Eating out is expensive, especially if you're still paying down the December credit card balance.
There's nothing that can replace the luxurious feeling of people serving you food and doing the dishes, but it's not hard to replicate your favourite restaurant's specials in your own kitchen, usually at a fraction of the price.
Today I've picked two recipes that make me feel like I'm pampering myself without the steep price tag.
Gingered pork pot stickers
Chinese buffets are an opportunity to try lots of different dishes, usually at a fairly reasonable price, but I always overeat and regret it later. I do, however, cross my fingers that they have those little dumplings - pot stickers or steamed style - because if they do, I walk right by the egg rolls.
Pot stickers are not that hard to prepare at home, and they aren't expensive. You can make your own dumpling dough, but I find store-bought wonton wrappers to work fine. They are generally cut into squares, so I trim away the corners. This recipe makes plenty for 6 as a main course with steamed rice, and you might even have leftovers.
1 lb. lean ground pork
2 eggs, lightly beaten (divided)
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. minced or grated fresh gingerroot
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
36 store-bought wonton wrappers work fine
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine or white wine vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 green onions, finely chopped
Combine pork, about half the beaten eggs, cornstarch, onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and black pepper. Place a rounded teaspoonful of the filling on each wrapper and brush the edges with a little of the remaining beaten egg. Fold each in half and pinch closed tightly, trying to eliminate any trapped air inside. For an authentic look, pleat the wrapper by making small accordion folds at the seam - pretty, but it won't make them taste better.
You can do the whole lot at once if you have a large enough frying pan, but cook only what will fit comfortably in a single layer. If you cook them in batches, divide the oil and chicken broth or add more as needed.
Push down on them gently to make flat bottoms and get maximum browning. Fry until golden brown on the bottoms, then add chicken broth; cover and steam 5 minutes. Whisk together the dip ingredients and serve on the side with the hot dumplings.
Cinnamon apple crème caramel
When I go to a family or fancy restaurant, I can't pass up crème brulee or crème caramel on the menu. Yes, they've been done to death, but I'm a sucker for baked custard. This version is elegant enough to follow your best dinner party fare, but it's not difficult to make and is perfect for a Sunday night stay-at-home supper.
Recipes that use only the yolks or whites of eggs can be annoying, I know, but make macaroons or have an egg white omelet the morning after, because the ultra-silky texture of the custard is worth it. Add to that the satisfaction of mastering how to make caramel at home and this is a winning recipe.
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 large crisp tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. water
6 egg yolks
1/4 cups each firmly packed brown and granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups coffee cream
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle all over apple slices. Fry in butter until tender and golden - don't let them break down to apple sauce. Set aside to cool. For the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Three seconds makes the difference between caramel and burnt sugar, so have 8 custard cups or a 9-inch cake pan standing by. Stir mixture gently.
As the water boils away the sugar may form hard lumps but then it will melt. Don't turn your back now.
As soon as the mixture is golden, pour into custard cups and set aside to cool. It will harden into rock candy. Layer the apples on top of the caramel.
For the custard, whisk together egg yolks, eggs, brown sugar, white sugar and vanilla. Heat milk and cream together in a microwave or in a small pot until nearly boiling. Slowly pour the hot milk and cream into egg mixture, whisking vigorously all the time. Strain through a fine sieve - you'll know why when you see those little strands of egg white left behind - onto the apple slices.
Place custard cups in a large roaster and pour boiling water halfway up the sides. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until the custard is set - a tester in the middle will come out clean but it should still jiggle. Add about 10 minutes if using a cake pan.
Cool, then refrigerate at for a couple of hours. Run a knife around the edges and turn out onto serving plates.
The custard will stay firm but the caramel will form a beautiful golden pool of delicious bittersweet liquid.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.