Dazzle Your Date With a Delicious Dinner That Won't Leave You Broke

Meal tips for the perfect dinner for two at home.

Apr 9 2018, 4:31pm

Photo by Eugene Mymrin / Getty Images

So you swiped right on your probably-soulmate, but your bank account is in no position for a night out. Before you unleash that emergency credit card to impress a dinner date, consider repurposing your grocery budget for an upscale night in that’s so much better than actually leaving the house anyway. Dim those lights (or unscrew a few light bulbs, should your lights not have a dimmer), scoop your clothes off the floor and unleash these expert-approved tips and tricks to set up a casual yet indulgent and inexpensive date night at home.

Kick it off with some cheese

It’s an established fact that nothing says romance like a cheese plate, especially when that cheese is slightly better than pre-packaged supermarket stuff. Adam Goddu, Education Manager at Murray’s Cheese recommends Harbison ($23 for nine ounces, which serves six) for “no work fondue” i.e. the creamiest cheese you can dip cornichons, crostini and charcuterie like hot sopressata into, just by letting the wheel de-thaw from the fridge before you serve it.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but waking your date up to a breakfast of eggs and Harbison isn’t a bad move either.

Up your pasta game

You don’t have to be a Michelin-starred chef to serve a swoon-worthy plate of pasta. Nor do you even have to splurge for the not-on-sale jar of marinara at the store or learn how to use a fresh pasta machine. We eat with our eyes, especially when it comes to a heaping plate of pasta, so make it look like it came out of a restaurant kitchen and your dining partner will be impressed.

“Try saucing the pasta in a sauce pan before plating,” suggests New York chef and pasta legend Michael White. “This finishes cooking the pasta and looks much better than pouring the sauce on top in the serving dish.” Sprinkling some shredded parm ($2 for many, many servings) or adding a dollop of ricotta (which can be made out of milk and lemon juice for free, or $2 at grocery stores) can launch that pre-sauced pasta to new restaurant-level highs.

Ready for level two? Add a sprinkle of carbs. “Another trick I like to use is finishing with breadcrumbs toasted in garlic oil with parsley,” White says. “Just that small crunch from the breadcrumbs and garlic-parsley flavor can really elevate the simplest of dishes.” Even better, it will only set you back about a dollar -- unless you DIY those bread crumbs with stale, toasted bread, for free!

DIY your own fancy booze

Disguise that bottle of bottle shelf liquor you have leftover from a houseparty five months ago by making it fancy and flavored. "Steep your favorite tea in your favorite vodka,” suggests Myriah Quintela bartender at Sweet Afton in Astoria, New York. “I like black tea, steeped for about 18 hours. Add honey or sugar and lemon for an Arnold Palmer-style drink fo' summa time!"

Total price: $20 if you need a new bottle of vodka, grab some free tea bags from your office kitchen or splurge for a $3 box of tea at the store. To execute that stirred cocktail like a mixologist, server Kristin Muri, of New York’s The Spaniard, suggests using a long bar spoon rather than “a chopstick or a butter knife to mix with.”

Round out your meal with a digestif

Americans aren’t privy to to the European custom of drinking a digestif, i.e. a drink that literally helps you digest all the pasta you just inhaled, but it’s a cool way to round out a special meal at home. Morgan McGarry, bar manager at New York’s The Wren recommends pouring some Montenegro (about $27 a bottle, and a typical pour is two ounces, so this will last a while) to round out your night.

"It's smooth: it doesn't have the same bite and bitterness of an amaro like Fernet, which has too many aggressive flavors for me,” McGarry says. “It's on the sweeter side, and with a splash of bourbon or rye—we like Michter's in my house—it's perfectly balanced." Unlike other after dinner drinks, amaro is great poured straight from the room temperature bottle, or over a large ice cube, if you prefer. Best of all, it’s easy.

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