Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine's Day at Home: How to Have a Romantic Dinner and Not Make Yourself Crazy

It's Almost Valentine's Day!

It's the most romantic holiday of the year--and a romantic meal has got to be the most popular way to celebrate it, be it out at a restaurant or by candlelight in your own home.

I like home better.

Why, you ask?

1. You have more control over what is in your meal. It's as true on special days as it is every day of the year: when you fix your own food you know what's in it. And that's really important for anyone with any kind of dietary preferences.

2. You can avoid all the crowds that flock to restaurants on this particular holiday. And if you didn't make a reservation, well plan to stand in line for hours.

3. If there are children in your life, you can choose to celebrate along with them--or have a late supper after they go to bed.

4. It's less expensive. A meal made at home is always cheaper than it's restaurant counterpoint. And again, if you have kids, you can also avoid the cost of a babysitter, which can be at premium rates on Valentine's Day!

5. It just tastes better. I don't know about you, but I'm always a little wary of new (and even old standby) restaurants because I'm often disappointed by flavor or food quality. There's nothing worse than spending a huge chunk of change on a meal and thinking, "I could have made that so much better," as you walk away.

It certainly goes without saying that in this economy more and more couples will choose to celebrate at home this year. But how?

I've had many different Valentines Day menus over the years, but the one that stands out most in my memory is from a long, long time ago, long before I ever met Mr.W. It was a beautiful supper shared with a beautiful man, simply served at the kitchen table with a flickering candle stuck in an old wine jug and the red rose he gave me on the table. I made two perfectly cooked steaks and oven-roasted potato wedges that we enjoyed with bottled beer. We were young, we were in love, and we ignored dessert completely.

It doesn't have to be fussy or fancy. The meal you share with your love should be one that you can feel confident about and still have time to fuss over yourself and your surroundings.

It doesn't have to be expensive, either. Filet mignon and lobster might be a bit pricey, but a rustic supper of italian sausage and seafood in a light tomato broth served with a baguette or herbed biscuits and a glass of white wine might be just right. Or serve your favorite comfort food meal. Mr.W would love a meal of tomato-topped meat loaf and whipped potatoes with buttered corn on Valentine's Day or any other. Or cube steak, steamed rice and country gravy, for that matter. That's his real favorite.

Whatever you decide to serve, dim the lights, add an unscented candle (you don't want perfumed candles to confuse the aroma of your food) or other soft lighting and have a vase ready in case your special someone brings you a flower. It doesn't matter what dishes you use--it does matter that you remember why you love your partner. Focus on that. Everything else will be wonderful.

Sharing your meal with children? A beautifully roasted candied chicken with oven-roasted cauliflower and steamed brown rice is a delicious meal that doesn't require a lot of last-minute tending. Or how about a ham-studded macaroni & cheese with petits pois? Okay, they're really just peas, but petits pois sounds so much fancier, don't you think?

Dessert can be both decadent and simple: a mini ice cream sandwich dribbled with strawberry coulis and a dollop of whipped cream is delicious for adults and children alike. Want something more grown-up? Chocolate-ricotta mousse is scrumptious and easy to make ahead. Serve it simply for kids, but add a drizzle of grand marnier for the adults for a suitably fancy finish to any meal. Prefer cake? This flourless chocolate torte is the very essence of decadence, is make-ahead simple, feeds a crowd and can be done sugar-free, if desired.

Last year, Dave and I invited another couple to spend Valentine's Day at our house over a good meal and even better conversation. If you're like me, there's nothing more satisfying than feeding your friends.

This year, we're going to a friend's 25th Wedding Anniversary Party. After they renew their vows, there will be dinner and dancing--I'd say that's pretty romantic! 25 years and they choose to do it all over again. I'm looking forward to it.

And I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day, too.


Lulu said...

I totally agree with the "not make yourself crazy" part. In fact, GR and I mostly ignore the faux-holiday all together. There's just too much stress involved! I know, I'm a spoil-sport, but after reading your post, I'm thinking that a little romantic dinner at home might not be bad. The cube steak with country gravy looks amazing!

Have fun at the 25th anniversary party! That's a great way to spend Valentine's Day!

Amanda said...

Lulu--you can do it! A candle and a nice dinner at home is such a great way to spend Valentine's Day.

And we generally ignore the whole cards-flowers-candy-restaurant nonsense ourselves, too. I don't look at it as being a spoil-sport as much as not being victim to such a commercial holiday.

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