Lesson #17: How to Be (Or Have) a Cheap Date

by Rachel on August 26, 2010

I’m broke.

I’d own this, but I can’t afford to.

Seriously, moving to Houston was a great idea, but it’s left my bank account a little, well…”fucking depleted” is the best word for it. (Would anyone like to buy a really nice Marc Jacobs bag for a great price? No seriously. E-mail me.) I’m OK with my status for the most part, but it’s frustrating because it means I’ve been cooking less. Usually cooking is the cheapest thing to do, but because I have no pantry staples anymore, it’s actually been a little pricey. That is depressing.

My objective for last night’s date night was finding a recipe that was really cheap. I searched the Eat, Live, Run “Good Eats” page and found some great ideas (seriously, all her recipes are rocking my world lately and I’m pretty much going to cook my way through her blog until her food memoir comes out next year). I worked with my budget in mind, made some adjustments and…I’m really proud of how I did!

The main course: Summery Sausage Pasta

This is how we do it: This recipe was inspired by the Eat, Live, Run pasta with shrimp, but Eric isn’t crazy about shrimp. I wasn’t sure what to do instead, but when I saw that Central Market had sausage on sale for $3.99/lb, I knew I had a winner. I love sausage in Italian dishes, and Eric and I had a conversation the other day about how great sausage is. Sausage is great option for a date because most guys like to eat meat (it makes them feel manly or something) and it’s pretty cheap!

The dish was extremely simple and easy. I sauteed some onion and garlic in butter, added chopped zucchini, red pepper, yellow squash, and the sausage, and then let it all get nice and brown. While it cooked, I made penne in a pot; when it was al dente, I added a can of diced, no-salt added tomatoes and two tablespoons of heavy cream and gave it all a toss; then I topped it with fresh basil.

I loved this. Loved it. And Eric did too, which I suppose matters in this case. It was summery, perfectly seasoned (the sausage gives it so much flavor!), and and super light. We definitely did not have the “be stuff or get stuffed” dilemma with this meal. I’m excited to make it using different seasonal veggies after trips to the farmers market.

Eric pointed out that this was the second recipe I’d made recently with pork that turned out really, really, well. “You are a girl who knows your sausage,” he said.

“Stop,” I said. “Right now. This is not the sort of thing I want to see you run with.”

The dessert: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I used the Eat, Live, Run recipe, which is actually the work of food blogger Beth, and oh…oh wow.

The secret to these is browning the (fourteen tablespoons of!!!) butter. They were incredible. I followed the directions perfectly, went with 12 minute cooking times, and died of happiness with every bite. This is going to be my go-to chocolate chip recipe for a long time.

Eric actually came over a little early so we cooked most of this meal together, which is a great date activity if you ask me. While the cookies weren’t terribly complicated, the recipe does require you to whisk the batter three separate times and then let it rest for a few minutes each time, so it’s a good one to make with a guy. Unwrapping a refrigerated pack of dough and breaking them apart together doesn’t really have the same effect.

The best part? I only spent $26 on everything it took to make this. That’s not too bad for a dinner date, plus I was at a pricey grocery store and I had to buy things like flour and sugar that I’d normally have on hand and I had to buy more organics than I would have normally. And the dinner for two didn’t actually cost $26; I have so much food left over from this, I will not go hungry for a while.

So this was a cheap date, but it totally could be even cheaper; if I’d sucked it up and gone to Wal-Mart for everything, I probably would have saved a bundle…but then I’d have to pay for a tetanus shot after, so it probably wouldn’t have been worth it.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cynthia (It All Changes) August 26, 2010 at 8:32 am

When Hunni and I first started dating we were eating in the seminary cafeteria. Our dates consisted of wandering department stores and Home Depot planning what we wanted in our future homes. Some times we are still that broke!

I love this series!

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2 Rachel August 26, 2010 at 8:35 am

Ha I love that!! Eric and I like driving through mansions and planning our future homes too!

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3 Elisabeth August 26, 2010 at 8:41 am

I have the recipe for those chocolate chip cookies all printed out, I just haven’t had an opportunity to make them yet. You know…that whole “not having a kitchen” thing is sort of putting my tryst on hold.

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4 Sophie @ yumventures August 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

Cooking amazing food on a budget can be so hard, but you totally rocked this one! I love ELR’s recipes right now too – you HAVE to try her zucchini pizza. Also cheap, also amazing!

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5 Rachel August 26, 2010 at 9:50 am

I know, after I saw your post on it, I realized that I really, really do need to make it!

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6 Alli August 26, 2010 at 10:23 am

I made that a few weeks ago and added roasted garlic to the ricotta and sauteed onions on top – so good!

And Rachel, your pasta is definitely going to be dinner at my house tonight…

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7 ashleigh August 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

Ok, I thought I was the only one who thought that everything Jenna makes looks so delicious and for the most part simple. I need to make her gazpacho ASAP.

Loving the How To’s! I love to make my own meals because it is so much cheaper than going out. I am so sick of getting $20 salads when I can spend way less to make my own and have it be fresher.

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8 Ashley August 26, 2010 at 9:47 am

That looks excellent! I am really into both Jenna’s and Beth’s blogs lately, too.

We actually have sweet Italian turkey sausage for part of tonight’s dinner …. now I am really excited!

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9 Trinidad Pena August 26, 2010 at 10:06 am

That looks so good! I have a similar dish that I make with shrimp but I use cream cheese instead of heavy cream. It’s so good. I might try it with sausage next time… I’m making a serious attempt at eating less meat during the week, so maybe with just veggies as well!

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10 Laura Georgina August 26, 2010 at 10:07 am

Your pasta looks awesome! My little sister makes a similar one, but without the basil, which I’m sure makes it taste super fresh.

As for those cookies…. They look supremely un-cakey. My cookies are ALWAYS cakey. You know who will be trying them!

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11 Michelle @ Give Me the Almond Butter August 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

I love cooking as a cheap date. A lot of the guys I date also really like cooking, so we make it a cooking and watching our football team date. It’s very fun and inexpensive!

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12 Tara August 26, 2010 at 2:52 pm

So I’m a post late but I’m just going to do it….

I am officially owning Wal-Mart!!!

Sorry, I’m NOT sorry. Yes, it’s true, I think I am the only one LOVES that store but I don’t give a What!! And yes, I hate Target.

I certainly could have owned something more…uh, meaningful or profound, but this is just the kind of girl I am; Going to battle over Wal-mart!

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13 Rachel August 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm

OMG Tara, you are hilarious!!

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14 Rachel's Mom August 26, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Tara, don’t feel bad. I love Walmart, too. Rachel will tell you that this is true.

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15 Tara August 27, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Rachel’s Mom- I’m sure she doesn’t let you hear the end of it much like my loved ones. This is just another reason why you are so in the running for best commenter, imo. You always have the best/nicest/funniest comments and I now have a Walmart friend!

Now the reason I tore myself off the couch to locate this reply. I just got done shamelessly watching Paula Deen on a beautiful Friday afternoon. And she was making a delish quickie Chicken Pot Pie (I so wish I could eat that). And she added an entire stick of butter…for no reason!! And her response, “I use so much butter….because I can.” Paula totally just owned her margarine addiction on TV (not that she had to, we’ve figured that out by now). Of course, she did it in her totally southern, I should really call my grandma, Paula Deen charm kind of way, which made it seem completely guilt-free.

Oh and for kicks, she totally SHOVED a blueberry tart in her mouth at the end of the show.

Gotta LOVE IT!!!

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16 Rachel August 27, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Paula owns it…she really does. And this just reminded me that I want to stress eat the rest of those cookies.

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17 Sarah August 26, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I’ll buy all of your fitbook pens off of you :)

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18 Kendra August 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I’ve wanted to try those cookies ever since reading that post but I’m not really in cooking mode at the moment. Looking at those pictures is making me hungry.

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19 KittyLili September 12, 2010 at 7:14 am

The only kind of sausage I have ever bought is smoked turkey sausage. What kind do I buy to make this recipe?

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20 Rachel September 12, 2010 at 7:57 am

Kitty — You can do a couple different types of sausage here. One option is just getting the large linked sausage and cutting it into medallions and then cooking it. But I made this recipe last week and I just bought bulk Italian sausage…I just browned it in the pan and it was in crumbles. I am sure chicken or turkey sausage would work well too! Trader Joe’s has really yummy chicken sausage.

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21 KittyLili September 19, 2010 at 6:50 pm

For some reason, I’ve never really noticed the ground sausage at the grocery store! I purchased some Italian style, and it worked great in this recipe — I made it tonight! Thanks, Rachel! :]

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22 Rachel September 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Oh awesome! Thanks for letting me know!! :)

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