Can you woo your Valentine with a cheesy chicken ready meal
Roses, cards and eating out can mean Valentine's Day costs a fortune. But it might be a lot more fun if you make it a cosy night in. Supermarkets are selling a range of Valentine's dine-in deals promising restaurant quality at a fraction of the price. TESSA CUNNINGHAM, with the help of a mystery date, put seven of them to the test.
Dinner date: But which supermarkets attempt to offer a cheap meal as a night in for Valentine's Day has come out best
Excellent value: The Tesco meal of lamb shanks was authentic as dining in a French bistro with the meat falling off the bone
Valentine’s Finest Meal Deal: 15
Main, side, dessert and bottle of prosecco.
I CHOSE: Finest Restaurant Collection lamb shanks with vegetable confit (full price 10), Finest potato dauphinoise (2.50), Finest Restaurant Collection Sicilian lemon tiramisu (3), Finest Bisol Prosecco (9.99).
INDIVIDUAL COST: 25.49
TOTAL SAVING: 10.49
WOW FACTOR: As authentic as if we were dining in a French bistro. The potatoes are golden-brown and the lamb, made with caramelised carrots and parsnips, is seriously chunky. The tiramisus come in individual glasses and look very cute.
CONVENIENCE: Stress-free. I pop the lamb into the oven in its foil tray and, 30 minutes later, the potato dauphinoise goes in at the same temperature. The dishes don’t spoil if you’re enjoying the prosecco and in no hurry to get to the table. For dessert, the chilled tiramisu is whisked out of the fridge and my work is done.
FLAVOUR: The lamb falls off the bone and there are lashings of hearty redcurrant, rosemary and thyme gravy. The potatoes are light on garlic and rich on gruyere cheese. The tiramisu provides a beautifully light finish.
MY DATE’S VERDICT: Robust flavours and so much meat I even managed a genuine show of reluctance when Tessa offered me some of hers.
RATING: 9/10 Price-wise, it’s mid-range but the quality makes this excellent value.
Uninspiring: The Waitrose main course of chicken breasts in mushroom and wine sauce evoked memories of a staff canteen
Valentine’s Dinner For Two: 20
Starter, main, two sides, dessert and a bottle of cava.
I CHOSE: Duck liver, sauternes and truffle parfait (3.29), Menu From Waitrose chicken breasts in mushroom, wine and brandy sauce (6.99), cheddar mash (1.99), green vegetables in cream sauce (1.99), Seriously From Waitrose passionfruit panna cotta (3.49), Camp Viejo Cava Rosado Brut (10.99).
INDIVIDUAL COST: 28.74
TOTAL SAVING: 8.74
WOW FACTOR: The starter — a smooth parfait-style pate — comes with a jar of forest fruit dressing which is perfect for drizzling in a heart shape on to the plate. The panna cotta looks elegant, and the pink cava makes a sparkling change. But the main course of chicken, mash and greens is underwhelming and it looks like it’s been served up in a staff canteen.
CONVENIENCE: I serve the parfait with toast, which takes just a few minutes to make. The chicken, mash and greens all need to be microwaved individually — every time I sit down, the microwave pings and kills the romantic mood stone-dead. I’m relieved that the panna cotta can be served straight from the pack.
FLAVOUR: The sweet dressing cuts through the richness of the parfait, making it very moreish. The panna cotta is divine. But the chicken is drowned by pancetta and, despite cooking for the recommended time, the cabbage is underdone. I couldn’t taste any cheese in the mash.
MY DATE’S VERDICT: The parfait was bland — I prefer chunky pate — and the main course was disappointing. Not enough gravy and a mean portion of chicken. I was too busy chewing my way through mounds of underdone cabbage to have a conversation. The panna cotta was lovely but by then I was full.
RATING: 5/10 The uninspiring main course is a turn-off.
Colourful: The ASDA paella was bursting with seafood including muscles, prawns and squid and was special enough to impress
Valentine’s Extra Special Dine In For Two: 10
Main, side and a bottle of wine.
I CHOSE: Extra Special seafood paella (4.82), Extra Special cheese fougasse (1.97), Extra Special chocolate pudding (1.75), Extra Special corbieres (6.97).
Individual Cost: 15.51
TOTAL SAVING: 5.51
WOW FACTOR: The paella looks sensational. It’s bursting with colour and seafood — huge mussels, juicy king prawns and squid rings, as well as chunks of spicy chorizo, pepper and peas. The cheese fougasse is an attractive variation on garlic bread. The chocolate puddings look boring until I decorate them with slices of fresh strawberry.
CONVENIENCE: The paella can be microwaved but I prefer to cook it in the oven for 30 minutes, so the aromas fill the kitchen, then pop the fougasse in for the last five minutes. Once the paella is cooked, I transfer it into a big white bowl — it looks spectacular. I serve the fougasse on the side. The chocolate puddings are a doddle to microwave.
FLAVOUR: It’s so authentically Spanish we could be sitting on the quay in Marbella. The spices give a real kick. The prawns are tender and the squid is delicious. The rice is packed with fishy flavour and the fougasse is great for soaking up the juices. I was disappointed by the boring puddings and surprised the deal includes plonk rather than fizz. But the robust red wine complements the paella.
MY DATE’S VERDICT: The paella’s hearty and great for sharing, though I’d have preferred fewer peas and more prawns. The puddings were too heavy.
RATING: 7/10 Great value, easy to cook and special enough to impress.
Dull: The Co-Op's meal was more family supper than romantic dinner, with the chicken described as tasteless and the sauce 'gloopy'
Valentine’s Meal For Two: 12
Main, two sides, dessert and a bottle of wine or cava.
I CHOSE: Eat In Elmwood chicken breast with tomato and chorizo (3), Eat In layered vegetables (1.50), Eat In garlic jackets (1.60), Truly Irresistible chocolate millionaire’s dessert twin pack (2.50), The Co-Operative cava (5.29).
INDIVIDUAL COST: 13.89
TOTAL SAVING: 1.89
WOW FACTOR: The dessert looks fabulous and the veg are colourful, but I’d serve this as a quick family supper rather than a romantic dinner.
CONVENIENCE: I bake the chicken and mini jacket potatoes in their containers for 30 minutes and microwave the veg in its pot.
It should be easy, but when I pour the sachet of tomato and chorizo sauce over the chicken, I splatter my top with tomato.
So much for looking sexy. The puddings ease straight out of the pack on to a plate.
FLAVOUR: The chicken is dry and the sauce overpoweringly spicy. The jacket potatoes are nicely crunchy but need more garlic. However, the dessert is delicious.
MY DATE’S VERDICT: A tasteless solid lump of chicken in a gloopy sauce. The pudding was pleasant, but fit for a millionaire I don’t think so.
RATING: 6/10 Poor value, dull dishes.
Man pleaser: Tessa's guest enjoyed the beef main and torte for dessert but she wasn't so impressed
Valentine’s Day Meal For Two: 10
Main, side, dessert and a bottle of wine or cava.
I CHOSE: Taste The Difference beef bourguignon and potatoes (7), Taste The Difference green vegetable selection (3), Taste The Difference red berry and white chocolate tortes (3.50), Taste The Difference Australian shiraz (6.65).
INDIVIDUAL COST: 20.15
TOTAL SAVING: 10.15
WOW FACTOR: The main is more rustic than romantic — chunks of beef braised in glistening gravy, homemade-looking garlic-roasted baby potatoes and a generous portion of green veg. In contrast, the tortes, which come encased in white chocolate, look dreamy.
CONVENIENCE: It would take half a day to cook all this from scratch. Instead, I spend the time I’ve saved pampering myself ready for my date, before popping the beef and potatoes in the oven, where they cook for 25 minutes.
The veg takes three minutes in the microwave, and the tortes are served straight from the packet.
FLAVOUR: The potatoes are a hit — crisp outside, fluffy inside and gorgeously garlicky. But the beef is a disappointment. I was expecting cubes of stewing steak — instead we get one big chunk of shin meat each. It’s a cheaper cut, which my cookery book says should be marinated for two days before being cooked for at least seven hours. I find it unpleasantly chewy and the gravy is too salty. The mixed veg are hit-and-miss — the mangetout and broccoli are perfect but the broad beans are like bullets. The puddings are sickly sweet.
MY DATE’S VERDICT: Fantastic. A very satisfying main course and the puddings were pretty.
RATING: 8/10 Excellent value. If you want to please the man in your life, this is perfect.
Luxury: While it's pricey, if you serve the M&S meal up on Valentine's night and your date will be eating out of your hand
MARKS & SPENCER
Gourmet Menu Dine In For Two: 20
Starter, main, side, dessert, chocolates and bottle of wine.
I CHOSE: Coquilles St Jacques (5.29), The Cook Menu rump steak with peppercorn sauce (9.99), potato rosti (1.69), raspberry panna cotta (3.49), Love chocolates (4) and Marques del Costal wine (9.99).
INDIVIDUAL COST: 34.45
TOTAL SAVING: 14.45
WOW FACTOR: M&S might help you seal the deal with your date with this divine-looking meal. Everything from the starter of sauteed mushrooms and scallops, served in the shell, with a cheese and breadcrumb topping, to the heart-shaped chocolates oozes romance. Stealing your date’s heart will be like taking candy from a baby.
CONVENIENCE: You get all the credit for cooking while barely having to put down your glass of wine. The Coquilles St Jacques cook in their shells, and the rostis go straight from the pack on to a baking tray.
FLAVOUR: You’ll have him at the starter. The scallops in a creamy white wine sauce are sumptuous, the steaks cook perfectly and the rostis have a fantastic bite. We loved the puddings and I happily shared the chocolates — six for me, three for him.
MY DATE’S VERDICT: My idea of heaven. Scallops, steak, rostis and red wine. What more could any man ask for The puddings and chocolates were a bonus.
RATING: 10/10 It’s pricey, but this is a luxury meal and a great saving. He’ll be eating out of your hand.
One-dish wonder: The starter and pudding are a let down in the Morrisons meal – but the chicken dish was restaurant quality
Valentine’s Dinner Date For Two: 20
Main, side, dessert and a bottle of wine.
I CHOSE: Bistro chicken and brie (4.99), dauphinoise (2.99), Best millionaire’s cheesecakes (3.20), orvieto classico (4.99).
INDIVIDUAL COST: 16.17
TOTAL SAVING: 6.17
WOW FACTOR: The chicken is wrapped in green beans and prosciutto, stuffed with brie and spinach and smothered in creamy sauce. It looks seriously classy. The cheesecake pudding in a plastic pot looked more suited to a pit-stop joint than a candlelit dinner.
CONVENIENCE: Irritatingly, the chicken and potatoes cook at different temperatures. I decide the chicken is more important, so I put the potatoes on a lower oven shelf and hope for the best.
FLAVOUR: The chicken is fantastically moist. The gooey brie is perfect with the crunchy beans and the creamy sauce packed with portabellini mushrooms is superb. It’s a shame the potatoes are dry and I longed for some vegetables.
MY DATE’S VERDICT: The chicken was restaurant quality but I was disappointed by the bland potatoes. The pudding was like stuffing myself with handfuls of sugar.
RATING: 4/10 A one-dish wonder. The side and pudding were a let-down.