5 Favorite Take-Out Foods and How to Make Them Yourself

Sometimes I get cravings for certain types of ethnic cuisines and I just can’t think of anything else. Literally. My friends have often worried about my sanity when I get these kinds of cravings. Can you identify with me here?

Luckily, I’ve found a way to save some money when the urge to get take-out overwhelms me. Instead of racking up a ridiculous take-out bill every time I get a “gotta-have-it” craving for some kind of ethnic food, I now have several recipes at the ready just in case I need to combat my crazy cravings. Below I’m going to share with you some recipes that I’ve “cooked-up” and some other cheap and easy recipes from around the web. Please share any recipe ideas for your favorite cuisines in the comments section!

Disclaimer: I am not a chef. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I really do love to cook and experiment in the kitchen!

Chinese Food

My Recipe: Sweet and Sour Chicken

This was my go-to meal in college when the craving for Chinese food came creeping up on me. I’ve perfected the recipe over time and still enjoy cooking my version of sweet and sour chicken at least twice a month. It really couldn’t be easier to make!

Here’s what you need:

  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts (1 per person you want to serve)
  • 1 can of pineapples
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Soy sauce
  • Bottled sweet and sour sauce (I use World Harbors sweet and sour sauce, but if you want to make your own, try this recipe if you’d like to make it from scratch!
  • White or brown rice (optional)

Here’s what you do:

  1. First, cut up your chicken into bite-sized pieces. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together flour, salt and pepper. Toss chicken in flour mixture.
  2. When you’re ready to cook, heat up a bit of oil in a large skillet (medium-high heat). Add in the chicken and cook about 5 minutes (until outside starts to turn golden brown).
  3. Toss garlic, onion, peppers and pineapple chunks into the skillet with the chicken. Saute together for another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Add in the sweet and sour sauce. Also, sprinkle a bit of soy sauce in to taste.
  5. Cook until chicken is cooked through, then pour skillet contents over rice if desired. You could also sprinkle scallions over the dish if you want to get fancy.

Here are some other easy recipes if you’ve got a hankering for a Chinese feast:

  • Sesame Chicken Edamame Bowl: sesame chicken is one of those popular Chinese restaurant staple dishes that usually elicits dangerous cravings. This recipe keeps preparation time to minimum by utilizing frozen stir-fry mixed vegetables and frozen shelled edamame. Serve over rice or udon noodles.
  • Shrimp Fried Rice: this favorite can easily be cooked in one nonstick skillet. Customize the dish to your tastes. You can easily substitute chicken for shrimp or just omit the shrimp altogether if it doesn’t fit in your budget.
  • Beef and Broccoli: instead of ordering this dish, cook it at home and have it ready in half the time it would take for your local take-out place to deliver it.
  • Five-Spice Turkey and Lettuce Wraps: confession. I worked at PF Chang’s for 3 years. And from personal experience, I know that chicken lettuce wraps are one of the most frequently ordered dishes at Chang’s locations (and most likely other Chinese food restaurants). However, it doesn’t take a master chef to make these. They are pretty straight forward. Try this Eating Well recipe for the turkey variation of lettuce wraps.


My Recipe: Balsamic (Chicken) Pasta

This recipe was inspired by a meal I ate at a restaurant a few years ago. I thought, “I can totally recreate this.” And I was right -which is bound to happen occasionally!

You can make this recipe with or without chicken. If you make it with chicken, I recommend grilling boneless, skinless chicken strips and adding them on top of the pasta separately. You can actually grill the chicken strips, use a George Forman (like I do occasionally) or pan-sear them if you want to eliminate grilling altogether.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 box of pasta (any kind, but I like rotini for this recipe)
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 an onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella and parmesan are my favorites to use in this recipe)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil
  • Splash of white wine (optional)

Here’s what to do:

  1. Cook pasta thoroughly according to instructions on the box.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, diced your onion, mince your garlic and chop your tomatoes. These can all be mixed together.
  3. When pasta has a couple of minutes left to cook, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-low heat. Toss in garlic, tomatoes and onions and cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. When pasta is done, drain and add to large skillet. Toss with veggies.
  5. Pour in a bit of balsamic vinegar and a bit of white wine if desired. Toss well, then transfer to plates.
  6. Top each individual plate with cheese, another drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a bit of fresh basil (and chicken if you’ve prepared separately). Enjoy your (mostly) healthy balsamic pasta!

Some other ideas from around the web:

  • Make Your Own Dough: all you really need to make your own dough (enough for one large pizza pie) is 2/3 cup warm water, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp active dry yeast and 2 cups of bread flour. Then, you can customize your pizza however you’d like.
  • Make Your Own Frozen Pizza: if you have the time to prepare, perhaps on a weekend, make some frozen pizzas to have on-hand for quick and easy preparation when the pizza cravings hit.
  • Variations on Homemade Pizza: you don’t need to make homemade dough or even buy store bought to have a great pizza pie for dinner. Try some of these cool variations on pizza that include baked potatoes, pasta and tortillas.
  • Fettuccini Alfredo: so this is not the healthiest recipe in the world, but sometimes we just have to have some cheesy noodles. Try this recipe when you need some cheese. I’ve tried it several times and it’s a piece of cake to make.
  • Classic Minestrone Soup: this Italian favorite is easy to cook up as a side to your dinner or as your entire meal.

Japanese – Sushi

Another disclaimer: I have never made my own sushi. I intend to do so at some point, but my kitchen adventures have not taken me to the land of raw food yet. Because of this, the advice in this section will strictly be from other sources.

That having been said, I love sushi. It really is my only downfall when it comes to takeout cravings. I can always justify picking up sushi because I don’t yet have the materials (or the courage) to make it in my own home.

To start making sushi in your home, you’ll need some basic equipment that you may not yet own. However, a one-time investment in some of this stuff will help you save big bucks when you just have to have sushi. You most likely already own some of the basic ingredients needed, like a sharp knife, a cutting board and a rice cooker. The more obscure equipment shouldn’t cost you much though if you do some digging. You can get a bamboo sushi mat and a rice paddle, for instance, for less than $5 on Amazon. And if you’re really hardcore and want the whole kitten caboodle when it comes to sushi equipment, try investing in some kind of sushi making kit.

Check out this Howcast video for a step-by-step guide to making your own sushi. It looks simple enough…

You can also take a look at this video for instructions on how to make a sushi roll (more specifically, the ever-popular California Roll).

I don’t know about you, but all this talk of sushi has made me want to actually give it a shot. Maybe that will be a future feature article of mine: My Adventures in Sushi Making and How I Survived (or Not). Snappy title at least! Keep your eyes peeled.


My Recipe: “Steak” Burrito

This is something I ventured into just a few weeks ago when I was torn asunder (probably a little melodramatic) by a craving for a burrito. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out since I planned to make my burrito without a recipe, but I was very pleased with my results. It turns out that I don’t need to hit up Qdoba, Chipotle or Boloco to get my burrito fix!

Here’s what I did:

Since I had some thinly-sliced beef leftover from another meal in the freezer, I pulled that out and let it defrost. I also pulled out some salsa, light sour cream, 1/2 a tomato, 1/2 an onion, some cooked white rice (leftover), a clove of garlic, some fresh cilantro (again, leftover from another meal), some cheddar cheese, and a large flour tortilla.

I knew that I needed to season the beef to have it truly taste like it came from a burrito joint, so I pulled out a homemade taco seasoning recipe that was submitted by a reader on Tip Hero a couple of years ago. It turned out that I had everything I needed for that recipe in my pantry, so I mixed that up and seasoned my beef.

Next, I chopped up my tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro to make my own little version of pico de gallo. Then, I heated up some oil in a skillet and tossed in the seasoned beef. Since my pieces were thinly-sliced, they only had to cook for 3-5 minutes to be completely done. At the same time, I heated up my rice in the microwave.

Finally, I prepared my plate. First, I laid down the flour tortilla. Then I threw some rice in the middle along with the cooked beef. Then I topped that with the pico de gallo, cheddar cheese and light sour cream and I was good to go, though my wrapping skills could have used some work! I should mention that I’m not a big fan of shredded lettuce or beans in my burritos (travesty, I know) but those are easy enough to get into your burrito if you’d like. The only thing I wish I had had to put in my burrito was some fresh guacamole. Yum! That will definitely be added next time.

Check out some more Mexican food recipes:

  • Chicken Enchiladas: this delicious recipe serves 8 and only takes 15 minutes to cook.
  • Easy Skillet Tacos: no need to run out to Taco Bell when you have a hankering for tacos. Taco night can be one of the easiest nights in your meal plan. Simply prepare the beef, chop the toppings up, and everyone makes their own tacos.
  • Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas: this easy and delicious recipe from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff looks like something I’d like to try! Pictures are included in the tutorial for easier comprehension.


When I think of Indian food, I think of this amazing Indian buffet that my friend and I used to go to in college. It was right down the street from both of our apartments and it featured an all-you-can-eat buffet for $7.95 for students (great deal in Boston, let me tell you). Every Monday without fail, our friends would know exactly where to find us.

Now, sadly, I am no longer a student and that buffet offer is long gone. Time to start recreating some of those delicious dishes at home!

Chicken Tikka Masala

It didn’t matter what was at the buffet. I always found the chicken tikka masala. I do aim to try new things most times when I’m out to eat, but this is always one dish I can’t pass up. It’s just so good!

Some more ideas:

Sorry, friends; I know this was a long article. I can get pretty passionate about food. But if you’re still with me I would love to hear about your best recipe ideas for when takeout cravings attack. Please share your tried and true recipes and any other thoughts you may have in the comments section below. Thanks for being a Tip Hero!

Photo credit: Muffet, norwichnuts, tucker_zoe, madmolecule, stevendepolo