Food + Time x 2 - Money = Dinner
January 13, 2012 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Chefing for two? What recipes/menus are good for a "cooking date" night, and will keep my boyfriend and I occupied for a couple hours on a Sunday evening? Frugality level: high. Dietary restrictions: none

Most recipes these days focus on minimal prep, but if you go to the other end of the scale for high gourmet, there are often extensive and expensive ingredient lists. Neither of us cook from scratch much during the week, so specialty perishables often end up going to waste.

What I'm looking for is meals that cook in less than an hour, but require a lot of pieces or labor intensive prep. Not all day, but a couple hours. Ravioli and potstickers seem like they'll fit this, but I want more options, especially with red meat.

posted by itesser to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Gnocchi would seem to fit in with this. With a meat sauce.
posted by veggieboy at 4:05 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by charmedimsure at 4:10 PM on January 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Home-made fettuccini and meatballs in a marinara sauce. Badda-bing, badda-boom!
posted by essexjan at 4:13 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lasagna. This recipe seems labor intensive enough, because you make the sauce from scratch, but you can make it more labor-intensive if you make the pasta from scratch.
posted by elizeh at 4:13 PM on January 13, 2012

Anything involving scratch-made mole sauce.
posted by adamrice at 4:17 PM on January 13, 2012

(also, tamales freeze well, so once you find your Tamale Zen you can just make a zillion and throw all but a few in the freezer; I've used them up to a year later with no gastric or taste repercussions)
posted by charmedimsure at 4:20 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Make green chile tomatillo enchiladas from scratch. Very delicious and time consuming. Less time intensive, but really fun to do together for fun are Thai noodle dishes.
posted by coolsara at 4:21 PM on January 13, 2012

A nice chile colorado might fit the bill. Making the sauce is a bit labor intensive. Then there's some downtime while it all cooks together real nice and you can watch a movie or play some Scrabble, then it's done and it's awesome!

This is a pretty good (if kind of hard to read) recipe:
posted by ronofthedead at 4:23 PM on January 13, 2012

Lentil soup with french lentils or spanish rice or chile (Less than an hour not really but you can and it will taste even better tomorrow) or beef stew or homemade noodles in browned butter sauce with basil (No meat).

Maybe ratatouille. Just pick a soup with a ton of veggies and some extra prep like sauteing the veggies or roasting garlic.

Try some homemade pizza. You won't be able to make breadbaker's apprentice type awesome dough, but you can make some good dough and then make a few pizzas. The prep is everything and the cooking is a few minutes if you throw some bricks or a stone in your oven.
posted by penguinkeys at 4:26 PM on January 13, 2012

Homemade pizza, with made-from-scratch dough and sauce.
posted by thisjax at 4:28 PM on January 13, 2012

Enchiladas always take me forever, but don't require perishable or expensive ingredients the way I make them. They'd take longer if I made my own sauce or added meat. (Don't let the canned sauce scare you off, though--this is how my Texan college roommate always made them, and they're delicious.)

My "recipe" is pretty simple: doctor up a couple cans of spicy red enchilada sauce with some crushed garlic and brown sugar to taste, let that simmer on the stove while you finely chop a white onion and shred a block of mozzarella or jack cheese. Set up an assembly line in this order: pot of oil on a stove burner, the pot of sauce, a baking dish, bowls of onion and cheese. Heat the oil and drop in a corn tortilla until it puffs up and just slightly almost starts to turn golden, pull it out with tongs, dip it in the sauce, lay it in the baking dish, and sprinkle with onion and cheese. (You may lose a couple tortillas to burning or tearing, I always do--smallish, silicone-tipped tongs work best for the job, bigger or metal ones tend to rip the tortillas.) Repeat the process, stacking the tortillas, until you have two stacks slightly smaller than you think you want to eat (they're very filling). Sprinkle the stacks with a final layer of cheese and bake at 350 for 10 minutes or so.

If you're feeling ambitious, you can serve them with Mexican rice--or a salad to balance out the stack of tortillas you're eating.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:28 PM on January 13, 2012

Lots of soups require a lot of chopping. Chopping is not that fun, though.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:31 PM on January 13, 2012

Naan bread (on the griddle) and shish kabobs.

Pupusas and curtido.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:43 PM on January 13, 2012

Pad Thai. The beauty of pad thai is that you can easy-it-up (or budget-it-up) if making the pad thai sauce from scratch isn't working out, but still have enough to "do" by just preparing all the food components in advance. (Someone's Thai grandmother may not be quite as proud of you, but you two are the only ones eating it, right?)

An elaborate, yet workable, from-scratch recipe is here (Alton Brown's) - the most exotic ingredients are dried shrimp, palm sugar, and tamarind paste. The "rice stick noodles" and "five-spice powder" may also be a bit of a trick if your supermarket doesn't have an Asian foods section. But -- fortunately, I've made this using regular sugar instead of palm sugar and just skipping the dried shrimp entirely. And if you also can't find tamarind paste either, you could just scrap all the sauce ingredients and just use a bottled pad thai sauce (in a lot of supermarkets, if they don't have the more exotic stuff, they'll at least have a jar of pad thai sauce over in the "asian foods" shelf). "Rice stick noodles" is just rice noodles. and you can swap out the marinated tofu for plain chicken breast or shrimp, and swap out the salted cabbage for bok choy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:48 PM on January 13, 2012

How about breakfast for dinner? Eggs benedict from scratch (make your own muffins and hollandaise sauce. Or waffles from scratch with fried chicken, or eggs and steak, etc. Just the idea of breakfast for dinner csn have several delicious varieties.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:58 PM on January 13, 2012

We made an indian dinner the other day. We picked up all the ingredients from a local indian grocery place, and they worked out very cheaply per kilo (except for the lamb). We made palak paneer (including making the paneer from scratch), dal makhani (requires most of the day to cook, though), aloo paratha, lamb rogan josh, raita, and mango chutney (could make a non-mango one if mangoes are too expensive). Because there are lots of parts to the meal, the whole thing took all day to prepare. But you wouldn't have to make so many dishes.

Yes, this was just for the two of us, but we made small portions of everything, and ate it for four days in a row, just making fresh rice each time.
posted by lollusc at 5:08 PM on January 13, 2012

Homemade pita bread. You can make hummus or shish kabobs to go with the bread.

Nthing homemade pasta and gnocchi.
posted by asphericalcow at 5:19 PM on January 13, 2012

If you want to spend some time together squishing and mushing stuff and then have an awesome little assembly line, I suggest Italian Croquettes.

This is the basic recipe. To knock this out of the park, put bigger (a little smaller than pinky size) chunks of mozzarella in the center of the croquettes. Fry some lean bacon and finely chop it so that it's proportional to the parm and add to the potato mixture.

You can use any Italian cured meat like pancetta or capicola, but bacon it cheaper and just as good.

If you don't like frying stuff, I don't, you can drizzle these with olive oil and bake them in a very hot oven for just a few minutes. Just keep an eye on them.

posted by snsranch at 5:44 PM on January 13, 2012

Hit up Mark Bittman. He will impress your date.
posted by exois at 6:15 PM on January 13, 2012

Lots of soups require a lot of chopping. Chopping is not that fun, though.

Now,'s fun for some people :)

I think the potstickers would be a good idea and you could make a dipping sauce to go with them. Gnocci is another good idea and you can make it with what seems like almost anything(potatoes, ricotta, sweet potatoes, etc) or you could even try to make your own bread or pasta.

These lemon-ricotta gnoccis are delicious:

I second looking at Mark Bittman though, he actually has a potsticker recipe that has a bunch of ingredients but they're really good. There is also a ginger-scallion dipping sauce that I really like. I think it also has a bunch of garlic though so might not be the best date food...but if you both eat it you'll both have garlic breath.
posted by fromageball at 6:27 PM on January 13, 2012

I second Indian food. It can take all day to prepare but is very cheap. Parathas are fantastic dipped in a cilantro-onion pesto.
posted by jeather at 7:58 PM on January 13, 2012

Chicken and dumplings (rolled, not dropped) is fairly time consuming. And delicious. And cheap.

Not dinner, but a good evening project for a week's worth of breakfast - homemade poptarts.
posted by cessair at 8:10 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make your own french fries to go with the red meat. The kind where you fry them twice. Labor intensive, cheap, and really good.
posted by Cocodrillo at 12:52 AM on January 14, 2012

Meaty Pies! with dough from scratch. Chicken pot pies, steak and mushroom pies, pork pies, stargazey pies, tourtiere— fun to assemble, made from mostly inexpensive bits, great presentation, a neat trick to have in your repertoire. Go big and have leftovers, go small and have individual-sized pies in ramekins.
posted by mumkin at 1:57 AM on January 14, 2012

Emeril's tandoori style chicken drumsticks. Drumsticks are cheap. The spice list is longer (garam marsala and tumeric--can substitute dried mustard for tumeric), but those aren't perishable.

We've never done the yogurt dipping sauce and it's still good.
posted by ejaned8 at 6:05 AM on January 14, 2012

A nice chile colorado might fit the bill. Making the sauce is a bit labor intensive. Then there's some downtime while it all cooks together real nice and you can watch a movie or play some Scrabble, then it's done and it's awesome!

This is absolutely one of my favorite cooking date foods (whether it's two people cooking or I'm just cooking for them).

The best part of a chile colorado is that, after you've made the sauce and browned the meat, you just let it sit there and stew while you occasionally stir it or add water to the sauce. It takes at minimum an hour or so, and potentially two hours.

That is time that you can both stand or sit in the kitchen, with a beloved boozy beverage, kissin' on each other and playing grabass and talking about shit.
posted by Netzapper at 8:38 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a whole series 60 minute gourmet cookbooks. It would be be fun to cook your way through 1 of them.
posted by theora55 at 2:09 PM on January 15, 2012

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