Making Restaurant Style Meals at Home

I am old enough to remember when going to a restaurant was an event. Babies and toddlers were never taken out to eat unless you were traveling and there was no other option (in other words, all the peanut butter sandwiches Mom made were already gone!). Children of all ages were threatened to keep their elbows off the table, their feet under their seats and to be quiet. And taking leftovers home was seen as slightly embarrassing. Boy, how times have changed!  Today it seems as if running out for a bite to eat is the norm, and cooking at home is the event.  While there will always be a place for an exquisite restaurant meal, most of the stuff we purchase on an everyday basis is low quality, unhealthy, budget-busting food. We can do better. Some easy ways to make your own high quality, less expensive restaurant favorites are:

  • Experiment with spices. Try expanding beyond salt and pepper. Spanish paprika adds a wonderful smoky flavor to homemade burgers, lemon-pepper perks up roasted potato wedges and a dash of cayenne adds zing to just about any dish.
  • Use more herbs. We seem to find one or two herbs that we like and just use them over and over. Break out of that rut and try something other than parsley! Dill gives a flavor boost to salad dressings and marinades, marjoram adds a depth of flavor to any tomato based sauce like pizza or pasta sauce or tomato soup. Chervil turns everyday scrambled eggs into a gourmet dish.
  • Be creative with topping and condiments. Purchase a spicy or flavored mustard instead of the same old yellow stuff. Combine mustard and mayonnaise for a flavorful sandwich spread. Add pineapple or avocados or salsa or corn relish to a burger or grilled chicken sandwich.
  • Use a little butter. Most restaurants don’t use butter or olive oil as they are expensive ingredients. But a little of either goes a long way and adds tons of flavor. Saute vegetables in olive oil and add a teaspoon of real butter just as they are ready to be served. You get all the rich buttery flavor and a healthier product than the salt and margarine laden veggies at a restaurant.
  • Choose full flavored cheeses like Asiago, Feta, or Gorganzola instead of American cheese or an everyday Cheddar. Again, although these cheeses are expensive you use much less, making them a real bargain.
  • Serve the meal in a different style. Add cheese and chopped chives to scrambled eggs and serve on toasted English muffins topped with salsa for a quick weeknight dinner.  Or make a quick chicken salad with chopped leftover chicken mixed with your favorite honey-mustard salad dressing and stuff it in a pita or frankfurter roll.
  • Be creative. When you think about it, isn’t that what an everyday restaurant does differently? The food is seldom as good as what you can make at home, and is usually full of salt and fat because it’s cheaper to prepare that way. But items are served in a creative manner or with a slightly different flavor than usual which enhances our dining pleasure. Follow the above tips and you will be cooking better than restaurant quality meals quickly and inexpensively. Here are a couple of simple recipes to get you started.  They are from our cookbook, I Want My Dinner Now! – Simple Meals for Busy Cooks.

Everyday Burgers (4 servings)

1 lb lean ground beef

2/3 cup bread crumbs or oatmeal

1 egg

2 tsp instant minced onion

2 Tbsp prepared mustard

Mix all ingredients together. Shape into 4 burgers, no thicker than 3/4 inch. Cook outside on the grill, or inside using an electric grill for 10-20 minutes or until the juices run clear. Serve topped with something creative like Swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms.

Warm Nicoise Salad – serves 4

2 cups small red potatoes

2 cups fresh or frozen green beans

8 cups chopped Romaine lettuce

2 medium tomatoes

1/2 cup black olives

1 small red onion

1 – 6 0z can water packed tuna, drained

1/2 cup Italian salad dressing

Cut potatoes into quarters and boil 10-12 minutes or until tender, adding green beans to the boiling water during the final 4-5 minutes. Cut the tomatoes into wedges, slice olives and red onion and layer then over the lettuce in a large bowl. Drain the potatoes and beans. Toss with half of the salad dressing. Place on the lettuce mixture. Break the tuna into pieces and add to the salad. Drizzle with remaining dressing. Serve immediately.

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About the Author

Renee Pottle, an author and heart-healthy educator, loves to explore and write about the Mediterranean Diet. She blogs at and

Comments (1)

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  1. paul jaramad says:

    This is a awesome write-up, im happy I came across this. Ill be back again later on to check out other posts that you have on your blog.

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