So, you want to have a romantic dinner but don’t want to shell out $20 and up? Me too!
With Valentine’s Day only 2 days away, you may be thinking about having a special meal with a special someone. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking for yourself, some of your girlfriends or bros, your significant other, your parents, your dog, whatever, cooking a meal is always an act of love. An act of survival too, sure, but also you’re taking the trouble to turn raw ingredients into something edible.
Even if it’s a box of easy mac, or as fancy as a seven course meal, the person enjoying the finished product knows a little dash of love went into it.
And while a romantic dinner out on the town is nice every now and then, there are several advantages to cooking at home. One, you get to control the ingredients that go into your food. Restaurants use all kinds of ingredients you might not want to know about: stabilizers, emulsifiers, preservatives, MSG, salt and sugar by the tablespoon. At home, you know what is going into your food, and thus into your body.
Two, you can control portion sizes. There is a ton of research out there, not to mention if you’ve been around 2-3 decades or more you can see it for yourself, pointing fingers at ballooning portion sizes as a contributor to the obesity epidemic. When you eat out, you want to “get your money’s worth”, and restaurants know that giving you more food but with cheaper, less healthy ingredients, is good for their bottom lines. Terrible for your bottom, however, which will expand along with the size of the plate.
And finally, it is far cheaper per meal to cook at home. If you go out to a moderately priced chain, you are hard-pressed to find a full meal for less than $15 for dinner. Then add in tip, time, and gas money to get there. If you go out to a nicer restaurant or a place with a prixe-fixe menu, you are probably looking more into the $50 per person range. Restaurants know people want a special experience for Valentine’s Day, and take advantage by making fancy looking and sounding menus and tripling the prices.
Why not have just as special a meal, in a quiet place where you can actually hear each other talk, with no rush because the place wants to turn over your table? That’s right, I’m talking about your home!
Oh, and yes, you do have to do your dishes unlike at a restaurant. But you know what? That can be part of the experience if you know your dining partner well. Make it into an assembly line as you wash and dry together, laughing and maybe splashing each other throughout. Or tag-team dishwasher loading, then curl up on the couch with a good movie while it runs. You can make even chores fun if you try!
And now for the potential menu!
Below are a wide range of recipes, each will take you less than an hour, and I specialize in recipes that are affordable and simple. You won’t find more than 10 ingredients, and most of them you likely already have on hand.
Choose a few things that you know how to make, or know you will enjoy eating, and make some magic happen.
Appetizers – having multiple courses helps spread the meal out, giving you time to talk to your dining partner and bond. Appetizers don’t have to be complicated, give one of these a try.
- Caprese salad
- Homemade hummus
- Cherry pepper poppers
- Fried pickles
- Bacon wrapped asparagus (though asparagus may cause some awkward questions later on if you have to use the bathroom…)
Main course – even if you think you can’t cook, you should give it a try! Start with something very simple, and give it a test run today. Then you may find some ways to tweak it or make it better or easier. Or just jump in with both feet, what’s the worst that can happen, you order a pizza later?
- Chicken Cacciatore – 4 ingredients, one pan, couldn’t be simpler!
- One Pan Buffalo Chicken Bake – oops, I lied, ONE pan is even simpler!
- Steak with Chimmichurri – that’s a fancy way of saying “green sauce made by sticking herbs and oil in a blender”!
- Easy Stuffed Chicken Rolls
- Enchiladas – can also make them in the Crock Pot
- Healthified Mac N Cheese – don’t tell them there’s extra nutrients and fiber! Or maybe do, and have a nice discussion about healthy eating habits.
Dessert – everyone loves dessert! You could even make your entire meal just a dessert buffet! But I’d recommend choosing just one thing you feel you can make, then sprinkle in an extra cup or two of love, and enjoy it.
- I Choose You – red velvet cupcakes with a special message for the geek you love
- Carrot cupcakes
- Dark Chocolate Cherry Truffles
- Cranberry nut balls
- Angel Food Cake Roll
- Triple Chocolate Espresso Brownies
- Apple crumble
Drinks – for adults and under-agers alike, a special drink makes a memorable addition to a special meal. You don’t have to get crazy with dozens of ingredients and multiple steps. Even something as simple as adding thinly sliced citrus to a glass of water can elevate the everyday to the special day.
- Pearberry Margarita
- Vanilla White Russian
- Sunrise on the beach
- Tropical sunrise shots (to up your adult game)