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Feb 24, 2009 03:32 AM

Are there things you don't get at restaurants any more because you cook them better?

Over the years I've become a really great cook. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no chef and I'm no artist. But I am a great cook for certain foods. Good for others, barely adequate for still others. Still, the things I'm great at turn out really fantastic. I've run into a sort of a situation where I don't like going out to spend a lot of money on certain kinds of meals because I could do so much better on them at home, and I resent spending a chunk of money on something I know is actually pretty easy to do, only to find that the restaurant is sorta "calling it in" and it's just not worth the cost.

Steaks are something like that for me. I don't know if it's just because there are NO good steakhouses here in Central VT (well, ok, to be honest, there's nothing here I'd call a "good steakhouse". ). I just find that I like how I cook an expensive steak way better than I can ever get in a restaurant. Also, smoked ribs and brisket. I smoke my own meats and I just like mine so much better than anything I've had locally.

I still find it worth going out for foods that I wouldn't have the kill or inclination to make at home, or the economies of scale that mean I could get really fresh foods at a bargain price. Like, seafood. Seafood is something I don' t mind paying for in a restaurant if it's good and fresh. I just don't have the availability or facilities or money to invest in really good seafood for myself (my husband doesn't like seafood at all, and I don't always like cooking two meals). So that's something I'll get when I'm out.

Are there foods that you just won't order when you're out because you know it's just going to tick you off how much you're spending on it and it won't be anywhere near as good as you can make at home?

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  1. Yeah, I get what you're saying. It's a double edged sword, if there's something I can make, I'm either pissed off because I could have done it better, or jealous that I couldn't.

    1. Steaks for me, too. I've got it down to an art - husband won't eat any other. And fresh lobster - why pay 40plus dollars when I can get it for a fraction of that and steam it perfectly myself?!

      4 Replies
      1. re: bayoucook

        Lobster is my first answer, too. There's nothing better than having it whole, out of the pot and onto the plate, so why pay restaurant prices when I can often get them live in the local market for $5.99/pound.

        1. re: CindyJ

          That is true, not 5.99, FL but I have lobster tails and yes, I cook them steamed and then on the grill for just a minute with some great butter, lemon and garlic, perfection. I hate paying the price getting it out. There is a restaurant down here that makes great lobster and for locals they offer a special 9.99 which includes, great hashbrowns (the good kind), a unbelievable slaw, great fresh bread from a local baker, and a cold beer. Just a local hole in the wall, but what a bargain! It is just a local thing but it's pretty fun. The only place I get lobster out.

          1. re: kchurchill5

            KChurchill, I live in SW FL. Where is this lobster place? I want to go.

        2. re: bayoucook

          Definitely steaks for me, too. I did, however, order one at a Santa Fe chain when dining out with friends we were travelling with (I am not a fan of chain restaurants....sorry I digress....), anyway, the steak was perfectly cooked (a true rare steak!!) and seasoned....and the broccoli side was quite good as well! But normally, I would not order a steak at a restaurant.

          1. re: grampart

            95% of the time I make my own pizza, and love it more than buying it. Blue cheese, carmelized onions, and walnuts... or potato bacon. Some days, however, I want your classic red sauce plain pizza from the local place, and I just can't make it like the pizza joint does.

            My problem is that I avoid ordering a simple dish as part of a meal since I can make it at home, but it would be a healthier and better balance to the meal. An example would be the sliced heirloom tomatoes to go with an entree. Instead I opt for the heftier creamed spinach.

          2. I rarely eat out when I'm at home or when I have access to a kitchen when I travel. I work in DC quite a bit and try to stay in a particular great suite hotel. Last time I went out to eat once in 10 days, and then just to try the restaurant (and support the local economy). I've stayed in a B&B in a suite with kitchen in Waterbury, Vermont, while working with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. There I went out once to Hen of the Wood (I think) for the great food, wines, and service. When I'm out in the field I have to eat out - and there look for street and market foods. In stop-overs in the US, I'd rather eat gas station corn dogs than hotel restaurant food. Overall, I really try to avoid thinking either, "I could have made that way better for way less" or "Gee, that sucks. What's in it, some kind of mud?"

            7 Replies
            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Steak.. not that steakhouses don't do a good job, but I consider them massively overpriced these days - maybe too trendy, trying to be too high end, and the al a carte just adds to the agony. And buying a nice piece of meat and cooking it up at home is quite satisfactory..

              1. re: grant.cook

                You know, I've always thought the same thing. I find ribeye is done better in restaurants, but cooking a steak is not hard, you can do it to your exact liking, and you save 66-75% of the price!

                1. re: Soop

                  I don't know about you but I can not source a dry aged steak similar to those found at the the top steak houses in my area.

                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    If your area is NYC then check out Lobels.

                    1. re: phantomdoc

                      Lobel's is excellent but at the price you pay per pound there you may as well head over to Luger.

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        How about Fairway?

                        The one in Plainview Long Island has a large selection of dry aged prime.

              2. the first thing that came to mind was pasta!

                24 Replies
                1. re: alkapal

                  I agree with you. Why pay $16 for a plate of pasta when it's probably going to be too salty, too bland, too mushy, or just blah. I can do it better at home, for much cheaper and without all the added grease.

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    also, at home, I can control the amount of sauce, rather than receive a plate of pasta drowning in sauce. I'm almost to the point where I'm ready to order pasta and sauce separately in restaurants, which then seems like it's defeating the point of getting it at all.

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      Pasta was the first thing I thought of too! I almost never order it out anymore. Same goes for stuff like eggplant parmigian, etc. I hate paying so much for something I can easily make at home and make it great.

                      1. re: flourgirl

                        I will stoop to frozen eggplant parm made by celentano, every once in a while.

                    2. re: alkapal

                      Hey, ap, get thee over to my thread on Pillsbury crust :)

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Amen! Pasta for sure, I simply cannot stand overocooked pasta (which is what you get most of the time). It has to be a pretty special plate of pasta for me to want to order it out.

                        On the other hand, I rarely cook red meat at home because I am not good at it, so when I go out I am more likely to get a steak or burger or something like that. Buying an expensive cut of mean intimidates me, I am afraid I will ruin it because of my inexperience cooking good meat!

                        1. re: poptart

                          Exactly how I feel. I don't want my pasta overcooked and mushy drowning in sauce!

                          poptart- definitely cook some red meat! I have a great butcher who gives me advice on how to cook each item. If you can get to a full service butcher (as opposed to a supermarket where it's prepacked) definitely take advantage and ask questions. It's truly not as hard as it seems- last night I cooked a roast!

                          1. re: cheesecake17

                            Thanks for the encouragement. Maybe I will get brave this weekend and try cooking steak. I actually do cook red meat, only it's the slow-cooked stuff I feel confident with (meatballs, beef stew, curries, etc). I get nervous when there's a beautiful steak in front of me and I am afraid of not doing it justice !

                            1. re: poptart

                              If you like your meat rare, we do an almost arbitrary 4 minutes a side. You can push that out for doner.

                              1. re: poptart

                                Defintiely try it. The worst you can do is overcook it a bit, but count it as a learning experience. It may help to get a meat thermometer.

                              2. re: cheesecake17

                                My supermarket butcher is a goldmine of info. He also special orders me the most lovely things and makes suggestions on what to order (like stuff I did not know I could get). He also turned me on to a man that sells sides of his own beef and to another who was getting ready to slaughter some lambs.

                                For poptart - get a really good grill and start with steaks. You could get "choice" quality steaks - v "select" and they can be grilled to the same standards as eating out (or better). Also, meat does not have to be expensive to be good. chuck roasts, shanks... totally cheap and cooked slow - holy heaven.

                                1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                  Did you guys see the article in the Times today about butchers and new, inexpensive cuts of meat that are appearing in supermarkets? Lots of interesting info.

                              3. re: poptart

                                thanks, will try..I do have a meat thermometer (used on Thanksgiving primarily! :-))

                              4. re: alkapal

                                Absolutely! These days I'm always disappointed by restaurant pasta, unless it's gnocchi (a good gnocchi). Store bought gnocchi doesn't measure up, and I don't have the time to make them from scratch...

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Ditto on pasta, unless it is a 4 or 5 star restaurant that pasta is a sig dish. I went to one in Kohler WI, Very classic Italian cooking. There were 12 of us and we all got something different and shared a few bites. I got the pasta and it was mouth watering.

                                  But agreed normally I would not order pasta.

                                  Also, I tend to order what the restaurant is known for or a sig dish. I don't go to a seafood restaurant and order steak or vice versa.

                                  But I don't like to eat out that much anyways.

                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                    If they named the restaurant after a dish, I always order it. I have yet to be disappointed.

                                    1. re: mordacity

                                      Sig dish is my first pick agreed! A restaurant in GA, St Louis Fish Shack, St. Louis Fish is well worth the 18.99. :)

                                    2. re: kchurchill5

                                      No problem with pasta itself, but I never get red sauce or any traditional meat like meatballs, sausage or braciole. Then again I don't go to "neighborhood" Italian places, only upscale ones with the exotic dishes, because when I have a craving for home style I go into the kitchen and cook up a pot myself. Correction: I do go to neighborhood places, but just for pizza. I've made it myself, but the pizzerias around here have me beat on that one.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        Ditto, most of the places I go are some, hidden away places and their sauce is amazing. Only great unique places. If I am paying to eat out I want something unqiue.

                                    3. re: alkapal

                                      a bowl of macaroni I can boil up at home is just not worth the $$. Unless I'm really craving it & then I can't be bothered doing the cooking. I'll pay.

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        I feel the same way! Especially seafood pasta and pasta with meatballs. I have no reason to order those items when I am out, becuase I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can make most pasta dishes as good or better than a restaurant. I am not a chef, but I do believe that when you have good ingredients and good intuition about food and its properties, you can make magic in a home kitchen. I have a wonderful recipe for alfredo and when I add my seafood of choice along with some fresh from the oven bread!!! Woowee! Its so excellent. And my meatballs are really good, no need to waste my dinner choice on something I can whip up quickly.

                                        1. re: cookieluvntasha

                                          Hmmm, interesting - I always feel as though meatballs take forever. Well, I'm pretty inefficient in the kitchen, so maybe they just take a long time for ME. But I still prefer them at home. :-)

                                          1. re: Mawrter

                                            Excuse me, the cooking process does take a little time, especially the sauce, but the prep time is pretty quick if you are efficient. The only way to be efficient in the kitchen is to constantly be thinking ahead and preparing for the next step in what your cooking. This way there is limited mistakes. I think they reason I learned efficiency because I had to cook for a family of 7 before I left home ( I am the oldest of five children) and got married.

                                          2. re: cookieluvntasha

                                            << I am not a chef, but I do believe that when you have good ingredients and good intuition about food and its properties, you can make magic in a home kitchen.>>

                                            Yesssssssss, nicely stated! :)

                                            <<And my meatballs are really good, no need to waste my dinner choice on something I can whip up quickly.>>

                                            I'll second that sentiment, too.