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High Class, Low Cost: Cheap but Fancy Romantic Dinners

Posted on 2/10/2012 14:39 EST

Cooking dinner with your loved one is a fun date idea with an additional benefit: You save money on a romantic meal for two.

Avoid the hassle of reservations, high-priced Valentine's Day prix-fixe menus, and tip and tax with the inexpensive meal ideas below. With these easy but impressive Valentine's Day recipe ideas, even beginner cooks can put together a romantic menu that can then be slotted into your normal weekday repertoire.

Spaghetti Carbonara.

A fast, cheap, and nearly foolproof pasta recipe, spaghetti carbonara is a staple of many Italian restaurant menus but equally delicious at home. This elegant dish consists mostly of pasta, eggs, pancetta, and parmesan, and takes almost no time at all; in fact, you can throw it together while boiling the pasta. With the savings from cooking your own simple spaghetti carbonara, enjoy a delicious budget-friendly white wine to pair.

Photo by Tom Purves


Rich, creamy, and flavor-packed, risotto is another romantic meal idea made of a few simple ingredients. At its core, risotto is Arborio rice grains cooked in broth, stirred until creamy. Enhance and customize your risotto by adding different flavors. Start with an easy mushroom risotto or try a paella-like saffron risotto with seafood. Risotto is a very hands-on dish, so an added bonus is spending time in close quarters with your date until it's done.

Roast Chicken.

Easy and budget-friendly, roast chicken is an elegant entree for a romantic dinner. Season it with anything from herbs to citrus fruits, and you've got poulet roti without French restaurant prices. A whole chicken is surprisingly cheap and yields a lot of meat, so consider this instead of buying chicken breasts. And the bones and carcass can be used to make homemade chicken stock for future meals.

Steamed Mussels.

Mussels are a relatively inexpensive seafood that still packs a romantic punch: studies have shown that mussels and other mollusks may be aphrodisiacs. More reason to feature them on the menu for a romantic evening in. Steam the mussels in white wine and herbs for a fast, easy, and impressive dinner entree. Add some crusty French bread to soak up the delicious juices.

Baked Squash with Stuffing.

Presentation is key - impress your date with stuffing baked in a squash "bowl." Scoop out halves of pumpkins or other squashes and fill with your choice of veggies, meats, rice, or breadcrumbs, and bake. Most of the dish is vegetarian, making for a deliciously cheap dinner. Try this baked pumpkin with wild rice stuffing recipe.

Soups and Stews.

February is a chilly month, so warm up your sweetheart with a hearty soup or stew. Soups have always been a cheap and versatile way to get the most use out of meats and vegetables. Add beans to all types of recipes, from simple minestrone to rustic French cassoulet. Serve over rice for additional mileage. Again, a loaf of French bread does wonders to elevate a soup or stew.

Photo by stevendepolo

Thai or Indian Curries.

Add some spice to your Valentine's Day -- literally. A Southeast Asian curry can be a cheap but romantic meal for this special night, or any night of the week. Although you can buy the individual curry powders and spices, a jarred curry paste mixed with coconut milk or ready-made curry sauce will do the trick in less time. Try a Thai red curry chicken dish with steamed jasmine rice, or cook up the Indian favorite, chicken tikka masala.

The dinner ideas presented here can be accompanied by a simple side dish of roasted or sauteed vegetables. For extra value, see what produce is in season. Add a dessert, and enjoy a truly romantic and elegant three-course dinner that tastes much more expensive than what it cost.

Have another fancy but cheap recipe idea? Let us know in the comments.

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