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From the food editor: Finding a balance between dining out, cooking in

Enjoy a taste of autumn with Butternut Squash Soup, which in addition to the main ingredient, butternut squash, calls for a Granny Smith apple.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Enjoy a taste of autumn with Butternut Squash Soup, which in addition to the main ingredient, butternut squash, calls for a Granny Smith apple.

The other day, a friend and I were talking about how expensive it has become to eat at restaurants, something that is increasingly difficult to avoid doing in Tampa Bay as interesting, chef-driven spots pop up. (For further proof, I point to last week's cover story on the blooming foodie scene along St. Petersburg's Central Avenue; read it at tampabay.com/food.) More and more in this area as food quality increases and sourcing ingredients locally remains popular, lunch creeps into $20 territory, and $12 cocktails can make dinners out seem downright outrageous. And this isn't just all in our heads. According to Commerce Department data, in March, sales at restaurants and bars were higher than spending at grocery stores for the first time ever.

People just aren't cooking their own meals as much, something that seems particularly prevalent in my millennial generation. But I also know 20- and 30-somethings who embrace the kitchen. After some slight griping, the conversation between my friend and I turned to how we have both saved money by clinging to the home-cooked weeknight meal. She even said she was looking forward to her grocery shopping trip that week.

Just hours after this talk, two celebrities in my social media feeds seemed to be thinking along the same lines. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame lamented the amount we spend dining out and suggested we could be doing something else with that money, primarily traveling the world. She writes on her Facebook page: "My own cunning economic calculations show that if you spend only $4 a day at Starbucks (or your local coffee-provider) on your delicious hot beverage, that adds up to $1,460 a year — and there's your international plane ticket right there."

On Instagram the same day, I stumbled on an interview from actor Bradley Cooper, who talked to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to promote his new movie Burnt. Cooper, who plays a chef in the movie, talked about coming from a family of Italian cooks. "In my family, we talked about what we were going to eat, what we just ate, and what we were putting in the freezer for tomorrow to eat," he said.

Cooper went on to say that the kitchen was the epicenter of his household growing up, which highlights what may get lost when we're constantly dining out: cooking as a stress reliever, a chance to bond with a family member, a way to gain a deeper appreciation for your food.

As someone who loves both cooking and eating at restaurants, I am always trying to find the balance between making my own food and indulging in local chefs' exciting new projects. This week's cover story is a fun look at a cooking technique perhaps more common at restaurants than in the home kitchen: browning your butter. It is a flavorful trick to try if you are craving a restaurant-quality plate — but know you should be nice to your wallet.

From the food editor: Finding a balance between dining out, cooking in 10/19/15 [Last modified: Monday, October 19, 2015 1:49pm]
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