I know that there are times I wonder how in the world a restaurant can possibly charge so much for something so lacking in...every culinary quality desired.
I thought having a two-person household would cut my dining out bills in half, but I find it's still dreadfully expensive. That being said, I am taking a new tack on shopping for food. I still believe in the rules of grocery shopping - never buy on impulse, never pick a recipe where don't have at least some of the ingredients, and never ever buy out of season.
Instead of buying packaged raw poultry and meats, I've been going to the butcher counter and seeing what they have on special. Chicken breasts bought by the piece saved me $5 that way instead of in the big pre-packaged deal, which always has one piece too many. The pork chops were nice, and I bought some inexpensive Sicilian pork sausages. Give your butcher counter a try. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the quality you come away with.
So here are a few quick and affordable ideas to maybe change your mind about dining out on a weeknight.
Fresh Marinara with Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil and Spaghetti
Roasted Chicken Tacos with Black Beans and Homemade Pico de Gallo
Italian Sausage Bake with Veg and Balsamic Vinaigrette
For the Marinara and Pasta, I used DeCecco Spaghetti and made a quick marinara.
1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes with basil
1/3 cup chopped onion
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cubed Buffalo Mozzarella
Basil leaves, torn
Drizzle of olive oil
Saute onions, thyme, and pepper flakes in olive oil, covering on med-low until soft. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add canned tomatoes and cover, simmering while you boil the pasta water. Salt the water if desired, then cook according to package directions. Drain immediately at al dente and then place right back into the pasta pot. Add several ladles of marinara, the drizzle of olive oil, and cubed mozzarella. Toss well. Add hand-torn basil leaves and serve. This goes well with grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, sausages, even steak.
The Roasted Chicken Tacos are super easy...
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, roasted on a sheet for 45 minutes at 350, then shredded
1 can black beans, rinsed
2/3 cup water
1 packet taco seasoning
Chopped cilantro leaves
Cook all above ingredients in a saucepan until heated through and well combined. We ate our taco filling in Mission brand taco shells, cooked according to package directions.
Homemade Salsa -
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup purple onion, diced fine
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Juice from 1/2 lime
Salt to taste
Pinch of garlic powder
Toss all ingredients to combine and serve immediately.
The freshness of the cilantro in the tacos and the homemade salsa really make this feel like a night out at the
The Sausage and Veg Bake is too easy for words, and the clean up is fab as it's all roasted on aluminum foil!
4 Italian-style pork sausages from your local butcher
1 small bag mixed baby potatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 purple onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cut into eighths
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Italian seasonings or Herbs de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425. Line large sheet with foil. Scatter veggies on both ends and mix vinaigrette over them, then sprinkle salt and pepper. Toss well. Place sausage links in the middle of the sheet and drizzle just slightly with olive oil. Roast for 45 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Turn veggies and sausages halfway through roasting.
If you're tired of paying high dining bills and want to eat at home without breaking the bank while marketing, try focusing on the weekly specials. Your taste buds, belly, and wallet will thank you!