It doesn’t matter where we were. It wasn’t the restaurant or the server or the menu that was at fault. The calendar did it. February 14 to be exact. It was a decade or so ago and my husband and I had gone out to a restaurant we’d been to many times in the past, and have been back to since. Not a fancy place; a casual, popular spot with very good food. But there’s something charged about that evening, energy in the air: it has to be an unforgettable night, expectations of diners are incredibly high, restaurants are booked solid, customers’ expectations don’t quite get met (whether on the part of their date or the meal) and quickly the loving moment of Valentine’s Day bliss crumbles under the force of the reality of a day when restaurants are overtaxed to an almost unparalleled degree.
So, even though the expectations my husband and I had that night weren’t overboard — thinking our choice would be a safe haven from the frayed nerves and frustrations, it just was not to be. The domino effect prevailed, we ended up having a lousy dinner experience and I’ve vowed to never go out on Valentine’s Day again. It was a bad idea in the first place, we know better.
In my opinion, if there’s any night that’s ideal for staying in and enjoying a home-cooked meal it’s February 14. And I say that with all due respect to the outstanding chefs of the world, safe in knowing that me saying such a thing won’t hinder their reservation books being full to the brim with folks who just HAVE to go out that night.
Stay in. And don’t make beef wellington or lobster in vanilla-mango sauce or a 27 course menu of bites inspired by Alinea. Make some great food, of course, but it’s an evening about the company and the moment. You fiddling with lost of pots on the stove, up and down from the table checking the meat, wiping sweat from your brow and stressed out about whether the sauce is going to break does not bode well for a quiet evening of romance.
Consider something like this quick swordfish en papillote recipe, or this simple chimichurri sauce to serve with a grilled steak. Some rice or potatoes alongside, your favorite vegetable, splurge a bit on a nice bottle of wine. Fancy chocolates for dessert. Done. Tons more enjoyable in my book and you dispense with the distraction of nervous-chaotic energy that the night often brings out on the public dining front.
Or, I have even a better idea. Click here and enter for a chance to win a copy of my class French Cooking at Home: The Essential Techniques that launched with Craftsy last fall. Craftsy is a great online platform for learning that has a number of great food offerings but also knitting, photography, quilting, cake decorating, a variety of outlets for we crafty types. The class includes crisp HD video you’ll have access to 24/7, there are class materials provided, you can ask me questions on the platform and learn from questions others have posed already in the class. Folks post photos of their recipe results to share experiences with other classmates. More dynamic than a static YouTube video or DVD lessons. I’ve loved it as a teacher, and even sit in the student seat for some of their knitting classes.
So, if you’re looking for some inspiration for home-cooked menu ideas for this Valentine’s Day, or any of the other 364 days of the year, the class will help you out with homemade vanilla ice cream (hmmm, wonder why I went to dessert first….?), a rich fish chowder, robust beef and mushroom stew, simple vinaigrette dressing, cheese soufflé (not nearly as scary as you might think) and classic roast chicken (which, in my mind, is among the sexiest recipes out there).
Or, if you’re one of those who insists it’s not Valentine’s Day without a fancy dinner out — you can instead just share this class with your love and cook him or her a wonderful French-inspired meal any other day of the year.