Dinner Date at Your Place: Pull Off 3 Easy Meals that Won’t Break the Bank or Burn Down Your Kitchen

It's time for that all-important third date and you've decided to pull out the stops and impress her with a home cooked meal. Problem is, you've got no idea what, or even how, to cook an impressive one. Relax, this lessons on us.

Date number one went swimmingly. You picked her up right on time. She looked gorgeous and smelled even better. She laughed at all your jokes, nobody got anything stuck in their teeth, and there was nary an awkward pause.

Date two was even better. The conversation seemed to flow effortlessly, the wine was perfect, and the whole thing ended with a long make-out session in front of her apartment.

Finally the time has come for date number 3. You've invited her over to your place for Netflix and a home-cooked meal (a wise choice, as it's both impressive and economical). You've tidied, vacuumed, and removed the tattered Esquires and Playboys from the bathroom. Now you're anxiously pacing the aisles of your local grocery store, wondering what the hell to make her for dinner.

Deep breaths. You've got this.

First, let's do a little visualization exercise. Close your eyes and try to remember your first two dates. What did she eat? Was your offer of a bite of your steak met with a nose wrinkle and the declaration that she doesn't eat anything that had a face? Did she order something spicy and flavorful or did she ask the waiter for plain pasta? If you haven't eaten a meal together yet, try to remember if you talked about food at all, and, if so, what she said about her preferences.

If she is a red meat-eater, make this quick-but-beautiful steak dish. You can cook the steak a little bit ahead of time and keep it warm in the pan by placing it in a 180F oven. Slice the steak on the diagonal just before serving.

Steak dinner on plate

Seared Flank Steak with Red-Wine Sauce and Broccolini

  • 1 8-oz flank steak
  • Soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • Leaves of 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 6 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 bottle inexpensive red wine
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil


Place steak on a large plate or in a baking dish and brush with soy sauce and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and the thyme. Let stand for 30 minutes. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or grill pan over high heat. Cook steak for 1-2 minutes on each side for rare steak, 3-4 minutes on each side for medium, 4-5 minutes on each side for well-done).

To make the sauce, combine green onions and wine in a medium saucepan and bring to a light boil. Add butter and parsley and allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Slice the steak on the diagonal and arrange prettily on plates. Spoon sauce over steak and serve with the broccolini (recipe follows)

*Note: If you can't find broccolini, use regular broccoli florets.

  • 1 pound broccolini
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon-1/2 juiced, other ½ cut into wedges.


Trim ends off of broccolini. Place the broccolini in a large frying pan and cover with water. Cover pan and bring to a boil. Simmer broccolini 6 to 7 minutes, until tender and bright green. Drain the broccolini and set aside. Heat the olive oil in pan over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook garlic 1-2 minutes and return broccolini to the pan. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to the broccolini and toss well to ensure that each piece is well-coated.


If she likes seafood, make this tasty, yet inexpensive scallop dish (though if she mentioned that she keeps kosher, swap out the scallops for halibut). Again, the cakes can be kept warm in a 180F oven until you are ready to eat. Serve this one with a simple green salad.

Photo by Gabi Moskowitz

Photo by Gabi Moskowitz

Lemon-Scallop Rice Cakes

  • 1 cup short grain white rice
  • 1/2 lb large sea scallops
  • 1 small bunch parsley, chopped finely
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1/2 small white onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


Cook the rice according to directions. Transfer into a medium bowl and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the scallops into 1/2 inch pieces. Combine the scallops, parsley scallions, lemon zest, onion, and a pinch each of salt and pepper with the cooled, cooked rice until well-incorporated.

Wet your hands with water (to prevent sticking) and form the mixture into 6 3-4 inch patties. Set on a clean plate or cutting board.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Fry the patties for 3-4 minutes on each side, allowing a crisp, golden-brown crust to develop on both sides. Divide the patties between 2 plates.

Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the top of the patties. Garnish with additional lemon and parsley if desired.

If she is a vegetarian (or vegan), make this delicious shish-kabob-and-rice combo. You won't miss the meat and she'll be touched that you went to the effort to accommodate her dietary habits.

Tofu Shish Kabobs Over Thai-Coconut Risotto

  • 1 cup arborio (risotto) rice
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 14-oz can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 6 oz. tofu, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • soy sauce


Heat one tbsp of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until soft. Add the rice and allow to toast lightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the shredded coconut and red pepper flakes. Slowly stir in 3 cups water, 1/2 cup at a time until fully absorbed (this will take about 20 minutes). Add the coconut milk slowly (1/2 cup at a time) until fully absorbed. When the rice is soft and the consistency is creamy, stir in the lime juice and zest, 1/2 of the cilantro and 1/2 of the scallions (reserve the rest for garnish). Cover the risotto and keep over the lowest flame until ready to serve.

To prepare the shish kabobs, skewer the broccoli florets, tofu, and red peppers in whatever order you like on 6 wooden or metal skewers. Drizzle with a little soy sauce. Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a grill pan or a heavy skillet over high heat. Set the skewers in the hot pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side.

To serve, divide the risotto between 2 plates and serve the skewers atop the risotto. Garnish with the remaining scallions and cilantro.


For dessert, you can't go wrong with poached pears. They're a particularly great item to serve for company because the amount of time it takes for the pears to poach is perfect for eating a relaxing dinner.

Photo by Gabi Moskowitz

Photo by Gabi Moskowitz

Chardonnay-Poached Pears in Raspberry-Balsamic Reduction

  • 1/2 bottle inexpensive Chardonnay
  • 2 Bosc pears
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp raspberry preserves
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar


Peel pears and set aside. In a medium pot, whisk together wine and honey. Add pears and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow to cook covered for 45 minutes (this is a good time to eat your dinner). Once pears are cooked to the point that they could be easily pierced by a fork, remove using a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave wine mixture in pot, turn up heat, bringing the wine to a boil, and whisk in the sugar, raspberry jam, and balsamic vinegar until dissolved. Stir constantly for several minutes until mixture reduces to a syrupy consistency.

In small bowls or on plates, spoon a little bit of the raspberry sauce and serve a pear atop the sauce.


Remember, the key to effortless entertaining is to be organized. When you choose a recipe, think about how you'll need to organize your time so you can have a clean kitchen (not to mention a clean appearance) by the time your date arrives. The biggest key to this is to clean up as you go. If you have the presence of mind to put ingredients away as you finish with them and wash dishes and pots and pans once they've been used, you'll find that all that's necessary once you're finished is a quick wipe of the counters and a sweep of the floor.

As for post-meal cleanup, it's perfectly acceptable to leave the dishes in the sink while you watch the movie or engage in, ahem, other activities.

Go get 'em, Tiger.

Gabi Moskowitz

Gabi Moskowitz is a San Francisco-based food writer, caterer and cooking teacher. A Santa Rosa, CA native, she has been cooking since childhood and can be found taking in the delicious offerings of Northern California’s restaurant scene—from hidden hole-in-the-wall gems to fancier fare. Read more from Gabi at BrokeassGourmet.com.