5 Tips for a Budget-Friendly Valentine's Day Dinner

Save your food budget pennies for a really special gift.

This year, Valentine's Day dinners will likely be a bit different. Instead of crowded restaurants, most will have limited reservations, if they're open at all. And unless you were quick to call for a spot, you may have a seat at only the best place in town: your dining room table.

But don't let the change in venue ruin your evening. You can still cook a fancy, romantic dinner for two — and you can do so while staying within your monthly food budget.

Embrace inexpensive cuts of meat and fish, and add luxurious and ante-upping sauces that can be made with simple ingredients (like butter). Make Valentine's Day desserts from items you already have in the fridge and freezer, which will save you money in your budget and time at the store.

Even if you're willing to go outside your budget's lines just a bit for this important date night, there are still good tips here that can save you money and not take the luster off your meal. Celebrate love on a budget this year with these five wallet-friendly tips:

1. Embrace Cheaper Cuts and Frozen Seafood

Although the lauded filet mignon and rib-eye are the stars of the cow, they are also among the most expensive cuts of beef. But eschewing these cuts does not mean you have to abandon meat altogether.

A flat iron steak, for instance, which is a small, full-flavored cut of beef, can be as inexpensive as $1 a pound (as compared to $10-plus a pound for more expensive cuts).

If it's seafood you prefer, frozen shrimp, which costs around $15 to $20 for a two-pound bag, makes an excellent substitute for pricier fish and shellfish, like salmon, lobster, and scallops. Simple recipes, like shrimp scampi, require a handful of additional ingredients to elevate the shellfish to a prize-worthy centerpiece.

2. These Vegetables Won't Break the Bank

Although February is not necessarily the best time of year for fresh vegetables, there are actually plenty of delicious and affordable items right in your freezer aisle.

One 13-ounce bag of frozen peas will only set you back about $2, and with it you can make an easy, tasty, and decadent side that feels more than restaurant-worthy. Cream peas, suspended in a sauce made from butter and — you guessed it — heavy cream, feel decadent enough to hold up to a holiday.

But if cream is too rich for you, you can also try Italian peas, which improve on this frozen veg with garlic, onion, and a touch of chicken stock.

3. Make It Better with Butter

A veal demi-glace may be your sauce base of choice, but the ingredients to make this rich, brown sauce are also expensive. But you can make plenty of sauces with the home staple (and inexpensive hero) that is butter.

Béarnaise sauce, which is perfect with steak, is really no more than eggs, butter, and tarragon (with a touch of vinegar, wine, and lemon to make it sing).

An even easier option, which is perfect for pasta and shrimp, is a garlic butter sauce, which has only four total ingredients, one of which is, naturally, butter.

4. Use Your Freezer for a Prize-Worthy Dessert

Convinced you can't make a fancy dessert on a shoestring? Think again. If you have frozen fruit, vinegar, sugar, and butter in your house, then you have an affordable and impressive dessert covered. Make a butter-based piecrust and create hand pies with any fruit you happen to have on-hand (blueberries make the perfect hand pie).

Don't feel like making pies? Try a crumble instead. It's equally foolproof and budget-friendly.

5. Extend the Life of Your Bubbly

There's no denying it: Champagne is expensive. And one bottle for two people may feel like a huge investment, especially as that bottle begins to dwindle. In order to make that special bubbly last a little longer, turn your Champagne into a bellini, which is Champagne refreshed with peach purée or nectar. (If peach isn't your flavor of choice, add any nectar, juice, or purée that tickles your fancy.)

Or, opt for a Champagne cocktail instead, which is made with a sugar cube, bitters, and a lemon. You'll find that the latter takes longer to drink than a regular glass of Champagne, prolonging the joy.

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