As my friend Nancy put it, "When I go out to dinner, I want a steak, a baked potato with all the goodies, and a tossed green salad."
But, you may wonder — how do you save money, if your tastes run to steak? Fortunately, Linsey Knerl of Wise Bread found a fantastic how-to, using cheaper cuts of steak, over at Steamy Kitchen.
Accompaniments: Baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon bits, and green onion; and tossed green salad.
Keep it cheap: Resist the impulse to buy a bag of salad and cut up your own salad greens.
2. Su Casa Mexicana
According to my very scientific poll, another favorite for dining out is Mexican food. Now, as much as I love the food at a particular Mexican chain restaurant, I could go without hearing their overly peppy "Happy Birthday" song for the rest of my life. My husband, though, misses the fajitas. The good news is that fajitas are really easy to make and you don’t have to wear a huge sombrero at home.
Accompaniments: Tortillas, beans, and rice.
Keep it cheap: Try it with a homemade margarita!
3. At-Home Pad Thai
Tonight for dinner we are having Pad Thai, one of my restaurant favorites. Fish sauce, an important ingredient, sounds strange — but don’t leave it out! If you do not have rice noodles, you can substitute vermicelli. I am making ours with shrimp. Pork and tofu work equally well.
Accompaniments: Cucumber salad is a must.
Keep it cheap: Frozen shrimp can be a bargain. If you cook and clean it yourself, you will get further savings.
4. Chinese Stay-In
Another crowd favorite is Chinese food. Although Chinese food will rarely break the bank, you will still save money it you make it at home. I love Beef with Broccoli, which goes together quickly. My friend MZ loves General Tso's Chicken. It is pretty spicy, so be careful with those peppers!
Accompaniments: Rice, orange sections, and of course, fortune cookies!
Keep it cheap: If beef is not on sale, try thinly-sliced pork or chicken breast. Both are delicious in this recipe.
5. Your Italian Kitchen
My husband loves Italian food, but that’s not exactly a hot commodity here in the tropics. I can handle basic spaghetti and lasagna, but when I learned how to make Chicken Marsala, he was pretty happy.
Accompaniments: Buttered egg noodles and steamed zucchini go well with this.
Keep it cheap: Watch for Marsala wine to go on sale. I over-paid the other day ($13).
6. Sushi Rolls
Many of my coworkers love sushi, but they thought it would be too much trouble to make at home. It really isn't.
Accompaniments: Edamame (boiled soybeans) go nicely, and they are very easy to make, if you can boil water. Look for them in the freezer section of your grocery store.
Keep it cheap: Try a tuna (canned, with spicy mayo) or vegetarian roll.
7. Comforting Katsu
A favorite "fusion" (Japanese /Hawaiian) food we like to order when we're out is Chicken Katsu.
Accompaniments: This is a very popular item where I live and usually served with rice, macaroni-potato salad, and a tossed green salad. Talk about a stick-to-your-ribs meal!
Keep it cheap: I buy frozen chicken thighs, which are less expensive. There is no noticeable difference between fresh and frozen here, as far as I can tell.
8. Summer-at-Home Rolls
If you have not tried Vietnamese food, I predict you will love its crispness and use of fresh herbs. I never feel bad after I eat it — it is more like I have done something good for my health.
I will admit it takes practice to roll a summer roll. M mine are never pretty, but they taste great.
Accompaniments: Peanut sauce (recipe included in the link above). Of course, I could eat an old shoe if you put peanut sauce on it.
Keep it cheap: I like shrimp in my summer rolls, but again, I use frozen shrimp, which I clean and cook.
9. Faux Pho Ga
Another favorite Vietnamese recipe of my friends is Pho Ga, which is a Southeast Asian take on chicken soup.
Pho is not only delicious, but it has an added benefit — it makes you feel much better if you have a cold! I thought I was original in this discovery until I went to our local Vietnamese restaurant and ordered a bowl. The person at the counter said, "Are you getting a cold?" As it turns out, people flock there at the first sign of a sore throat. I try to keep the ingredients on hand so that I can whip up a batch.
Accompaniments: Fresh mint, basil, and green onions; Sriracha sauce. Don’t be afraid of the Sriracha sauce. You only need a few drops.
Keep it cheap: Learn how to make your own chicken broth at home and freeze it in quart bags.