While a romantic dinner at a good restaurant has sort of become a default Valentine’s Day activity, you’d be surprised how many people prefer celebrating it at home. And not because of laziness or limited budget either!
Celebrating Valentine’s Day at home is simply a matter of comfort for many people! It allows for a more intimate and private setting and a higher degree of control. Restaurants and other public places are often busy and crowded on Valentine’s Day, which can a) make some people tense and anxious, making the entire experience uncomfortable and draining; b) detract from the romantic atmosphere. In contrast, celebrating at home can be a relaxed and stress-free experience.
Not to mention, it’s more convenient if Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, and both partners are already tired from all the work they’ve had to do. The idea of having a small intimate celebration at home while eating good food and resting becomes a rather attractive idea.
On the other hand, if you’d prefer to celebrate at home, while your partner is a social butterfly who’s looking forward to going out, finding the right compromise can become complicated.
If that’s the case, you’ll need to do a bit more prep work to ensure they’re excited about the night in, not upset.
What to Keep in Mind When Planning for an At-Home Valentine’s Dinner:
Talking your partner around and even making them excited about a night in on Valentine’s Day is more than realistic - but you’ll need to put in some extra effort:
- Take all the planning onto yourself: if by staying at home, your partner is indulging you, then the least you can do is make the experience as comfortable and stress-free from them as can be. That includes letting them treat the entire ordeal as they would if you were going out. You’re now the one responsible for deciding the menu, setting the mood, and putting up the decorations (do NOT skip the decorations!);
- Start planning well in advance: settle on the music, the decorations, and the menu at least a couple of weeks before the due date so you don’t have to run around like a headless chicken at the last minute. Pay attention to small details: if the sound system is working well, if the decorations are in good shape, if you have the correct cooking time allocated for each dish, etc.;
- Presentation matters: make sure the atmosphere is celebratory and romantic. Most people like going out on Valentine’s Day because it makes for special memories. The right atmosphere can set the appropriate mood and make the whole thing feel special, even if you’re just having a meal at home. Put up balloons, take out the “good tableware,” take an extra minute to plate the dishes in an aesthetically pleasing way, etc.;
- Keep your partner’s tastes and preferences in mind: what is right for one couple may not be suitable for another. If your partner dislikes certain dishes (or ingredients), then even a meal worthy of a fine dining chef won’t make them happy; if they don’t like the color pink - pink balloons may annoy them; if they don’t like strong scents, then scented candles will be irritating, not romantic.
- Plan the evening around the things you BOTH enjoy: deciding to spend Valentine’s Day at home doesn’t mean your comfort should come after your partner’s. Whatever you plan for the romantic evening should be something that will make BOTH of you happy. You may be grateful to them for going with your idea, but you shouldn’t have to force yourself into activities you don’t enjoy as a token of that gratitude.
Easy Meal Options for Your Valentine’s Day Dinner at Home:
Romantic dinner is usually a big part of Valentine’s Day, and typical Valentine’s meals tend to reflect that. Often couples choose to splurge, visiting more upscale restaurants and enjoying beautifully plated dishes associated with fine cuisine, indulgence, and decadence: like steak or seafood.
Luckily, many of the most popular Valentine’s options are pretty easy to prepare at home, especially if you plan for it in advance. Staying in doesn’t mean skipping the indulgence.
Here are ten comparatively simple recipes you can try cooking instead of ordering in:
Shrimp Scampi is one of those dishes that is often associated with luxury and decadence. Unexpectedly, it’s relatively easy to prepare at home, even for newbie chefs.
The key to making an impressive plate of scampi lies in ingredients: go with the good shrimp, the large and fatty ones, and splurge on authentic Italian spaghetti pasta from high-grade wheat flour instead of the cheap supermarket brand. The shrimp-to-pasta ratio should be 1:1 (ex., 1 pound of shrimp per 1 pound of spaghetti).
From then on, it’s going to be easy sailing. First, do the preparatory work: peel the shrimp and cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. Once that’s done, you can concentrate on the sauce. Melt a few tbsp of butter in a large skillet, add a generous amount of minced garlic, and cook for a couple of minutes, then add a squeeze of lemon juice and bring it to a simmer. Add the shrimp to the skillet, and make sure each one lies flat. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until it cooks through and turns pink. Season the sauce with salt and black pepper to taste, then plate it over the pasta.
Scallops are widely considered a luxurious and decadent product for a few reasons:
- Their butter, but slightly sweet and mellow flavor, enjoyable even for those who don’t like seafood much;
- Their tender but slightly firm and bouncy texture;
- Their close association with fine dining. We, humans, are, in the end, easily influenced by stereotypes, and scallops being used in high-end cuisine, have garnered them a reputation as a meal fit for special occasions.
In this case, that’s a good thing because scallops can easily turn a home-cooked meal into an experience worthy of fine dining. See, the biggest pitfall when it comes to scallops is not the technique but the cooking time. They’re quick to overcook (as is most seafood, if we’re being fair). And if they’re overcooked, they come out rubbery and flavorless instead of tender and juicy. Unlike most recipes, you’ll need to work with medium-high heat and be extra attentive to prevent that.
Add enough olive oil to a large skillet to cover the bottom and heat it over medium-high heat. Lightly salt the scallops on both sides and add to the skillet. Cook on each side for about 2 minutes, until they’re browned with a little crisp. Remove them from the skillet, but don’t dispose of the oil.
Scallops don’t need a lot of seasoning: a simple butter-and-garlic sauce will be enough. Add a few tbsp of butter to the same skillet. Once it’s melted, add minced garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more. Lastly, add a squeeze of lemon juice to cut through the fattiness and stir for around 20-30 seconds. Add scallops back into the skillets, toss them to make sure the sauce covers them well, and serve!
Duck confit (fr. Confit de Canard) is a staple French dish, made by first salt-curing and then slowly cooking the duck in its own fat. This cooking technique results in a rich, tender, and flavorful dish with a meltingly soft texture. Now confitting something is actually a relatively straightforward process, so you could do it at home if you really want to. But it will be time-consuming (we’re talking days here), so you’re better off getting the ready-to-go, packaged duck leg confit and calling it a day.
Once you’ve got your hands on the poultry, you can either heat it up and serve it with a garnish of your choice or go a step further and use it to augment another dish. Duck confit is a rather versatile ingredient and can make an excellent salad, pasta, or pizza topping. But we think the duck leg confit in its entirety will impress your significant other the most.
Rack of Lamb with Rosemary and Garlic
Similar to scallops, the rack of lamb is often associated with indulgence and luxury. The reputation is largely premeditated with overall lower lamb consumption rates in the US. Simply put, unlike many other cultures, we’re not used to eating lamb frequently, so it has turned into a special ingredient.
Which is a good thing. Now you can use its reputation as a special-event food to impress your Valentine! See, lamb meat is tender and flavorful, requiring neither a lot of flavoring ingredients nor a lot of time and effort to cook. For a newbie (or a time-pressed) chef, it’s the perfect option.
You’ll require a large and deep oven-safe skillet that can safely house an 8-chop rack. If you only have a small pan, then separate the chops and adapt the recipe accordingly.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix ⅓ cup of olive oil with a couple of tbsp of fresh chopped rosemary and a generous amount of minced garlic. Liberally season the rack with salt and pepper on both sides, and then rub the olive oil-rosemary-garlic mixture into it until the meat can take no more.
Place the rack into the skillet, pop it in the oven, and bake for around 15 to 18 minutes for medium-rare to medium consistency. If you had to separate the rack into chops, cut down on cooking time by 2-3 minutes.
Oyster risotto is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a dish that your significant other hasn’t tried before but bears strong ties with romantic notions. It has both associations with Italian cuisine (one of the go-to choices for romantic Valentine’s dinners along with French cuisine) and love itself (oysters are strongly associated with romance and physical love).
It’s unclear who came up with oyster risotto first, but it likely popped up in a regional Italian cuisine book and then stayed overlooked until the oysters gained a reputation for being a delicacy.
The oyster risotto recipe doesn’t differ much from more well-known pumpkin or mushroom risotto recipes. The most complex part of the recipe is still stirring the hot broth one ladleful at a time into the rice until it’s absorbed. So, basically, you can just “hack” it by using the simplest risotto recipe you can find. Then, all you need to do is take around 6-8 fresh oysters, chop them in thick slices, add them to the pan, and let cook for about 3 minutes (oysters, like most other seafood, don’t require a lot of time to cook).
If you’re planning a vegan menu, then mushroom is the best substitute for regular steak. The trick is to choose mushrooms with big and juicy caps like shiitake or portobello mushrooms (or king oyster mushrooms in their entirety).
The technique for cooking mushrooms steak-style is about the same as for cooking meat. Add enough olive oil to the pan to cover the bottom and heat it on medium heat. Add an obnoxious amount of (vegan) butter to the pan, along with a few garlic cloves and a spring of thyme. Once the butter is melted, add the mushrooms to the pan. Make sure they’re placed separately. Cook between 6-10 minutes on each side - or as long as it takes them to turn crispy.
Serve with some salad and roasted potato wedges, and enjoy.
Fondue is not precisely a dinner, more of an appetizer, but it can be turned into a feast, depending on what you dip in the cheese. If you’re sticking to bread bites only, then sure, fondue is just an appetizer. But if you set up an entire spread of various ingredients like roasted vegetables (ex. broccoli, brussels sprouts, and potato wedges), miniature meatballs and cured meats, and grilled seafood (ex. shrimp, scallops, oysters, or even slices of salmon or tuna steak).
So, everything you’d serve on a romantic dinner, but primed for being skewered on a fork and dipped into hot cheese for extra flavor.
Fondue can be an ideal option for a romantic Valentine’s dinner because of the way it’s cooked and served. Both of you will need to be involved because fondue needs to be cooked right at the table, and you’d need to share the pot, keeping the two of you extra close throughout the night. The communal nature of fondue creates an intimate and cozy atmosphere, making it perfect for a romantic evening.
Bonus: Heart-Shaped Pizza
If you’re all out of ideas (or are short on time), go with the pizza. Pizza is always a good choice because who doesn’t love pizza?
It does come with the downside of being a rather uninspired choice, but you can embellish it by giving it a heart-shaped form and playing around with toppings (like adding a shredded duck leg confit to give it a more “fine dining aura”).