how to do valentine's day at home

Do you have any traditions you do for Valentine's Day?  We're not big on gifts - we usually use it to justify purchasing something that we wouldn't normally (i.e. "Oh, Al I bought this cashmere sweater full price at Club Monaco, let's call it my Valentine's Day present").  

You know the one thing we definitely DON'T do on actual Valentine's Day? Go to a restaurant.  Maybe it's different outside of New York, but the restaurants here on Valentine's Day are awful.  They pack you in, have an over priced prix fix menu and feel so...what is the word...impersonal (imagine that scene from Sex And The City Movie with Carrie and Miranda - yes, it's really like that).  Instead of going out on V-Day, our tradition is to stay in and cook together.  Since I'm the one who usually cooks (in my pajamas) while Al is on his way home or works from the couch, it feels different to cook together.  We turn on some music (I love my sister's Valentine's playlist on Spotify), I wear my nice soft clothes (a step up from my flannel pjs - think long comfy sweaters and soft leggings), we pour a bottle of wine, set out some cheese to snack on and stand together in the kitchen cooking and talking. It feels incredibly romantic and special.

The key to all of it to not make it a big deal.  Here are four easy ways + menu options to have your own Valentine's meal at home.  

1.)  Keep it Simple.  Most experts tell you to only cook what you've made before for guests.  But that's hard if you don't cook much to begin with.  Here's my favorite tip from Ina Garten - cook one thing, assemble one thing, and buy one thing.  For example, cook some steaks, assemble a salad, and buy the dessert.  Or, if you prefer baking, cook pasta with jarred sauce, bake a cake, and assemble an antipasto board.  Get it? It's much less stress and helps you to focus on the one main dish you're preparing.  The goal here is to have fun together, not shout at each other as you burn the house down trying to earn a Michelin star.

2.)  Plan Ahead.  Know what you're going to make in advance and go to the grocery store and liquor store BEFORE the day of.  You want to go to a grocery store (or even worse the wine store) after work on Valentine's night?  Have fun.  It's a mad house as everyone with the same idea as you struggles to find the saffron/pizza dough/arborio rice in Fairway as the clock ticks.  Instead, the weekend before get the essentials (non perishables) and the day before pop in for the things you need fresh - fish/meat/produce.  Planning ahead also means to read through the entire recipe at least once before you even gather one ingredient. Nothing is worse than starting a recipe and then getting to the part in the directions where it tells you to "simmer for 6 to 8 hours".  

3.)  Assign Tasks.  Our kitchen is small.  We don't have room for both of us to be standing over the stove. Have whoever is more confident in the kitchen do the hard stuff, and give the other person a task - make the salad, read the directions, stir the risotto, refill the wine.  You need to find a bit of a rhythm.  If you set out each person's tasks ahead of time it will be less of one person bossing the other around the kitchen (guilty of that one, for sure).

4.) RELAX.  The thing I find happens most when people cook together, especially those who don't cook often, is that they get caught up in the recipe and don't stay calm.  No one is timing you.  This isn't 30 minute meals.  Go slow, follow the steps, and don't get stressed out.  It's supposed to be fun!

RECIPE IDEAS: Now for some easy recipes for your Valentine's Day at home.  I love how all of these seem impressive, but are actually relatively simple. Many of them are hands free in that you just throw the ingredients together and pop it in the oven - leaving you time to clean up and set out the other dishes.

Steaks.  My go to recipes for tender filets or juicy rib-eyes.  Same technique is used for both recipes.  Just make sure you turn on the vent and crack the windows, it will get smoky.

Lamb.  A protein that always impresses.  Ina Garten's Rack of Lamb Persillade is killer and so easy it's laughable.  (Note:  if you don't have a food processor just finely chop everything and stir together, crushing some of the mixture with the back of a spoon.)  Or go more relaxed with stuffed lamb burgers.

Risotto.  One person stirs, one person fills the wine glasses. :)  My favorites are vodka sauce risotto with smoked or fresh mozzarella and tomato, sausage, & spinach risotto.  I'm thinking of trying this crab risotto this year.

Pasta.  Gosh there are so many pasta favorites thanks to our Wine Nights.  Truffle mac and cheese, orecchiette with sausage & broccoli rabe, tomato and cream cheese fettuccine (my sister and her boyfriend's favorite to cook together), and ravioli with pumpkin sage sauce.

Fish & Seafood.  Fish is easy because it's fast.  We're currently obsessed with Parmesan Tilapia, but we also went through a big phase of bang bang salmon.  And roasted salmon and potatoes couldn't be easier.  I'm also a big fan of cooking seafood in parchment/foil like this and this.  I'm tempted to make this poached cod with tomato and saffron for our meal this year.

Salads.  Typically I go for standard arugula mix with a lemon vinaigrette, but you could also try kale and brussels sprouts salad, the ultimate Caesar salad (Al's favorite), or apple, pecan and blue cheese salad with dried cherries.  Another easy side is these green beans that steam in a bag in the microwave.

Sweets.  We're more of an ice-cream or cookies and milk family, but some of my favorite dessert options are salted caramel cheesecake (a real show stopper, but this one takes some time), butterscotch pot de creme (make the night before, oh so so so tasty), and this brownie "pudding" is just ridiculous   Also a big fan of the affogato - pour hot espresso over scoops of vanilla gelato.

Now that you have the tips, tricks, and recipe ideas - why not do Valentine's Day at home?



P.S.  Some great Valentine's gift ideas

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