Creating a romantic meal at home is a somewhat bigger challenge than your standard Monday-night fare. Especially if you haven’t yet cooked for this significant other — or, if you’re in a long-term relationship, haven’t cooked for them often. And especially when the occasion in question is Valentine’s Day.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to up to romance factor, either overtly (like aphrodisiac ingredients and candles on the table) or covertly (that valentine’s favorite dish). Cooking together can also be a ton of fun for a date.
Frugal Foodie recommends sticking to what you know, and what you know your sweetheart will like. Even the most intricate meal falls flat if the steak burns or your date turns out to be allergic to hazelnuts. Years ago, Frugal Foodie spent hours on an intricate Coeur a la crème dessert topped with strawberries only to find out her date simply hated the fruit. Needless to say, that did not go over well with either party.
We talked to chefs, home cooks and other relationship experts about their go-to date meals. Post your own tried-and-true recipes below, and then try these seven romantic-and-cheap options.
There are appetizers, main courses, desserts and even a next-day breakfast, all for under $10 to prepare. (Cost estimates are based on non-sale New York City supermarket prices. If it’s a cheap meal in NYC, we figure cooks in most other places in the country will spend even less. Prices are also adjusted for quantity: if a recipe calls for half an onion, you’ll probably find something to do with the other half. Finally, estimates don’t take into account basic ingredients you likely already have, like flour, olive oil or dried spices.)
Oyster with Spicy Vinaigrette and Apples
Cost: $8.37 for half a dozen oysters, or $1.40 apiece.
Chef Michael Carrino, the owner of Restaurant Passionné in Montclair, N.J., suggests starting off your meal with this celebrated aphrodisiac. Open the oysters — he suggests two dozen Kushi, but the quantity and type is up to you. In a small bowl mix two tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon chopped garlic and an eighth of a teaspoon cayenne pepper. If desired, add a teaspoon of apple brandy, too. Using a whisk, slowly mix six tablespoons olive oil into the bowl and season with salt to taste. Garnish oysters with vinaigrette and peeled, finely-diced apples.
Cost: $5.36, or $2.68 per serving.
No need to load up on aphrodisiacs. “Simplicity is the most exciting and titillating aspect of any recipe,” says Lorne Caplan, a scent and aphrodisiac expert. His suggestions: use basil, ginger, vanilla or — in this case, strawberry. Top a mixed-green salad with candied walnuts, tangerine wedges and a bit of goat cheese. Drizzle a strawberry-based dressing (try Frugal Foodie’s here). “Go easy on this as the scent is key and can be overpowering,” Caplan says.
Cost: $7.20, or $3.60 per serving.
“I started dating a boy who dated a chef prior. No pressure there!” says Karralee Serra, who has been documenting her efforts at culinary improvement on “My Boyfriend Dated a Chef”. Serra used this recipe, scaled down for two, to step up her game. It worked. “There is nothing more wonderful than hearing, ‘I can’t wait to see what delicious thing you will cook on our next date,’” she says.
Salmon with Green Sauce
Cost: $9.86, or $4.93 per serving.
“The man had me with his pesto,” says Jill Mikols Etesse, the creative director for children’s app developer SmartyShortz, of her now-husband. His take on Martha Stewart’s dish scaled down for two, she says, is one of the few things he can cook – and what he makes her every Valentine’s Day. “I remember how I felt that [second date] evening,” she says. “It keeps me going.” As an added benefit, the recipe makes enough green sauce to use with other dishes for days on end.
Boozy Chocolate Truffles
Cost: $2.95 for about three dozen truffles.
Frugal Foodie and Mr. Foodie made a version of these Alton Brown truffles for their first Valentine’s Day together, subbing in already-on-hand Grand Marnier for the brandy. It’s been a tradition ever since, and we switch up the brand of chocolate and alcohol every time. Forgo the melon baller and hand-roll the truffles instead — it’s messier, but a lot more fun.
Quick Chocolate Soufflé
Cost: $3.25, or $1.63 per serving.
Intimidating? You bet. But Carrino promises that soufflé can be simple, too. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat the inside of four 6-ounce ramekins with the nonstick cooking spray, and then dust with a tablespoon of sugar. Chop four ounces of semisweet chocolate and combine with a half-cup heavy whipping cream in a microwave safe bowl. Heat on high for one minute and stir until chocolate and cream are full incorporated. In a separate bowl combine five egg whites and four tablespoons sugar and beat by hand until soft peaks are formed. After the chocolate mixture has cooled a bit gently fold it in to the egg whites. Spoon the batter into the ramekins and place in the refrigerator uncovered until needed. When ready, bake at 400 degrees on a cookie tray for 10 to 12 minutes or until the center does not jiggle. Dust with powdered sugar.
Strawberry French Toast
Cost: $3.16, or $1.58 per serving.
Romantic meals don’t stop at dinner, either. “My first love used to work the graveyard shift at the grocery store, so when he got off work it was breakfast time,” says San Jose, Calif., event planner Darlene Tenes, the founder of Hispanic lifestyle company CasaQ. Her Valentine’s inspiration often included his favorite French toast with mimosas.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.