So you’ve decided to stay in this year and cook a nice Valentine’s Day dinner for your sweetie. There’s just one problem: You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. That’s OK! We’re here to help.
Most people understand that cooking for loved ones is a tender, heartfelt gesture, but they don’t always quite get how much work is involved. Following a recipe is the easy bit — it’s everything else that’ll get you. Choosing the right recipe, shopping for ingredients, planning, prepping, cooking, and serving a meal takes hours of labour, which is then taken for granted because it’s completely invisible. Part of this is on recipe developers: we gloss over the background legwork part of our jobs mostly because we’re used to it, but also because we know, deep down, that discussing it too frankly can turn people off the idea altogether.
The truth is that cooking is a lot of hard work. My job is to encourage you to do it anyways. There’s never a bad time to express your love for someone through a home-cooked meal, but Valentine’s Day — the only holiday where we’re encouraged to show people we love them, just because — is pretty perfect. Even if you’ve never cooked a meal in your life, I promise you can pull this off. Here are some basics to get you on the right track.
Pick a Course
If you barely cook, please don’t attempt a multi-course meal. Timing is everything, and if you’re new to the art of the prep schedule, biting off more than you’re used to chewing is a terrible idea. Choose dinner or dessert, and get their favourite takeout or delivery for the other. Not only does this make less work for you, it’s a good contingency plan in case something goes horribly, horribly wrong in the kitchen.
Cooking for your beloved should involve just a little bit of showing off, but it’s far more important to make them feel special. What’s their favourite thing to eat in this entire dumb world? Start there. If it’s intimidating in a bad way and/or is ripe with food borne illness potential, move down the list. (Lobster is romantic; shitting your guts out on The Sex Holiday is not.) It doesn’t have to be fancy — anything delicious that brings up fond memories is perfect, like a recreation of what you ate on your first date or their favourite childhood treat.
Ask For Help
If, for some reason, you can only take one piece of advice, please make it this one. You probably know someone with trustworthy culinary instincts, so seek them out and ask for assistance. (Equally important caveat: if the first person that comes to mind is your partner, possibly because they do all the cooking, ask someone else!) Tell them what you’d like to make, and ask for their favourite recipe and any specific tips they can share.
If you’re making something from your partner’s childhood and you’re both on good terms with their family, ask for The Secret Family Recipe. Chances are, they’ll be thrilled you asked—and it’ll make an already sweet gesture that much more meaningful.
Like I said earlier, following the recipe is the easy part, but there’s one way to make any recipe more manageable. When it comes time to actually cook your romantic meal, set yourself up for success with a mise en place, chopping and prepping your ingredients a day ahead if you can. Oh, and don’t forget to thank everyone who helped you choose a recipe — believe me, we’re just as invested in your success as you are.