Here's the situation... Before kids, we loved to go on extravagant dates. Expensive,delectable restaurants in the center of town. Spontaneous excursions. We had fun. Even on a college budget there was always fun to be had via snowboarding trips to the mountains, game nights with friends, renting out the rink for private ice skating, karaoke, Harlem globetrotters games, open mic night, dance clubs, blah blah blah...
Fast forward to 2014: Having two preschool-aged boys makes it tougher to get away from the homestead, and it's truly impossible to be spontaneous. Competent babysitters are few and far between, and going to Philadelphia so we can dine at our favorite restaurant is not in the budget.
So- it is time to get creative. How can I make-believe we are having dinner at Tequila's, and avoid spending hundreds of dollars? How can we get around the challenge of finding an available, trustworthy babysitter for the night? (Where are all the level-headed, interactive teenagers hiding??)
The answer: Steal ideas from the menu, put the kids to bed for the night, and make cooking as a couple part of the experience. The result: AMAZING food, surprisingly good teamwork, and a memory far more special than the usual night out.
Do I feel guilty for stealing the menu of this grand restaurant, and practically replicating their options in my kitchen? A little bit. No. Many people would never take the DIY approach (it's no good if you're impatient and hate cooking), and I hardly expect the restaurant's business will suffer because of my choice. And so, inspired by their Valentine's Day themed Special Lovers Banquet menu, we agreed to make sangria, a festive salad, rib eye steak in chorizo sauce, chocolate truffles with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet, and our favorite appetizer: queso fundido.
Next, I scoured the internet for recipes (links included below) that sounded close enough to our selections. The ingredients list tool on Allrecipes.com was helpful for some of the choices, and I also used Google to search for things by name.
I had a memo on my cellphone with a list of the ingredients needed for our dinner. We went shopping yesterday, and spent $73 at the grocery store, and another $26 at the liquor store (wine & raspberry pucker for sangria, mexican beer for the queso fundido). Spanish/Mexican food is CHEAP when you shop at the grocery stores! You may have to find a Spanish store for chorizo (hot sausage) or chayotes (a Mexican squash) but we found practically everything with no trouble at all.
I also will admit that some of the prep was done last night. I made the raspberry sorbet (it needed to freeze) and mixed up the sangria (the flavors blend better overnight), and we also made the chocolate truffles and put them in the fridge. It was easy and didn't take long.
Today needed to be an early dinner because of a commitment at 7pm. (Although I highly recommend you do this at night if you have young children, and let them watch a movie in bed while you cook. Tuck them in, say goodnight, and you're ready for your date in the next room!)
The sun was shining, it was time to make dinner, and I needed a hat.
At 3:30 this afternoon, we started chopping, grating, and sautéing.
I branched out of my comfort zone and touched raw steak. Massaged it, actually, with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. Not my favorite part of this thing.
By 5:00pm, we were sitting down to a very Tequilas-esque dinner, all within the comfort of the kitchen.
It was fun, and really delicious. And I am no chef. Want to try? I dare you to get inspired by your favorite restaurant's menu, and research some recipes to make with your honey. Make a memory and save money. By the way, the amount of food we made was way more than we would have been served while dining out. We had enough to share with others, plus there is queso fundito and a plate of truffles in my fridge right now.
Going to Philly for dinner at Tequilas would have cost us $303.95
Appetizer (queso fundido) $9.95
2 extra glasses of sangria $16
Valentines Special ($75 per person) $150
20% gratuity fee ($40)
Roundtrip train tickets $38 (to avoid the gas, tolls, & parking garage cost)
5 hours of Babysitting (rate: $10/hr) $50
We spent almost $100 on everything we needed, and our kids were safely at home with us while we enjoyed our dinner for two.
Here are the recipes we followed!
Carmelized Almonds (for the salad)
Rib Eye Steak with Chorizo sauce (the rub wasn't included with this guide, but I used olive oil, sea salt & black pepper)