Thursday, September 18, 2008

Frugal Ideas for Date Nights At Home

Eric and I love having our date nights at home. In fact, until recently almost all of our date nights have been at home since Alex was born 4 years ago. We treasure our time together and view the nights as being about us just being together and doing something a little different than an average night.

I am always on the lookout for new ideas, or new restaurant-style recipes that I can recreate, to make our date nights fun and special. Here's a short list of some things we like to do.

  1. The obvious - dinner and a movie. Sometimes we will rent a movie (library or video store), sometimes we'll just watch t.v., and sometimes we'll find something fun on Hulu.
  2. Game night. In the past we've had my brother-in-law and his girlfriend over for this. Some games just can't be played with only 2 people. I'd like to see us do this more just the 2 of us. An all-night Monopoly or Scrabble marathon would be so much fun!
  3. "Breakfast" in bed. Sleeping in on Sunday mornings, lingering over coffee and breakfast in bed while watching the news used to be a favorite activity of ours. While we can't do that anymore, we can recreate the situation by having some special breakfast foods for dinner in bed while watching the news.
  4. Just plain old good food and good conversation. This is probably our most popular date night. We sit together and enjoy some restaurant-style treats while just talking without any distractions. It's not that much different that going out to a restaurant for a nice dinner.
  5. Some times we'll have dinner with the kids and then have a special dessert together, with some freshly-brewed coffee. Throw in either a movie, talking, or a game, and you have a perfect night.
  6. Take-out is a fun option too, although it's not as frugal as some of the others. But this is about treating ourselves and a little extra is so worth it sometimes.
Eric and I are both big fans of appetizers when we go to restaurants, so that is what I try to recreate at home most of the time. Here are a few of my favorite Restaurant-style recreations that are perfect for date-nights at home.

Cream Cheese Wontons
  • 1 8oz. block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 c. tahini
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • 1 pkg. wonton wrappers
  • Oil for frying
1. Blend the cream cheese, tahini, green onions, salt and garlic powder together.
2. Heat 1" of oil in a deep-sided skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat.
3. Add about 1 T. of filling in the center of each wrapper. Dip your finger in cold water, rub around the edges of wonton wrapper to moisten and seal.
4. Cook between 4-6 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Cook on one side until lightly browned, flip and brown the other side. (Sorry I don't have exact times for these. I always just wing it until they look right, and turn down the heat if they start browning too quickly.)
5. Drain on a towel and keep warm in the oven.

Chicken & vegetable wontons
  • 1/2 c. diced or shredded chicken
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 4 carrots, grated
  • 1 c. finely sliced/grated cabbage
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 mushrooms, diced
  • dipping sauce (recipe below)
  • wonton wrappers
  • oil for frying
1. Combine the first 8 ingredients. Stir in 2 T. dipping sauce.
2. Heat 1" of oil in a deep-sided skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat.
3. Add about 1 T. of filling to the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger in water to moisten the edges of the wrapper and seal.
4. Cook about 4-6 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Cook on one side until lightly browned, flip and brown the other side. Serve with dipping sauce.
Dipping Sauce
  • 1 c. Tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 t. freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until use. It tastes better the longer it sits. If desired, sauce can be thickened with 1 t. cornstarch or arrowroot powder mixed with a splash of water.

Wonton Ideas for Dessert
  • 1 pkg wonton wrappers
  • 1 pkg Hershey's kisses, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, or 1 jar Nutella (1 T. per wonton)
  • Oil for frying
  • Powdered sugar
1. Heat oil. Place filling of choice in the center. If using Nutella, close like a regular wonton. If using kisses or peanut butter cups, pull the edges up and seal just above the candy, like a drawstring purse.
2. Fry until all sides are brown and dust with powdered sugar.

Hot Tortilla Chips (just like at your favorite Mexican restaurant)
  • 1 pkg. corn tortillas
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt
1. Cut each tortilla into chip-sized wedges. Heat oil.
2. Cook each "chip" in oil until slightly brown on crispy on one side. Flip and cook the other side. Be careful not to crowd the pan.
3. Immediately after removing from the oil, sprinkle salt on the chips. Keep warm in an oven until all chips are done. Serve with your favorite salsa or other dip.

Spinach-Artichoke Dip
  • 1 pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 1 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 6oz. pkg. shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1. Mix everything together and spread in a pie plate or small casserole dish. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until bubbly.

Pizza Fondue
  • 2 c. pizza sauce (homemade or bottled)
  • 2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Cooked Italian sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, or any other combination of pizza toppings that you like.
  • Italian or sourdough bread, cubed
1. Combine pizza sauce, cheese, and any other toppings in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until cheese is fully melted. Transfer to a fondue pot and serve with bread cubes.

Also, this onion string recipe from Pioneer Woman is a new favorite.

That's just a few of our favorites, but this post is long enough already. Maybe I'll type up some more next week.

For more Frugal Friday, visit Crystal's blog.


Lora 12:47 AM  

Great ideas! My husband & I also enjoy just relaxing over good food and talking, talking, talking. And we love appetizers! These look like some good recipes--thanks! We've also tried PW's onion strings and they are amazing. I couldn't believe how easy they were to make.

Michele 1:01 AM  

Thanks so much for these great recipes, Kate! I've been looking forward to them. Yum! :)


Shynea @ Penny Pinching Diva 2:13 AM  

I really appreciate this post. I just made a post similar to this on my blog about date nights with my fiance. I never really thought about doing it at home, but you have given me a few ideas to start with. Plus, I love cream cheese wontons, so I am going to have to try this recipe soon.

superpaige 10:46 AM  

What yummy recipes! I'll have to try some of them. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. It's always fun to "meet" new people.

amysfinerthings 2:53 PM  

Great post! I'll have to try some of those recipes. Definitely "bookmark" worthy.

We do the same things... it's just not worth the hassle or money to actually LEAVE the house without the children, lol. Our favorite game is 5 point pitch. We keep track of points up to 11 and whoever wins gets a back rub. I'm not terribly competitive, but I'm gonna win the back rub, I tell ya!

Do you guys like jalapenos? I know you like bacon! I've got some cream cheese (mixed with other stuff) filled, bacon-wrapped jalapenos in the fridge now, ready to be baked after the football game. Yum!

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