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A romantic date-night dinner for less than $10

By Penelope Wall, February 3, 2011 - 11:34am

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The last time my husband and I ate at our favorite French bistro, our post-meal bliss was slightly dampened by the arrival of the bill: costing almost $100 once we counted the tip. $100 for two people! I do love eating out at restaurants, but sometimes I wonder: are those few hours of indulgence really worth the cost?

Well, yes, sometimes for a really amazing meal—and if you can afford it—it is nice to just get away. But my husband and I are trying to be more careful with our spending this year. So lately on date night, we opt to save a little moolah by cooking together at home.

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“Cooking at home is almost always cheaper than if you eat out,” says Jessie Price, EatingWell’s Deputy Food Editor and author of EatingWell on a Budget. “It’s almost always healthier too. Home-cooked meals are more likely to have reasonable serving sizes. Plus you can limit unhealthy ingredients like butter, salt and cream that are always big players in restaurant meals.”

One less-tangible benefit I’ve also discovered is that cooking (and yes, even washing the dishes) together with your husband can actually be quite romantic. So for Valentine’s Day we’ll pick a menu we’re both excited about, set the iPod to Charles Aznavour, light a few candles and presto! A lovey-dovey, delicious dinner at home.

More Recipes to Try: Valentine’s Day Dinner Recipes

Here is a favorite bistro-style dinner menu, perfect for Valentine’s Day, that clocks in at less than $10:

Quick Chicken Cordon Bleu for Two
Active time: 35 minutes | Total: 35 minutes
Cost per serving: under $2.50 | Cost per recipe: under $4.50

To make traditional cordon bleu, you layer prosciutto (or other ham) and cheese in between thin slices of chicken or veal, then bread and sauté the whole stack. This quick, easy version keeps the flavors the same, but skips the fussy layering and breading steps.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (10-12 ounces), trimmed and tenders removed (see Tip)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon reduced-fat cream cheese
2 tablespoons coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs (see Tip)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley or thyme
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped ham (about 1/2 ounce)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Sprinkle chicken with 1/8 teaspoon pepper and salt. Combine cheese and cream cheese in a bowl. Combine the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper with breadcrumbs, parsley (or thyme) and 1 teaspoon oil in another bowl.
3. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a medium, ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Move the chicken to the center so the pieces are touching. Spread with the cheese mixture, sprinkle with ham, then top with the breadcrumb mixture.
4. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center and an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F, 5 to 7 minutes.

Makes 2 servings.

Per serving: 280 calories; 13 g fat (4 g sat, 6 g mono); 98 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 34 g protein; 1 g fiber; 331 mg sodium; 260 mg potassium.

Tip: It can be difficult to find small chicken breasts. Remove the strip of meat from the underside of a 5- to 6-ounce breast—the “tender,” about 1 ounce of meat—to yield a perfect individual portion. Freeze the tenders and use them in a stir-fry.

Note: We like Ian’s brand of coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs, labeled “Panko breadcrumbs.” Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets. To make your own breadcrumbs, trim crusts from firm sandwich bread. Tear the bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until dry, about 15 minutes. One slice of bread makes about 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs.

Buttermilk-Herb Mashed Potatoes
Active time: 5 minutes | Total: 20 minutes
Cost per serving: under $0.25 | Cost per recipe: under $0.50

Simmering a garlic clove with the potato infuses it with flavor. Use whatever fresh herbs you have in your refrigerator.

1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Place potato in a small saucepan and cover with water. Add garlic. Bring to a boil; cook until the potato is tender. Drain; add butter and buttermilk, and mash with a potato masher to the desired consistency. Stir in herbs. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Makes 2 servings.

Per serving: 85 calories; 2 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 5 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber; 87 mg sodium; 416 mg potassium.

Mary’s Zucchini with Parmesan for Two
Active time: 35 minutes | Total: 35 minutes
Cost per serving:  under $1.50 / Cost per recipe: under $2.50

This is how our Test Kitchen Manager’s mom prepares her just-picked zucchini. Simple and delicious, the almost caramelized zucchini are topped with a Parmesan crust.

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and cook, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, until tender and most of the slices are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, sprinkle with salt and pepper; stir to combine. Sprinkle with cheese, cover and cook until the cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve warm.

Makes 2 servings, 3/4 cup each.

Per serving: 101 calories; 6 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 7 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 7 g protein; 2 g fiber; 333 mg sodium; 603 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (68% daily value), Potassium (17%), Calcium (16%).

What do you cook when you want to make a romantic meal at home?

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TAGS: Penelope Wall, Food Blog, Budget meals, Dinner, Entertaining, Family meals

Penelope Wall
Penelope is Senior Digital Editor for EatingWell.

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