Restaurant Quality Food Made Right At Home

This post does contain affiliate links. I use a lot of gadgets and special ingredients/items in the kitchen so I’ve linked them if people are interested in purchasing them. My costs for homemade and restaurant meals are approximations. And by no means are all these dishes healthy, but everything in moderation. Mind your portions and always try to add vegetables whenever possible.

There are a lot of reasons I decided to start cooking at home more often:

  • My husband and I are foodies, no doubt about it. My husband planned our whole European engagement trip around eating at several Michelin star restaurants. Like I’ve said, I’m not fancy but I don’t mind a fancy meal or three.
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La Chèvre d’Or in Eze, France
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Where did this cardigan go? I haven’t seen it since…
  • I like to know what I’m eating. I know how much salt or butter is added, I know if it’s deep fried, etc. The average dish at cheesecake factory is at least 1000 calories – if I add a pound of butter, cream and salt to anything, it’s going to be delicious of course.
  • Recreating dishes at home is definitely cheaper. The average dinner out in my area isn’t cheap but it is good quality food that’s usually locally sourced….because #VERMONT.
  • Being jobless and having the time to do so, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of cooking and putting together a good meal. It’s fun figuring out how to make dishes taste even better.
  • Cooking is a skill everyone should have – MEN AND WOMEN. Everyone should know how to crack an egg and not just be popping some Elios pizza into the toaster oven whenever they’re hungry.

So here are a few things I’ve attempted to make at home:

Experiment #1:

Avocado Toast (Homemade: ~$2.25/person; Restaurant: $7+/person)

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Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs on top and Mimosas

Please stop paying for avocado toast. Yes, it’s delicious but it is literally so “basic” you can make it at home.

I like to add cherry tomatoes, red onions, lime juice (fresh or bottled), salt, pepper, Tajín Clásico Seasoning and 1-2 green chillies to my mixture. It essentially becomes guacamole because I mash everything together.

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Everything but the Bagel Seasoning on Avocado Toast

And you MUST sprinkle Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend on top. It’s delicious on avocado toast and eggs. I was skeptical at first but now I’m a believer. Trust me on this one because:

Experiment #2:

Pizza (Homemade: $2.75/person; Restaurant: $7.50/person)

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Pizza

Vermont has several great pizzerias. Our favorite is American Flatbread and it’s buffalo chicken pizza. Back in college, I was addicted to Boston’s Il Mondo‘s buffalo chicken pizza as well. My favorite pizza chain is Papa Gino’s, but it just doesn’t exist in VT.

The key to a good pizza is the pizza sauce. Don Pepino Pizza Tomato Sauce tastes JUST LIKE Papa Gino’s. (You can find it at most grocery stores.) My husband was introduced to this sauce himself by his childhood babysitter and so he did me a huge disservice by telling me about it…because now I can make amazing pizza at home.

For a great crust, my husband purchased a Pizza Stone. I don’t think you realize you need this until you have it in your life. It keeps your crust nice and crisp. About three years ago, my husband and I decided to make a date night out of baking a pizza at home. We took the raw dough, topped it off with sauce, cheese and toppings and threw it in the oven. It didn’t cook through with the amount of sauce we piled on and the cheese was burning so that was a fail. So the lesson is: Always bake the crust a bit before.

So in enters our beloved Pizza Stone. Husband made the pizza and I died and went to heaven.

(And now I’m patient enough as well because the quality is great.)

We have tried several different pizza doughs and crusts from Trader Joe’s. Both the wheat dough and cauliflower crust provided no flavor so we went back to the original dough.

Experiment #3:

Pasta, Sauce and Turkey Meatballs all from scratch (Homemade: $4/person; Restaurant: $12+/person)

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Fresh Pasta

This one time, we went all out making everything practically from scratch. My husband made the pasta using a Pasta Machine and Pasta Drying Rack seen below.

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Pasta Machine & Drying Rack

For the pasta sauce, I wanted to use up the canned tomato sauce in our pantry and a package of dehydrated spices from Italy I bought on my last trip in 2016. I also added some minced veggies. My cousin and I had bought similar dehydrated spice packages in 2014 in Italy. While she was back in England and I in Massachusetts, we both decided to follow the directions on the packaging. We soon learned we should never use the entire spice package. It was inedible and we’re Indian…we should be able to handle our spice. Anyway, if you do bring home those spice packages, taste the mixture before you add it to the tomato sauce.

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Veggies for the Pasta Sauce

I made the turkey meatballs from ground turkey, red onions, and spices. I first cooked it on the stove a bit and then continued the cooking process by baking it in the oven so it’d be cooked through.

*This was probably our favorite homemade meal so far* #ILOVECARBS

Experiment #4:

Poached or Soft-Boiled Eggs (Homemade: $0 because I literally got the eggs for free using 2 coupons; see my blog post about building better money habits. Restaurant: $1.50+/person)

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Poached Eggs

When I was traveling the Amalfi Coast with my cousin back in 2014, every hotel served soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. They had this little device that took all the guesswork out of it. So when my husband and I moved into our new home which is basically located in a major vacation spot, I thought, this would be nice for our guests to use if we’re not at home. So I purchased a Dash Rapid Egg Cooker. It boils 6 or poaches 2 eggs. It can make an omelette too but I’d rather make that on a stove. I wish I had actually purchased the Dash Deluxe Egg Cooker because it can boil 12 eggs or poach 7 eggs.

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The Dash Rapid Egg Cooker. The buzzer sounds like an alarm so don’t be scared.

Experiment #5:

Acai Bowls (Homemade: $4/bowl; Cafe/Restaurant: $8+/bowl)

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Acai Bowl

I buy Acai puree from Trader Joe’s for $4.49/4 sachets. (For comparison: A friend told me she buys them from Wegman’s for $6. Another friend said she has tried the acai powder but it feels unnatural and prefers the Trader Joe’s puree over anything else). I have yet to try an acai bowl outside of home, but I don’t think the flavor I’m creating is too far off from what it’s supposed to be.

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Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Organic Acai Puree Packets $4.49
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I add these Trader Joe’s Frozen Mango Chunks to my Acai bowl concoction

Enjoy!

– Relatable Roni

 

Adulting 101: Building Better Money Habits

I wouldn’t call myself cheap; I prefer the term conscientious. My family was not well off when I was a kid and so my mom would often cut coupons and look for sales in weekly flyers. Things did improve but mom kept clipping those coupons. My parents would hand me money without even my asking. I would receive it whenever I needed it…or not really needed it. I don’t think I was ever greedy or materialistic but I never thought twice about eating out with friends, going to the movies or buying a few new clothes every now and then. You could say I was definitely spoiled in that sense but I never felt like I was taking advantage of my parents, but I wasn’t careful either.

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Later on, my parents paid for my college tuition (I did get a major scholarship though) so the $15 cost of Long Island’s at clubs never really bothered me. Ya, I probably ordered way too much Thai food too….BUT! I did eventually get a job in college and created a secret bank account I’d use to charge my drinks and cabs fares to so my parents would not be alarmed by my spending…if that’s even better…

But after my first real job after college, I knew that money is not something that should be spent to grant a second of happiness. I’ve lived at home and helped with some bills and bought some furniture for my parents because why shouldn’t I – they’ve done everything for me. I’ve worked really hard to save up and because of that and not having the burden of loans, my husband and I have been able to buy a home.

Being unemployed now and having to set up a new home has forced me to be more careful than I usually am about spending money. Also, I live with my husband instead of my parents where my mom would take care of the grocery shopping and I wouldn’t have to think twice about it. My husband and I are foodies too so there’s no way we’re skimping and living on Maruchan Ramen Noodles or Maggi.

So here are a few ways I’ve modified my money habits:

Look at Weekly Grocery Store Flyers:

I save 25-50% off my grocery bill this way.  This is the best and easiest way to save money on groceries without having to deal with coupons. I’ll look at all the weekly grocery flyers to see where the best deals are and plan my meals around this. Living in a suburbs, I can do this because I have my choice of 3 different grocery stores. In the city, this wouldn’t be so feasible because of convenience – you’re going to go to the store within the shortest walking distance of your apartment.

What I also have noted is that items may be BOGO Free  and people don’t take advantage of this – make sure you read the price signs. At the grocery store just last week, mushrooms were BOGO free. The man checking out behind me only had ONE package of mushrooms…JUST ONE! I told him they were BOGO free. He said “That’s ok.” I was like “Man, you all sorts of crazy!!!” I understand this if he knows it’ll go to waste, but otherwise, just eat some extra mushrooms instead – they’re good for you.

Generally, I try to purchase groceries from the outer rim of the store, leaving the inner aisles (all the preservative heavy foods) alone. So this leaves me with produce, dairy items, meat/seafood and bread – generally these items do not have coupons but may be on sale in the weekly flyer.

Also, living in Vermont, we MUST ALWAYS have Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream HEAVILY STOCKED in our freezer. At $5 a pint, it gets expensive but it tends to come on sale for $2.50 often so I stock up a bit during sales…or we end up buying it at regular price because we’re desperate.

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Check Out Coupons.com or Grocery Store Specific Apps/Rewards Programs:

Coupons.com allows you to print coupons and bring them to the store. What I find easier than this is acquiring a member discount card, downloading the grocery store’s app (Hannaford, Price Chopper or Shaw’s to name a few), and clipping the coupons digitally. The coupons get loaded to your card or your phone number and are automatically applied when you checkout at the store. You’ll save some printer ink and kind of the earth by not wasting paper.

Don’t forget about the Gas Savings tied to your Grocery Store’s Rewards:

At PriceChopper, the Fuel AdvantEdge Card allows you to accumulate decent discounts towards gas. Price Chopper gives you 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 you spend along with some additional gas rewards when you buy certain items. Often, I’m able to accumulate a discount of 30-40 cents off per gallon. So say you need to fill up your 20 gallon tank, you’d save $6-$8 which is helpful. If you fill up your tank 2 times per month, that gives you $144-$192 in savings per year. Stop & Shop and Shaws will also give you 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 you spend. These discounts may only be redeemed at certain participating Sunoco Gas Stations.

Download the Ibotta App

Ibotta is a mobile coupon and cash back shopping app. I like to go through it before I head to the grocery store to see if I need of any of the products. They often will offer 25 cents to a dollar off certain items. Sometimes you will get a coupon for any brand milk, eggs, fruits or vegetables. Lately, I don’t find myself needing any of the products they have coupons for. BUT, Ibotta was amazing for Black Friday. Ibotta offers cash back on sites like Kohls, Macy’s, Ulta, Express and more. At Express, 20% cash back was offered to a limit of $20 which is pretty significant on top of everything already being 50% off. One caveat I found is if you use an additional coupon code, on top of navigating to say Express.com through the Ibotta app, you may not get any cash back through Ibotta. Every Wednesday throughout the day, new coupons are added if you don’t see anything you can use now.

I’ve saved about $100 in the last year using Ibotta. Use this link to join Ibotta and you’ll receive a $10 welcome bonus once you redeem your first receipt or make your first purchase.

Download Money-saving Browser Extensions

Honey. Honey is one browser extension I’ve been using to save me money by automatically applying coupon codes at checkout before completing an order. Going to RetailMeNot.com every time and trying out codes gets old so this is helpful. But lately, Honey hasn’t been coming through. It’s supposed to apply the best coupon that’ll get you the best deal, but sometimes it just doesn’t work right. I’m not sure why. Also, Honey will give you a cash-back reward at an unknown percentage of your purchase. It will display the percentage range when you’re checking out. The range is often 1-5% which is a wide range….which is why I’d like to try:

Ebates. Ebates is another browser extension that will do the same thing as Honey but will tell you the exact percentage you will get back which is much better. A friend suggested I try Ebates so I literally just downloaded it an hour ago.
Ebates Coupons and Cash Back
^ Click here and you’ll earn $10 once you spend your first $25 with Ebates.

Either way, it’s easy to save just a little money with these browser extensions. You just click and the extension does everything for you. I’ve received $35 in gift cards from Honey and saved at least $300 just using the coupon codes in the last year.


Hopefully this was helpful! If it wasn’t, let me know in the comments!

XOXO,

Relatable Roni