Guys, Learn How To Cook A Romantic Dinner

You burn toast, have nothing but condiments in the fridge and live on takeout. Sound familiar? Never fear, guys: with our advice, even the worst cook can learn how to create a romantic, home-cooked meal.

By Bob Strauss

t’s not the kind of thing guys usually watch (especially when Terminator Salvation happens to be running again on TV), but consider yourself warned: entire networks are now devoted to the art of food preparation. Hours and hours of programming run practically 24/7, headlined by haute cuisine hunks like Bobby Flay and Michael
Choose a signature dish and learn to nail it.
Symon. As a result, millions of single women across the country have learned that a) the ideal male chef is a rugged, gruff, resourceful, yet still tender he-man, and b) any single guy worth his allspice should be able to whip up a romantic dinner as effortlessly as he’d power sand a granite countertop (or something similar).

So where does this leave the culinarily bereft — the legions of single men out there who not only barely know how to boil water, but whose kitchen arsenal amounts to one can opener, one all-purpose frying pan and a handful of knives and forks? How can they aspire to out-flay Bobby Flay and cook a perfect, appetizer-to-dessert romantic meal for their brand-new sweeties? It’s a tough assignment, so it’s a good thing I’ve enlisted the help of Kevin D. Weeks,’s guide to Cooking for Two. Here’s what he had to say.

Do your homework.
Only a Food Network VIP can whip up a three-course, off-the-cuff meal with whatever odd ingredients happen to be on hand — so trying to get creative with shrimp-flavored instant noodles, American cheese and half a jar of maraschino cherries is a sure recipe for disaster. “Choose a signature dish and learn to nail it — this will give you confidence,” Weeks says. If nothing else, braising half a rack of lamb every couple of weeks will supply the essential proteins you need to continue your romantic pursuits — though this might all come to naught if the girl you end up dating is a vegetarian.

Take your time.
“Hmm, the recipe says to bake the chicken at 400 degrees for one hour — so it’ll be much more efficient if I cook it at 800 degrees for 30 minutes!” No dice, says Weeks: “You should choose a main dish that cooks over low heat or in a low oven — low-and-slow is a forgiving cooking method because you’re not in a hurry, and if the dish cooking time varies by 15 minutes either way, it won’t make much difference. This also means that you can clean up as you go along, so the kitchen isn’t a complete disaster when your date arrives.”

Use the right equipment.
Elaborating on that low-and-slow theme, Weeks advises choosing dishes that don’t require special hardware (though I guess if you had your own set of unusual kitchen devices, you wouldn’t be reading this article). He does make one exception,
Mise en place is an advanced technique used by the best chefs.
though: “I recommend buying a slow cooker, or Crock-Pot. This device is designed for low-and-slow cooking and can be used to make beef bourguignon for your romantic dinner, chili on game day, or even chicken soup if you find that you like cooking.” You’ll still need matching silverware, of course — try visiting your local thrift store.

Perfect your cooking techniques.
Once again, Weeks discourages novices from biting off more than their dates can chew; power-chopping that onion looks easy enough on the Cooking Channel, but trying this technique without lots of practice is just as likely to send you on a side trip to the emergency room. “Mise en place is an advanced technique used by the best chefs,” Weeks says, “but all it means is preparing and measuring all of your ingredients in advance. If the recipe call for a tablespoon of cumin, measure it out in advance and put it on a square of waxed paper; if it calls for half a cup of chicken stock, do the same in a coffee cup. You should cut up all the ingredients before you even heat the pan.”

Don’t show off.
Unless you’ve completely oversold your cooking prowess (say, by telling your date you were once Oprah Winfrey’s private chef), she’ll be satisfied with one lovingly prepared entrée — so you needn’t be as ambitious with your side dishes and dessert. Advises Weeks: “Buy frozen vegetables, zap them in the microwave, then add a fresh herb like chopped fresh dill (to buttered peas) or chopped fresh basil (to buttered corn). The herbs will change the flavor and make the vegetables taste homemade.” As for dessert, “buy it from a real bakery — not the frozen section of the supermarket.”

Rinse and repeat.
Practicing one perfect entrée, preparing the ingredients in advance, using the right equipment, and so on — that’s all great for making your date a first home-cooked meal. But if by some miracle your First Date turns into a Continuing Romance, you’ll have to expand your repertoire, since cooking the same dinner twice in a row is a bit like wearing the same dress to two weddings in a row. So once you’ve conquered that first hill of beans (so to speak), keep striving for success by trying new recipes. Eventually, you’ll be cooking restaurant-worthy meals to please any palate.

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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