Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is once again around the corner.
The signs are everywhere if you care to look. Impossibly red flowers are on prominent display everywhere. So are cards, heart shaped balloons and giant teddy bears. Yes, it is very corny. But on the other hand there’s still something incredibly romantic about being having someone you love surprise you with flowers or a thoughtful gift.
A quick poll of my paired up friends reveals that what they would love most is staying in and celebrating in a low-key way. Restaurants are always overbooked on February 14th anyway, serving ‘special’ set menus and crowded with couples determined to have a romantic time. Which usually has the exact opposite effect - there is always a strange energy and air of heightened expectations. Do not even THINK of proposing at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day!
Instead, plan the perfect romantic evening at home where you are unlikely to be rushed or charged a fortune on heart-shaped desserts. A special Valentine’s menu doesn’t have to be overblown or overambitious. Follow these easy steps for guaranteed success…
Set the mood
Yes, candlelight is well and good but nothing will get the evening off to a better start than a well-chosen cocktail. Anything with a bit of sparkle is always a good bet and there’s endless easy ways to jazz up a glass of bubbly – add elderflower cordial and a few drops of rosewater, crème de cassis for a Kir Royal, or gin, a little sugar and lemon juice for a French 75 (beware though, those are lethal). It’s always a good idea to have some nibbles alongside cocktails, whether it is simply some spiced nuts or pimped up popcorn (add grated Parmesan and a pinch of chilli powder to freshly popped corn). Make sure you chill the wine or champagne for the main meal to follow or let that red wine breathe!
Even novice cooks can make bruschetta (and their daintier cousin, crostini) and there’s endless ways to dress them. Honestly you can’t go wrong with these; they are completely irresistible! Brush the bread slices with a little garlic, toast (or grill) them and add any toppings you desire from classic fresh tomatoes to cheese, olives, roasted peppers, figs or seafood.
The main event
Many couples seem to opt for a classic: steak and chips. Steak is one of the simplest things to cook and you can show off by serving with some flavoured butters (don’t worry, those can be prepared well in advance). Chips are one of the lesser known aphrodisiac foods – literally nothing can beat crispy, salty chips and they are easy to make at home. Simply parboil sliced potatoes for five minutes, dry, and cook in a hot oven for 30 minutes until golden. Sprinkle with some chopped rosemary et voilà, job done. Do make a salad to serve on the side but don’t worry if it goes unnoticed!
Steak and chips may be heavenly for meat lovers but it will surely dampen any chance of romance for vegetarian lovebirds. Opt for a creamy risotto instead (bonus points for use of truffle oil), spectacular vegetable tart or an easy pasta dish.
Sweets for my sweet
When it comes to Valentine’s desserts the general consensus is… anything chocolate – just as well that chocolate is a proven aphrodisiac! The simplest and most seductive of chocolate desserts is chocolate mousse. It is very easy to make a day in advance and it can be jazzed up with the addition of coffee or your favourite tipple. Vanilla ice cream served over warm brownies and smothered with chocolate sauce is another winner - I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't go weak at the knees at the mere sound of it…
Fake it til you make it
You want to prepare a spectacular meal for your Valentine but cooking is not your forte? There are several companies offering 'recipe kits' which provide you with all the ingredients and foolproof step-by-step instructions so you can transform yourself into a chef for the day. But if you would rather avoid sweating in the kitchen altogether why not order a meal from your favourite restaurant, or take advantage of the popular 'meal deal' offers available in most supermarkets?
The best gift...
Whether you have wowed your loved with an elaborate home-cooked meal or not, the biggest gift you can give (and receive) is undivided attention. So switch off those mobiles, hide the tablets and turn off the computer... And here's to a romantic and cosy Valentine's Day.
Lucy Parissi is a London-based designer, food photographer, coffee fanatic and cocktail appreciator. She is also the food-obsessed blogger behind Supergolden Bakes.