An empty wallet shouldn't dictate whether or not you celebrate your anniversary with a gourmet feast.
During hard economic times, having a wonderful anniversary celebration might seem like an impossible feat. There's no money to hit that fancy restaurant, and it's hard to light the candles, cook up some delicious eats, and surprise your beloved. The surprise and mystery are gone when you're picking up anniversary groceries during the weekly supermarket trek, or desperately trying to hide them from prying eyes until the big day.
But while it's sometimes tricky, it isn't impossible to prepare a super-secret and affordable dinner for that romantic anniversary night. The key is to work with what you have, what you can afford, what you know, and what you can prepare easily. We all know the allure of flowers, dim lights, and flickering candles, but when it comes to food, we often get stuck.
When you try to cook up a fancy meal at home, it's easy to let your imagination run away from you and get you in over your culinary head. Instead of trying to be a chef, be yourself. Just make it more gourmet.
One of the easiest meals is pasta, which can be amped up for a special occasion with artisan pasta and/or gourmet sauce. Rather than the cheap box and jar, pick up that fancy pasta package and smother it in something like Williams-Sonoma's slow-simmered sauces (carbonara, florentine, or all-amatriciana). Pair the meal with some fresh basil leaves, a crispy baguette, and maybe a tossed salad. The pasta and sauce can be pre-bought and easily hidden away.
Pastas are only the beginning. If burgers are your thing, grab a fancy cheese (maybe bleu or gruyere) and some unusual meat -- or better yet, make a selection of sliders with different flavors. Pair burgers with herb-roasted potatoes instead of french fries or potato salad. If breakfasts are your thing, have a late-night breakfast in bed with lap-tables, ambient lighting, and juicy mimosas. Or whip up an easy quiche lorraine, which is simply whipped eggs with cream and spices poured into a pie shell with cheese and bacon. Simply adapt to the situation and add as much flair as you can afford, whether that's slightly fancier ingredients from the grocery, or a shave or three of rare truffles and a bottle of Barolo.
Not everything can be hidden or stored elsewhere, but it can be mis-labeled. There is, of course, some risk involved, but just match it with a good story. If there's a food you love that your partner doesn't (tripe, perhaps?), label the fancy pasta sauce that, so they won't touch it or even look at it. If your love eats everything, label the secret groceries something else and say they're for another occasion -- maybe the family is coming over, there's a big game, an overnight guest, or an upcoming party. If the ingredients don't need to be refrigerated, store them with childhood memorabilia or with clothes you've put away for the season.
Likewise, plan well. If you use ingredients that are normally on your grocery list, your significant other will have no idea. Pick up vegetables and other basics with the regular groceries. Leave only the notable and special ingredients for hiding or buying the day of.
Get Help from Friends
Your best resources are the people you know. They can store random ingredients, or better yet, offer up new flavors. Instead of buying a bunch of new ingredients for the big day that you have to hide, and might never use again, ask around for spices and mixes from friends, herbs from their gardens, or other culinary flairs and advice your inner circle can offer. If a helpful friend lives close by, prep food at their place that can be picked up or delivered the day of. This allows for more options and super-secret storage. Along the same vein, store ingredients for the dinner at the office away from prying eyes -- just beware hungry co-workers.
When Cooking is Completely Out of Reach...
...all hope is not lost. Whether you're just hopeless in the kitchen, or cannot hide a meal from your mate, you've got two great options. The night of the big day, either hit a local gourmet take-out place for a few basics you can re-heat and re-plate, or settle for fancy finger foods. As nice as a home-cooked meal is, it can be just impressive to lay out delicious bites on a long wooden board. Fancy cheese. Antipasto. Pickled vegetables. Charcuterie. Any and all of these can make for a gourmet and special meal, and might even be the best bet. Why? There's almost no clean-up. Just the utensils you dirty to cut and display the food. It offers the most intimate experience -- you can easily head outside and eat as the sun sets, curl up on the couch together, or run off for an impromptu, late-night picnic.
Whatever the feast, pair the meal with a delicious and affordable bottle or two of wine, a decadent dessert, and you'll have an anniversary surprise to remember without the disastrous dinner bill.
Looking for recipes? Try this green salad with goat cheese and walnuts, from Kitchen Daily!