The Best Steakhouse Dining Experience on a Poor House Budget

About seven years ago, we lost the ability to run out and have dinner out whenever we wanted to. It began with a change in income… or a complete lack of income coming into our house. The decision to eat fancy dinners at home was solidified with the birth of our son and later our daughter.

As I became more acquainted with the kitchen though, we soon realized that dinners out just lacked that pizazz that we could easily get from home. The food was a bit better, (if the house was relatively tidy) the atmosphere was better, and we could spend a whole heck of a lot less and get a whole heck of a lot more.

It is funny, now even when we have help to watch our kids, we still gravitate towards eating at home. I remember having a gift card for a fancy restaurant in town and we ended up spending $75 on dinner. I looked across the table at my husband and he said, “It was good, but…I like your tilapia better.” Yeah, the tilapia that I buy for $4.99 a bag and prepare at home tasted better than the $25 of one fillet of tilapia plated in front of my hubby… sickening, isn’t it?

Pictured above is the dinner that my husband and I shared with no children on New Year’s Eve. For these fancy dinners at home, I break out our wedding china (of which we only own four place settings), get out the fine wedding stemware, and I splurge a little at the supermarket on ingredients I wouldn’t normally treat myself to.

As I was picking out our steaks behind the butcher counter, the lady that was weighing them for me told me that she was planning to buy a couple of them herself.

“Yes, we try to avoid dining out on NYE because the crowds are so bad, ” I shared with her as she packaged the meat.

She looked up at me smugly and said, “You know what we call going out to eat on NYE? My husband and I call it amateur night. Who would ever do that?”

We both giggled and I will now refer to NYE and Valentine’s Day dining out as that because it is so not fun to go out on those nights.

Don’t get stuck on amateur night, my friends, but do make it fun for yourself. Play with new ingredients, buy something pre-packaged that wouldn’t normally fit in your grocery budget, try a recipe that you wouldn’t normally “waste” your ingredients or time on, and throw on some good music to cook to.

Don’t make it the same old dinner that you usually do, but make it a delicious experience that you can treasure. I think having great ingredients and new recipes to indulge in makes cooking feel like fun instead of the same old dinner routine that I have to perform.

I am sharing our delicious menu that was absolute perfection for us that I hope will inspire a deliciously wonderful date night with your spouse! My husband said it was one of my finer moments in the kitchen and we still talk about how special that night was for both of us!  This dinner cost about $30 in ingredients (an entire bottle of fancy wine included), but we had enough leftover for two meals. You couldn’t get a dinner like this out for that price!

Steakhouse Steak Marinade (adapted from Recipezaar)

2 steaks (whatever is on sale and looks good)

2 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or white vinegar
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoon soy sauce
Freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together and place steaks into freezer bag with marinade overnight. This makes enough marinade for two large steaks.

Below is an approximate timetable for how long to cook your steaks for a medium steak. I opt for a little shorter cooking time and prefer my meat to be medium rare. If you are unsure, a meat thermometer is the best gauge for the perfect steak!

Grilling Steak Timetable

Filet: 13-18 minutes

Ribeye, Boneless: 6-8 minutes

Ribeye, Bone-In: 9-12 minutes

T-Bone /Porterhouse: 14-16 minutes

Top Sirloin: 13-16 minutes

Strip, Boneless: 10-12 minutes

Cooking steak, to me, is not easy. I know it is not easy to a lot of other people too because I often get asked how to cook the perfect steak. Use the above timetable for steak as a loose guideline for how long to cook it. The best gauge for cooking will always be the scientific approach… a handy meat thermometer.

(Quick temperature guidelines: Rare is 120 degrees, Medium is 125 degrees, and Medium is 130 degrees)

More important than the degrees though is letting your meat rest. Don’t cut into it to check it when you pull it out of the pan. Give it plenty of time to let everything redistribute itself and then slice into it. That is the real secret to a deliciously juicy steak.

I love steak cooked out on the grill, but refuse to venture out there in the cold. Pictured above is my favorite tool for cooking steak and I got it at Goodwill! It is a cast iron grill pan that had rusted and been poorly cared for. I loved it up and got it in much better condition, and this is my favorite tool for cooking a beautiful steak without getting cold. I found one similar to it on Amazon, should you also be in the market for staying warm, and it costs less than $20!

Bella’s Rosemary Red Potatoes (adapted from Allrecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

8 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together melted butter and oil; pour into a 9×13″ baking dish. Place the potatoes into the dish and stir until coated. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir potatoes to ensure even cooking. Yields four servings.

Pan-Fried Asparagus (adapted from Allrecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook)

1/4 cup butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 pound fresh asparagus spears, trimmed

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook garlic in butter for one minute, but do not brown. Add asparagus and cook for five to ten minutes or until crisp-tender, turning asparagus to ensure even cooking. Yields two servings.

This dinner was served with a loaf of french bread (on sale), festive bakery cupcakes (on sale), and a bottle of red wine (guess what? ON SALE!!)

Looking for more ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day on a budget? Be sure to read our article on enjoying a frugal Valentine’s Day this year!

Do you dine at home for special occasion or dine out? What recipes do you like to prepare on special occasion nights? Please share!

Published February 08, 2010 by:

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of You can read all about her here.

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