For the past few years, Emily Johnson has been helping her friend's boyfriend plan a romantic Valentine's Day feast. This year, she's doing the same for you. (Don't worry—what Emily lacks in relationship experience she's made up for with a near photographic memory of Nora Ephron's films.) Missed Part One of this series? It's right here!
Here’s one for you. I’ve been seeing a guy for nine months now. We're taking it slow. He was very clear with his intentions from the beginning, but he travels between two continents constantly due to his career. While it seems to most that we are dating (he kisses me, we have spent holidays together, neither of us are seeing anyone else), to be honest, I’m still not certain!!! What I do know is that we are someone special in one another’s lives, and that as odd as it sounds, I’m not really pushing for anything else right now. We are both somewhat odd ducks, and while I would welcome moving ahead together, I also have no interest in trying to “catch” him.
So for this someone special who thankfully seems to enjoy most of my cooking, I am NOT looking for a dinner that is going to make him want to get down on one knee and propose; and I am NOT looking for a dinner that leads to the bedroom. It is not about being sexy for me. I am looking for a dinner menu that will make him feel like the special person that he is to me without coming across as if it is “trying too hard” (otherwise, that could make him feel pressured and uncomfortable), that will foster good, meaningful conversation, that will, of course, make him think about what a lucky guy he would be to enjoy my cooking regularly if/when we do move ahead.
P.S. - It needs to be dairy-free, and while it doesn't need to be completely “healthy,” it should not be horribly decadent either. Also, it should be a proper dinner and not “down-home”—I shun “easy” recipes. I am willing to put in the time and effort and frankly, prefer it. (Good things come to those who wait—in food, and perhaps eventually in love.) Finally, since I am giving you a wish list, can it also be partly German? (I am not certain that German food is known for being the most romantic, so even if just the dessert is German, I am happy.)
Signed, The Patient Slow-in-food-slow-in-love Gal
Dear Patient Patty,
Wow, there's a lot to unpack here. Props to you. You're free-and-easy. You don't get bogged down by petty things like commitment. You take things slow in your relationship and you refuse stoop to the Internet's baser compulsion for 30-minute sheet-pan air-fried Instant Pot chicken. This not-boyfriend-boyfriend really scored and, if you ask me, he should lock you down. I don't care if he is a Very Important International Business Person—he needs to commit to his dairy-free German queen!
Not gonna lie, you challenged me a little with the "Not Sexy German Food." I guess we're ruling out all forms of German sausage, huh? (Ugh, sorry.) Also, you want a project but you also don't want it to look like you tried too hard? These are some serious contradictions, Patty. Luckily I, like you, love a challenge.
Why not do a huge roast? This Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Sumac Onions is a restaurant dish, so rest assured that it won't be too easy. If sumac is too sexy, try one of these other slow roasts: Pork with a Shallot Vinaigrette, Halibut Confit with Leeks, Coriander, and Lemon. Serving some perfectly-roasted potatoes alongside would be vaguely German in essence, right? You'll like that these are a little fussier than usual: You steam them before you roast them. For health, add a side of lemon-y cabbage.
And now for your German dessert: These Lebkuchen look like you didn't work hard, but are best when their dough is made ahead and aged. You humblebragged about being patient—let's put that patience to the test.
Bon Appétit Maydān; Washington, DCClaire Saffitz
Bon Appétit Maydān; Washington, DCMegan ScottJohn Becker
My girlfriend and I are spending our first Valentines day together and we had the idea to cook and spend a nice night in since she just moved and restaurants on Valentine's Day are pretty much hell.
What is the most colorful (and flavorful, of course) appetizer you would pair with the rainbow sushi we'll be making for the main course?
Dear Colorful Caroline,
Solid idea to skip the V-day restaurant hell for your still-new relationship. I love your idea of making rainbow sushi. So crafty! Since you're going full unicorn on your GF, I suggest doubling down and making these rainbow dumplings we just wrote about. They're dyed with ingredients like spinach and beet, which naturally lend vibrancy and flavor. I know a plate of dumplings isn't strictly an appetizer, but on Valentine's Day, anything goes. I mean, you're basically planning a night of Rainbow Brite cosplay here; nobody's going to be thinking about the appropriateness of the first course.
If you really are looking for just an app, though, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you can't go wrong with a seasoned crudité platter. Layer together radishes, cucumbers, orange slices, and endives, and sprinkle them with bright red chile flakes, lime zest, and lime juice. It's colorful, light, and the perfect thing to snack on as you're assembling your sushi.
Use everyday vegetables to color-code your dumplings (or to make a rainbow for the 'gram.)
Why crunchy, powerfully-seasoned raw vegetables are your holiday appetizer move.
I cook most nights but want to ball out for V-day, making a super-special, obviously-not-your-average-weeknight meal for me and my partner. However, when I cook for us at home, he usually cleans, and it feels 100 percent not in the spirit of the holiday to saddle him with a ton of dishes once dinner is over. Plus, I'd rather spend that time together cuddling on the couch! Do you have any one-pot or similar recipes that still feel romantic?
Ur the best,
Woman In Rubber Gloves (but not in a sexy way)
Dear Rubber Gloves Ruby,
There is nothing more romantic than an equal division of labor. So hats off to your partner, who probably took an intro to women's studies class while doing undergrad at University of Michigan. This steamy Pork Ragù Over Creamy Polenta is technically a two-potter, but I think we can come up with a dish strategy to maximize couch time: Make the ragù the night before (it'll be better the next day anyway). Wash your pot that night, too, so you're not bothered with it on Valentine's. That night, your boyfriend will only have to clean the polenta pot and the two plates you use—so while there's still cleanup, very little of it will occur on actual Valentine's Day. Better yet: swap the polenta for pasta and the one pot will need way less scrubbing. (Polenta does feel a little more special though.)
If you're willing to sacrifice just one more dish, this salad is designed to be eaten off of the same plate, which means you can assemble and serve it in the same wide, low-sided bowl. It's worth mentioning that this recipe comes from a Valentine's Day menu we developed a couple of years ago that's designed to be eaten off of a shared plate—it's three courses, but you'll automatically be cutting the dishes in half by sharing. I can't tell over e-mail if you're ready for that kind of intimacy!
The only problem with that menu: I'd be worried he'd take more than his fair share of the meringue sundae. So go for the ragù, or proceed with caution and have your fighting fork ready.Alison Roman
Bon AppétitAnna Stockwell
My boyfriend and I are in the process of moving in together. This move involves me moving from the east coast to Seattle. I would love to surprise him and prepare something delicious on Valentine’s Day with local ingredients, but I don’t know how to cook fish or seafood. We do love mussels. Any thoughts?
Congrats on moving in together. May he not leave used tea bags out on the white furniture!
But the real congratulations is in order for moving to a place where tremendous seafood is always at your disposal. I know fish can seem intimidating, but it's actually super easy to cook. Pick up some local salmon at the market and follow this contemporary classic of a recipe. It involves slowly roasting the salmon in copious amounts of olive oil, which essentially makes it foolproof: even if you let the fish go a little too long (which is really the main way you can mess fish up), the extra fat will still yield a silky texture.
Or you can do the mussels. No, really—mussels are another one of those things that look really fancy and difficult, but are actually simpler than most recipes. Make this mussel recipe from my boss David and serve it with a lot of bread. Or serve it as a first course and follow it up with a surprise of salmon.David TamarkinAlison Roman
Originally Appeared on Epicurious