We eat out for convenience, the experience, and to eat great tasting food. With COVID-19 rearing its ugly head, it may be awhile before we get our traditional restaurant experience. That shouldn’t stop you from being creative in the kitchen! I’ve recreated some classic favorites for you to make at home, along with tips and tricks to create a positive dining experience. Eating out at home is cheaper, healthier, and often times more memorable!
Each themed night will require a few special ingredients, so be sure to check the special grocery list I’ve included when doing your weekly shopping.
1. Bar Food
- Jalapeno poppers
- Baked Nachos
2. Wine Night
- Cheese Board
- Easy apps to pair with wine
- Pasta Carbonara
- Simple Salad w/ homemade vinaigrette
4. Surf N Turf
- Steak & Shrimp
- Grilled Corn
1. Bar Food
Grilling the wings instead of deep frying saves a ton of calories and mess! While the nachos and poppers may still pack some delicious calories in, using the best quality ingredients and portion control is your advantage for cooking at home! Use the best quality ingredients you feel comfortable buying at the store (quality cheese vs. pasteurized American or nacho cheese sauce for example).
For the poppers:
- 8-10 large jalapenos
- 1 brick Cream cheese
- 3 eggs, beaten with 1 T. water
- 1 ½ cups Dried Bread crumbs, OR 1 cup flour seasoned with salt/pepper for dredging
- ½ cup olive or vegetable oil
- For the wings:
- Party wings (flats and drumsticks, skin on)
- Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
- 2 T. – ¼ cup butter
- 1 large bottle of Franks Hot sauce
For the nachos:
- 1 bag of Tortilla chips
- 2 cups Shredded cheese
- ½ Onion, diced
- 1 cup Salsa
Optional additional toppings: olives, sour cream, avocado, black beans, sliced jalapeno
Serving suggestions: Ranch, carrot and celery slices, additional salsa and/or hot sauce.
The first step in getting this meal to the table quickly and efficiently is to prepare the wings. Preheat your oven to 375, or smoker/grill if you have one (preferred method) Arrange you wings on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a sauce pan or large microwavable bowl. Combine with 1-2 cups Franks Hot Sauce. Tip: If you like your wings spicy, use less butter and more hot sauce. If you prefer mild, use more butter and less hot sauce. Regardless of your ratios, I promise you can’t mess them up! Brush the seasoned wings with the sauce. Whatever you have leftover can be used to baste the wings at the 10 minute mark. If grilling or smoking, baste when you turn them once, about 10-15 minutes in. Baste once more once finished grilling or baking. Can serve with additional Franks sauce (do not use the sauce you basted the wings in, its likely touched raw chicken!)
While the wings are grilling, prepare the nachos. Layer a sheet of tortilla chips on a baking sheet. Top with cheese and onions. If you’re serving a bigger group, add another layer of chips and cheese. Bake at 375* until cheese is melted. Top with salsa, and any additional toppings. Serve with more salsa if desired. Once you throw the nachos into the oven, check the wings!
While nachos are baking, and wings are grilling, fry up the poppers! Heat a deep frying pan filled with olive or vegetable oil. There should be no “dry” spots, so be liberal with the oil! Set the heat to medium high. Cut each pepper in half. Remove seeds. Use a knife to fill each half with a heaping tablespoon of cream cheese. Dip into egg/water mixture and roll in bread crumbs or seasoned flour. Place in oil. Fry until golden brown, turning once. I use tongs to careful turn the poppers so the filling stays in! When cooked, transfer to a plate with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Serve nachos on baking sheet you cooked them on OR transfer to a fun platter, drizzled with your choice of yummy toppings. Serve poppers on a plate with ranch to dip in if desired. Arrange wings on a platter with bonus sauce, sliced carrot and/or celery sticks, and ranch, if desired! Serve outdoors on the patio with appetizer plates or enjoy as a buffet while enjoy a sports game, re run, or movie!
2. Wine Night
A romantic meal on the patio is minutes away! . Get creative! Try different cheeses, wines, crackers, meats, and fruits each time you make this! Enjoy your favorite wine house playlist to complete the ambiance
- 1 lb brick white cheese (I prefer Gouda or Havarti)
- 1lb brick yellow cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar)
- 1 large cluster of grapes (you won’t need an entire pound)
- 2 red apples (I like jazz, pink lady, Honeycrisp, and/or fuji)
- 1 lb assorted antipasto (salami, prosciutto, etc.)
- 1 jar olives (can be stuffed, as fancy /non fancy as you prefer)
- 1 package crackers (can be gluten free if desired, just be sure to choose something sturdy!)
To prepare: Slice cheeses into several small slices. Rinse grapes. Core and slice apples thinly. Drain olives. Arrange cheese, fruit, olives, and antipasto meat on a large wooden cutting board. Place crackers in a decorative dish next to board. Serve with your favorite red or white wine and small appetizer plates. For a decorative touch, you may consider leaving part of the brick of cheese unsliced and placing on board with a cheese knife.
Other wine-friendly appetizers:
Slice 20 Medjool dates in half, removing pit. Fill with room temperature goat cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and a dash of paprika. Drizzle with honey.
Easy Skillet Quesadilla:
Heat a skillet on medium heat. Place one large flour tortilla (burrito sized) directly into pan. Sprinkle ½ cup shredded cheese on half of the tortilla. Add chopped cooked chicken, salsa, chopped peppers/onions if desired, or just keep cheese only! Fold the unfilled half of tortilla over filling and gently turn, cooking another minute or two. Both sides should be golden brown.
Serve with salsa.
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries:
Melt a 4 oz bar of Bakers Semi Sweet or Dark Chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, stirring every 30-60 seconds until smooth. Rinse strawberries and pat dry, leaving stems on. Dip the small end in the melted chocolate and place on wax paper. Chill for at 10-20 minutes before plating on a decorative dish and serving with your favorite red wine!
3. Gourmet Italian
Delicious, decadent, and simple!
- 2 cups spinach, stems removed
- 2 cups arugula
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 T. balsamic vinegar, or balsamic vinegar reduction (my preference)
- ½ cup olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
Place spinach and arugula in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, balsamic, olive oil and salt and pepper together (start with 1 tsp of each if you’re unsure.) Taste after whisking and add more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil depending on your preference. Drizzle slowly over greens (you may have leftover dressing). Toss to coat, serve with pasta.
- 1 lb package pasta
- 8 slices bacon, cut in half
- 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (+ ¼ for topping, if desired)
- 3 eggs+1 egg yolk , whisked lightly
Directions: Start by cooking bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Place on paper towels to drain. Cook garlic on medium heat in bacon fat until fragrant and light brown. Remove from heat and pour garlic and pan drippings into a medium sized bowl.
Next, cook pasta (ideally thin spaghetti, but I’ve used all types of noodles) in a large pot of water. Add a dash of salt. Shoot for al dente texture. Reserve 1 cup of the water when draining pasta. Place pasta in a large bowl.
Add cheese and whisked eggs to garlic. Temper the mixture with ½ cup of pasta water. Add to cooked pasta and toss to coat. Crumble bacon and add to mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Add more of the reserved pasta water if needed to thin the mixture. Top with additional shredded parmesan cheese if desired. Serve immediately with Simple Salad and wine!
4. Surf N Turf with Corn on the Barbie
Who says you can’t have a beach style theme on your back patio? This simple meal comes together quickly, and will be FAR cheaper at home than if you were to order out! Just be sure to get the corn, steak and shrimp when you hit the grocery store, as those are less frequently bought items. Enjoy out on the patio with a beer, glass of wine, or summer cocktail (find cocktail ideas on my website in Becca’s Kitchen tab)
- 2 cups cooked quinoa, pasta, or rice (you can use leftovers or start by preparing as your first step)
- 2 steaks
- 2 T. olive oil
- McCormick’s Steak seasoning
- 1 lb frozen shrimp, thawed
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 T. garlic salt
- 2-4 tsp. pepper
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 ears corn
- 1 stick of butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat grill or smoker to 400.*Place steaks on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and season both sides of steak with McCormick’s as heavily or lightly as desired. Place on grill, along with corn, in husk. Flip steaks and corn after 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté shrimp in a large pan with oil on medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Stir frequently to cook evenly. Once shrimp is no longer pink, remove from heat and pour the lemon juice over shrimp. Steak and corn should just be getting done!
Check steak with a sharp knife to check done-ness. Remove corn from husks.
If using leftover rice, quinoa, or pasta, place 1 cup on a plate and reheat, or if prepared first it should be cool. Place 1 cup on each plate. Soften butter in an appropriate microwave safe serving container and heat for :15-:20 seconds. Plate steak, shrimp and corn over rice. Serve with softened butter, salt and pepper.
I hope these options will help enhance your dining-at-home experience! Cheers!