Going out to dinner at a posh restaurant on Valentine’s Day always seems like a good idea. However, disappointment sets in when February 14th finally arrives, and you are faced with huge crowds and long lines – not exactly the ideal set of circumstances for that intimate date you had imagined.
Preparing a cozy dinner at home that exudes personality and romance is a great alternative, and it is easier than you think. Follow five simple steps to create an evening that will make your sweetie swoon and leave you both feeling spoiled.
STEP 1: Compose the Menu
Craft a menu that will be memorable and easy to accomplish for a night you can both enjoy. Think about your loved one’s favorite flavors and incorporate these in the dishes wherever you can.
A crispy salad is always a good place to start a meal, especially when it is studded with fruit, nuts, and cheese crumbles; consider a piping hot bowl of soup for your first course if the weather is cold. Most soups are better on the second day, so make it ahead of time or pick up a favorite variety from a local restaurant; all you have to do is reheat. Building a charcuterie or cheese board is another fantastic idea for a starter. When you share tasty tidbits, the conversation naturally starts to flow.
For the main course, recipes that are simple to prepare, like shrimp linguine or beef fillets with baked potatoes, are always winners. Dishes that are built ahead and slow-cooked for maximum flavor, like lasagna or boeuf bourguignon, are wonderful options that free your time.
If there was ever a time for a decadent dessert, this is it, and Valentine’s Day seems to beg for chocolate. Concoct one of the scrumptious chocolate recipes in this edition as a crowning touch to a gorgeous meal. If you prefer something a bit less complicated, melt silky, dark chocolate for dipping strawberries. Another option is to select a box of rich chocolate bonbons from a fancy boutique; arrange them on a pretty plate for a heavenly dessert.
STEP 2: Choose the Wine
Do you have a special bottle of wine set aside for a grand occasion? Life moves quickly, so consider making this the time to open and enjoy it. If there is an exclusive label or vineyard where you tasted wine together, seek out a bottle. If the wine is older, plan to open it one hour before serving so it can breathe a bit; this will ensure it tastes its very best.
Nothing embodies passion and puts you in the mood for amor quite like French champagne, and any label will do! Of course, there are a multitude of delicious effervescent wines with more affordable price tags. Most French sparkling wines (called Crémant), particularly from the Burgundy region, are delightful.
If bubbles are not for you, choose a medium- to full-bodied red wine, like a pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. The silky-smooth texture of these complex wines is ideal for cool nights and a rich menu. If you still feel totally lost on wine selections, consult the owner of your small neighborhood wine store.
STEP 3: Create a Mood
Captivate your valentine by setting the atmosphere for a blissful evening of togetherness. Put on soft music and dim the lights, and you are well on your way to an alluring ambiance. The flickering glow of candlelight is flattering for everyone, so have plenty of candles ready to go. If you want to take things to the next level, start a fire in the fireplace and be prepared for sparks to fly!
Once it is dinnertime, insist that phones and other electronic devices are turned off. Nothing craters the mood like a ringing phone or work email popping up on your device.
STEP 3: Set the Table
Set the stage for romance by designing the table ahead of time. Establish the base of your setting with a tablecloth or a piece of fabric; use cloth napkins if you have them. Alternatively, select a fresh, lightweight set of dish towels to use as napkins.
Add a bit of nostalgia to the table by pulling out the wedding china, crystal, and silver from the back of the cupboards. Sure, most of these require handwashing, but since you are just setting the table for two, clean-up will be a breeze. These elements make an elegant table, and you might notice the food and wine taste better, too!
Add plenty of candles to the table and flowers. Treat yourself to an arrangement delivered from your favorite florist or select a bouquet from the supermarket and tuck the flowers into a low vase. Centerpieces made with fresh fruits (some whole and others cut) arranged on the table are gaining popularity. Small berries sprinkled on the tabletop like confetti add color and interest to an already beautiful table.
STEP 3: Do Something Unexpected
You know your sweetheart better than anyone else, so go the extra mile to make them feel really pampered with something unexpected.
Pick up a special gift or gadget and take the time to wrap it with a pretty bow. Place the token on their dinner plate and create an air of mystery by insisting that they wait to open the gift until the end of the evening.
A handwritten love note on pretty paper would make a cherished keepsake, too. If you are not feeling particularly poetic, take the time to load up “your song” or a much-loved album to be enjoyed all evening long.