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Originally published Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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A Valentine's Day dinner that won't stretch the budget

The Spend/Thrift column offers tips and recipes for cooking on a budget. This recipe for Chicken Paillards with Cremini Mushroom Sauce is a money-saver for a Valentine's Day Dinner.

The Associated Press

Not wanting to dish out serious cash at a restaurant doesn't have to doom you to a dull Valentine's Day dinner.

Cooking a special meal for that special someone is a surefire way to show some love. And with the right recipe you can achieve gourmet results at a fraction of the cost of eating out. The secret is in the sauce.

Sauteed chicken paillards with cremini mushroom sauce illustrates this perfectly. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are pounded thin for even, quick cooking, then sauteed in butter and olive oil until golden-brown.

These paillards are topped with a pan sauce made by sauteing cremini mushrooms and sliced leeks, then adding a splash of dry white wine, some chicken broth and a generous amount of sour cream. Lemon juice and dried tarragon add the final touch to the rich, tangy flavors.

Most of the ingredients in this recipe are common pantry items and the leftover sour cream can be used to top baked potatoes or thicken a soup later in the week.

The dish can be prepared in about 30 minutes and costs less than $2.75 per serving. Making four servings is the most economical way to prepare this dish, but if you're having a romantic dinner for two, the leftovers make a great lunch.

Chicken broth is less expensive when you buy it in larger containers. If you get the kind that comes in an aseptic box, you can refrigerate the extra for up to two weeks, or freeze it (in a plastic container) for up to six months.

If possible, purchase dried herbs in bulk, which is how they are sold at many natural foods stores. This way you can purchase only what you need. Bulk spices also often are fresher than bottled.

To complete this meal, serve the chicken and sauce over buttered basmati rice along with steamed green beans and the rest of the bottle of dry white wine used in the recipe.

CHICKEN PAILLARDS WITH CREMINI MUSHROOM SAUCE

Makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 pounds)

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1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

6 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (2 1/2 cups)

1 small leek, trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise and rinsed thoroughly

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/3 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

1. Arrange the chicken breasts in a single layer on a work surface and cover with plastic wrap. Using a heavy skillet or a rolling pin, pound them until flattened to about 1/2 inch thick.

2. In a shallow dish, combine the flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Dredge both sides of each breast through the seasoned flour to lightly coat.

3. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the oil and butter. Add the chicken breasts and cook until they are well browned on both sides, until they are cooked through. Transfer them to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

4. Add the mushrooms and leeks to the skillet and saute until the leeks are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine.

5. In a small bowl, stir together the broth and cornstarch, then add to the mushrooms and leeks. When the sauce is simmering and thickened, stir in the sour cream, lemon juice and tarragon.

6. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon the sauce over the chicken breasts.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 310 calories; 104 calories from fat; 12 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 103 mg cholesterol; 10 g carbohydrate; 36 g protein; 1 g fiber; 783 mg sodium.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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