A romantic meal should be a special home-cooked feast; one that you wouldn’t dream of preparing on a standard mid-week evening. I mean, really, when was the last time you made your other half a starter? (And no, opening a bag of Kettle Chips and a tub of hummus doesn’t count). And when do we normally have time to prepare a lavish dessert that isn’t a shop-bought one? (Shout-out to Bonne Maman’s crème caramel!).
Ultimately, a decadent dinner should be restaurant-quality food, but without the price tag. While eating out is by far my favourite pastime, I think truly romantic occasions – whether it’s an anniversary, birthday, celebration or the “official” day of romance: Valentine’s Day – should be spent at home, away from the masses. But what to cook to impress your other half? There’s one thing to remember here: while you want to design a menu that will wow, you don’t want to be cooking dishes that will keep you in the kitchen all night, sweating, swearing and getting flustered over a hot stove. My motto: less than an hour from chop to serve.
Luckily, some of the most indulgent dishes are flash fried (see scallop and steak ideas below), but if you’re looking to serve something more involved with many steps, make sure you prep well ahead of time.
I always like to start the evening with a glass of “pimped-up” (thanks, Jamie) Prosecco. Whether you bash some pomegranate seeds into the mix, a splash of elderflower cordial, or a small shot of Chambord, this can immediately turn a glass of cheapish fizz into a “special” (i.e. romantic) drink.
So where do you start? I’ve long been a fan of scallops; they look beautiful, they’re easy to cook, and even the name sounds impressive: “we’re having scallops tonight, darling!”. They’re quick to make (note my motto above), sweet, juicy and delectable. When I last cooked scallops, I took inspiration from a Gordon Ramsay recipe, in which he serves them with minted peas, but I decided to blitz mine – along with a squeeze of lemon juice and a small dollop of crème fraiche – to make a fancy-looking purée (this is how I make my pea and mint soup, but with added stock). The scallops only need to be pan-fried for one and half minutes on each side, depending on their thickness, and should be golden brown and feel slightly springy when pressed. In the past, I have served them, as Nigella Lawson suggests, with chorizo, but I think they’re a marriage made in heaven with extra crispy pancetta, too.
Alternatively, you could go down the oyster route – rather dramatically described by some as “the most evocative culinary symbol of passion”. After visiting Mark Hix’s ‘Hix Oyster & Chop House’ in London, I trusted that he knew exactly how to cook them, so used his recipe the first time I made them. I say “made” them; really, it was just a case of shucking them (the delicate process of opening the shell and removing the meat without losing the oyster’s nectar), arranging them on a platter of crushed ice, and serving with a bottle of Tabasco sauce. This year, though, I’m contemplating the “cooked oyster”: spooning seasoned breadcrumbs and Gruyère cheese over them and placing them under the grill for a few minutes. Heavenly.
For an impressive main, you can’t go wrong with a perfectly-cooked steak; especially if your beau/belle is in the traditionalist camp. If that’s the case, follow a traditional recipe from Delia Smith: marinate two rump steaks in a scrumptious mixture of red wine, garlic and Worcestershire sauce (preferably overnight), and when you’re ready to cook them, sear on a high heat for four minutes each side, before adding the reserved marinade back into the pan to bubble away. Delia recommends serving them with Aligot (creamy mash with garlic and cheese), but I’ve also presented them alongside crispy sweet potato wedges and a dressed rocket and parmesan salad. (Embarrassingly, I’ve been known to arrange the wedges in a big heart shape with the steak in the middle. And yes, I once made a Gordon Ramsay chicken and mushroom pie and modified it with the letters “T & D” in extra puff pastry on top).
No meal is complete without an indulgent dessert, and – as I constantly remind my four-year-old – sharing is caring. I don’t normally like to share my food, but for a romantic pud, I suppose I’ll make an exception. Whether you opt for a chocolate fondue (try Nigella’s Toblerone version for added crunch) or Marco Pierre White’s Eton Mess, there’s something loving about putting a big bowl in the middle of the table, grabbing a spoon each and tucking in. I’m planning on giving James Martin’s cinnamon-dusted doughnuts (Spanish Churro-style) with passion fruit and cream a go this year. Hopefully they’ll round off our romantic meal perfectly. Or, if I don’t get my fair share, will it end in tears?
Do you have any memorable, romantic home-cooked meals? Share the love in the comments box below!
Toni Waterfall – Cookery, Food & Drink A mum with a food-loving family and a part-time pescatarian lifestyle, I’m always searching for delicious and practical ideas to try in the kitchen. My all-time favourite chef is Gordon Ramsay, but I’ve never made a bad meal using a Jamie Oliver recipe. Spaghetti bolognaise is the go-to meal in my household, but I also enjoy cooking curries from scratch – especially seafood ones. I always say that balance and seasoning are crucial elements of getting a dish right. I’m constantly thinking ahead to the next meal and am an impulsive, daily supermarket shopper, as opposed to a weekly bulk buyer.