Frugal Living 

Homemade Provençal Rack of Lamb

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Provençal Rack of LambMy wife and I have started a tradition of cooking our own meals for our special anniversaries and celebrations. It was a tradition we started in college when neither one us owned a car and a $25 entrée was a once-a-year treat. Back then, we celebrated our dating anniversary by making crab cakes, a tradition we’ve continued (this year, we added a cream of crab soup to the menu!). For Valentine’s Day this year, we decided to get adventurous and cook up this Provençal Rack of Lamb recipe.

Everyone knows that cooking your own meals can save you a lot of money, but the main reason we cook our special meals is because it gives us the opportunity to spend time together doing something. The money savings is significant but time spent working on a meal together is far more entertaining than getting dressed up, waiting for our reservation, sitting at a table, and waiting for food to be served. Plus, you don’t have to pay 2.6x the retail price for a bottle of wine!

I couldn’t help but break down the cost of the meal, just to see how much it really cost and was genuinely surprised (figures are ballpark):

  • Rack of lamb: We bought the rack at Costco for approximately $14, with each of us eating two chops each (just like in the picture!). $7.
  • Tomatoes: We bought two “ugly” vintage tomatoes for about $2.
  • Fresh herb pack: We picked up a package of fresh herbs designed for roasting chicken and used a little of the rosemary and thyme; I imagine the spices used cost less than $1.
  • Potatoes: We bought a 5 lb. bag for $3.99 from our local grocery store. I’m not sure how many we used but let’s say a third of the bag – $1.50.
  • Smoking Loon Syrah: Picked up a bottle from our local wine shop, $8.99.

Total price of our romantic meal? $20.49.

I challenge you to find an entree that includes any cut of lamb that costs less than $20.49. It’s a lot more work to cook it yourself and you have to clean up afterwards, but between the quality time and the money saved, you simply can’t beat avoiding the Valentine’s day crowds and cooking up your own special meal.

If you cooked something special this year for Valentine’s day, what was it? We’re always on the lookout for fun new meals!

{ 30 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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30 Responses to “Homemade Provençal Rack of Lamb”

  1. Sheila says:

    Sounds like you had a delicious dinner and for an excellent price!

    About 4 or 5 years ago, Andy and I started the same V-day tradition of cooking at home. We love doing this and we think it’s much more romantic. We get to control the music, the lighting, a we get to have the most romantic table in the house. It seems that on Valentine’s day, restaurants are slammed with people and so they rush you in and out, and that takes some of the romance out of the evening.

    So, this year, we dropped into the Fresh Market and purchased 2 lobster tails, plus a pre-assembled rocaita cheese and spinach chicken breast, 2 bottles of wine (including one of our favorite splurges – Caymus Conundrum for $27), asparagus, fingerling potatoes, strawberries, and two mini molten chocolate lava cakes. All this came to $84. We figured that it would have cost at least twice that much in a restaurant.

    • Jim says:

      Wow that’s a lot of stuff! I’ve been meaning to get some lobster one of these days… maybe we can do that for our next romantic meal (or celebratory one). I’ll have to check out Caymus Conundrum, it sounds like a fun wine. 🙂

      A $27 retail bottle of wine would be at least $70 in a restaurant and they don’t sell lobster tails cheap either, you’re definitely getting at least double the $84 on a bill if you went to a restaurant.

    • sssmokin says:

      And yet you don’t really need to go through this effort to eat good on the cheap. Restaurants have deals with promotional websites and will send you coupons for free menu items all the time. There are also various programs that will give you buy one get one free at even the ritziest places. Ask people online and they will tell you.

  2. Jim, that lamb looks delicious!! My fiancee and I have a lot of fun when we cook meals together. I have to say I enjoy that much more than going out to eat. And like you pointed out, cooking at home can save you a ton of money! If you have to wait very long to be served or it takes a while to get to a restaurant (or both), then I’m not sure you can even look at the time it takes to cook and clean up as an opportunity cost. (Which means it really is a LOT cheaper to eat at home.)

    • Jim says:

      I think we did a pretty good job not messing it up! It’s one thing to mess up a chicken breast, at $2 a lb. it’s not a big deal, but you mess up a rack of lamb and it really hurts!

      You’re right about the service too, sometimes you might get a bad server or just go on a busy day (like Valentine’s day!) and it can ruin an otherwise great experience.

  3. Now I am hungry, it is a shame you can’t email me a piece of that lamb…

  4. Jon says:

    I made lobster tails, mushroom risotto, asparagus with brie and artichokes as appetizers. Wasn’t all that cheap, but it would have cost more out I’m sure.

    • Jim says:

      I feel like I missed the memo on lobster tails… both you and Sheila both made lobster tails!

      • Jon says:

        I went with the warm water tails as they are cheaper, next time I’ll try the cold water tails to check the difference.

  5. Tim says:

    I made romantic ramen

  6. Leah says:

    My boyfriend and I were thinking about going out to dinner for Valentine’s Day, but I told him that I found some recipes that I wanted to make. They were both from a blog called BrokeAss Gourmet (very snarky sense of humor and PG-13, as a warning). For dinner, I made chicken sausage with a white whine/ pear/ onion/ dijon sauce over a bed of spinach with brown rice, and for dessert, I made champagne-poached pears with a raspberry-balsamic reduction.

    Total cost? Less than $30, including 2 bottles of champagne! Our landlord gave us a bottle for New Year’s that we didn’t drink, so we drank that with dinner and used a $6 bottle to cook with!

  7. saladdin says:

    Chicken wings at Saladdin High Command Romance and Sweet Lovin’ Center.


  8. Kathy says:

    This year our special meal was cheese fondue. We spent $6 on a bottle of sauvignon blanc (some of which went into the fondue and the rest of which we drank) and about $8 worth of nice European cheese. Add about $1 worth of kirsch, $2.50 for a baguette from a local baker, and about $5.00 for a green salad with almonds, and dried cranberries and then $5 for Trader Joes’ frzen chocolate souffles (which I highly recommend) the total cost for the food and wine was was about $27.50….and we had enough fondue and bread left over that it made up a good part of our meal the next night!

  9. Scott says:

    Last year my fiance and I did homemade fondue and almost burned the house down in the process. It’s been a fond memory, even if it was more hilarious than it was romantic.

    This year my wife and I didn’t do Valentine’s because I’m in Japan on business travel 🙁 I did send flowers though…

  10. Donna says:

    Ah well – there’s always the opposite side of the coin. Being single, I’ve found that I can’t say “I only used 1/3rd of the bag, so what’s that $1.50?” I have to count the whole thing used because there’s pretty close to a 100% chance that the rest will get thrown out unused. I wish it could be stated any other way but the truth is – for me at least, preparing meals and eating on my own is just not as satisfactory as going out and at least being among people. And the savings just isn’t truly there when you’re one anyway because of buying one offs or more than you need and tossing the rest. When I buy a cheese I enjoy and would like to keep around the house, my enjoyment of it goes in phases so way I’ve moved on way before it’s gone bad – so that $8 hunk of cheese? Only about $2 or $3 of it got eaten! 🙂 No sour grapes – just the facts sir!

  11. Felix says:

    My wife and I started with brie ($3) and Manchego cheese ($3) with pear, apple, dried apricot and crackers. Then we seared sesame encrusted tuna with a wasabi ponzu sauce ($20 – sushimi grade) with stir fried veggies over jasmine rice. Those course were matched with a light Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc. ($8) For dessert we made gooey chocolate brownies with homemade vanilla bean ice-cream. ($5). Total cost ~$40. There is no way we could have done that for less than $100 at a local restaurant, and we didn’t have to put up with the crowds.

    • Belinda says:

      Yum! We’ve been wondering how to make seared tuna at home and I printed your recipe. That dinner sounds fabulous.

      By the way, we started a tradition several years to have lobster tails on Christmas Eve.

  12. jennifer says:

    We have snow crab legs every year on Valentine’s. They are so expensive and I like to eat a lot of them! My husband started doing this when we were really struggling and we will continue to do this for years–I am sure. I made roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli. We invite my mother in law over sometimes because she is single and I don’t want her to feel lonely. It’s fun to eat and we only do it once a year, so we love it!

    I started cooking at home regularly and wow–what a difference in our credit card statements! Try it for one month, just to see how much you spend…it’s truly unbelievable.

  13. jennifer says:

    I’m pregnant, but may I recommend my favorite red wine–Menage a Trois ($8) 2nd runner up Rex Goliath Cabernet ($8) or any of the Rex Goliath collection. I can’t wait to have a glass again one day 🙂

  14. Bill in Houston says:

    I can say this… my produce is cheaper than yours. I shop a Korean market in west Houston and regular tomatoes are 79 cents a pound. Potatoes are 69 cents a pound.

    On the other hand, I always buy meat and wine at Costco. I LOVE that place.

    I could have saved a whole buck 🙂

  15. Karen says:

    I don’t like to eat out much because 3 hours later I swell up from the salt. It makes me wonder, was that good food I just ate, or mediocre food that was seasoned to an extreme to make it taste good. So, we go to Costco and get steaks. We can always get a good California Cab for around $10 and a couple of potatoes to bake, salad for maybe $2. We both eat for between $20-$25. The best part, my husband grills, I do nothing. Now that’s a good celebration meal!

  16. Richard says:

    So, does this mean you eat out for all your other meals? Not very frugal for a blog pushing finacial prosperity, is it? We both work, but still manage to cook ALL out own meals. We only go out once a week, on Saturday for a cheap meal out. Been doing that for years.

    • jennifer says:

      hmmm….I don’t think you got the point on this topic. I think most people see Valentine’s Day as a special night out and end up spending quite a bit. Most of the people who posted showed how they made a similiar meal for a lot less money, and it was still special because the point is to spend quality time together, right?
      So, I doubt Jim nor the readers of this blog are eating out every night…after all, we are all trying to save money or make our dollar go just a little further.

  17. NateUVM says:

    Looks good! Gotta try that one!

  18. Oh this looks great! I’ll definitely be trying this soon.

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