Cooking Up a Little Romance

While everyone is certainly welcome to read the column which follows, this missive is directed more towards my male readers. More specifically, it is written for those male readers who hesitate to venture into the kitchen - those individuals who believe food preparation to involve only pouring milk over cereal, or “nuking” a hot pocket. If you fit into this category, there is an opportunity at hand; an opportunity which, if handled properly, could pay significant dividends. I am, of course, speaking of Valentine’s Day - a day of flowers, cards, and candy. A day to remember the love of your life with something a little special. And, what could be nicer than a romantic evening out to that special restaurant with a cozy table for two and no dishes? Not to throw a wet blanket on your plans, but let’s give it some thought.

Perhaps I’m making some assumptions here and, if I am, please feel free to skewer me, but why is it that dinner out is viewed as an event? Unless I’m wrong, it’s because culinary-challenged guys view dinning out as a “two-fer”…not only do we enjoy a wonderful meal, but we also free our partners from the normal chores of meal preparation. Other than showing a willingness to cover a tab, where is the evidence of caring and devotion in that? Furthermore, on major romantic days of celebration, most notably, New Year’s Eve and Valentines Day, restaurant dining can frequently involve menu limitations and special pricing.

Okay, so I’m not an expert on the dynamics of relationships. I freely admit this shortcoming, but it seems to me, from years of observation, that our partners appreciate us more when we go out of our way to show that we appreciate them. As a corollary, I think it is also true that the further we go out of our way, the greater the demonstration of admiration. So, while even taking the time to purchase a romantic valentine card may be appreciated, my bet is that one which was self-authored would REALLY be admired. Romance is a natural consequence of such mutual appreciation. It may be trite, it may be cliché, but, nevertheless, it is true: it’s the thought that counts. And, the more thought invested, the higher the count.

So, what we have here is a once-yearly opportunity. Guys, I’m fairly certain that your partner will appreciate you making reservations for that romantic dinner at your favorite spot. You’ll both enjoy the evening out. But, if you want to increase the romantic quotient, step out of the box, face your kitchen-related fears head on, and invest some effort and thought beyond a phone call. It really isn’t too difficult and it’s worth the effort (trust me on this). In addition, if you make the effort to prepare dinner on a regular day (opposed to Valentine’s), the day will become anything but ordinary.

As you proceed, there are a couple of points that need to be foremost in your mind. First of all, make sure you clean up after yourself in the kitchen. Having someone prepare you a meal only to find that you’re expected to do the cleanup lessens the impact of and appreciation for your culinary efforts. Your efforts need not be a surprise, but if you see to it that your partner is otherwise occupied, you can hide any stumbles which occur along the way. Send her out for a pedicure (it’s less than what you would have spent on dinner). And, as in all aspects of life, timing is everything. Budgeting your time to insure that everything is ready at the appropriate time is an important element. However, I realize that Valentine’s Day is midweek this year, so if you can’t create the time, agree to celebrate either the weekend before or after. Above all, don't look at this as a task, but rather as an opportunity. This romantic menu is designed to be accomplished in an hour or less - prep and cooking time. Shopping time will depend upon your familiarity with a grocery store!


Cocktails (your choice) and braised shitake mushrooms appetizer
Mixed salad with grape tomatoes and hearts of palm
Pan-seared beef filet with reduction sauce, couscous, and sautéed broccolini
Champagne-marinated strawberries and cream

Shopping list (beyond the normal staple in the pantry):

6 Medium-sized fresh shitake mushrooms

1/4 lb. Mixed mesclun greens
1/4 lb. Grape tomatoes
1 can Hearts of palm (you'll only use half)
Salad dressing (red wine vinaigrette is nice)

Main course:
2-6 oz. Beef filets, butterflied (cut thickness in half)
1 Package couscous
2 Small heads Broccolini
1 Lemon
Small red onion
1 Can College Inn beef stock (you'll only use 1/2)

Split champagne
Pint strawberries
1/2-Pt. Heavy cream

You'll also want to make sure you have some cheap (but drinkable) white wine, some cooking sherry, and a good bottle of red (I'd prefer a nice Zinfandel, but a Merlot would be fine) - little for the sauce and the rest to serve with dinner.


Set the table with candles and flowers.

Prepare Dessert:
Wash strawberries, remove stems, and slice lengthwise in half. Place berries in a bowl, mix with 1 Tbsp. sugar, add 1 cup champagne, and refrigerate.

Prepare Appetizer and Salad:

Wash mushrooms and cut off stems. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in skillet and sauté mushrooms, stem side up, for 5 minutes. Turn mushrooms, add 1/4 cup sherry and 2 tsp. soy, and cover and cook for 5 minutes.
While mushrooms are cooking, arrange salad greens on two plates, place 3 or 4 hearts of palm in center, and surround with a handful of grape tomatoes. Place salad in refrigerator. Serve appetizer.

Dress salad and serve.

Main course (time to multi-task):
Heat two heavy skillets. Add 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil to each. When the olive oil is hot enough to just start smoking, place beef (should have 4-1/2 thickness pieces) in one pan and broccolini in the other. Add 1/3 cup white wine to broccolini, squeeze in juice of 1/2 of a lemon, and reduce heat to low and cover. Cook beef 2-3 minutes (for medium rare) and turn. Cook two more minutes. Remove from pan and keep warm. Add 1 Tbsp. of minced onion to pan, sauté briefly, and add 1/2 cup red wine and 1/2 cup beef broth. Stir to deglaze the pan. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce and thicken slightly (for 5 minutes). Salt and pepper to taste.
While the sauce is reducing, make the couscous per the instructions on the box (just a matter of bringing a cup of water to a boil, adding the couscous, turning off the heat, and covering for 5 minutes).
Arrange broccolini, beef, and couscous on plate. Spoon sauce over the beef and serve.

Divide the strawberries and juice into 2 bowls. Spoon 1/4 cup of heavy cream over each bowl. Serve.
Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 3, Issue 3, Posted 7:07 PM, 01.26.07