Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eat Well, Eat Cheap

As foodies, we at Cookology believe in always eating well. We're constantly trying out new and exotic recipes, devising unique, gourmet menus or splurging on a meal at one of DC's top rated eateries.
However, the last few months we've noticed we've been dining out less and eating in more. The economic slump has left little to spend on lavish restaurant meals or even elaborate dinners at home. In fact, a recent CNN survey showed that going out to eat would be the first non-necessity Americans would give up when their discretionary income runs dry.
So what is a foodie to do? First, rest assured that it IS possible to eat deliciously (and even decadently) on a budget. A recession doesn't have to mean fast food or boring dinners. Quite the contrary. When we're forced to give up the convenience of eating out and relying on our old stand-by recipes, truly great culinary creations can result. As Dana Corwin, Editor in Chief of Food & Wine magazine notes, "For 2009, one trend stands out above the rest: the desire to cook at home, preparing either inspired, affordable recipes for entertaining or dishes that can transport us to another country or state of mind."
So go ahead and get inspired! We've packed our April and May schedules with classes that will teach you how to eat well and eat cheap, with new recipes to try out at home and ideas for entertaining on a budget. With the tips and tricks you'll learn in our classes you'll create meals so delicious you might never go back to your old stand-bys again!

Here are a few ideas to get your culinary creative juices flowing:

Our Chef Ian Douglass recommends utilizing in season ingredients, where you'll find the best deals. Shopping local farmers markets ensures you'll get fresh ingredients at a great cost (and help put money back into your community, too). Don't know where one is located near you? Check out this Washington Post Listing.

Douglass recommends hitting up your local Sam's or CostCo to stock up on rice, pasta, potatoes, eggs and anything else you cook with frequently (bought in bulk to save cash). With those ingredients in your pantry you'll always be able to whip up a tasty but inexpensive meal. "Peasant" dishes like ratatouille, fritatas and Asian noodle dishes are your best friend--delicious AND cheap.

Everything tastes better with bacon. The same goes for top quality butters and olive oils. Simply finishing a dish with a small amount of lavish extras like imported extra virgin olive oil or premium parmiggiano reggiano can take a meal from ordinary to outstanding (one of our new classes, check it out!).

We've all said it. "There's nothing to eat!" "We don't have ANY food in the house!" Behold: your pantry. Chances are you have at least a few ingredients in there that you can turn into a fantastic meal (see: can of black beans that has beeen sitting on the shelf for months). What may seem like a boring batch of random ingredients can be turned into something spectacular with just a few fresh touches and little imagination.

Delicious cuts of meats on sale? Buy a bunch and freeze them. Use frozen vegetables with other fresh ingredients to keep costs down (there's hardly anything cheaper than fresh pasta). Save that leftover ground beef from your tacos and make a casserole tomorrow night or a spicy, delicious chili next week. Even some produce can be frozen and reused. Once you get over your fear of the freezer you'll make the dollars you spend at the grocery store go a long way on your stove instead of down the garbage chute.

We all know there are some times you're craving a little excitement and want a night out on the town to enjoy a good meal. There are ways to save on eating out as well.

Restauranteur and Top Chef Judge Tom Colicchio
suggests splitting entrees or asking for half portions. Many restaurants are happy to oblige.

Some restaurants in DC and VA allow you to BYOB, and merely charge a corking fee (you can buy the same bottles of wine they'll serve in the restaurant at places like Trader Joe's and CostCo for a fraction of the price).

Be sure to scour the internet and local papers and mags for specials (the Washingtonian has an annual Cheap Eats issue with great finds). With overall volume down, many restaurants offer food specials for happy hour (like dollar sushi or free bar bites) or lunch deals where you can get the same dinner entree for a portion of the dinner price.

Can't get enough of the pizzas at American Flatbread? Love the perfectly crisp calamari at Clyde's? How about the decadent pasta at Tuscarora Mill? Chances are you can learn to make similar versions at home with just a little practice. It'll not only save you money by buying your own ingredients, you'll also save on alcohol, tip and trip expense. We can teach you a few of your favorites in our Restaurant Favorites and Magazine Inspired Dishes classes.

You can try out the casual outposts run by some of the chefs of DC's more expensive restuarants (like Michel Richard's Central or Robert Wiedmaier's Brasserie Beck) to get a taste of the luxury without the hefty bill. Can't make it all the way to DC? Try our Date Nights! You'll learn to create a decadent three course meal for only $40--including wine, no tipping - what a deal!

Have your own tips for eating well on a budget? Share them in the comments!

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