Planning the perfect Valentine’s Day menu is daunting. From setting the table, to choosing wine, and creating ambiance, there’s so much to consider. With this much pressure to get things right, what are you to do? Trust me, I’ve seen it all. With over ten years of marriage under my belt, here are some Valentine’s Day dinner ideas and tips to get you started!
Planning the Menu
So, here we are. Planning the menu. This seems like it’s the toughest part, so best to get it out of the way, right? Here’s the secret though. Choosing a menu doesn’t have to be that hard and you’ll probably have lots of Valentine’s Day dinner ideas. This day is a day for celebrating your romantic relationships. And one of the most romantic gestures you can do is to be thoughtful and caring.
- Choose a dish that matches your skill level. Work smarter, not harder!
- Consider an appropriate appetizer or salad. Let your entrée influence your choice.
- Think about Valentine’s Day desserts. Maybe cheat here and buy one!
- Are you going to serve aperitifs, cocktails, or wine?
If you’re an inexperienced cook like me, then try to keep it simple. Think of the meals they love and the dinners you’ve enjoyed together to help inform your choice. With a little thought, it shouldn’t be too tricky to settle on a meal that you can quickly prepare but is also delicious.
One of my wife’s favorite dishes is steak-frites. Yeah, it sounds fancy, but it’s just steak and fries if you didn’t already know. Steak may seem daunting, but it’s really not that difficult to prepare. And even though I’m telling you that, I do get a little nervous every time I fix it! I worry about overcooking the dish and ruining the meal. But you know what? It’s normal to worry, so hang in there. It’ll be okay.
Homemade French fries aren’t that tough to prepare either, but the work can be messy. Sometimes I cheat and pick them up from a restaurant instead. But, if you’d like to learn how I make them, we’ll cover that below.
You’ll also need to settle on an appetizer or salad, and a dessert. You may also wish to consider an aperitif or cocktail and a wine pairing.
The appetizer or salad (or both!) are typically going to be lighter fare than the selected entrée. By choosing steak-frites, I’ve chosen a dense meal that sits heavy with most of us. So, to add some color, I’ll fix a salad. It’ll be fresh, colorful, and simple to fix. While there are many ways to prep a salad, you can keep it simple like me and make a garden salad.
Every garden salad starts with a base of lettuce. I’ll choose romaine as it’s April’s favorite, but any dark green leaf is a solid choice. Most then add tomatoes, for which I’ll select cherry tomatoes, as she likes these bite-sized treats. I’ll also add some crumbled feta cheese and some olives. Balsamic vinaigrette is a traditional dressing, but feel free to choose what you actually like.
Choosing Valentine’s Day desserts shouldn’t be hard, either. I’m not great at this, but luckily one of her favorite candy shops makes chocolate dipped strawberries this time of year. So this time I’ll give myself a break by taking a shortcut!
We don’t usually drink, so I’ll be skipping the wine. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll choose a red wine for dark meats like beef, and you’ll gravitate to whites for meals of fish and chicken.
Setting the Table and Creating Ambience
Okay, so we’ve been planning a delicious meal. That’s great! But, to take it to the next level, we need to serve it in a memorable way. So how do we do that?
- Choose a comfortable space. Maybe an area you don’t usually use so it feels new!
- Use a table cloth. A real one, made out of fabric, not plastic. It’s not a toddler’s birthday.
- Spend some time setting the table. Place utensils in order of use.
- Get cloth napkins. Change your life forever.
Changing the area where to dine can make a big difference in how you enjoy your meal. For starters, you’ll need to assess your current dining circumstances. If you usually take your meals at your small kitchen table, you’ll probably want to upgrade to your dining room.
Maybe that’s not an option though? In our second apartment, we had a tiny little dining room that I had converted into an office space. So, instead, when we sat down for a nice meal, I would set out a card table on our balcony. Using a nice tablecloth really helped transform the feel of seating, and we’d enjoy many meals that way.
You’ve probably heard of table setting, or maybe you’ve seen how it’s portrayed in media. It looks tricky, but it’s really not. As a general rule of thumb, you place the utensils that will be used first the furthest out. This way, they get used first! Alternately, it’s also okay to refresh the table setting for each course, from salad and appetizer to entrée, to your Valentine’s Day desserts.
If you’ve haven’t yet invested in cloth napkins, I recommend that you do so. It’s a lovely little embellishment that instantly ups your dinner game. The napkin should be neatly folded and thoughtfully arranged on the dinner plate (the big plate!) or rolled up in a napkin ring. There are tons of fun and cool ways to fold napkins if you’d like to try for yourself.
Really though, it’s up to you. Ultimately just do what will be most comfortable for your date.
Preparing the Food
- 2 New York strip steak, about ¾ to 1 inch thick, around 10 ounces each
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
About 20 minutes before you start cooking, set out the steaks on your counter to bring them to room temperature. Otherwise, you’ll be starting with a cold steak, and that will affect the cooking.
I start by heating a skillet over high heat, with a splash of olive oil to coat the pan. While the pan continues heating, salt and pepper your steaks on both sides.
Once the pan has reached its temperature, place each steak onto your pan. What I’ve learned is to place them down away from your body, so that you don’t get splashed by hot oil!
Cook your steaks one minute, then flip them and cook the other side for another minute. Once you’ve flipped your steaks, add the butter to the skillet.
Flip the steaks again, and spoon melted butter to the top. Cook for one minute. Then cook the other side for one minute. Spoon on more butter. You’ve been cooking the steaks for about four minutes now.
Using a pair of tongs, grab each steak and place the fatty ends against the pan to render down the fat. Hold them hear for about a minute to a minute and a half.
The steaks will have about medium-rare doneness. You could continue cooking each side for another minute each to reach medium doneness. It’s up to your preference.
Remove the steaks from the heat. Place them on a warmed plate and let them rest for a few minutes before serving. Feel free to spoon on a little more butter. It’ll be worth it.
- 3 medium or 2 large russet potatoes
- Vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper
If you haven’t already, wash, scrub and dry your potatoes. You’ll also want to start heating your oil for the first round of frying. Heat the oil to 325 F. Using a dedicated fryer is recommended.
Slice the potatoes lengthwise, keeping them a bit thin. Each slice can then be cut into two to four slices. If you like thinner fries, you can slice them thinner too.
Split the cut potatoes into two piles. Fry each batch for about two minutes. Place them onto a paper towel-lined plate.
Now, raise your oil temp to 375 F. Separately, cook each pile for another two minutes. Three if you like them crispier.
Transfer the cooked fries to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Giving the Gift
You got a gift, right? No? Then check out some of these sweet Valentine’s Day gifts real quick. I’ll wait. You’ll need a card, too. I suggest trying a DIY option. With a little work, you can easily create something that won’t look like it came out of grade school.
Wrapping a gift can be tough. I know I’m no good at it! While lots of jewelry comes in attractive packaging that’s already suitable for gifting, you might desire a little more. Gift bags are a good choice. They’re easy to pack, and you just need a little bit of tissue paper to fill the bag. And when you’re on a budget, they can often be reused for future gifting. Since they’re made of paper or cardstock, they’re also recyclable, too!
What are your Valentine’s Day dinner ideas? Leave a comment and share!