Here's how to have a blowout meal without blowing your budget.
By Lynn Andriani
1. The Smart Way to Splurge on Beef
We've always appreciated the advice that you'll get better accommodations if you stay in a basic room at a top hotel, versus the best room at a so-so hotel. So it is with steak: As Mark Schatzker, author of Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef, explains, if you buy beef from a good specialty source (i.e., one who can answer questions about where the meat comes from and how to cook it), "cheap" cuts can be quite delicious, even if the price is slightly more than the supermarket version of the same (or even more expensive -- like the tenderloin) cut.
Flank steak, aka London Broil, has long been the budget-minded meat-eater's choice (it costs between $6 and $9 a pound), because it's easy to cook and tastes juicy and flavorful. Once you've purchased your meat (figure 12 ounces per person), pan-fry it over very high heat, so the outside is seared before the inside (which is thin) overcooks. Pull it off the stove when it's medium rare (usually 4 to 6 minutes per side), let rest for 10 minutes and slice thinly against the grain.
Average cost to feed 4 people: $19
2. Crisp Potatoes Without The Mess of Frying -- Or Any Extra Equipment
This easy -- and economical -- potato dish is as tasty as a pile of french fries but doesn't require a vat of bubbling oil or a pricey french-fry cutter. You place a big, heavy cast-iron skillet (empty) in a 350-degree oven until it's so hot that when you drop quartered, skin-on red potatoes in, along with a touch of oil, they sizzle and brown on contact. After another 45 minutes in the heat, they're crunchy on the outside and soft inside.
Average cost to feed 4 people: $3.60
Get the recipe: Cast Iron-Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Onion Recipe
3. The Classic (And Affordable) Steakhouse Salad
You could round out this splurge of a meal with a salad of beefsteak tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, but you'll spend much less money if you instead opt for the traditional hunk of crisp iceberg lettuce dressed in sharp, garlicky blue-cheese dressing (which is easier to prepare, too). Cut a small head of the lettuce into four wedges and spoon about 2 tablespoons of dressing on top for an unbeatable mix of cool and creamy.
Average cost to feed 4 people: $3.70