A Reservation-Free Valentine’s Day Dinner

You’ve probably heard it: the way to men’s hearts is through the stomach. (This applies to most girls I know, too.)

And nothing says I love you like a home-cooked meal, especially if it’s healthy and delicious. Whether it’s a Valentine’s Day dinner just for you, or two of you, the whole family or the single-and-proud squad, this holiday we’re proudly avoiding the rush and recommending an elegant dinner in.

Speaking of elegance, we’re happy to announce our very own Stainless Steel Salt and Pepper Grinder has been recommended and ranked as Best Valentine’s Gift for Elegant Diners by the editors and reviewers at Faveable.com! We even got a fancy badge. Valentine’s Day Gifts galore!

That being said, you don’t have to spend a fortune to prove your love. We here at Lifestyle Dynamics are believers in putting our money where our mouths are to bring back the (surprisingly inexpensive) tradition of home-cooking.

I LOVE cooking. What’s more, I enjoy it most when cooking for others. Being single myself, I’ve made a point to celebrate “Singles’ Awareness Day” on the 14th and gather all my independent friends and solo fliers for a shared meal. The dinner engagement is by no means exclusive—anyone with an out-of-town significant other or late-working lover is welcome around my table! I’ll even permit intact couples, so long as they mingle. (We singles can still mingle–and I don’t mean swiping right on Tinder!) In fact, once you cross my welcome mat, I have a mandatory rule: all mobile devices are checked at the door.

The exception is music, any way I can get it. Be it upbeat, instrumental or otherwise pleasing, music is one of the grand traditions of romantic expression. What I’m listening to now: Jazz’s seminal romantic album Coltrane for Lovers. In a pinch, you can recreate the mood in a station using Pandora’s free one week trial and avoid commercials during this promising night of absolute perfection.

Ready for love? Here’s my foolproof 4-step meal plan:

  1. The Tease

It’s never yet happened that I’ve had dinner ready before guests showed up. Part of the magic of home cooking for me is bumping into each other as we all loiter interestedly in the overcrowded kitchen. So if anybody shows up peckish, soothe the savage beast with this Cucumber Mint Gimlet. It so happens that mint is a mild appetite suppressant, will calm the ravenous tummy and keep one from dipping into the food prep. I’ve been known to nibble myself out of ingredients, so I need all the restraint I can get.

  1. Something a Little More Comfortable

Salads are traditionally served in the US before the main course, though I’ve heard valid arguments for and against this. I serve salads first because veggies digest quicker, are clean and filling, and cut down the caloric size of the main course. Vinaigrettes are also known to stimulate digestion and increase metabolism. Salads are usually easy prep and can be a main course themselves by adding meat or carbohydrates, though, in the case of the Spiraled Cucumber Greek Salad I have planned, I’ll leave the optional chicken out, saving my protein for the main entrée. It’s also filling enough on its own to allow me to cut out the work of finding and making a side-dish recipe.

  1. The Main Event

Sexy, sexy steak. I’m aiming to impress with a recipe for Steak with Red Wine Peppercorn Sauce. This is definitely something I would do for love, as I’m not very experienced at cooking steak. However, with Gordon Ramsay’s 2.5 minute video and a dash of pink peppercorns, I’m ready to get hot and heavy on the stovetop. Though Mr. Ramsay recommends garlic, I’ll skip it just this once in case I get lucky and earn a smooch or two for my efforts.

  1. I’m Sweet Enough Already

There are few things as suggestive as a chocolate-dipped strawberry. Chocolate gets a bad rap, but don’t diss that craving yet! Dark chocolate (containing more than 70 percent cacao) is spared the fat and sugar content of milk chocolate and is actually a good source of iron, magnesium, copper, potassium and antioxidants when eaten in moderation. Combining it with ripe fruit balances the bitter cacao with natural sweetness and also serves as an elegant and healthy pairing to a glass of heart-healthy red wine! (Wink-wink.)

This dessert can be made ahead (allow the chocolate to reach room temperature for best flavor) or enjoyed at the table fondue-style. Here are some tips to make you look like a pro:

  • To keep the dipping smooth, use good quality chocolate with a high cocoa butter percentage. (It should be within the first 3 ingredients on the list.)
  • Always melt chocolate in a glass or metal bowl nested over a pot of boiling water, never in the microwave or directly in contact with your heat source, as the sugar is very easily burnt.
  • Chocolate stiffening or “seizing” occurs when water gets into the mix, and can be fixed by adding a little coconut oil for dark chocolate or heavy cream for milk chocolate, stirring until it smooths out again. (If using oil, triple-filtered coconut has no flavor.)
  • Rinsed fresh berries and cut fruit should be patted dry to keep from getting moisture in the chocolate during dipping.

Don’t just do the usual strawberries and chocolate! Break out of your comfort zone with dried pineapple or mango slices (sprinkled afterward with a dash of cayenne to bring out the passion in your presentation!) Fresh orange or apple wedges, thick banana slices, coconut chunks and pitted cherries also do well enrobed in the dark stuff.

You can always use a white chocolate to switch things up—again, just be sure to check high on the ingredient list for cocoa butter to verify you’ve got authentic white chocolate and not just milkfat, vanilla and sugar. (The high cocoa butter content also guarantees it’ll melt beautifully.)

Speaking of melting, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. If you just want to do dessert, check out our Top 10 Healthy Valentine’s Day Treats!

There’s nothing more attractive than being relaxed, confident and flexible. Combine formal dress and sneakers. Use paper plates. Call that burnt side-dish Cajun. Above all else, enjoy yourself. However you celebrate, and whoever you’re with–even the cat–delight is contagious!

 

Katherine Warner is a full-time freelance writer and graphic designer who never follows the same recipe twice and shamelessly collects cookbooks for their pictures. She grows heirloom tomatoes, teaches Wine & Paint classes and can make Eggs Benedict from scratch as long as she can sleep in beforehand.

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Katie Warner

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