Author Topic: Learn to cook a restaurant meal  (Read 7841 times)

TLV

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Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« on: February 23, 2012, 11:27:59 AM »
Here's a simple challenge that occurred to me after seeing this ridiculously anti-mustachian article: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2011/12/03/Why-Its-Cheaper-to-Dine-Out-Than-Eat-In.aspx#page1

The challenge: Think of a meal you might order at a restaurant, that you don't know how to cook yourself. Then learn to cook it at home, ideally for less than half the restaurant cost.

Example: A while back my wife and I received a gift card to Red Lobster. Being 1000+ miles from the nearest ocean at the time, we avoided the fancier seafood items and ordered shrimp alfredo. Total cost, with tax and tip: ~$25 for two people, with enough leftover for lunch.

To make the same amount at home now requires:
~2/3 lb shrimp : $4 (Tip: Use frozen raw shrimp - much better texture than the pre-cooked stuff, and doesn't lose much for the freezing.)
~2/3 lb pasta : $0.70
alfredo sauce(milk or cream, parmesan, a bit of flour/butter) : ~$.50 (milk) ~$1 (cream)

Total cost: ~$5-6, and with practice I've gotten the total prep time (including a green salad) down to about 15 minutes, about as much time as it would take to drive to the restaurant.

The only thing missing is the "free" biscuits.

dancedancekj

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2012, 12:02:32 PM »
I agree, which is why I don't like to eat out all that much. There are a few exceptions to this in my opinion.

1. Foods which are impossible or very very difficult to prepare properly without the investment of expensive gadgets. Sushi is the prime example - I would rather spend the few dollars to go and enjoy sushi every once in a while as opposed to searching for sushi grade fish, freezing it properly, and monitoring myself for liver flukes. Lamb gyros are another example - I'd rather pay a few books for my gyros three times a year than have to deal with buying an automated rotisserie, reconstituting the lamb meat and so on.

2. I love Indian food, but when cooking it, the odor lingers a long, long time. The oils that are generated from the food will also steep itself into your cupboards, your walls, and your carpet, and you won't ever get it out.

kolorado

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2012, 12:36:47 PM »
Luckily I worked in a restaurant for 3 years and my mom taught me her awesome skills so I can cook just about anything. We pretty much never eat out. When we do, not only do I mentally calculate what a waste of money restaurant food is, I also feel disappointed that it never tastes as good as what I can make. They overkill with salt and cheese and butter and dressing to the point that you can barely taste the actual food.
You can make those Red Lobster biscuits to complete your frugal knock-off meal. It's just bisquik with some shredded cheddar in it. When they come out of the oven you drench them in melted butter and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Go easy on the garlic. ;)
I highly recommend Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes cookbook series. You can learn to make fast food and prepared food replicas so good that you will never need to go out or buy a box of Entemann's again. His Cinnabon recipe is so close to the real thing that I made them for my wedding "cake". They were such a hit that I earned money baking them for someone else's wedding.

Mike Key

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2012, 12:49:17 PM »
I just read that article and I've never read such moronic logic in my adult life. You should eat out because restaurants get their food in bulk and pass the savings onto you? WTF? This author is talking 100% out their ass.

The markup between what a restaurateur pays for food and what you pay for food is astonishing.

Some highlights from a deconstruction of restaurant markups by SFGate.com:

Fountain drinks – 2,000% markup
Canned soda – 800% markup
Wine by the glass – 300% to 400% markup
Pasta dishes – 600% to 1,000% markup
Mixed green salad – 800% markup
Eggs – 500% markup

But here’s the kicker: the restaurant isn’t even ripping you off. When you factor in rent, labor and payroll, credit card fees, silverware and flatware, insurance, legal fees, and all the other expenses that make a restaurant possible, that’s simply what they have to charge you in order for the business to work. And those figures are from smaller, more independent restaurants. The menus from the chain gang will be even more tailored toward high profit margins, with even fewer fresh, local ingredients.

I'm down with this. My wife and I used to be paleo eaters, but our diet slipped. Now that I sold my car to become a Money Mustache myself and I'm riding a bike, I want to make this another priority.

Cooking great foods at home, to save cash. And bring back the art of entertaining, having friends over for meals too.

GAME ON FELLOW MUSTACHE WARRIORS!

Welmoed

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2012, 01:26:14 PM »
It's actually rather funny... My husband decided to learn to cook (by reading cookbooks from the library and watching cooking shows on PBS) and is now a better cook than I ever was. We don't eat out often because he can cook better than most restaurants anyway.
Here's another reason why cooking at home beats cooking out: in restaurants, the name of the game is consistency. The chicken marsala needs to come out of the kitchen looking and tasting the same, all day, every day. Once a dish is designed, there's no more creativity. It's all formulaic. Even high-end "celebrity chef" restaurants have to keep their dishes predictable. I'd much rather experiment with herbs and spices and discover new combinations at home.
A great book about restaurants is "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain. It was written before he became an arrogant snot on TV, and gives some pretty startling insight into the restaurant business. After reading his book, I've never gone to a Sunday Brunch buffet again. Blech.
We're doing Paleo as well, so it's easier to keep to our diet if we stay home. And hubby is such a good cook, I really don't mind!
--Welmoed

Eristheunorganized

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2012, 01:46:24 PM »
What a bunch of crap this article is. Every meal includes a "bagged salad" for $3.99. One person is gonna eat an entire bagged salad? Or $2.99 for soup? That's an entire can.

Guitarist

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2012, 02:33:19 PM »
A great book about restaurants is "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain. It was written before he became an arrogant snot on TV,

You mean while he was an arrogant snot not on TV?

Mrs MM

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2012, 03:02:07 PM »
Excellent idea!  I've recently been doing this as well.  Next up: Chicken Tikka Masala  :)

I found a great recipe for Thai Squash Coconut Soup here: http://www.eclecticcook.com/thai-curry-and-coconut-butternut-squash-soup/.  It's paleo too!  :)

It's so good and easy that I keep making batch after batch.  It's also really filling.  I changed things up a bit (more onion, more garlic, olive oil instead of grapeseed, and more curry paste).  I omitted the lime leaves and coconut garnish.  Anyway, I'm not very fancy, but it's one of the yummiest things I've ever made (though that's not saying much...).

Schwartz

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2012, 07:30:54 PM »
Wow, that article is a complete joke! Whoever wrote the shopping lists for those cook at home meals is either a REALLY big fan of side dishes or has never cooked a meal in his or her life. The home made P.F. Chang's beef and broccoli recipe appears to include an entire head of broccoli and a pound of rice (or maybe that's how much groceries cost in NY when you have them delivered to your door*). And don't fill up on that rib eye, or you'll be too full for your entire bunch of asparagus.

The other two things that haven't been mentioned are the added costs of dining out (~30% extra for tax and tip where I live, plus a hefty mark up should you choose to have a drink) and the fact that with a free recipe on the internet and one or two reps under his or her belt, any home cook could blow Olive Garden or Outback Steakhouse out of the water!


*Their prices are based on Fresh Direct, a grocery delivery chain

shedinator

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2012, 06:16:03 AM »
I agree, which is why I don't like to eat out all that much. There are a few exceptions to this in my opinion.

1. Foods which are impossible or very very difficult to prepare properly without the investment of expensive gadgets. Sushi is the prime example - I would rather spend the few dollars to go and enjoy sushi every once in a while as opposed to searching for sushi grade fish, freezing it properly, and monitoring myself for liver flukes.

Sushi's actually REALLY easy, and a whole lot cheaper when you make it yourself. Rather than worrying about finding and properly freezing the fish, I purchase fresh (never frozen or flash frozen) fish the day I'm going to make it. Last time, I tossed together 120 pieces (60 salmon, 60 tuna) for just under $25 in materials ($11 for each pound of fish, less than $1 for the rice, $2 for the seaweed and other sticky rice ingredients), or $0.21/piece. According to local menus, the least we would pay eating out is $0.50/piece, with most places being closer to $0.75-1.25. So the first time I made it, I'd already paid for the bamboo, and by the second time the knife was covered as well. Plus, a pound of fish makes so much sushi, you can't help but invite friends over when you make it, which usually means free alcohol and dessert :).

BTW, there's technically no such thing as "sushi grade" fish. By that I mean, there's no standard for what determines whether or not something is labeled "sushi grade," no tracking by the FDA, and no penalty built in to incorrectly claiming your product qualifies. Chicken of the Sea could claim their tuna was sushi grade with no repercussions whatsoever. It's kinda the sushi equivalent of claiming food is "all natural," it simultaneously allows you to increase your price while telling the consumer literally nothing about the product, but allowing him/her to feel better about the purchase.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2012, 06:26:29 AM by shedinator »

dancedancekj

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2012, 07:52:05 AM »
I agree, which is why I don't like to eat out all that much. There are a few exceptions to this in my opinion.

1. Foods which are impossible or very very difficult to prepare properly without the investment of expensive gadgets. Sushi is the prime example - I would rather spend the few dollars to go and enjoy sushi every once in a while as opposed to searching for sushi grade fish, freezing it properly, and monitoring myself for liver flukes.

Sushi's actually REALLY easy, and a whole lot cheaper when you make it yourself. Rather than worrying about finding and properly freezing the fish, I purchase fresh (never frozen or flash frozen) fish the day I'm going to make it. Last time, I tossed together 120 pieces (60 salmon, 60 tuna) for just under $25 in materials ($11 for each pound of fish, less than $1 for the rice, $2 for the seaweed and other sticky rice ingredients), or $0.21/piece. According to local menus, the least we would pay eating out is $0.50/piece, with most places being closer to $0.75-1.25. So the first time I made it, I'd already paid for the bamboo, and by the second time the knife was covered as well. Plus, a pound of fish makes so much sushi, you can't help but invite friends over when you make it, which usually means free alcohol and dessert :).

BTW, there's technically no such thing as "sushi grade" fish. By that I mean, there's no standard for what determines whether or not something is labeled "sushi grade," no tracking by the FDA, and no penalty built in to incorrectly claiming your product qualifies. Chicken of the Sea could claim their tuna was sushi grade with no repercussions whatsoever. It's kinda the sushi equivalent of claiming food is "all natural," it simultaneously allows you to increase your price while telling the consumer literally nothing about the product, but allowing him/her to feel better about the purchase.

Wow, I didn't know it would work out like that in terms of pricing. Interesting... may I ask where you buy your fish? Note that I'm kind of landlocked in the Midwest, I don't know if that would make any difference in terms of sourcing

shedinator

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2012, 08:57:12 AM »
Wow, I didn't know it would work out like that in terms of pricing. Interesting... may I ask where you buy your fish? Note that I'm kind of landlocked in the Midwest, I don't know if that would make any difference in terms of sourcing

Local grocery store, or fish market in the summer (living on the coast means low prices when things are "in season"). But I live on the East Coast, and I've used salmon from the Northwest on sale at around 11-13/lb, so I don't see why you couldn't find similar prices. If you cut the fish as small as most books will recommend, a pound of fish can easily yield 50-60 pieces of sushi, so if you're just making it for your family, and don't need 2-3 different fish varieties, you can make a few rolls out of a half pound of fish (I'd recommend starting with Tuna Nigiri, as it's easiest/simplest) and it'll probably end up costing you less than ordering pizza. Of course, it's a 2-3 hour process the first time you try, and there's no "fix it and forget it" method, so make sure you have the time to produce a quality meal if you're going to give it a shot.

valueindexer

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #12 on: February 29, 2012, 03:57:52 PM »
It's actually rather funny... My husband decided to learn to cook (by reading cookbooks from the library and watching cooking shows on PBS) and is now a better cook than I ever was. We don't eat out often because he can cook better than most restaurants anyway.

I've gotten to a point where most restaurants are a disappointment as well, and it's just a few years ago that I was producing Blackened Charred Crispy Something-Burnt (rare on the inside). Going to an actual good restaurant tends to be a lot more expensive, although we've found a few interesting and cheap ones. But it takes longer to go to a restaurant than to cook many meals. The main thing they have going for them is not having to make any decisions (actually you have to choose a restaurant, choose what you want, and then get everyone to agree).

My favorite source now is Mark Bittman's books which have an endless list of meals that are simple, often unexpected, and very good. The only cookbook I've used prior to that is one that had multi-course high-end restaurant imitations with photos for everything. It had some good ideas and definitely looked fancier but used too many rare ingredients and things you do just to show that you spent a lot of time making food.

zinnie

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #13 on: February 29, 2012, 07:49:16 PM »
Great challenge! A) We do this all the time--i have been known to scribble lists of ingredients and spices I taste on my napkin while eating out. And B) That article is ridiculous.

The nicer restaurants usually list the ingredients in the description so it's easy to copy. And if that doesn't work, if you google it you can usually find either an imitation recipe if it s a chain or just something really similar if it's not.

Valueindexer, I love Mark Bittman too. I subscribe to his podcasts. Have you seen his 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less? Tons of simple cheap dinners in there.

valueindexer

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2012, 07:32:13 AM »
The nicer restaurants usually list the ingredients in the description so it's easy to copy. And if that doesn't work, if you google it you can usually find either an imitation recipe if it s a chain or just something really similar if it's not.

The nicer restaurants also tend to use ingredients that you can recognize and make meals with 5 ingredients rather than 35, which is so convenient :) A lot of people seem to be scared because cooking for show looks complicated, but making good meals only requires a few ingredients and techniques and some practice.

I used to get Mark Bittman's regular NYT pieces by RSS. Since that ended I haven't looked for anything new. I'm subscribed to his site now but I still have 2460 meals left to go through from the two big books.

Gerard

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #15 on: March 05, 2012, 06:41:31 PM »
Bittman is awesome, online or in the big books. He turned me on to Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, which is amazing: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html

<edited to reduce boringness>

mm1970

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #16 on: March 05, 2012, 08:25:53 PM »
I started saying years ago that the more that I cook, the more disappointed I am in restaurant food.

We have a few local favorites for pizza, burritos, salads, and the like.  But really - my pizza and burritos and salads are pretty darned good!  Maybe from a burrito aspect, there are 2 places that make them better than me, but mine are still better than most around.

On occasion we will go out for a fancy dinner (say, a birthday or anniversary - but even then, not even annually).  One of my favorite places is Middle Eastern, so I learned to made my own hummus and falafel and tzatziki.

I learned how to do most of my cooking by watching the Food Network.  Off the top of my  head, I can't think of a single meal that I'd rather eat out than make in. 

Parizade

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #17 on: March 07, 2012, 01:33:25 AM »
It wasn't an entire meal, but I learned to make the cheesey garlic biscuits that Red Lobster serves:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/cheese-garlic-biscuits-ii/

they were yummy!

JennC

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #18 on: April 05, 2012, 07:36:24 AM »
Someone in the thread already mentioned that the more they practice their cooking, the more disappointed they are with restaurant food. YES! I agree 100%

I love cooking so I suppose this isn't so much a challenge for our household as it is a practical hobby. I've learned to make homemade baked goods of every kind, homemade curries and soups and pastas and sauces. I much prefer my homemade vinagrette and stir fry sauces to anything I can buy in a bottle. My beercan chicken tastes almost as good as a restaurant rotisserie chicken. We love different international foods so I like to try to make these as well. I've made decent pho, pad thai, saag, curries etc.

My husband loves chicken wings so most recently I challenged myself to learn how to make them as closely resembling the restaurant as possible, and it worked. AND they were baked. The amount of money I spent on 35 chicken wings in the supermarket would have been the equivalent of about 8 prepared ones at the restaurant.

The only time I was very discouraged when trying to emulate a restaurant meal was when I tried to make sushi. My the time we were done, tehre was rice on every surface of the kitchen and I was too tired to eat. We save sushi for special restaurant occasions. Maybe we'll try it again someday.

napalminator

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #19 on: April 15, 2012, 11:21:33 PM »
one line in the article gives away why they came to their ridiculous conclusion:
Quote
After all, we’re based in New York City and didn’t go hunting for the best deals we could find on groceries.
no wonder they think it costs so much to make a salad at home!

Sparky

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #20 on: April 23, 2012, 11:32:08 AM »
I've really been working hard on learning how to cook Sichuan dishes as of the last 6 months or so from the girlfriend (she's chinese). We are both getting to the point where our cooking is equal or better than any Sichuan restaurant you can find in North America. Very tasty and spicy and much much cheaper than anything you'll find in a restaurant.

Next food group I'd like to master is food of the Greek/Turkish/Lebanese variety. Need to make a trip out that way to figure it out :D

the fixer

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #21 on: April 24, 2012, 12:00:24 PM »
Last Friday evening I was biking through a downtown area on my way home from work, and all the people out at restaurants was making me long for doing something special. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try MAKING something challenging instead of just ordering it out.

I've been working on my breadmaking skills and am already a decent cook, and we had a bunch of spinach growing in our garden that it was time to harvest. So I decided to make a spinach and roasted garlic white pizza on Saturday. The crust didn't turn out that great, but the great thing about pizza is it hardly matters since everything else is so flavorful! If I had gone out to eat I probably wouldn't even remember what I had ordered by now. But this left me with some great experiences and memories:
  • The smell of garlic roasting in the toaster oven permeating the entire floor of the house
  • Rinsing and preparing the freshly harvested spinach leaves with great anticipation
  • Learning to knead dough for the first time (up until now I've only done no-knead bread doughs) and forming it into a crust
  • And of course, the flavor of the cheeses, garlic, olive oil, and spinach

Allie

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #22 on: April 29, 2012, 07:58:38 PM »
I agree, which is why I don't like to eat out all that much. There are a few exceptions to this in my opinion.

1. Foods which are impossible or very very difficult to prepare properly without the investment of expensive gadgets. Sushi is the prime example - I would rather spend the few dollars to go and enjoy sushi every once in a while as opposed to searching for sushi grade fish, freezing it properly, and monitoring myself for liver flukes.

Sushi's actually REALLY easy, and a whole lot cheaper when you make it yourself. Rather than worrying about finding and properly freezing the fish, I purchase fresh (never frozen or flash frozen) fish the day I'm going to make it. Last time, I tossed together 120 pieces (60 salmon, 60 tuna) for just under $25 in materials ($11 for each pound of fish, less than $1 for the rice, $2 for the seaweed and other sticky rice ingredients), or $0.21/piece. According to local menus, the least we would pay eating out is $0.50/piece, with most places being closer to $0.75-1.25. So the first time I made it, I'd already paid for the bamboo, and by the second time the knife was covered as well. Plus, a pound of fish makes so much sushi, you can't help but invite friends over when you make it, which usually means free alcohol and dessert :).

BTW, there's technically no such thing as "sushi grade" fish. By that I mean, there's no standard for what determines whether or not something is labeled "sushi grade," no tracking by the FDA, and no penalty built in to incorrectly claiming your product qualifies. Chicken of the Sea could claim their tuna was sushi grade with no repercussions whatsoever. It's kinda the sushi equivalent of claiming food is "all natural," it simultaneously allows you to increase your price while telling the consumer literally nothing about the product, but allowing him/her to feel better about the purchase.

Wow, I didn't know it would work out like that in terms of pricing. Interesting... may I ask where you buy your fish? Note that I'm kind of landlocked in the Midwest, I don't know if that would make any difference in terms of sourcing

Please don't do this.  Many fish, especially salmon, have parasites that cause nasty illness.  It probably won't kill you but after a day or two you may wish for the end.  Freezing and cooking can kill the worms, but you need a deep freeze that you can't do in your home freezer.  I live in coastal Alaska and love pulling fresh salmon, halibut, and shrimp out of the water.  But, I have seen the round worms in our fish and would never eat it raw.  For reference:  http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/HTML/Anisakiasis.htm 

gooki

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Re: Learn to cook a restaurant meal
« Reply #23 on: April 30, 2012, 03:01:25 AM »
~2/3 lb shrimp : $4 (Tip: Use frozen raw shrimp - much better texture than the pre-cooked stuff, and doesn't lose much for the freezing.)

Just had to say I agree 100% on buying raw shrimp.