Recession Romance: Make a Delicious Valentine’s Day Dinner at Home

With Valentine's Day approaching, I polled my Twitter followers for their favorite frugal and romantic date ideas. Some of the great responses included:

  • From @Finc_Confluence: “A photo scavenger hunt worked well for us recently. Inexpensive, memorable, and a great conversation piece!”
  • From @MrsMicah: “Borrow an old movie from the library, enjoy with blankets and maybe hot chocolate. We had fun with The Awful Truth recently.”
  • From @JoyfulAbode: “Go for a walk and hold hands (very important part of it!). Clean the house together (no joke) then relax in it.”
  • From @merchantships: “Visit the fancy grocery together, try something new from deli cases, and eat at nearby park. No tip, plus healthier than fast food.”

The most popular tip was to share a romantic meal, but nobody suggested dining out. Many of you are fans of picnics together — indoors at home, or outside if it's nice. One of my favorite cheap dates is making dinner with my wife. It's a great way to spend time as a couple. Kris is the better cook, so she chooses the recipes and directs the production. I'm her sous chef: I chop the onions, mince the garlic, boil the pasta. We're a good team.

This year, instead of offering yet another list of cheap dates, Kris and I pulled together a menu for a simple but delicious meal that you and your partner can prepare yourselves. These recipes aren't super frugal, but they're not expensive, either. They'll certainly save you tons of dough over restaurant prices.

So pull out the tablecloth, light some candles, and put on the romantic music. It's time for a recession-era Valentine's dinner — a meal that you and your partner make together. There will even be leftovers!

A marvelous main course
The highlight of a shared meal is a delicious main course. Here's a recipe for chicken piccata, one of our favorite showcase dishes. We've prepared this a dozen times, and often serve it when we want to impress our friends. It's easy, tasty, and won't break the bank. It's restaurant-quality food without restaurant prices.

Chicken Piccata (serves 4)
from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis. Takes about 20 minutes.

  • 4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, halved crosswise to make 8 small block-shaped pieces (not strips)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • flour, for dredging
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (homemade, if possible)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup jarred capers, drained & rinsed to remove some of the salt
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge lightly with flour to coat.
  2. In large sauté pan, melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook just until browned, 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate.
  3. Add broth, lemon juice and capers to the same pan. Bring broth to a boil over medium high heat, scraping pan to get all the good crusty bits. Return chicken to the pan and simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer chicken to plates or platter.
  5. Remove pan from heat. Add remaining 2 Tablespoons butter to sauce, whisking to melt. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Serve the chicken piccata with a nice salad and some crusty bread. (The bread is essential for soaking up all of the sauce!) And while you're at it, pair it with a good wine…

Valentine's wines from Gary V.
In December, Gary Vaynerchuk offered Get Rich Slowly readers his advice for finding good wines at great prices. Vaynerchuk is host of the incredibly popular Wine Library TV video blog. When I asked if he'd be willing to suggest some wines for Valentine's Day, he was gracious enough to pull together a new five-minute video.

 

“There are four distinct types of wines that I think really do tremendous on this day for a variety of reasons,” Gary says. His list includes:

  • Conde de Subirats cava rose Spanish sparkling wine ($10-$12) — “A very solid sparkling wine.”
  • 2007 Tantalus riesling Canadian white ($23) — “A light, crisp wine. Could be the perfect wine to start your romantic dinner.
  • 2006 Clos Pucelle French white ($24) — “A great play with a lot of foods.”
  • 2006 Selaks ice wine New Zealand dessert wine ($14) — “I highly recommend this. This is widely available in the U.S.”

Note that Vaynerchuk is recommending these types of wines, not necessarily these individual bottles. (Though it's clear he thinks they're good choices.) A riesling would probably go well with the rest of the menu in this article.

And remember: price isn't the most important factor in choosing a wine. What's important is what you like. “Price has no impact on quality,” Gary says. “At $8-$15, there is an enormity of opportunity [to find good wines].”

Vaynerchuk has offered to produce future segments on frugal wine choices just for Get Rich Slowly readers. If you have a topic request, please let us know! And don't forget — you can find new wine tips every day at Gary's video blog, Wine Library TV.

 

A piece of cake
What's a romantic dinner without a nice dessert? This butter almond cake is one of my wife's favorites. It always wins rave reviews, and would be the perfect ending for a homemade Valentine's meal. It's moist and delicious, but not too heavy. It's also quite frugal (although that's not the reason we love it), and takes only about five minutes of preparation to get it to the oven.

Most almond-flavored cakes call for large quantities of nuts (expensive) or even almond paste (outrageously expensive). In this version, a small amount of almond extract infuses the entire batter with its lovely taste and aroma, and the texture created by mixing the sugar with melted butter is part cake, part cookie and totally wonderful.

When you prepare this cake, be sure to use real butter, but feel free to use imitation vanilla extract. This cake doesn't rise high. It's dense and flavorful, so a small slice is all you need. You'll have to invest in almond extract if your kitchen is without it, but altogether this cake costs less than $5, even with the sliced almond garnish.

This cake should be a hit for you — if not for Valentine's, then any other day of the year.

Butter Almond Cake (serves 8-10)
This recipe was printed in our local paper years ago. Kris believes it originally came from Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham, which is full of foolproof recipes. Takes 5 minutes plus baking time.

  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup real butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons sliced almonds (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use butter wrappers to generously grease a 9″ round cake pan. With a mixer, blend together the sugar and melted butter. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat in. Stir in extracts. Add salt and flour and mix until everything is incorporated. Spread batter in the pan and sprinkle the top with sliced almonds (optional) and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before removing from pan. If desired, serve with whipped cream or fruit on the side. (Home-canned peaches go especially well!)

 

These are just a couple of dishes you might make for a Valentine's dinner. They're recipes we love. The possibilities are endless, though. This year, instead of dining out in a restaurant, pull a cookbook from your shelf (or make a quick trip to your public library), pick a favorite recipe — old or new — and prepare a meal with your sweetheart. It's a fun way to spend a romantic evening. What happens after dessert is up to you!

Do you have favorite meals to prepare with a partner? Are there certain dishes you love to cook together? Share them in the comments!

Photo by justintosh, whose work is very nice!

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Brandon
Brandon
11 years ago

Just for the record, I know people who have suggested making a romantic dinner at home, but were shot down by their significant other who really prefers to go out. Keep this in mind when planning this idea!

slackerjo
slackerjo
11 years ago

@JoyfulAbode, Good tip! After all, cleaning the house may work up a sweat. A shower may be required. In these tough times it’s best to conserve, so be sure to shower together!

The Personal Finance Playbook
The Personal Finance Playbook
11 years ago

Great post. My wife and I will definitely not be dining out this year, and we’re still up in the air as to what we’ll cook. Thanks for the tips, and for the “cheap” wines – that’s a great idea.

Jeff Rose
Jeff Rose
11 years ago

Just what the doctor ordered. I was wanting to surprise my wife with a surprise dinner recipe for Valentine’s day and just found the winning ticket. Thanks for sharing and will be sure to report back.

SavvyChristine
SavvyChristine
11 years ago

We like to prepare stir fry together — it feels less hectic that way, and it’s a lot of fun since it requires so much prep work. But for a romantic meal, we get some salami, gourmet cheese, french bread, strawberries and chocolate and eat a picnic-type lunch while watching a movie.

Boomer
Boomer
11 years ago

We’re all about a romantic V-Day dinner at home. Last year I prepared broiled lobster tail. Cost-wise it wasn’t too bad, but it turned out dismally (salty).

Anyone have a great recipe for preparing lobster tail?

Scott NJ DAD
Scott NJ DAD
11 years ago

I would love a post on how to do a cheap valentines day, that is romantic, but deals with the kids conundrum. (ie where do you put them, and please forget about the leave em with grandma answer, that just isn’t an option for everyone)

familybalancesheet
familybalancesheet
11 years ago

We have a gift card to a local restaurant that we will use when we can find a sitter. Unfortunately our sitter has plans on V-Day so I am going to make a nice meal for hubby but it will include our kids. I like to try new recipes and I have had this one in my file to try: Linguine with shrimp asparagus and basil from Bon Appetit. I am still searching for a special dessert, but it must definitely will include chocolate.
Gotta go…heading to the wine store now!!

Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas
Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas
11 years ago

Great menu ideas! Giada’s Everyday Italian is a favourite recipe book of mine, as well as Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris.

My husband I cooked at home last year and are excited to continue the tradition this year. Last year we made Hungarian stuffed red bell peppers with steak. I’m excited about your recommendations for this year, though, since our normal joint home cooking involves lots of Chinese stirfry, Japanese hot pot, and seafood pastas.

It’s great to mix things up a bit! Thanks for the wonderful post.

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

This is such a great idea! I decided to plan a full four course meal this year for myself and my girlfriend. I pulled together some of our favorite dishes and we made them all.

It’s a great way to bond. I’m posting each course separately over on my website.

Artichoke fritters are the first course! 🙂
http://www.macheesmo.com/u/51

Cheers,
Nick

Steph
Steph
11 years ago

I’m a big fan of making multiple small courses to make a home dinner seem more special. If you can afford to do some wine pairings with it, all the better. I think a fun menu could be: 1. Shellfish appetizer. (Shrimp in green sauce, crab melts on toast or Casino clams -you just need enough for 3-4 bites each) 2. Steamed artichokes with garlic butter or mayo (start the cooking before you serve the shellfish, to be finished about 10 minutes after course 1). 3. Salad (make ahead of time) with bitter winter greens, toasted pecans and dried cherries… Read more »

Kim Cornman
Kim Cornman
11 years ago

I just love the Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column at the New York Times…great food! Here’s a link to a video he did w/ jamie oliver Parmesan Chicken w/ Prosciutto (you can let hubby wield the skillet!) watch the video, you’ll get it!

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/01/06/dining/1194837128734/parmesan-chicken-with-jamie-oliver.html?scp=36&sq=minimalist%20videos&st=cse

a great dessert would be the Simple Sorbet, also at this link.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

Though preparing a meal at home doesn’t sound hugely exciting to me since I cook everyday anyway (and he is not a good cook) It does give me a chance to try something new or foods that I don’t normally prepare. Having V Day on a Saturday helps too or I would be too exhausted from working during the week.

Leanne
Leanne
11 years ago

@ Scott NJ Dad — one thing we’ve done is to prepare some yummy side dishes with the assistance of our little one (he’s three; depending on the age of yours, ymmv). We’ll sit down with him for his dinner–maybe have an appetizer and a glass of wine–then do the whole bedtime ritual. Then while one of us sets the table (nice placemats, nothing extraneous on the table, some candles, the “good” wine glasses) the other will run to a local restaurant to pick up one or two entrees. Then we sit down for a delicious dinner (albeit a bit… Read more »

PDXgirl
PDXgirl
11 years ago

Boomer, I made this dish one V-Day: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/lobster-tails-thermidor-recipe/index.html With Asparagus Soup, it was a big hit. Lobster tails can be had for decent prices this time of year. Albertsons has them for $5.99 ea right now. Not cheap but a $20 dinner for two at home is still a pretty good deal for a special occasion. We’re house/dog sitting for my parents while they’re on vacation so it’ll be kind of like a little vacation ourselves, plus my mom’s paying me 🙂 I might try that joint cooking thing, he’s pretty useless in the kitchen but I think he can… Read more »

PDXgirl
PDXgirl
11 years ago

Oh… for the activist minded, if you have a large university nearby (or maybe even if you don’t) V-Day is also a political action day to end Violence (V.. .get it?) against women. Many universities and community centers put on Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. It may not sound like date night fun, and maybe it’s not for you, but if you don’t mind sexual/graphic topics, I find it really fun. Some of the monologues are funny, some are sad, some are political statements, most are just women’s stories. When I was single I’d go with other single girlfriends as the… Read more »

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Or, if you must go out, here’s an alternative that’s not a budget buster:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Waffle-HouseR-Restaurants-to-prnews-14293335.html

That’s right! A romantic candlelight dinner at Waffle House.

Holly
Holly
11 years ago

My boyfriend and I are college students, so our grocery budget and cooking skill levels are not very high. These ideas sound amazing (especially Steph’s!) but I will be sticking with chicken and linguine in olive oil with steamed broccoli. He’s going to buy the wine.

Finally Frugal
Finally Frugal
11 years ago

Another great resource for inexpensive wines is Budget Vino, at http://www.budgetvino.com/ There’s even a handy printout of ten good wines that cost less than $10 (called the ‘Vino to Go’ card). Put it in your wallet, and voila! The next time you’re perusing the wine shelves you won’t be scratching your head trying to remember the name of that great wine your cousin’s wife’s brother’s boss brought to that party that one time. . . .

Jill
Jill
11 years ago

Our v-day celebration coincides with our 7-year anniversary. While these ideas are all great, we are still going out to eat it is a double special occasion. Two for one dinner! We have plans to eat at a local winery: 4 course meal with wine pairings at each course. The price is reasonable since it includes tax & tip. I will have to keep this post in mind for upcoming date nights.

mostlyharmless
mostlyharmless
11 years ago

*sigh* Now if only there was a “Get Love Slowly” so I could put these tips to use… Life always sucks around mid-feb.

Carl Lutes
Carl Lutes
11 years ago

One slightly off-beat idea which has saved me money for 40 years now….get married on the 15th of February, skip Valentine’s day and splurge on your anniversary when candy and flowers are 1/2 price or less, and restaurants are at normal capacity.

My daughter apparently liked the idea because she also got married on that date 6 years ago.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@mostlyharmless
I love it: Get Love Slowly. 🙂

I have Get Rich Slowly, Get Fit Slowly, and Get Green Slowly (not active, but registered). I’ve thought of other possibilities before. But never Get Love Slowly. I like it.

Here’s hoping Valentine’s 2010 won’t suck for you…

Mara Rogers
Mara Rogers
11 years ago

Yes, I think that making something homemade such as food is a “gift from the heart.” In this article link I have a recipe for “Heart-Shaped Homemade Pretzels” that is fast and easy to make and a nice addition to your article here
“Save Money and Show You Care with Handmade Gifts For Valentine’s Day or Anytime”
http://www.secretsformoney.info/savingmoney/save-money-and-show-you-care-with-handmade-gifts-for-valentines-day-or-anytime/

Steph
Steph
11 years ago

Holly – Your dinner sounds terrific. Serve a salad as a course first and bake cupcakes from a cake mix the day before for dessert and you’ve got a three course meal. It doesn’t have to be comples to be fancy!

CD
CD
11 years ago

Another great cheap wine site is http://www.cheapwinefinder.com/. He reviews wines that are inexpensive. I have agreed with almost all of his ratings.

I will also be doing Valentine’s at home this year. I’m cooking lamb chops (bought at Costco) coated in mustard and herbs and dredged in breadcrumbs then baked. Very tasty!

Ann
Ann
11 years ago

This recipe was the reason I bought the latest US Weekly, and just found it again on the web. Looks fast and good. S’Mores Chocolate Tartlets Rocco’s S’Mores Chocolate Tartlets From Rocco Gets Real Ingredients: 8 Keebler Mini Graham Cracker Pie Crusts, or other tart shells of choice 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped 8 large strawberries, sliced 1-1/2 cups Marshmallow Fluff® marshmallow creme Salt Directions: 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 2. Place tart shells on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 1-1/2 minutes. Remove from oven and turn oven up to 500 degrees F. 3. Meanwhile,… Read more »

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

@Russ
White Castle does a similar thing w/ tablecloths and waiters. I’ve heard it’s so popular you have to make reservations well in advance.

mostlyharmless
mostlyharmless
11 years ago

@J.D.
Or maybe i should start that site. My about page would go something like this:

“Please note that I am not a relationship professional. I’m just an average guy who found himself utterly single. When it finally became too overwhelming, I began reading WikiHows[1], hoping to find answers. I wanted to find true love overnight. My research revealed that few people fall in love at first sight, but almost anyone can get love slowly by patiently following some simple rules… Like not being an insufferable ass for instance.”

[1] http://www.wikihow.com/Get-a-Date

Sam
Sam
11 years ago

Somewhat off topic, but I’m taking Mr. Sam fishing on Saturday the 14th. The outing will cost a chunk of cash, but we put $50 aside each pay check in our fun account. So the fishing will cost just a little more than what is in our fun account, which I will cover from my allowance. So while fishing costs more than a dinner out, the cost is covered by our fun account and we will get a half day out on the water and maybe cook what we catch for dinner that night.

Peter
Peter
11 years ago

I have that book and we’ve made the chicken piccata and it is very good. Add some angel hair pasta for the extra sauce.

Going out for V-Day is extremely overrated. The service and food are usually sub-par because the place is far busier than normal. If you want to go out, wait until the next weekend or go mid-week.

Bill the Splut
Bill the Splut
11 years ago

I’m a manager in a large liquor store, and while we’re very busy on most holidays, some don’t affect us at all. Nobody cares about Saint Patrick’s Day, and the Super Bowl’s only a big deal if it has local teams. Valentine’s Day is another holiday that never mattered, as people wanted that fancy dinner in a restaurant.

Until last year. Our sales were up 50% on the 14th, and it was all in $15-20 bottles of wine. People were still having that fancy dinner, but they were making it themselves.

Martacus
Martacus
11 years ago

We still had a turkey left over from the holidays in the freezer, so that’s going to be our big dinner on Saturday. Angel Food Cake with strawberry/raspberry sauce is on the dessert menu, and I still have some delicious pastry cream to use up.

However, I think this is missing the bigger picture somewhat: it’s the couple that makes Valentine’s day special, not how they choose to spend it together.

gfe--gluten free easily
gfe--gluten free easily
11 years ago

Well this year we’re having our big biennial Valentine’s Day party, which is not frugal at all. But we did get a great band for a reasonable price. 🙂 Seriously, we plan/budget for this event every two years as a gift to each other and our friends and always look forward to it. We have it on the Saturday before Presidents Day to ensure a long weekend, especially necessary for friends who travel from out of state. So it rarely actually happens on Valentine’s Day as it is this year. The people who are attending are very grateful they don’t… Read more »

Nate @ Money Young
Nate @ Money Young
11 years ago

JD, I’m stealing your butter almond cake. I was planning dinner, dessert and a movie, I think you just filled the dessert portion of my menu. Thanks!

-Nate

Boomer
Boomer
11 years ago

PDXgirl – Thanks for the lobster thermador recipe on #16. I just might go for that.

quinsy
quinsy
11 years ago

I only have one thing to say –

SELAK’S!!!!! (ICE WINE!!)
I second that one if you love really really sweet drinks.
If you do not love sweet drinks, this is not the drink for you.

It also costs $20-$30 for that tiny bottle (4 small glasses) in the USA, though in NZ is it is a better frugal choice more like $10.

This is my husband and my favorite romantic drink.

Jadzia
Jadzia
11 years ago

All I really have to say about this post is: Awwwww. So sweet! I don’t know yet if we are going out or not. There is a place here in Eugene that gets RAVE reviews and is Not Cheap. But, oddly enough (because hey, it’s Oregon), the place originally started as a take-away joint. Now they have seating, but it has all the ambiance of a bus station. So when hubby told me he had made a reservation I said, um, in that case why don’t we just bring it home and save on the sitter? The jury is still… Read more »

carla
carla
11 years ago

Valentine’s Day is just another day, imo. If you have to wait until a high holy day to show your loved one you really care, then do you? My husband gives me the best presents by showing up at work, unannounced, with flowers or a small gift, or drags me away to lunch. To me, that’s romance.

DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
11 years ago

Nice post!

Good things start and end at home!

Nicki at Domestic Cents
Nicki at Domestic Cents
11 years ago

We’re having dinner at home too. I’m making lasagna, one of our favorites, with homemade Italian herb bread and chocolate covered strawberries 🙂

Beth P.
Beth P.
11 years ago

Get Love Slowly…that’s a fab idea! Here’s a link, via my blog, that many of you already probably have, to A Simple Dollar’s post last week about inexpensive and lovely things to do for/with your Valentine…

http://virtualteahouse.com/blogs/beth/archive/2009/02/06/thoughtful-things-to-do-with-your-sweetie-on-valentine-s-day-weekend.aspx?CommentPosted=true#commentmessage

Thanks, J.D. for always going for the heart of the matter…

Beav
Beav
11 years ago

carla,

How often does your husband do that? Once a year maybe? :-/ But I might have to agree a bit. V-day is just another day that “she” expects something nice to be done. Bullshit.

Cathy
Cathy
11 years ago

I have done this in the past. Last year I made a steampot of seafood that would have cost 3 times as much at a restaurant. But this year we are going to my favorite Thai restaurant which has reasonably priced gourmet Thai food.

artist
artist
11 years ago

Here is a slightly different angle on V-day. It is my birthday. My poor Mom generously gave up all Valentine’s days from the day I was born. She turned a romantic holiday not only into a special birthday for me, but created a night of sharing all kinds of love (familial, friends, altruistic, etc.) So for those of you who have children at home – why not show them that V-Day isn’t just about romance, but all kinds of love? Now that my Mom & I are both single, I take her out for a special meal (lunch or dinner)… Read more »

PDXgirl
PDXgirl
11 years ago

artist, I think that’s really sweet.

When I was growing up Valentine’s was a whole family holiday, my dad still buys me chocolates every year. A celebration of love does not have to be limited to the romantic kind.

artist
artist
11 years ago

Thanks PDXGirl. It gets better. My dad used to do the same thing as yours, only he was a Scandanavian chocolatier (I grew up in a high-end homemade candy store). I really miss his candy.

Hey, MostlyHarmless. I really like your concept. I’m single & I’d check out a sight like that.

Davey Boyd
Davey Boyd
11 years ago

Love this post. Haven’t been on Get Rich Slowly in ages.

Oh and really enjoyed that video with Gary from Wine Library, although its funny watching him (and anybody) spit into that bucket. I’m trying out that New Zealand 2006 Selaks ice wine this weekend!

Tony Oravet
Tony Oravet
11 years ago

Great post! Always interested to hear what Gary V has to say about wines! Love the site!

Dragon Blogger
Dragon Blogger
11 years ago

I had just asked my wife to make me Chicken Piccata last Sunday for dinner. We take turns cooking on Sunday nights as our “date night in” where we put the kids to bed at 7 and have a lone dinner together a little late.

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