foundations of cooking and using good quality ingredients. 

When you speak of wanting restaurant quality meals, what does that mean? Are you looking for presentation, plating, the flavor you'd get at an "authentic" restaurant?

If the last, I'd try to grab recipes from sites that focus on the culture of the dish you're making.  The bibimbap recipe linked above, might get you halfway there, but if you're looking for bibimbap like you'd find in a Korean restaurant, I'd go with a recipe from a site that focuses on Korean foods, like this one  http://www.koreanbapsang.com/2015/01/bibimbap.html (notice the use of gochujang, which is a Korean chili paste vs a generic chili garlic sauce).  To really get it to the level of a Korean restaurant you'd want a stone bowl that allows the rice to almost caramelize on the bottom and form a hard'ish crust that gets mixed in with the rest of the dish.

I'd also recommend the site serious eats, look for any of the Food Lab posts as those explore the chemistry of cooking (and there was a recent post on chicken katsu and tonkatsu, I made the chicken katsu and it was fantastic). There are also some pretty decent sub-reddits around food and cooking on reddit.

While I'm a mustachian, there are things I don't skimp on:
  • meat.  I get high quality, pastured, grass-fed, free roaming meat from a local rancher.  I may pay a bit more, but it's worth it to me
  • spices/herbs.  I either grow my own or buy from Penzeys

I also try to only buy things in season, which means citrus during the winter when it's at its peak, tomatoes and peppers during the late summer, melons in the summer....that kind of thing.

Laura33

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2017, 09:42:58 AM »
This is my current go-to for Asian -- several of these recipes have become complete go-tos in my house that I serve at least every other week, and they always deliver the flavor.  (And yes, the name was tongue-in-cheek).

https://www.amazon.com/Lucky-Peach-Presents-Asian-Recipes/dp/0804187797

My favorite part is the first section, where they give you three lists of condiments (beginning/intermediate/advanced), including by brand, with pictures -- I was able to take the pictures to the local H-Mart and pick up exactly the right things. 

I also struggle with DH's need for variety -- I am a very good cook in several styles, but I can't do Italian AND French AND Vietnamese AND Indian AND Thai AND multiple variants of Chinese AND Mexican AND New Mexican AND [insert here].  Which is why I love this book so much -- it's a short-cut to a completely different flavor palate than the stuff that I can already cook more intuitively.

ysette9

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #15 on: April 27, 2017, 09:51:39 AM »
Quote
Make sure you are using quality ingredients.  It might seem un-Mustachian, but some things seem basic, but if the flavors are good, you won't want to go out to eat anymore.

We did Blue Apron for a few months and it was really eye opening to try a completely new set of recipes and get outside our comfort zone. Almost everything we made from them was excellent. We discontinued due to price and concern about the environment/waste of packaging, but several things stuck with us.

  • salt and pepper everything at every step in the process. It feels like it should be too much but it really isn't.
  • Liberally use acid (usually lime or lemon juice) to brighten a dish and make the flavors pop
  • Use really high quality ingredients. This one tip alone results in food that tastes a lot better without any extra effort. It is really worth the extra cost.

VeggieTable

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #16 on: April 27, 2017, 09:54:16 AM »
I have TONS of things to share on this topic but in the interest of brevity and not taking too long a break from work, I'll just put one:

America's Test Kitchen

This is a subscription based PBS show with a million cookbooks you can buy and a quarterly journal you can subscribe to. I'm too cheap to pay for anything except two of the most promising looking cookbooks, but I watch the free episodes all the time online and have scored free copies of the magazine from friends and the library when they give magazines away.

They have the best recipes of anyone. I can't go back to randomly googling recipes anymore. ATK recipes often are a little more complicated than I'd like, and the great thing is that you can usually eliminate a couple of steps or change out a few of the more exotic ingredients and the recipes are so bang-on that the outcome will still be pretty good. The other great thing about them is that if you watch the shows consistently, it is really a great foundational cooking education. I've learned so many principles of good cooking from ATK that now I can usually throw things together from scratch without looking at a recipe and it'll come out pretty good because I know a lot of basics about cooking from watching the show so often.

An episode of ATK is a GREAT use of 22 minutes of your time. You'll always learn something. Just google America's Test Kitchen and start watching episodes.

YES to America's Test Kitchen. They have so many cookbooks, and many can be found at the library. I bought an older version of The Complete ATK Cookbook (they put them out every year), and it was only about $10 plus shipping for a book that has literally hundreds of recipes. I've never made a bad one yet. I have learned a TON from their books and my cooking has improved a lot.

Also second Alton Brown. I love The Food Lab cookbook as well. The author has a column of the same name on the Serious Eats website which is another great resource. It's the first place I turn online for help with a certain ingredient or looking for a basic recipe.

For baking restaurant-quality breads and pizzas at home - I like Elements of Pizza and Flour Water Salt Yeast, both by Ken Forkish.

For Indian food, I've been using 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. Huge instructional section with what types of ingredients to buy & how to make the basics.

I tried out all of the above cookbooks at the library first to see if I liked them. When I decided I wanted to own them, I bought used when possible to save money. My strategy for finding good cookbooks involves looking up which ones are the bestsellers on Amazon, reading reviews, then getting them out of the library. Kind of a "try before you buy." Since my husband travels and I have to bring my 2.5-yr-old son with my everywhere, I've developed many tricks to reduce the amount of time I have to spend doing "boring" stuff with him in tow :)

I also figure buying more expensive/specialty ingredients saves me money in the long run because it's still significantly cheaper per meal than if I ate out.

sevensquirrels

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #17 on: April 27, 2017, 10:25:12 AM »
Oh wow, thank you all for these suggestions! This has given me so much to work with. I actually already *have* an America's Test Kitchen cookbook somewhere around here. And some Alton Brown books. They aren't "mine", so I haven't actually ever read them, but maybe I'll sit down this weekend and do just that.

I do think I could use not just recipes but instruction on *how* to cook. As an example, I *still* can't brown meat properly. It either doesn't brown at all, or burns, or gets patchy in some spots and not in others. Or like... I was probably 25 when I learned that a "roux" was even a thing, and that you shouldn't just put flour directly into a liquid to thicken it. And I think that's the sort of thing that puts a damper on what would have otherwise been a pretty excellent recipe.

As for quality ingredients, I could definitely improve on that. I get mostly generic stuff at Safeway. It would be more expensive to go to the farmer's market during the summer (counter-intuitive but true), but if it means we eat at home more that might be a net positive.

joleran

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #18 on: April 27, 2017, 10:44:15 AM »
Serious eats recipes with Kenji tend to be fantastic (though he likes his salt).

sevensquirrels

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #19 on: April 27, 2017, 10:51:07 AM »
I take it back, I think the ATK cookbook was donated...

However, I did find Alton Brown's Good Eats 2 in the bookcase! Some of these recipes look pretty intense! But I never would have thought to brine a pork shoulder before making pulled pork. And he has instructions for making your own smoker with a flower pot for less than $50! Because I'm not buying a smoker. I *love* a good pulled pork sandwich so I gotta try out these extra steps.

nereo

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #20 on: April 27, 2017, 10:55:31 AM »

I do think I could use not just recipes but instruction on *how* to cook. As an example, I *still* can't brown meat properly. It either doesn't brown at all, or burns, or gets patchy in some spots and not in others....


Cooking is all about learning how to apply heat to food.  It's a skill that takes a long time to master.

Common reasons why meat doesn't brown properly:
1) crowding the pan.  Leave ~1" space between each piece. 

2) you move the meat too frequently.  Browning involves letting the proteins on teh surface undergo the Maillard reaction (basically 'get hot and caramelize"). Once you put a piece of meat onto a hot skillet let it sit for 1-2 minutes before touching it.

3) Pan too cold or too hot when you put the meat on.  A pan has to be HOT when the meat goes on.  Smoke point is a good indicator (its ready when the first whips of smoke appear from the cooking oil, but too hot if there's black smoke rising).  You can use an infrared thermometer as well (shoot for a surface temperature between 325-400║F in most cases.

4) little/no oil on the pan.  Oil does more than keep food from sticking, it also helps transfer heat from the pan to the meat.  If you skip the oil it's much harder to get a good sear in a pan.

5) burner set too high (burning) or too low (no-browning) after meat is put on.  You need your pan to stay hot; once you put the meat on it will drop the temperature.  Mastering this takes lots of time and practice, but pay close attention to how the meat smells and how much smoke (bad) and sizzle (good) there is.  If the pan gets too hot it will smoke, badly.  If it isn't hot enough there will be little/no sizzle after the initial contact and your kitchen won't be flooded with the lovely aroma of well cooked meat.

hope that helps.

sevensquirrels

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #21 on: April 27, 2017, 11:03:16 AM »

I do think I could use not just recipes but instruction on *how* to cook. As an example, I *still* can't brown meat properly. It either doesn't brown at all, or burns, or gets patchy in some spots and not in others....


Cooking is all about learning how to apply heat to food.  It's a skill that takes a long time to master.

Common reasons why meat doesn't brown properly:
1) crowding the pan.  Leave ~1" space between each piece. 

2) you move the meat too frequently.  Browning involves letting the proteins on teh surface undergo the Maillard reaction (basically 'get hot and caramelize"). Once you put a piece of meat onto a hot skillet let it sit for 1-2 minutes before touching it.

3) Pan too cold or too hot when you put the meat on.  A pan has to be HOT when the meat goes on.  Smoke point is a good indicator (its ready when the first whips of smoke appear from the cooking oil, but too hot if there's black smoke rising).  You can use an infrared thermometer as well (shoot for a surface temperature between 325-400║F in most cases.

4) little/no oil on the pan.  Oil does more than keep food from sticking, it also helps transfer heat from the pan to the meat.  If you skip the oil it's much harder to get a good sear in a pan.

5) burner set too high (burning) or too low (no-browning) after meat is put on.  You need your pan to stay hot; once you put the meat on it will drop the temperature.  Mastering this takes lots of time and practice, but pay close attention to how the meat smells and how much smoke (bad) and sizzle (good) there is.  If the pan gets too hot it will smoke, badly.  If it isn't hot enough there will be little/no sizzle after the initial contact and your kitchen won't be flooded with the lovely aroma of well cooked meat.

hope that helps.

I think 3 and 5 are probably the biggest problem I have... This is the first time I've had a gas stove, and I'm still getting used to the settings several months later! Sometimes I put something in and it's not hot enough, so I turn it up and it burns. Or I put something in and it's smoking, so I turn it down, and then it doesn't get brown. But...

"once you put the meat on it will drop the temperature"

Hmm. Maybe that's contributing. The other thing that happens, especially with flat pork or beef cuts is that they kind of "curl up" in the middle, and so only the edges get brown (or vice versa where only one spot in the middle browns because the edges are curled up).

Lookilu

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #22 on: April 27, 2017, 11:05:17 AM »

I do think I could use not just recipes but instruction on *how* to cook. As an example, I *still* can't brown meat properly. It either doesn't brown at all, or burns, or gets patchy in some spots and not in others.

Learning good techniques and knife skills will be worthwhile and they'll last a lifetime. :) Since Julia has already been recommended, look for Jacques Pepin's La Technique, in either book or DVD format.
One of the things that worked best for me was buying a really good quality pan. Even and consistent heating makes a big difference in the final dish.

I'll add to Nereo's excellent list:

6) Dry the surface of the meat before adding it to the heated skillet so it will brown rather than steam.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2017, 11:07:01 AM by Lookilu »

Noodle

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #23 on: April 27, 2017, 11:16:33 AM »
Congratulations on taking on the cooking challenge!

A few suggestions:

1. Keep in mind that one of the reasons restaurant food tastes great is that they practice a free hand with the fat and salt to a degree that many home cooks would not. So you might try increasing that a bit (or at least not cutting back what the recipe calls for), or a related suggestion is that if you have any dietary restrictions, that you stick with dishes that naturally fit into that regime rather than using recipes that try to adapt dishes to fit...ie, if you are restricting calories, serve shrimp cocktail instead of an oven-baked adaptation of fried shrimp. Or if you are gluten-free, make chocolate pudding for dessert instead of a gluten-free chocolate cake. Those recipes can be tasty, but are often difficult to pull off well if you aren't an advanced cook.

2. I would stay away from internet recipes at the moment and look for cookbooks with really detailed directions. Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Bible" cookbooks are great for baking. For cooking, maybe the Cook's Illustrated ones? Betty Crocker is a classic for beginner cooks and at least used to be good at not assuming what the cook would know.

VeggieTable

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #24 on: April 27, 2017, 11:21:21 AM »
Oh wow, thank you all for these suggestions! This has given me so much to work with. I actually already *have* an America's Test Kitchen cookbook somewhere around here. And some Alton Brown books. They aren't "mine", so I haven't actually ever read them, but maybe I'll sit down this weekend and do just that.

I do think I could use not just recipes but instruction on *how* to cook. As an example, I *still* can't brown meat properly. It either doesn't brown at all, or burns, or gets patchy in some spots and not in others. Or like... I was probably 25 when I learned that a "roux" was even a thing, and that you shouldn't just put flour directly into a liquid to thicken it. And I think that's the sort of thing that puts a damper on what would have otherwise been a pretty excellent recipe.

As for quality ingredients, I could definitely improve on that. I get mostly generic stuff at Safeway. It would be more expensive to go to the farmer's market during the summer (counter-intuitive but true), but if it means we eat at home more that might be a net positive.

The Food Lab. Kenji loves meat and has step-by-step instructions on how to properly cook virtually every kind of meat you can think of.  Not only does he tell you how to cook it, he'll tell you the 30 other ways he tried and why they didn't work. The Food Lab is awesome for beginners.

sevensquirrels

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #25 on: April 27, 2017, 11:21:51 AM »
6) Dry the surface of the meat before adding it to the heated skillet so it will brown rather than steam.

Woah.

Mind. Blown.

I definitely do not do that, and then wonder why my meat is stewing in juice instead of browning!

Pennycounter

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #26 on: April 27, 2017, 11:30:10 AM »
Yes to all the suggestions! I also have an ATK recipe collection that I use which is great and goes into great detail but sometimes in their quest for the "perfect" whatever they over complicate a recipe. 

Jenji at Serious Eats has a series of AWESOME tutorials with the details about how and why.  I don't have the book but just use the website.  I'm sure the book is awesome but I have limited cookbook space (and several shelves in the garage).

No one has mentioned Rachel Ray, I know she can seem pedestrian but she really helped me turn a corner in my cooking to under stand flavor combos and quick meals.  She will have a lot of really similar recipes or variations and I think using those books about 10 years ago really taught me how to throw a meal together without a book which is invaluable on a weeknight. 

Best of luck!!

sevensquirrels

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #27 on: April 27, 2017, 11:41:04 AM »
Also just looked at the food lab website! I'm going to try the Katsu and quesadillas next week... if I can get quesadillas to come out looking like this: http://www.seriouseats.com/2017/02/food-lab-great-quesadillas.html
I will weep with joy.

Cranky

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #28 on: April 27, 2017, 11:49:38 AM »
A lot of my early cooking instruction came from reading a 1940's copy of The Joy of Cooking when I was a teenager. The recipes in that edition are pretty sketchy, but there are whole chapters about techniques and terms and ingredients.

nereo

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #29 on: April 27, 2017, 12:23:27 PM »
Quote
Hmm. Maybe that's contributing. The other thing that happens, especially with flat pork or beef cuts is that they kind of "curl up" in the middle, and so only the edges get brown (or vice versa where only one spot in the middle browns because the edges are curled up).

This can be due to the meat being too cold when it goes into the pan - basically the edges cook the fastest and the meat can curl if the center is still cold and the edges heat up quickly.  One of several reasons why its a good idea to let meat come up to room temperature before cooking.

Also, the way the meat was cut matters - thin cuts with lots of muscle striations going across the meat will naturally curl.  One thing you can do with those cuts is cut them into small pieces and stir-fry them.

ChandraNH

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #30 on: April 27, 2017, 12:48:50 PM »
 One more of my favorite cookbooks that isn't a cookbook per se but is more of a homage to not wasting food but still turning out fantastic meals is Tamar Adler's "An everlasting meal". This book has the best recipe for minestrone I've ever had with a little tip to add Olive tapenade on top of each bowl of minestrone  and the minestrone itself is just a hodgepodge of leftover cabbage and beans that you might have in the freezer and a rind of Parmesan that might be left over as well as any vegetables, seasonal, that are nearing the end of their lives and it is just the best thing ever   

 The book itself is more about saving all of those scraps and pieces that you otherwise that we're not edible or worthwhile and using them  as the starting point for other dishes, such as saving the cores of vegetables ( such as cauliflower or broccoli) and turning them into pestos or saving a little bit of meat and serving really simple really quality food.  She also talks a lot about pre-cooking vegetables on a Sunday and putting them in glass jars so that they're in the refrigerator and they are ready for you during the week.  we started doing this with roasted vegetables (cabbage, beets and others, she also recommends splashing your roasted beets (at room temperature) with red wine vinegar and again that is incredibly good.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2017, 12:50:44 PM by ChandraNH »

horsepoor

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #31 on: April 27, 2017, 12:58:53 PM »
One more of my favorite cookbooks that isn't a cookbook per se but is more of a homage to not wasting food but still turning out fantastic meals is Tamar Adler's "An everlasting meal". This book has the best recipe for minestrone I've ever had with a little tip to add Olive tapenade on top of each bowl of minestrone  and the minestrone itself is just a hodgepodge of leftover cabbage and beans that you might have in the freezer and a rind of Parmesan that might be left over as well as any vegetables, seasonal, that are nearing the end of their lives and it is just the best thing ever   

 

Wonderful book that is enjoyable to read.  It definitely helped me reduce food waste and level up on free form cooking.

moosejaw

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #32 on: April 27, 2017, 01:27:02 PM »
I get where you're coming from.  I used to eat out at restaurants all the time and became convinced they had the best tasting food etc.  Now I understand they are overpriced, too high in calories, and we have no choice on ingredients.

One of the most amazing things my wife did was started using a crockpot.  Dinner cooks all day, the food typically tastes BETTER than a restaurant.  I encourage you to look into this as an option a couple of days a weeks.

Not to brag, but a couple of days ago I was eating a meal she prepared and I actually thought..."This tastes just as good as a restaurant."  I then considered whether that was an actual compliment.

Noodle

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #33 on: April 27, 2017, 02:10:04 PM »
Another book I meant to mention: "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" about a woman who takes a bunch of bad cooks, studies what challenges they have, and then teaches them to improve their skills. Perhaps some of their lessons would resonate with you!

sevensquirrels

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #34 on: April 27, 2017, 04:13:01 PM »
Quote
Hmm. Maybe that's contributing. The other thing that happens, especially with flat pork or beef cuts is that they kind of "curl up" in the middle, and so only the edges get brown (or vice versa where only one spot in the middle browns because the edges are curled up).

This can be due to the meat being too cold when it goes into the pan - basically the edges cook the fastest and the meat can curl if the center is still cold and the edges heat up quickly.  One of several reasons why its a good idea to let meat come up to room temperature before cooking.

Also, the way the meat was cut matters - thin cuts with lots of muscle striations going across the meat will naturally curl.  One thing you can do with those cuts is cut them into small pieces and stir-fry them.

*facepalm* All of these things I just had no idea about! I never would have thought that was a thing.

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #35 on: April 27, 2017, 04:34:14 PM »
Very few home cooks properly use salt and (fresh) pepper, it will improve taste.  Basic plating is quick but makes everything look much fancier as well.  Those two tips are probably the highest return on effort spent for a home chef.

Beyond that, working hotter (a lot of searing should be done at or near the smoke point) and learning knife skills are also low hanging fruit.

Livingthedream55

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #36 on: April 28, 2017, 06:53:49 AM »
Just another vote for the crockpot - something about cooking "low and slow" that really makes the food sing. Made this last weekend and it was amazing.

Sweet Potato Crock-Pot Chili

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and in 2-inch chunks
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can tomatoes
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice (not crucial - if you don't have any in the house, just use more water)
 
Directions:

Use a 5-6 quart slow cooker. This is enough food to feed a family of 4 regular-sized, or 6 smallish people. Peel and chunk the sweet potato and add to the pot. Add diced onion. Follow with the red bell pepper, can of tomatoes, the beans, garlic, and seasonings. Pour in OJ and water. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the onion is translucent and the sweet potato is fork-tender (if you want the sweet potato to get really squishy and disappear when stirred, cook longer).
 
Nutritional Info:
*Serves four: 206 calories, 10 grams fiber, 3 grams fat per serving
 

Laura33

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #37 on: April 28, 2017, 07:57:02 AM »
FWIW, if the meat you are trying to sautÚ/sear is swimming in juice, that means the temperature is too low.  So you either didn't preheat the pan enough, or you added so much that it brought the temperature of the pan down too quickly. 

One other thing to keep in mind: the longer something cooks, the quicker it can go from "done" to "burnt."  Most food has a lot of water in it, and water boils at 212.  So when you are doing something like sweating a panfull of onions, which have a lot of water in them, they will stay white/clear for a looooooooong time as the water is cooking out, because the overall temperature of the onions is limited by the water that is still in them.  But then once most of the water evaporates, the temperature can rise quickly, and they will go from golden to black in the time it takes you to turn around and grab a drink.  Of course, what usually happens is you're cooking the onions, and they're not doing anything, so you wait and stir and wait and stir and finally get impatient and whack the heat up -- which is inevitably right at about the time they have lost that critical mass of water, and the next thing you know you're stirring up black bits.  [Ask me how I know].  So you will usually do better starting the pan off a little hotter, and then dialing back the heat as they start to brown so you have a longer window at the "just right" stage.

GizmoTX

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #38 on: April 28, 2017, 08:33:39 AM »
Pressure cookers have changed how I cook; the flavors are more intense & cooking is much faster than slow braises. We have used a slow cooker (crock pot) but everything in it just seems to all taste the same. The current 3rd generation pressure cookers have multiple safety features. We started with a stovetop pressure cooker but my go-to pressure cooker is now an Instant Pot electric -- it does all the work of bringing the pot up to temperature & pressure, cooking for a preset time, & keeping the food warm, for hours if necessary. You can sautÚ in the pot for one-pan cooking. It has an efficient footprint & can also be used as a rice cooker, steamer, & yes a slow cooker. It was this multi-functional feature that led me to try it out for our son's first apartment in college; when he took it (4 years ago), we had to get our own! I bought us each an extra inner pot for more versatility; it is stainless steel, another feature, & it can go on the stove or oven to keep food warm while cooking another part of a meal in the IP (like rice). He's even used the extra inner pot as a mixing bowl. He has the basic LUX model while we have the DUO, which can make yogurt. I recommend the 6 quart size for most people; the Pot is also available in 5 & 8 quart/liter sizes. There's a much more expensive Smart model that has Bluetooth programmability but I don't recommend it for beginners. The DUO or new DUO Plus is what most people should get, & it's an Amazon best seller. We have given the Instant Pot multiple times for weddings, housewarmings, & to foodie friends.

If you don't have a smoker or don't want to spend the time, the Instant Pot makes a killer pulled pork using the America's Test Kitchen recipe. We use it a lot for steamed artichokes, done in 30 minutes (including coming to pressure & pressure release) vs an hour steamed conventionally on the stove. Another killer app for a pressure cooker is chicken stock -- we use carcasses from roasted (rotisserie) chicken saved in the freezer and/or wingtips, backs, & other trimmed raw parts. The stock pressure cooks for an hour rather than all day on the stove, which saves energy & the sealed pot doesn't smell up the kitchen. Other amazing uses: risotto without stirring, great hard cooked eggs that peel easily, steel-cut oatmeal ready when you wake up (thanks to the timer).

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #39 on: April 28, 2017, 09:05:48 AM »
Yes to all the suggestions! I also have an ATK recipe collection that I use which is great and goes into great detail but sometimes in their quest for the "perfect" whatever they over complicate a recipe. 

Jenji at Serious Eats has a series of AWESOME tutorials with the details about how and why.  I don't have the book but just use the website.  I'm sure the book is awesome but I have limited cookbook space (and several shelves in the garage).

No one has mentioned Rachel Ray, I know she can seem pedestrian but she really helped me turn a corner in my cooking to under stand flavor combos and quick meals.  She will have a lot of really similar recipes or variations and I think using those books about 10 years ago really taught me how to throw a meal together without a book which is invaluable on a weeknight. 

Best of luck!!

+1 on Rachel Ray - I can cook & I like to bake really fancy things, but if I hadn't learned how easy it was to make complete meals in 30 min there's no way I'd every be making anything at home after a 12 hour shift.

Also, helpful are really basic things already mentioned, like freezing your own stock & soups, but also, if you're already cutting 1 onion (or other veggie), you may as well do a second and store it for later or go ahead and cook the entire pack of bacon at one time so it's ready for other uses (good for 1 wk+)  & learn how to make your own bread - it's way cheaper than the store & tastes 100% better imo, plus then it's not a far stretch to make your own frozen pizza, pretzel bites, "fancy" crusts, & bread rolls.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #40 on: April 28, 2017, 09:23:21 AM »
I just want to say, I LOVE this thread. So much actionable advice and good references! I'm definitely saving the link for future case studies where people are trying to bring down their restaurant budgets. I also realized how privileged I am to have grown up cooking. I took it for granted that something like browning meat would be self-evident, but when you stop and think, there really are a LOT of variables that go into it!

Can't wait to read a bunch of the books suggested on this thread =)

I'll also just +1 suggestions:
-fresh garlic makes a huge difference. I bought pre-minced for YEARS, never realizing that with a thwak of the broad side of a knife or a garlic press, you can have much, much better flavor in the same amount of time.
-Related: I try to sneak a fresh herb into just about every meal I do. Replacing one dried herb with a fresh one really changes a dish.
-I never use spice blends. Usually, they have all sorts of crappy ingredients meant to bulk up the blend to turn a profit, not to make it delicious. Start with individual spices- it's easy enough to make your own blends of anything you commonly use (for us it is taco seasoning and a fish seasoning). There are tons of recipes on pinterest and similar.
-+1 that ingredient quality matters. A side dish of roast broccoli needs excellent broccoli, for example. If you have lower quality ingredients going in, then make a stir fry ;) that way it's not the only player on the field!
-Add acids. Roast a veggie? Squeeze some lemon juice on it. A taco salad? A squeeze of lime. A little vinegar for your tomato dishes that need them, etc.
-Season every single step of a dish. I love how Tamar Adler tackles this in "everlasting meal". TBH, the tone of that book drove me insane ( I think I would dislike her personally), but I still got a lot of great knowledge and inspiration from it.

And finally, my oddball suggestion: watch Worst Cooks in America. Since they focus so much on correcting what people are doing wrong, a lot of things are spelled out more directly. Plus it's pretty funny.

ChandraNH

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #41 on: April 28, 2017, 09:46:40 AM »
And finally, my oddball suggestion: watch Worst Cooks in America. Since they focus so much on correcting what people are doing wrong, a lot of things are spelled out more directly. Plus it's pretty funny.

I agree, the writing can be very whimsical, but I went through a patch where I lost my cooking self ans reading the book brought me back.

sevensquirrels

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #42 on: April 28, 2017, 08:07:24 PM »
So an update!

I made something off of serious eats tonight - not really a "recipe" so much as a "technique guide" for chicken, since that's what I had in the fridge. My goal was to get the skin properly crispy. I patted the chicken dry first (it wasn't out of the fridge more than 10 minutes beforehand but this turned out ok), got my pan and olive oil "ripping hot", the oil was smoking, put in the chicken and did not touch for a few minutes to let it get really brown, and was amazed at how well this worked! I thought I would burn it for sure, but it turned out fine. I transferred it to a plate while I got the veggies ready for the oven, and then put them on top and finished them in the oven so the veggies got amazing cooking in chicken juice! I rested them on a rack over a plate so the bottom skin wouldn't get soggy. The skin was all great and crispy and brown and beautiful, and all was going well and then.....

I added the sauce on top. Boom, soggy chicken skin. ;_____;

At least it was really tasty still! I literally added nothing but salt, pepper, and this sauce (fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, bayleaf, and brown bits picked up in broth), and it tasted great. I just have to remember not to soggify the skin at the very last second. At least I think I know what I did wrong this time. And all of the tips from everyone here definitely worked! (until I messed it up at the last second) :P

GreenSheep

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #43 on: April 29, 2017, 08:30:14 AM »
I agree with the suggestions to add fresh herbs and use high quality ingredients. Those two things alone make a massive difference.

Also check your dried spices. If you open the jar, stick your nose in, and smell... not much... then it's time to throw it away and buy a new jar. Or, if it's something you don't go through very quickly, get just the amount you need in the bulk section. You can also find cheap spices at ethnic food markets. Dried spices should smell almost overwhelmingly like... whatever they are. If they're over 6-12 months old, depending on the specific spice and how you've stored it (never near heat! away from the oven!), they're probably bland. It helps a lot to grind your own when possible -- get a spice grinder, or if you can't do that, at least grind your own pepper and get a little nutmeg grater if you use a fair amount of nutmeg.

One way to get very high quality ingredients for cheap is to grow your own. Even if you don't have a huge yard or time for a big garden, just having some tomatoes and basil (and/or other herbs) growing in pots will make a big difference.

If you make your own cocktails, or even if you just want to add some interest to a glass of lemonade or something, I learned from one of my favorite restaurants that what you *smell* as you take a sip makes a big difference in the overall taste. This restaurant puts a curl of lemon peel, a sprig of rosemary, or whatever goes with the drink on top of the drink, resting on ice or perched there with a toothpick or whatever.

Happy cooking! I think a lot of Mustachians would agree that once you get comfortable in your own kitchen, "restaurant quality" really just means inferior.

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #44 on: April 29, 2017, 11:17:47 AM »
Being tied to recipes can really limit your cooking and cause reluctance to customize the flavors for your own taste.  As others here have commented, a focus on learning techniques is more useful than collecting a bunch of recipes.  That way, you can see what you have available in your kitchen and create something wonderful from it.  Often, simplicity will win out over high complexity.  Restaurants often make something taste good by using wayyyyy more salt and fat that you would ever want to.  (Just look at the total calories, fat and sodium in their nutrition info!)

I really enjoy watching Brothers Green on youtube.  They are young guys in Brooklyn, NY who cook a lot of easy tasty food from scratch, no recipe, practically no measuring, in their tiny home kitchen.  Neither is professionally trained, but they are becoming popular chefs with the young crowd.  I do not really replicate exactly what they cook, but the important thing they teach you is how to improvise and cook "by the seat of your pants".  In one recent video, one of the brothers went to an Italian neighbor's apartment and learned what she typically made for her family dinner.  They also do features like seeing how creative they can be with a very limited set of ingredients.  Plus, they can be really funny sometimes!

nereo

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #45 on: April 29, 2017, 11:48:27 AM »
...
At least it was really tasty still! I literally added nothing but salt, pepper, and this sauce (fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, bayleaf, and brown bits picked up in broth), and it tasted great. I just have to remember not to soggify the skin at the very last second. At least I think I know what I did wrong this time. And all of the tips from everyone here definitely worked! (until I messed it up at the last second) :P
You didn't mess it up; you learned a great lesson while still arriving at a tasty product :-)

Seriously though - if you want crispy, sauces go on at the last possible second.  In restaurants its as the plate gets handed to the runner to go to your table, OR elevate the protein and spoon some sauce just adjacent to the chicken.  Thickening the sauce with a touch of starch (dissolved in a cold liquid) will also lessen a sauce's crispy-ruining-power. Besides looking good, that's the real reason you see artful smears of sauces alongside a piece crispy chicken/steak/fish elevated on a few green beans (or maybe piled on top of cheesy-grits)... it's all about separating the foods and making them look and taste their best.  Plating serves an obvious visual function, but when done right it actually helps the food taste better.

Cranky

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Re: Restaurant quality meals
« Reply #46 on: April 29, 2017, 04:46:15 PM »
IME, if you really want to brown meat, olive is not your best friend. A mixture of canola oil and butter works far better.