One aspect of this blog I’m keen to develop is a collection of Weekly Recipes.I love cooking and eating and all things food, and I want to share that passion with you. But first, I felt that my current frame of mind regarding the production and consumption of food needed some explaining. So here goes.
As part of the Great Life Revolution of 2014 (more on that here), hubby and I have decided to treat ourselves to some aggressive saving (“treat yourselves?” you might ask, to which I would reply “yes, because after all we’ll only end up richer in the long run”). Among other things, this means cutting down on eating out. Eating out is one of my favourite things (the same goes for my husband) and so this is one of the aspects of our new frugal living that I thought I’d have a hard time coping with. Actually, it’s not so bad, although both of us admitted the other day that we really crave sushi.
The reason why I haven’t yet thrown down the proverbial dishcloth and enforced an outing to the nearest dining establishment (whether it’s any good or not is often irrelevant on those kinds of I-can’t-be-bothered-to-cook outings) is that I have steadily come to the following conclusions about making food and eating out:
1) If you can make it at home, have it at home
This is best illustrated with our usual choice of pasta whenever we visit a standard Italian restaurant (there are exceptions of course, which is why I wrote “standard”). 95% of the time, our choices end up being dishes that could easily be replicated at home, and might even taste better. The other 5% are usually due to certain ingredients that are not as easily available or that are difficult or unpleasant to handle (while I might be able to boil the occasional lobster at home, I don’t particularly want to).
If your desire for tortellini al prosciutto e panna or penne alla diavola grows to the point where you simply cannot wait any longer to indulge, then by all means, have at it! … but do so at home. And if you suspect there are mystery ingredients involved, there is always our wonderful mutual friend Google.
2) Eat out too often and you will lose some of the magic (and lots of money)
Eating out is expensive, there’s no denying that. So I used to justify our weekly (sometimes twice-weekly or even worse) forays to restaurants by telling myself that it was our one weakness, because we don’t smoke or pay small fortunes in mobile phone bills. But when it came to choosing where we would exchange our hard-earned cash for some fleeting (and not always satisfying) nourishment, we would often be careless. Deep down we knew that most restaurants within walking distance could only offer a paltry substitute for what we could have had at home, so it sometimes took us a full 30 minutes (which often led to arguments) to even decide which one we would grace with our presence, just because none of them excited us all that much. What we really wanted was the comfort of sitting down and being waited on. Oh and bonus points if the food was palatable.
Not great, huh?
The trick is to clearly define your exceptions: what would make eating out special again? The reason my husband and I are both craving sushi is that this is not such an easy dish to prepare to a satisfactory level at home. I have made it in the past (I even took a sushi-making class once) but unfortunately, the hubby doesn’t like seaweed and I can’t find soy-sheets to make the rolls he will eat. Also, there’s the touchy issue of buying and handling raw fish (which is kind of a key component of sushi, or at least the kind we like to eat). So we are building up our craving and anticipation for as long as we can manage, and then the ensuing trip to the local sushi place (cheap but actually quite good) will become this unique and spectacular adventure that we’ll both enjoy a lot more than we used to. It’ll probably taste better too, even if it’s our imagination.
Note: eating out with friends is the same. If it’s a once-in-a-while occasion where you choose your restaurant carefully and have a good time, then fine. If it’s a recurring event where you’ve grown bored of your usual haunts but can’t break the habit, however, it might be time to consider an alternative: take it in turn to cook for each other à la maison. Fry, bake, repeat. Hone your hosting skills. It doesn’t have to be fancy; after all, isn’t the main reason for meeting up to have a good time?
3) Use the opportunity to grow as a cook
This is kind of the follow-on to point 1: If you can’t make it at home, learn to. Even if you have your technical exceptions (sushi) and ethical/ick-factor exceptions (lobster), you can easily widen your repertoire to include a lot of dishes you might never have considered making before. If you don’t have and don’t want to buy recipe books, the (free, yay!) Internet is full of wonderful places that will guide your way. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you can use your existing knowledge and your desire for specific ingredients to invent new and tasty dishes that will blow your mind (but not a whole in your wallet). If you don’t already, you might learn to enjoy it.
But what if eating at the same old dining table (let’s not even mention TV-dinners) out of the same old boring plates just doesn’t do it for you? What if you’re still craving the experience of having some bumbling waiter mess up your order and overcharge you for your meal?
Jazz things up! One of the things I like is choosing my food from a menu. Just having a list of dishes in front of me and knowing that I must find the one that titillates my taste buds the most is a great feeling. What I hadn’t realised until now is that this is also possible in the comfort of your own home (with a few small changes). Every week (or month), make a list of all the dishes you really want to eat (and some healthy ones thrown in too, for good measure). Make your own menu. Then marvel over the fact that you don’t just have to limit yourself to one, you can have every single one of those dishes if you want to (just not all at once, please). The only thing you have to decide is which order to have them in over the following week (or month).
If your settings fall short of your dining-experience expectations, get creative! Have a candle-lit dinner, or a picnic on a rug on the floor (watch the pets, unless they’re invited… I don’t judge). Even better, go out for a real picnic somewhere nice and green. And if you still need that waiter and you ask your spouse ever so nicely, you might get lucky. Just remember to tip generously in compliments and kisses, because you still have to live with them once the meal is over.
So basically, what I hope to offer you with my Weekly Recipes are some of the successes from my home-made experiments, or simply some good recipes I’ve been making regularly for years. I will also keep you informed on the success (or failure) of this “restaurant-restricting regime”.
Please feel free to share your own recipes/experiences in the comments. There’s always a new dish out there to try (and I’ll happily do it for you)!