Dining out is a luxury. It is something that my family and I love to do. Everyone can choose what they want for dinner, without the time required to prepare 4 meals. There are no dishes to do or kitchens to clean when we are done. Frequently though, you can spend almost as much eating out one night as you do on a week of groceries.
So, when we are looking to cut back on our out of pocket expenses, one of the first things that we reduce is eating out. Sometimes this means eating out a late lunch, since many lunch specials run until 3pm, allowing us to enjoy the benefits of eating out with less cost. Other times, it means just simply not going out as often. This saves us the cost of the meal, as well as the cost of the gas - which was a major consideration this summer when gas was hovering around $4.
We have some definite favorite dishes that we enjoy and specific restaurants that we enjoy too. So, as to not feel punished by eating at home, I started to prepare knock-off recipes, allowing us to enjoy our favorite restaurant meals at home. I have used many approaches in obtaining these knock-off recipes. The first was to explore the Top Secret Recipes series of books. I purchased one, but have borrowed the rest from friends and from the library. The second was to search the web for recipes. The book series has a website Top Secret Recipes which has a mix of free and pay to see recipes (79 cents for the one I clicked on today). This could be one way to get your hands on some recipes that you want without the investment in the book. A couple of other sites that have come up frequently in my search for restaurant recipes is Copykat Recipes and CDKitchen. Other recipes, I have just treated my kitchen as a lab and started playing.
For the most part, the recipes that we have found through Top Secret Recipes books and through the web have been a close match. I wouldn't say they are dead on, but they are good. Adding these recipes to our collection has also allowed us to diversify what we eat at home, so we are less likely to get bored with the same old meals - a popular reason for spontaneous dining out at my house.
Another added benefit of making a knock off recipe at home is that you have full control over the ingredients. You can spruce it up by adding a new vegetable or leaving out something that your picky eaters don't like. You can make it lighter by using reduced fat milk in place of whole. (This impacts the creamy texture slightly, but generally gives you the same result in the dish when you are cooking. You won't want to do this with baking - it will impact your results). You can make the dish less salty, more or less spicy, etc. I have found that sometimes with tweaking, I get what my family considers a better recipe and when they order that same meal out, it's just not the same as it used to be - because now they are comparing it to what I make at home.
Some of our favorite knock-off recipes include:
Penne Cardinale (Buca di Beppo)
Penne Rustica (Macaroni Grill)
#54 (our favorite local Mexican restaurant)
Skyline Chili (Skyline Chili - Cincinnati style chili)
Sonora Chicken Pasta (Ruby Tuesday's)
Chicken Scallopine (Olive Garden)
Spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta (TGI Friday's)
Tequila Lime Chicken (Applebees)
Cajun Jambalaya Chicken (The Cheesecake Factory)
As you can see, we have a diverse collection of recipes that allow us to Dine Out at home. Healthier food for a fraction of the cost. (note: not all of the above links are exactly the recipe I use)
For more tips, check out Works For Me Wednesday over at Rocks in my Dryer.