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You can make a reservation at your local hot spot, book a show or plan a trip, but let’s be real: The most romantic thing you can do for another person is cook them a meal. And what better opportunity to complete a labor of love in the kitchen for that special someone than Valentine's Day?
This year, Feb. 14 falls on a Wednesday, which means you don’t have the luxury of time that a Saturday or Sunday might provide and you need to plan a Valentine’s Day dinner menu that isn’t super labor-intensive. In terms of entrees, we’re thinking simple but sumptuous pastas, savory steaks, whole roast chicken, crispy potatoes, buttery fish, perfectly seared scallops, crispy cutlets, hearty vegetables and maybe even a little surf-and-turf situation.
There’s nothing more romantic than creating a meal for someone you love with your own hands. As you chop, marinate, season, sear and simmer, you’re showing that person how much they mean to you, how you’ve paid attention to their tastes and how important it is for you to introduce them to your favorite flavors. And there is nothing more gratifying than watching that special someone savor and appreciate the meal you so thoughtfully crafted specifically for them.
To celebrate the power of showing love through cooking, we’ve rounded up our favorite romantic recipes for two (OK, some of them are technically for more, but leftovers are always welcome, right?). Just be sure to follow the meal with a gorgeous Valentine's Day dessert — and watch the sparks fly.
Steak Frites with 10-minute Béarnaise Sauce by Clodagh McKenna
Bring your special someone on a taste-scape to a fabulous Parisian bistro! This classic dish is made easier and quicker with a simple 10-minute buttery, herby sauce to serve alongside the juicy steak.
The sweet heat of the apple puree compliments the hearty richness of the tender beef in this recipe. It's also easy to prepare but is special enough to leave a lasting impression.
Vietnamese Steak Salad by Michael Symon
This hearty but refreshing salad starts with an umami-rich marinade that takes its cues from Vietnamese, Thai and Korean cuisines.
Skirt Steak with Red Chimichurri by Molly Baz
Put aside your chef’s knives and fancy sous vide — we’re here today to introduce you to your new favorite home cooking technique: the reverse sear. Learning to cook steak this way will forever change the way you cook fattier cuts of beef. By baking your steaks first, and searing them later, the fat breaks down more easily, allowing the meat to slice like butter. Plus, it helps to prevent over-cooking, as the sear is just a final touch to the outside. Reverse searing is the easiest and most foolproof way to get steakhouse-quality meat at home.
Ina Garten's Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken by Ina Garten
"I can't tell you how many times I've made this!" says Ina Garten. She recommends having the butcher butterfly the chicken so all you do is grind the thyme, fennel seeds, salt and pepper, mix it with olive oil, and brush it on the chicken. When the lemon slices are roasted and caramelized, you can eat them with the chicken.
Coq au Vin with Spaetzle by Gavin Kaysen
This home-kitchen-friendly version of a classic French dish is a great way to learn a few important tenets of braising: the importance of getting a good sear on the chicken, reducing two (!) bottles of red wine to intensify the flavor of the liquid, and turning the meat over a few times while it cooks to ensure even doneness. The best accompaniment for rich, earthy coq au vin is crispy, buttery spaetzle, which is surprisingly easy to make and doesn't require any special equipment.
Butter-Basted Pork Chops by Gaby Dalkin
Pork is incredible in an endless number of ways, but pork chop (bone-in or boneless) is the most popular cut of pork — and it's much budget-friendlier option than a steak.
Classic Chicken Paillard by Alex Guarnaschelli
Everyone loves a good paillard, which is just a fancy French term for a piece of meat (usually chicken or veal) that has been pounded thin and cooked quickly. It's the thin, even pounding that makes the meat so tender.
Skirt Steak with Red Chimichurri by Molly Baz
A beautifully red chimichurri makes this impressive steak dish pop on the plate. Unlike the green version that's jam-packed with herbs, this one is made with both sweet and spicy peppers.
Beef Wellington by April Franqueza and Scott Franqueza
This recipe might seem like a long process, but don't be discouraged! It is certainly worth the effort. The duxelles — a finely chopped mixture filled with mushrooms, shallots and garlic sauteed in butter — are the secret to the luxurious flavor of this dish.
Beijing Lamb Lollipop Chops by Shirley Chung
This gorgeous Beijing-inspired street food makes for a decadent and beautiful Valentine's Day meal. Don't be afraid to get messy and eat it with your hands.
Cajun Surf and Turf with Fajita Roasted Vegetables by Kevin Curry
Surf and turf screams special occasion. And while a pairing of seafood and steak can get expensive quickly, using an economical cut such as sirloin will help to keep costs down. Here, you can cook the steak and shrimp in the same cast-iron skillet and serve the two alongside an herb-roasted vegetable medley (think: zucchini, squash, fingerling potatoes, carrots, onion and bell peppers).
Skillet Chicken Cutlets by Erin French
Chicken breasts get a bad rap when it comes to choice pieces from the whole bird. But if they are dredged and pan-fried to a golden crisp and served with mustard, a heavy hand of Parmesan, and a floral-yet-savory fennel pollen, there isn't a thigh or a leg you could trade me for them. If you are entertaining, you can prepare almost everything ahead of time, then just fry up the cutlets when you are ready to serve. Make it a meal with a nice, fresh salad.
Chicken Parmigiana by Bobby Flay
Chicken Parmigiana is the definition of Italian-American comfort food. The crispy breaded cutlets, bright tomato sauce and melted cheese make an irresistibly delicious dinner for two. The leftovers also make some of the best sandwiches — perfect for lunch on Feb. 15.
Roast Chicken Breast and Carrots with Hazelnut Pesto by Marcus Samuelsson
This is a simple, seasonal twist on a classic: the humble roast chicken. There's nothing hotter than hot honey right now, and paired with the nutty, complex pesto, it will warm you from the inside out.
Chicken Piccata by Becca Jacobs
The tangy and bright flavors of the piccata sauce coupled with the crispy chicken will certainly impress your date. Whether you’re a seasoned cook or a novice in the kitchen, chicken piccata is a classic recipe that everyone should have in their repertoire. When serving this dish, we like to pair it with a hearty carb like pasta or polenta, which becomes another vessel for soaking up the creamy sauce.
Chili Crisp and Honey-Roasted Whole Chicken by Frankie Gaw
Inspired by Ina Garten’s recipes, this whole chicken gets a blast of flavor from a combination of chili crisp, scallions and ginger. Serve it over rice or a big bed of greens.
Sticky-Sweet Roast Chicken by Andy Baraghani
The key to the perfect texture, browned skin and shreddable meat is starting at a super-high heat and dropping the temp the second that the bird goes into the oven. The glaze requires a few rounds of shellacking before it sticks, so, uh, stick with it. And because you have this sticky chicken skin, you need extra crunch for textural contrast in the form of fried shallot, garlic and ginger.
Sautéed Salmon, Mulled Wine Beurre Rouge and Baby Vegetables by Eric Ripert
Unlike many other seafood dishes, this flavorful fish goes very well with red wine. The warm spices and buttery texture of the sauce make a simple salmon fillet special enough for Valentine's Day.
Eric Ripert's Swordfish au Poivre by Eric Ripert
Swordfish is a great alternative to steak or other red meats. Eric Ripert serves his medium-rare with a creamy au poivre sauce.
Scallop Marinière by Eric Ripert
This recipe is simple, easy and elegant. It's a great dish for a romantic occasion like Valentine's Day.
Sea Scallops with Crushed Peanuts and Cucumber Relish by Padma Lakshmi
This delicate, elegant dish is surprisingly simple to make. Adding the crunchy peanuts offsets the soft, voluptuous nature of the sea scallops yet still echo their buttery flavor. This is a dish in which you really have all the basic tastes of salt, sour, hot and sweet.
Miso-Glazed Salmon by Ivan Orkin
The beauty of this dish is its simplicity. It only has five ingredients, but each plays a vital part in the recipe. The miso adds flavor, the sake and mirin season the fish, and the mayo promotes the development of a beautiful browned finish on the salmon.
Citrus Baked Cod by Will Gilson
This cod looks fancy dressed up with cooked slices of lemon and parsley leaves, but it takes just minutes to prepare. It’s baked with a trio of sliced citrus — lemons, limes and oranges — which become warm and soak into the fish.
Nigella Lawson's Roast Salmon with Aleppo Pepper and Fennel Seeds by Nigella Lawson
This is an almost-instant meal! Fennel seeds and Aleppo pepper (also known as pul biber or Turkish red pepper flakes) spice the salmon which needs a mere 10 minutes, if that, in a hot oven.
Shrimp with Sizzling Garlic and Chiles by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Smoky and spicy thanks to a variety of chiles, this dish is the perfect way to warm up your palate during the winter. The classic combination of shrimp, garlic and chiles creates something sizzlingly special.
Sheet-Pan Salmon Niçoise Salad by Kevin Curry
This protein-packed salad riffs on one of France’s most popular salads: salad niçoise. This beloved salad is the star of the South of France, and for good reason. It’s a celebration of the bounty of the Mediterranean, and is equally fulfilling as it is beautiful.
Pastas and pizza
Ravioli San Valentino by Andrew Carmellini
Beets are great because they are super easy to work with. For Valentine's Day, this ravioli offers a festive but sweet and earthy combination of flavors.
Grilled Shrimp Mafaldine by Odette Williams
The heady smell of oil, butter, garlic and shrimp frying alone will impress your date. Eating this pasta is like easting at a beloved Italian restaurant. Heaven.
Lemon Pasta with Brown Butter, Almonds and Arugula by Melissa Clark
Brown butter, crunchy almonds and tangy lemon make a rich but balanced sauce for this pantry-friendly pasta. The arugula lends freshness and rounds out the pasta, turning this into a quick one-pot meal. If you want to increase the vegetables, you can double the arugula. (Just add a little more lemon juice.) Don't stint on the red pepper flakes; their spiciness helps bring together the flavors.
Cacio e Pepe by Evan Funke
Create a dinner scene that's evocative of a table set for two in an Italian city. This Roman dish is made with pasta, cheese and pepper. The secret is using starchy pasta water to create a creamy sauce that coats each strand. It's a three-ingredient dinner best served by candlelight.
Heart-Shaped Pizza with DIY Toppings by Alejandra Ramos
What could be more romantic than making and sharing a heart-shaped pizza with your sweetheart? Just imagine the sparks flying as you knead the dough and spread the toppings.
Red Wine Spaghetti by Ali Rosen
Red wine pasta is the rare recipe that looks complicated and impressive but is actually so simple to make. This eye-catching, ruby red pasta will wow your dinner date.
Linguine with Clams by Alex Guarnaschelli
It is magical what happens when you combine the sweet and briny liquid from the clams and to a plate of pasta — it's like a love potion.
Brie Pasta by Elizabeth Heiskell
This creamy, rich pasta comes together in a flash — and your date will be blown away by it.
Chris Bianco's Pizza Margherita by Chris Bianco
Almost everyone knows a pizza margherita, or at least the very least, a cheese pizza. That widespread familiarity was an opportunity to exceed people's expectations, to check off the requisite boxes but go above and beyond with optimal ingredients.
Don Angie's Lasagna Pinwheels by Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito
This dish is perfect for sharing, because each person gets a pinwheel, and the whole top is crispy, so every bite is perfect. The lasagna is lighter than most traditional lasagnas because it uses robiola cheese instead of ricotta cheese.
Spicy Lobster with Linguine and Mint by Martha Stewart
There's nothing more luxurious than lobster paired with linguine. A classic tomato sauce with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and fresh mint to give this dish its fresh, fiery flavor.
Lobster Mac and Cheese by David Rose
Take a classic comfort food and transform it into an elegant dish fit for royalty. The blend of sharp cheddar, nutty Parmesan, the gradual build of mild heat from the pepper jack and the sweet and briny lobster meat make this mac unforgettable.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara by Missy Robbins
Pancetta or guanciale? Whole eggs or just the yolks? Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino? There’s no agreed upon way to make carbonara, but one thing we can all acknowledge? The Roman pasta is indulgent in the very best way. In her recipe, chef Missy Robbins calls for guanciale, egg yolks and fresh spaghetti, plus a combination of Parm (for richness and nuttiness) and Pecorino (for bite and salinity). Don’t forget to finish each bowl with a hefty crack of freshly ground black pepper.
Penne alla Vodka by Anthony Contrino
There is, indeed, a decent glug of vodka in penne alla vodka, a pasta that’s found on the menu of nearly every Italian-American red sauce joint. The booze isn’t just a gimmick — the vodka helps round out the sweetness of the tomatoes and cream. Pancetta adds a salty kick so you get a pasta that’s savory, bright and smoky all at once.
Byaldi (Provençal Vegetable Casserole) by Eric Ripert
Byaldi is a very typical Provençal dish, like a very fancy ratatouille. Each layer of the vegetables taste fresh and juicy as you eat them from the warm casserole. It's even better the next day if you manage to have leftovers.
Shawarma Cauliflower with Green Tahini by Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad
There are a number of factors that ensure shawarma success: high-heat cooking, a well-spiced marinade and a healthy amount of fat, usually chicken or lamb fat, but in this case, plenty of good-quality olive oil to keep it wonderfully vegan. Make the ultimate shawarma here by wrapping it all up in store-bought or homemade pitas (with some oven fries, if you like).
Nigella Lawson's Salt and Vinegar Potatoes by Nigella Lawson
This is Nigella Lawson's riff on her favorite flavor of potato chip. Sweet baby potatoes are steamed, and then squished lightly with a fork before being roasted in a little olive oil in a hot oven. The rough edges get bronzed and crisped and the minute these babies are out of the oven, I douse them in good quality apple cider vinegar and sea salt flakes.
Sweet Potato Wellington by Elena Besser
This recipe is a fabulous vegetarian alternative to a fancy Valentine's Day entrée: the beef Wellington. Sweet potatoes are used instead of beef and Swiss chard is used instead of prosciutto for a recipe that can still give the wow-factor a traditional meat-focused entrée would. Serve it on its own or with a little creme fraîche for even more elegance.
Mushroom Potpie by Alison Roman
This creamy mushroom filling is baked between two pieces of flaky, perfectly salty, almost-too-buttery pie crust. The filling is rich and meaty without any meat at all (in fact, it might even be better than chicken potpie). It's perfect for a cozy night with a loved one paired with a bitter chicory salad.
Rosemary Garlic Hasselback Potatoes by Amber St. Peter
This recipe looks much fancier than the amount of work required to make it. Pair it with a protein — like chicken or steak — or serve it on its own for a showstopping vegetarian main.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com