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Source: Benjamin “BJ” Dennis / Benjamin “BJ” Dennis

Is your wine ‘em and dine ‘em lifestyle wrecking havoc on your bank account? It would take a foolish man to pretend going to restaurants every date night doesn’t get pricey. And it would take a smart man to realize that the most romantic meals are the ones that he cooks himself.

CASSIUS asked Benjamin “BJ” Dennis, a Charleston-based private chef and caterer, how to turn every man into a master chef. His advice is that when you want to go fancy, don’t. “The biggest mistake a man could make is going out of his comfort zone, trying to be extra,” says Dennis. So remember: Don’t be extra, be good! Here are 4 ways to make that happen.

 

Count to three.

“One easy way to keep it simple is to make a meal that only needs three ingredients,” says Dennis. One trio: Boneless chicken breasts, a head of broccoli and a box of Zatarian rice. Season chicken with salt and pepper, grill it in a pan with olive oil. Steam broccoli (cooked with a cover in an inch of boiling water on low for 5-6 minutes. Then drain it and sprinkle with olive oil and an herb seasoning. Serve over the rice.

 

Another idea: One pound of chopped ripe tomatoes, 2 crushed garlic cloves and spaghetti. Coat the bottom of a pot with olive oil, add tomatoes, garlic and a healthy dash of Italian seasoning. Let it cook on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is a consistency you like—approximately 20-30 minutes. Serve over spaghetti. OR…

 

Fake it as you make it.

Not everything needs to come from your own hard work at the stove. “Grocery stores sell really great canned pasta sauces,” says Dennis. “As you boil pasta, grill chicken (seasoned with salt and pepper) in a pan with olive oil. Or do the same with Portobello mushrooms if you want to go vegetarian. Layer on top of the pasta with the heated tomato sauce.” It’s still special if all you did was open the jar.

 

Lose your mind—and part of your paycheck—at a gourmet market.

If no way, no how you are trying to cook, you need to make sure your shopping skills are top notch. At a grocery store with a sizable prepared food section, buy the best cheeses, dips, honey, nuts, fruits, breads and anything else that shouts out doesn’t-even-need-to-be-reheated. Middle Eastern markets can add a focused theme, while Whole Foods will provide a lot of variety. If your date is a vegetarian, head to a health food store instead. Nothing says romantic like plastic take out containers, so serve the bounty on your best dishes. This is not the budget option—your bank account will not thank you, but your date will.

 

Let them eat cake!

And wine. On fancy dishes. In the rush to get the meal right, don’t forget the fixins. That includes a dessert from your favorite bakery or ice cream parlor. And wine recommended by the manager of a store you trust. Set the table with cloth napkins (Target stocks good, affordable options) and light a candle. Then pretend life with you would always be this lush.

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