Cooking for yourself is one the best things you can do for your health. You take responsibility for what is going into your body, you can control what you eat and how you cook it, and you can make it to your liking. Eating out is expensive and often restaurants have a way to sneak stuff into your food that you would never put there.
That being said, its easy to spend too much at the grocery, especially if you're trying to stay organic/local. SO-
Look for cheap cuts. Flank (london broil), skirt, or butt are all good cuts for high, quick heat.
When you begin to prepare your meat, tenderize it first before any other step. This involves a solid, circular thumping pattern from the center of the meat outward, your being to increase the surface area and make the meat more uniform for more even cooking. Don't skip this step.
When searing or grilling, try a marinade to flavor. It does not actually make the meat more tender, but does cause your saliva glands to kick into high gear and facilitates easy chewing, as well as giving it a better mouth-feel. One of my favorite marinades is my Dad's Black Pearl:
-4 cups soy or shoyu
-2-3 tablespoons of grated FRESH ginger
-2 green onions, minced (white and all)
-3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
-3-4 tablespoons sesame seed oil
-2 tablespoons hoisin
-1 tablespoon fish sauce
-1-2 chopped Jalapenos (with or without the seeds; the stuff will get stronger and spicier with time, so be careful!)
-black pepper to taste
-red pepper flake to taste
(I've taken a few liberties with his recipe. Try your own ingredients and ratios till you find what you like.) Drop this stuff with your meat in a plastic bag (making sure as much air is out as possible) 2-8 hours before you grill.
Before you cook, dry the meat off completely, coat thinly with canola or some other high smoke-point oil, season liberally with salt (less if you've used a salty marinade) and a few grinds of cracked black pepper (if you grind the pepper too thin, it will burn and stick- no good), rub that seasoning in. Using a HEAVY pan or a grill, cook on high (preheat, then oil the pan first) for 2-3 minutes a side. Remove and rest for 15 minutes. If you do not rest, it doesn't matter how well you cooked your meat, you will have a plate full of juice and none in the steak. Cut against the grain and on a bias to serve.
For bigger, tougher cuts, I like a braise. Cut your meat into chunks, season with salt and pepper and sear it (you want a deep sear for the more complex flavors it provides, so don't over crown the pan), drop in a half-bottle of red wine (since cooking only intensifies the flavor of alcohol, be sure you use a wine you would drink) a cup or two of stock and a bay leaf, onion and garlic (you might want a quick saute first, mayhaps while you're searing the meat), fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then take the heat as low as you care to for 45 minutes to an hour. Toss in some mushrooms in the last 15-20 minutes, serve with veggies.
A few more things, while I'm thinking of them.
-Cook meat whole and on the bone whenever possible. You'll pay less and get more flavor, and you can make stock later (for another post).
-Always brine pork and poultry before you employ any dry-cooking method. A good basic brine, a la Alton Brown:
1 gallon vegetable broth
1 gallon heavily iced water
1 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon peppercorns
You can scale the recipe as you please, and add citrus or spices or what have you. Also, brining reduces cooking time, so take that into account.
This post is a little tl;dr, but I hope it helps some of you SF cooks out there!