10 Steps To A Perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner

by | Feb 1, 2009

Call me old-fashioned, but I still think Valentine’s Day should be about romance. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick to the usual Valentine’s clichés to do it right.

For me, nothing is less romantic than aping exactly what everyone else is doing. Roses are beautiful, but there are 364 other days in the year to buy roses. (Hint boys: If you really want to woo your lady, bring her flowers when she isn’t expecting it).

Valentine’s Day dinner is your perfect opportunity to get creative.

When most people think of a romantic meal they envision a fancy French restaurant with candles, snooty waiters and expensive wine. I will not deny that I love restaurants like this, but you couldn’t pay me to go to one on Valentine’s Day.

The problem is that every year on February 14 restaurants are bombarded with customers, and to prepare they usually arrange a special prix fixe (i.e., price fixed, pronounce “pre-fee”) menu that costs way more than normal. Prix fixe menus are arranged into several courses where you pick from a short list of items for each course. These menus are almost always more limited than the restaurant’s traditional menu and lock you in to a preset number of items that you may or may not want.

Why not do something really romantic and make dinner yourself?

Cooking a romantic meal is not actually as hard as it sounds. The trick is investing time and money to be sure you get the best ingredients. The next step is picking through recipes until you find ones that are within your means.

I recommend aiming high. Preparing ambitious and exotic recipes is incredibly rewarding and will give you and your lover a fresh appreciation for the artistry of fine food and cooking.

Here are 10 steps for planning your perfect Valentine’s Day dinner:

  1. Plan in advance. The reason cooking at home is more romantic than going out is that you take the time and effort to do something thoughtful for your sweetheart. Do not skimp on the planning stage, that’s equivalent to buying a gift from Walmart. You will need the time for research and ingredient acquisition.
  2. Pick your ideal meal. At the beginning do not exclude recipes because you think you cannot cook them. You may be surprised by how easy it is to make a perfect filet mignon on an electric stove.
  3. Compile recipes. The internet is overflowing with fantastic gourmet recipes. Spend an hour or two searching for your favorite dishes and find the ones that sound the most delicious and seem within your means. At this stage you can start excluding recipes/dishes that are outside your technical prowess, but beware there is an easier way to do almost everything. You should also start noting the similarities between recipes for the same dish. This will help you when it comes time to put the meal together.
  4. Don’t forget dessert. Baking is more of an exact science than normal cooking. If this is out of your league (it is definitely out of mine), it may be a good idea to order something exquisite from your favorite bakery.
  5. Make the final cut. Choose dishes not only because you like them, but because the flavors go well together and you think you can get them all on a plate at about the same time. Consider presentation and appearance as well. Things that can be made a few hours or even days ahead are particularly nice. I usually end up mashing a few different recipes together to create the dish I want.
  6. Invite your date. Now that you have your menu it is time to invite your sweetie to your Valentine’s Day dinner. Tell him/her you have an amazing meal planned especially for them. Awwww, so sweet!
  7. Research your ingredients. Start early to make sure you can get the best of everything you want. If you don’t know what the best is, find out! If you want to have a special cut of meat or a certain spice or vegetable, spend some time on the internet to discover where and when you can get them in your city. Farmers markets are the best place to get most foods, but are usually only held 1-2 days per week. Luckily for you, this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. Do your planning now and go to the market early so you do not miss out.
  8. Prepare your kitchen. Check your kitchen to make sure you have everything you need for your perfect meal. If your recipe requires special equipment, go buy it right away. If you cannot find it, do some research on acceptable alternatives or see if you can borrow what you need from a friend.
  9. Arrange your props. Candles, music, champagne flutes and mushy cards add to the ambiance of your special evening. Do not forget to pay attention to these details.
  10. Make your meal and have a wonderful time. If you start with good ingredients, it is hard to mess up too bad, but do not let it ruin your evening if things don’t turn out as perfectly as you envisioned. Remember, you are doing something incredibly special for the one you love and that will earn you major bonus points. It is a scientific fact that a meal cooked from the heart tastes better than anything handed to you on a silver platter.

What are your favorite special occasion recipes?

UPDATE: This article is also available at Synapse.

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16 Responses to “10 Steps To A Perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner”

  1. Healthyliving says:

    That kinda of looks like a heart-shaped tomato, except for the stem. Bell pepper? I don’t think I’ll be able to tear my husband away from the superbowl long enough to come read this; guess I’ll have to send him the link……

  2. Darya Pino says:

    @HealthylivingIt is an organic red bell pepper. Not super flavorful because it is no longer pepper season, but I bought it for the photo. Thanks for noticing, I worked really hard on it!

  3. Avianna says:

    Wow!! Great advice about preparing perfect Valentines Day dinner… Thanks for sharing!!

  4. avagdro says:

    Thank you Darya Pino for your efforts in making the stepwise Valentine’s dinner preparation besides the tips you suggested for men to apply for the forth coming Valentine.Wish you n people all around the world a Happy Valentine ahead.lol:)Gifts to chennai|Gifts to India|Gifts to Bangalore

  5. Scott says:

    Ha! Thanks for all the advice. Mere planning ahead is probably the biggest factor for me: if I do anything ahead of time it is bound to be so much better. And I agree, going out to dinner on Vday is a total cop-out, should be almost more insulting than anything else. When I come up with my plans, I’ll revisit this post and let everyone know what I’m doin!

  6. Varun Gupta says:

    Oh great!!! what a nice post on love. Thanks for providing such a nice article. Wish u Happy Valentine’s Day. It would be great if you elaborate it more. Your comment at my will also be appreciated

  7. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc says:

    Great post as always Darya! As I was reading your meticulous instructions, I began to get a bit overwhelmed by the duties I would have to perform to pull this off, especially if I were to do it in secret while sharing a place with my girlfriend. Then I thought of a fun alternative: you and your partner can make the meal together! You can both set aside all of Saturday and make a day of the preparations. Its about the journey as much as it is about the destination, right?:)

  8. Darya Pino says:

    @PeterAbsolutely! In fact, that is what my boy and I are planning to do. Secrecy is definitely not essential for romance.

  9. Mike says:

    So sad! Where’s the advice for the single guys like me?!!! Actually, I guess if I’m gonna take anything from this maybe it should be that this is the stuff I should do if I want to have a gf or be in a relationship- sounds like I need more planning….

  10. Darya Pino says:

    @MikeYou can totally still use this advice. Girls are suckers for guys that cook for them. Start practicing ASAP!!

  11. Matt Shook says:

    My love and I have not celebrated valentines day since we were kids. We both think it’s overly commercialized and contrived…that’s not to say we don’t both have romantic streaks.(Interesting Tangent: I believe Valentine’s Day was created to discredit Lupercalia, the same way Christmas was promoted to discredit Winter Solstice. There is a lot of ambiguity as to the historical origins of “St. Valentine”.)I second Darya’s recommendation to avoid restaurants for Valentine’s Day (let me add Mother’s and Father’s Day to this list as well). Making dinner yourself is far far more romantic…and can be more economically sensible as well.Spontaneity can go a long way…that’s for sure. Why not plan your dinner for the week or two before Valentine’s when your not so rushed and it’s totally unexpected? Then (if you feel absolutely obligated to), you can have a less-formalistic night and reminisce about that amazing night you planned a few weeks ago.Single guys and gals take heed…Darya’s 10 steps (not to be confused with Richard Hoover’s 9 Steps for Success) is a very creative and romantic method for impressing that special someone. My wife’s favorite things I did for her when we were dating: spontaneous letters, spontaneous dinners (by candlelight), and spontaneous flowers. (This should continue if you want to be a good spouse too.)With a little spontaneity and a little foresight, you’ll win your loved one over in no time. 😉 One last thing to add to the list…I would HIGHLY recommend a trial run if you were cooking a dish for the first time and were unfamiliar with any of the ingredients. No need to set yourself up for disaster!

  12. carla says:

    hmmm. I may actually make valentines dinner this year (we’re not big V Day people) as my husband would be SHOCKED.food for thought.:)

  13. Karen says:

    Wow, great list! Sure do set the standard high though- not sure if my man knows that this is what I’m expecting now…!

  14. Darya Pino says:

    @MattGreat suggestions as always. Thanks for your input! Honestly I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to Valentine’s day as well, but I do think Love deserves celebration. I’m feeling particularly mushy this year because my man and I are having to do long distance for a while. Distance makes the heart grow fonder!—–@CarlaCouldn’t hurt!—–@KarenMaybe you should take Peter’s advice and work on it together? No need to put too much pressure on your man :)—–@MBThose are great recipe sites too! Thanks!!

  15. Matt Shook says:

    @Darya”Distance makes the heart grow fonder!”Ain’t that the truth…my love and I became really close when my she was volunteering in Ecuador and I was stuck in grad school.I hope it works out well for both of you!

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