Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Catherine Lamb shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: No matter your romantic status, here's how to make a Valentine's menu to moon over (without breaking the bank).
I don't really understand why people hate Valentine's Day so much. (Okay, maybe I get it a little.) Even at my singlest and most bitter, I still liked this holiday because it's so intimately linked to food. So no matter your situation, this Anna Howard Shaw Day, celebrate with some awesome eating. No, not at a fancy restaurant, because a) you're broke, and b) fancy clothes are very constricting (and thus bad for eating). Cook at home, because a) it's cheap and b) it's about seven bazillion times more romantic than eating out.
Maybe you're in love -- awesome! You should cook for your sweetheart, because no one can resist that. Maybe you're on a first date -- kudos! That's ballsy. You shoud cook for your new romantic interest; cooking for someone is the sexiest thing you can do. Maybe you're a free agent -- respect! Make your ideal meal, set up a thrasher movie, and invite some friends over. Or not. Just make sure you eat something pink and/or chocolatey.
Here's our cheap guide to Valentine's day, whatever your relationship status:
If you're in a long-term relationship...
Bring the (figurative) white tablecloth to you. Make two dishes that seem way more intimidating than they actually are: risotto and chocolate soufflé. Buy a bottle of mid-range wine, use a splash for the risotto, then drink the rest. Stir, talk, stir, drink, stir. Light some candles, play some cool jazz. Then pull some chocolate soufflés out of the oven for dessert (yes, you can).
A few risotto recipes to get you started:
- Butternut Squash and Saffron Risotto (skip the saffron if it's out of budget)
- Risotto al Raddichio
- Couscous Risotto with Tomato, Oregano, and Mozzerella
- Leek Risotto
If you're in a budding romance...
Nothing fuels the lusty fires of love like pizza. Specifically, homemade pizza. Making pizza from scratch is a fun, hands-on, super-cheap activity that you get to eat. Prep the dough the night before, whip up the easiest chocolate cake known to man, and stock your fridge with plenty of cheap prosecco or ice-cold beer (the best thing to drink with pizza). Then, the day of, you'll just have to set out your toppings, turn on the oven, and toss together a simple green salad. Talk about a cheap date.
A few topping combinations for inspiration:
- Cacio e Pepe with Roasted Radishes
- Broccoli Rabe, Potato, and Rosemary Pizza (substitute in regular broccoli for a cheaper option)
- Leek, Bacon, and Goat Cheese Pizza
If you're having your pals over...
Don't even contemplate making a three-course dinner, you overachieving fool. Ask friends to bring salad, appetizers, and mains -- you'll take care of drinks and dessert. The night before, make a few simple sauces (caramel and chocolate are essential) and whip some cream. As people begin to arrive, start mulling wine the genius way -- i.e. without losing the booze. Yes, boxed wine is acceptable. Throw in whatever warming ingredients you have on hand: cinnamon, allspice, cloves, honey, and orange peel are all good options. For dessert, pull out an industrial-sized budget gallon of vanilla ice cream to soften, set out your fixings, and have an ice cream party.
A few swoon-worthy ice cream toppings for your party:
- Real Caramel Sauce
- Spur of the Moment Dark Chocolate Sauce
- Homemade Sprinkles (in case you're seeking a challenge)
If you're flyin' solo...
You deserve the simplest, fastest, most soul-satisfying meal known to man: grilled cheese. If you've never tried this trick, you're in for a treat. You know what else is single serving? Cocktails. Thanks, Valentine's Day. See you next year.
A few (relatively thrify) drinks:
- Gin Spritz
- Bourbon, Orange, and Ginger (feel free to sub ginger beer for ginger syrup)
- The Negroni Flip (it's worth investing in Campari, and then you can make this and this.)
What are you eating this Valentine's Day? Tell us in the comments!