One of my pet peeves is trying to make dinner reservations on an evening when 90 per cent of the general population is also trying to do the same.
You may be able to perform this feat without pulling out your hair, but if bustling crowds and hurried serving staff are not your idea of romance, staying in for a romantic dinner can be accomplished with little effort and some creative planning. To achieve this successfully, we will focus on three areas: the menu, the table setting, and the room environment.
The menu does not have to be complicated, but it should be meaningful. Your effort should reflect your compassion.
The first thought that comes to mind is to prepare a favourite food. If it is a dish you cannot prepare at home, then have it ordered in or pre-purchase parts of it.
It's acceptable to not have everything prepared from scratch if it is beyond your means and capability. Your thoughtfulness is the most meaningful ingredient.
Add extra simple courses, rather than just having a main course and dessert.
Once again, this does not have to be perplexing. A fresh pile of mixed colourful greens with a good dressing makes a great salad course. A few pieces of unique cheeses with some grapes and a small glass of wine make another delicious course.
All the elements to make these extra courses can be purchased direct from the store and assembled together to ease your preparation.
Chocolate-covered strawberries [see Chef Dez's response to Chris D.'s question on page A26] are a quick, enchanting dessert.
Now you can express to your sweetheart that you made a "four-course romantic dinner."
The table setting is important. It should harmonize with the mood you are trying to establish. Candles are a must, but there are other things you can do to make it memorable. Silk rose petals or heart-shaped confetti scattered on the table are a nice touch.
Complement that with red cloth napkins and a love letter tied up with a ribbon, and you will have them swooning. Make sure you have enough pieces of cutlery set to accommodate each course, and use your best wine glasses. A glass of wine always looks very elegant, but if wine is not desirable, then fill the glass with red juice.
A fresh bouquet of flowers on the table is a nice touch.
Long-stemmed red roses are perfect for Valentine's Day, but your effort will already have impressed, and carnations or a mixed arrangement will do fine.
The room environment is equally influential. Arrange for children to spend the evening - or part of it - with grandparents or at other appropriate activities.
Serve dinner in a light-controlled room, with access to music. Favourite CDs are the best option - without the radio's advertisements.
And make sure the room is tidy. It is much harder to set a mood in an area cluttered with everyday items.
Now that the lights are dimmed and soft music fills the air, look into those candle-lit eyes and smile - not only because you created a romantic interlude successfully, but also for the fact no gratuity is required.
Dear Chef Dez,
I want to make chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert for a Valentine's dinner, but the last time I tried making them it was a disaster. Even though I took them out of the refrigerator ahead of time, the chocolate was still too hard, and it broke off the berries with the first bite and fell onto the plate. What am I doing wrong?
Chris D., Abbotsford Dear Chris,
When melting your chocolate for dipping, melt some butter in with the chocolate. Room-temperature butter is much softer than room-temperature chocolate, and thus will create a more palatable bite, and will adhere to the berries. I normally add 50 per cent of the weight of chocolate being used with butter. For example, if you are melting four ounces of chocolate, then also melt in two ounces of butter.
Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4
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