Want to make an awe-inspiring home-cooked dinner for two that will leave your Valentine reeling with delight? This meal is so fast and easy that even if you usually use your oven to store shoes and your refrigerator as a beer locker, you can still put this all together with minimum of time, effort and kitchen equipment. The trick is to take shortcuts that don’t diminish taste, put a personal twist on basic dishes to impress your date with your culinary sophistication, and have a good bottle of wine on hand to smooth the preparation process. Before we get to the menu, let’s start with the basics: you need a couple of plates, silverware, wine glasses, two steak knives, and a place to eat; cloth napkins would be nice, but are not essential. These supplies can be taken care of with a quick trip to any home goods store. No dining room or dinner table is required; a coffee table can be a very intimate place to dine, with a couple of cushions thrown casually on the floor. Candles are essential – the more the better! If you’re on a budget, make sure you don’t cut corners on a nice bottle of wine, or whatever your cocktail of choice might be. Vinegary wine will kill the mood faster than a kitchen fire. Don’t be afraid to use store-bought products, like cookies or bread. You’d be amazed at how the taste of things can be improved by simply warming them in the microwave or heating them to a crispy crunch in the oven.
And now, our menu:
Hack 1: Cheese plate with dried and fresh fruit, nuts, crackers and bread: Can you unwrap some cheese and open a box of crackers? Then you’re 95% of the way there! Buy three cheeses – different textures and colors are nice, such as a brie, a sharp cheddar and bit of bleu cheese, and arrange them on a plate. Add some crackers – not saltines! – some country bread cut into smaller pieces, a handful of dried apricots, walnuts, fresh grapes, and a sliced apple, and mound them around the cheese like a Dutch still life. As long as you don’t pile things into neat little bundles, it’ll look artistic. Add a knife for the cheese.
The main course:
Hack 2: Go big with a whopping porterhouse steak for two, seared on the stove and seasoned with fresh herbs, garlic, and a knob of butter. Mouthwatering! You just need a couple of simple sides to compliment this gorgeous piece of beef.
Hack 3: Chop a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes in two (these little tomatoes can be counted on for big flavor in the depths of winter.) Drizzle some balsamic vinaigrette dressing over the tomatoes to add to your gourmet cred (Paul Newman makes a good Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing – no need to make it from scratch).
Hack 4: You need a baked potato – but not just any baked potato! Make a Hasselback potato, which is an easy way of cutting the potato into thin slices, but not all the way through. As it cooks, the potato will open up like an accordion, making room for
Hack 5: a lovely dollop of store-bought Greek tzatziki that you were clever enough to add, instead of more-ordinary sour cream. Complete the meal with a nice French baguette, warmed in the oven for a few minutes to a nice crunch, and serve the bread with olive oil and sea salt.
Hack 6: It would be easy to buy a cake or a pint of ice cream, but you’re here to impress, right? How about fresh raspberries in a hot caramel sauce, with a little butter cookie on the side? Couldn’t be easier: the raspberries are covered with a light dripping of hot caramel sauce, which you can make for yourself (four ingredients), or you can buy caramel sauce and heat it in the microwave. I can’t tell you how heavenly those two flavors are together – raspberry and caramel.
And finally, Hack 7: buy a box of little butter cookies and microwave a few cookies for twenty seconds just before serving. Use as a garnish with the raspberries and caramel. Then finish with coffee, maybe a little brandy? I think you can take it from here… Recipes below:
- 1 wedge of brie
- 1 6-ounce chunk of your favorite cheddar
- 1 small chunk of bleu cheese small package of dried apricots
- 2 bunches of fresh grapes small package of whole walnuts
- 1 apple brown country bread cut into small pieces box of crackers (lavasch or water crackers are nice)
- Arrange cheese, fruit, nuts and crackers on a tray or plate, add a knife and serve.
Prep time: 20 minutes
- 2-pound bone-in Porterhouse steak, about two inches thick
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tablespoons butter
- fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs
- Coarse salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a heavy skillet to high heat, and cover the skillet with a lid (you want to make it as hot as a hot grill.)
- While pan is heating, rub pepper and salt into steak. When pan is hot, pour oil into pan (oil should smoke) and then put steak into skillet.
- Cook on each side for 7 minutes until outside of steak turns a deep, crispy brown.
- Put the lid on the skillet and place in oven for twenty minutes for medium rare.
- Remove from oven and let meat stand for 15 minutes. (The meat is still cooking, even though it’s out of the oven.)
- Add thyme and rosemary, garlic and butter, and serve directly from the skillet for a dramatic presentation.
Prep time: 5 minutes
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Paul Newman’s Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing
- Lightly drizzle balsamic dressing over tomatoes, and add salt and pepper.
Allow to sit at room temperature so that the marinade is well-absorbed. Serve with steak and potato.
Hasselback Potatoes with Tzatziki
Prep time: one hour and five minutes
- 2 large baking potatoes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Coarse salt and pepper to taste
- 1 container Tzatziki, available in the refrigerator section of most grocery stores
Note: (Tzatziki is Greek strained yogurt made with olive oil, mint and dill and used as a sauce for meat)
- Scrub potatoes.
- Turning potato on its long side, slice thin strips down into, but not through, the potatoes.
- Dab butter and salt between slices of potato and cook in preheated 425 degree oven for one hour.
- Just before serving, add dollop of tzatziki on top of potato.
- 1 store-bought baguette
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Coarse sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Pop bread into oven for 7 minutes, just before serving the steak.
- Tear bread into slices and serve with a small bowl of olive oil and salt for dipping.
Prep time: 10 minutes, unless you use premade caramel sauce, which takes five minutes
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
For the caramel sauce:
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 ounces dark brown sugar
- ½ cup cream pinch of salt
Buy premade caramel sauce, such as Ghirardelli caramel-flavored sauce, or Torani caramel sauce, usually found near the ice cream freezers at the grocery.
To make the sauce:
- Heat the butter in a small saucepan until it is melted.
- Add brown sugar and cook at medium heat until sugar melts. Add vanilla.
- When the mixture is well combined, remove from heat and add in cream and pinch of salt. Warm until bubbling. (If you are using the premade caramel sauce, heat in the microwave for one minute, or until bubbling.) Mound a pile of washed and drained raspberries on a saucer.
- Heat raspberries in microwave for thirty seconds. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the raspberries.
- Heat several store-bought butter cookies in the microwave for 20 seconds. Garnish raspberries with cookie and serve.