I remember the first time a guy ever cooked for me.
I remember the music, the hor d’oeuvres (yes, he actually put out snacks before the meal), and I remember the way the table was transformed from its everyday look to something more special: covered with newspaper.
Lobster accouterments like crackers and small forks were casually strewn over the newspaper, and to me, it was the most clever and creative gesture I had seen for a table setting of its kind.
Outside, on the porch, a large lidded pot of water was set over a burner.
I was about 20 years old. It was a time when I would write songs and novels at length about love I had not yet experienced. It was the era of Nicholas Sparks books and country love songs. It was a time of wide-eyed enthusiasm and adventure, of wistful nostalgia, even for those things I had not yet grown to miss.
It was a time of wild enchantment.
We sat on his back porch, overlooking the Maine bay that had quietly settled as it always did in the early evening hours. The rosy hues of dusk were beginning to paint the sky against the mainland in the distance and shroud the island with warmth and comfort.
We drank our wine, shared a cigarette and laughed over cheese and crackers. I could hear Willie Nelson’s songs drifting through the screen door from inside.
By the time we had uncorked our second bottle of white wine, two brightly colored lobsters were set on the table.
For the first meal a guy had cooked for me, I was impressed.
And it took a lot to impress me at the time. I’ve since lowered my expectations with all things love and romance. But my standards have been set. Those won’t ever change.
So why then, am I telling you about this memorable dinner story? Because there are few things as special as someone putting thought into preparing a meal for you — one that’s complete with music and ambiance.
It’s also nearing Valentine’s Day and I’m telling you, begging you, and urging you to cancel those reservations for two on Saturday night.
Every New York resident knows that restaurants are among the city’s best assets. New Yorkers boast and brag about them. But for just one night of the year, they don’t. And that date is February 14 when nearly every resident scoffs at the terribly overpriced and over-hyped 5-course prix fixe menu complete with a marriage proposal for dessert.
So then how, you might be wondering, are you going to cook in that tiny kitchen?
I’ll show you.
First step is not to panic.
Second, set a mood for date night. See my 5 Tips for Entertaining, Even in Small Spaces.
And lastly, plan that menu. Here are three Valentine’s Day menu options with appetizers, main courses and desserts that are guaranteed to please:
for the seafood-faring one
• Simply Seared Bay Scallops
• Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon
• Lobster-themed cookies, or any other special treat — remember, store-bought dessert is just fine… So long as the dinner was homemade
And lastly… a menu for the one who is actually, really too terrified to cook, but wants to do something special for their special someone
for the one who can’t cook: a gourmet cheese plate
• 3 cheeses: one hard, one soft and one semi-soft (if you live in New York City, go to Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village, or one of its other locations)
• 2 meats: prodcuitto di parma and soppressata
• Green grapes
• one loaf of crusty bread
• a jar of assorted olives
• any spreads like fig jam, olive tapenade, caramel sauces (yes, this pairs well with some cheeses), truffle honey
• assorted nuts, like Fieldhouse Kitchen’s favorite Maple Roasted Bar Nuts
• chocolate. don’t ask questions.
Now get cooking!
And although I don’t kiss and tell, I will share with you one last thing because it’s Valentine’s Day…
The last guy who cooked for me… I fell in love with.