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Don’t let shaky economy put you in doghouse on Cupid’s big day

Sure, you can cut back any day of the week, but the calendar doesn’t always cooperate. Up pops a birthday, an anniversary, a wedding, a birth, and you feel the pressure on an already strained budget.

So uh-oh, what’s coming up? Valentine’s Day. That’s a big one for anybody who’s even tangentially connected to anyone else. You might try to ignore it, but even if it’s by mutual consent you do so at your peril.

But it’s easy to have an economical Valentine’s Day celebration — to hold the line on the economic aspect without putting a damper on the romantic one. Here are some ideas.

You could consider cooking at home.

"What woman wouldn’t want a home-cooked meal by a man?" asked Neil Popish, 40, program director at the Jewish Community Center, which sponsors several singles programs. If you’re not the world’s best cook, Popish added, get a friend to help.

Catherine Margles, owner of the Creative Cooking School, suggested going to www.FoodNetwork.com. The Web site has several Valentine’s Day menus with recipes and tips. Another good resource is "The Romantic Menu Planner" at www.Epicurious.com.

"Make your husband or wife a romantic meal and sit at the dining room table, like we hardly use," Margles said. "Make a candlelight dinner at home."

Remember that the simple heart shape offers a lot of valentine symbolism and style. Get a heart-shaped cookie cutter at a kitchen shop, supermarket or discount store and use it to cut up a pan of brownies or previously uncut bar cookies. Make the brownies from a mix or from scratch; for the cookies, you can use a favorite recipe or buy the dough in a roll and pat it into a pan before baking.

Since Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday, you can start the day off right with a romantically themed breakfast. Cut biscuits or toast with your heart-shaped cutter, or make heart-shaped pancakes by forming the batter into an oval, then adding a second, sort of overlapping oval to make a heart. Or make regular-shaped pancakes and decorate with chocolate chips or whipped cream in the shape of a heart.

Are you thinking really simple? Whole Foods Markets again will offer heart-shaped steaks, from Thursday through Saturday. They’re butterflied rib-eyes and they’re $16.99 per pound, cheaper than you would find at most steakhouses. (Call ahead to ensure availability.)

Metro Pizza, with multiple locations in the valley, will offer a heart-shaped pie. The 16-inch heart-shaped pizzas start at $19.95 with one topping.

Or stop by your neighborhood Krispy Kreme, which again is offering heart-shaped doughnuts through Valentine’s Day. There are white-iced hearts with valentine sprinkles, chocolate-iced strawberry-filled hearts with a red drizzle and chocolate-iced rings with valentine sprinkles. If you get a dozen, you’ll also get 12 Valentine’s Day cards, each containing a coupon for a free doughnut.

Another option is to stop by the bakery at Bouchon at The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, which is offering valentine-themed treats, including heart-shaped Linzer cookies ($3.25 each) and heart-shaped TKOs (chef Thomas Keller’s version of an Oreo, $3.25 each).

Having guests for Valentine’s Day or just want to make it a group celebration? Brittany Long, meetings and special-events manager at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas, said she and her husband frequently gather with a group of friends for potluck dinners they take turns hosting.

"We’re not spending a lot of money going out to dinner, but we can still all get together," she said.

If you’re set on going out, you can still keep it simple and economical. Holly Erker, a sales associate at the Ritz-Carlton, said she and her husband like to people-watch on evenings out — especially during events such as the National Finals Rodeo or the porn-star convention.

"We just sit and look at people," she said. Sometimes they’ll get coffee and a crepe at Jean Philippe Patisserie at Bellagio. (There’s also a crepe window across from the buffet at Paris Las Vegas.)

Popish pointed out that restaurant deals are easier to find these days because of the economy (for Valentine’s Day offerings, visit www.reviewjournal.com — and bear in mind that if you celebrate at a time other than the day itself, you may be able to find a better deal).

For instance, local P.F. Chang’s outlets are offering Chang’s for Two, four-course menus for couples for $39.95.

Popish also suggested hiking as a good date activity. Taking along a picnic, he said, "is probably more romantic."

Or, he added, you could go to a casino and use your points. He remembered a $150 tab at N9NE at the Palms when "I just used my points and I didn’t pay a dime except for the tip."

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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