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Romance on a Budget

 Romance on a Budget

Renee Enna | Chicago Tribune

Valentine’s Day has gotten hit by hard times, and we’re not just talking about the recession.

Many of us have become cynical about this holiday of love, particularly when it comes to food.

No wonder. “Special” restaurant menus often mean price hikes that take advantage of starry-eyed souls staring so intently at their sweethearts that they hardly give a thought to the bill. Ditto for those who want to create the perfect romantic meal. Preparing $100 worth of beef and a 20-step, five-pan chocolate dessert can wear out cooks to the point that they’re still cleaning pans when they ought to be clinking a wine glass.

Enough already!

This year, with the holiday falling on a Saturday, it’ll be hard to ignore Valentine’s Day, and that’s OK – we don’t think you should.

Love is always worth a celebration. But how about a celebration that focuses on the love, not the credit card? Nor does it have to be exclusively for lovebirds. Maybe it’s time to celebrate with children, good friends, parents and cousins.

(Though, please, don’t let that stop you, lovebirds. The economy needs you.) Start by losing the pressure, and focusing on a dinner that’s fun, suggested Jamie Thompson, event coordinator at Catering by Michael’s in Morton Grove.

One of the first dishes Thompson recommended was fondue: cheese fondue for dipping appetizers, chocolate fondue for dipping fruit and plain cake. It’s easy, it’s cozy and any sturdy saucepan can take the place of the fondue pot.

“You huddle close around the pan, which makes it romantic,” said Thompson. Plus, she added, kids love dipping too.

For the main dish, skip the filet and dress up flank steak. It’s about a third of the price, said butcher Jerry Roberts of Jerry’s Quality Meats in Skokie.

“Flank steak can be great, as long as you get a little creative with it,” Roberts said. We took his advice and found a heart-healthy recipe that spices things up with a chili rub.

Cutting the steak properly, slicing against the grain on an angle (about 45 degrees), ensures an elegant presentation, Roberts advised.

You also can get creative with humble meatloaf, with the help of a cookie cutter and a squeeze jar holding seasoned ketchup; this is a dish that will especially appeal to younger valentines and holiday-leery guys.

That’s the idea: dishes that can work for two, or more than two. However many are at the table, it’s time to put Valentine’s Day back where it belongs: celebrating love, in all its forms, without breaking the bank – or giving you heartburn – in the process.

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