Valentine’s Day is only a week away! One of the busiest nights of the year for the restaurant industry, many couples like to celebrate by going out to a fancy dinner. But this becomes extremely expensive and you often get less-than-ideal service and food due to the overworked kitchen and staff. Making your own romantic dinner is significantly more affordable, less crowded, offers more sentiment, and you don’t need a reservation weeks in advance. Why increase your credit card debt for a night of crammed tables, rushed food, and loud dining rooms? Making an affordable meal will mean more to your valentine, since the meal is made with love, while also helping you avoid credit problems.
We’ve put together an easy yet impressive dinner to make even the most picky eaters swoon without drowning you in debt: Bruschetta, Italian chicken with roasted Brussels sprouts, and a homemade ice cream topping for sundaes.To time this meal properly, do all prepping and slicing ahead of time. Then, toast the bruschetta, start the chicken, put the Brussels sprouts in the oven, finish the chicken and accompanying vegetables, take out the Brussels sprouts, and then do the last step of the bruschetta. Dessert can be made ahead of time or whipped up while your partner or spouse relaxes and digests the amazing dinner you just made.
1 small loaf of crusty bread, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled but whole
1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes, washed and chopped
Fresh basil, chopped finely
White balsamic vinegar
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 450. Arrange sliced bread on a lined baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Place the sheet in the top rack of the oven for 5-6 minutes, or until bread is golden brown.
In a bowl, combine the tomatoes with the basil, salt and pepper to taste, and a drizzle of olive oil. Add 1 tsp of vinegar and taste. If you prefer a more tart taste, add more.
After the bread is removed from the oven, carefully rub the toasts with the garlic gloves to impart a slight garlic flavor. When ready to serve, top with the tomato mixture and arrange on a plate.
Entrée: Pan-Roasted Italian Chicken Breasts
2 large chicken breasts
½ bottle of Italian dressing
1 package of white mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
½ cup dry white wine or unsalted chicken broth
Salt and pepper
Butterfly the chicken breasts, or slice them across to retain the width but in thinner slices (half inch is ideal). If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can pound them flat, but this isn’t necessary if the chicken is sliced thinly. Place in a sealed bag with the Italian dressing for as long as possible (overnight marinating is ideal).
In a large nonstick frying pan or sauté pan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil until shimmering, over medium heat. Carefully arrange the chicken breasts in the oil – you may need to do several batches. Turn when the chicken has seared and turned golden brown, then turn the heat to medium, cover, and let finish cooking. When the chicken is cooked all the way through (about 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on how thin you’ve sliced the chicken), remove and allow to rest on a plate, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Add another tbsp. of olive oil to the pan, and add the sliced onions. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and make sure to use your utensil (no metal, don’t want to scratch the pan) to scrape the browned bits of flavor from the chicken up. Add the mushrooms and cook down. Add salt and pepper as needed. When the onions are soft and the mushrooms are browned, pour the mixture over the chicken and serve.
Side Dish: Roasted Brussels Sprouts
The oven should still be hot from the bruschetta – bring the temperature to 425. In a roasting pan, toss the quartered Brussels sprouts with enough olive oil to coat, then toss with salt and pepper. Zest the lemon into the roasting pan and mix. Place in the oven on the top rack for roughly 20 minutes, giving the sprouts a toss after ten minutes. Squeeze lemons over the top, and put back in the oven for five minutes. Serve warm.
Dessert: Chocolate Cherry Sundae
½ a bag of frozen cherries (thawed), or 8 oz fresh cherries, pitted and halved
½ cup of light brown sugar
1 tbsp coconut oil or butter
½ of a lemon
1/3 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Chocolate ice cream
Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a saucepan. When the oil is hot, add the cherries. Add the salt and stir, allowing the liquid to cook out of the cherries. When the cherries are soft, use a potato masher to smash the cherries. Add the brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and squeeze the lemon juice into the pan. Mix and cook down until thick and syrupy. Depending on how sweet you like your desserts, use as much brown sugar as desired – if you prefer it more tart, use more lemon juice.
Serve over chocolate ice cream with whipped cream and any other topping you may desire, like nuts or sprinkles. If the cherry sauce is too warm, it will melt the ice cream, so be sure to let it cool down a little.
There it is – a perfect Valentine’s Day meal. Assuming that your home is well-stocked with oil and basic pantry staples, the whole meal for two people should cost roughly $20-25, with leftovers for the next day. That would barely cover one person’s entrée at a fancy restaurant meal, which could range anywhere from $100-$400. Not only will you save money, but your special someone will be touched and thrilled that you made this beautiful dinner. There’s no need to go into credit card debt for one expensive night with your sweetheart, when you can have an even more special night for less money.
For more cheap Valentine’s Day ideas, check back next week for last minute Valentine’s Day activities and more tips and tricks for a budget-friendly celebration. In the meantime, take our poll over at ConsumerCredit.com and let us know how much you plan to spend on Valentine’s Day this year and how much you typically spend on date night.