Restaurant meals at home for less?

March 2, 2010 8:44:24 PM PST
The Harris family enjoys eating out at restaurants like Red Lobster. But dinner out for four can be expensive.

Michele Harris, of Lansdale, says it's not unusual for her family to spend $80-$90 on a dinner out.

So when I asked if any of my Facebook friends would try some money-saving restaurant copycat recipes at home, she jumped at the chance.

"Hopefully, there will be something cheaper and just as good that I can make at home," she said.

Michele used the cookbook: "America's Most Wanted Recipes." It grew out of the RecipeSecrets blog that Ron Douglas started, after his wife had a craving for KFC Original Recipe on a rainy night.

"I went online to try to find the recipe or at least get some hints towards it," Douglas explains. "And I saw that there weren't many sites out there that provided an opportunity for those types of recipes. So I said it would be a good idea to start a website about it." In all, the book has more than 200 recipes from 57 popular restaurants.

"I love the Red Lobster cheddar bay biscuits, Douglas says. "Mmy version tastes just like the original. And I also like the Olive Garden lasagna. It's one of my favorites in the book, along with Cheesecake Factory's Oreo cheesecake."

All the recipes have been taste-tested and tweaked by some of the quarter-million people who subscribe to Ron's site.

Most make about four servings for the price of one restaurant entrée. And over time, Ron says, that can mean big savings.

"Assuming the average family spends about $200 a month in eating out, you can figure that you can save $2400 to $2500 a year," Douglas says. "Compound that annually, it really adds up."

Of course, you have to take the time to shop, cook and cleanup. For our taste-test, the Harrises spent about $26 on groceries, including some tough-to-find safflower oil.

Budding chef Charlie helped Michele make Ron's recipe for Red Lobster's chicken tenders, while Katlynn whipped up some Dairy Queen Blizzards. After the frying and freezing, it was taste-test time.

The homemade chicken tenders didn't seem to have as much breading as the take-out order from Red Lobster. As for the taste, both Charlie and Katlynn said they didn't taste at all like the real-deal and both preferred the restaurant version.

The Blizzards were a much bigger hit. Charlie and Katlynn pointed out they had to wait hours for the Blizzards to freeze -- which was a lot longer than waiting in lin

e at D-Q.

Still, Michelle says she's planning to try some of the other copycat recipes from the cookbook.

"America's Most Wanted Recipes" is available at most major bookstores and from