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Cook Up A Great Dinner Date


Cook Up A Great Dinner Date

Never fear, you can play host and serve an impressive meal. We have the simple (disaster-proof) recipes, tips on table décor and more. Cheers!

By Celeste Perron

Break out the right kind of candles
Candlelight can transform the table where you usually plunk yourself down to slurp coffee and read the paper into a true lovers’ lair. You don’t need fancy silver candelabra—a simple votive candle or two actually makes a better choice than tapers (the tall, thin variety) because they won’t drip and make a mess or block your line of vision—craning for eye contact, after all, is not very romantic. Just be sure to buy unscented candles, since a strongly-scented candle could interfere with your enjoyment of the food. (Unscented votives, $7 for 12, and mosaic votive holders, $32 for 4, Plumparty.com)

Create a sweet centerpiece
Don’t call it quits with candles—pull out all the stops with a few well-placed flowers. Peonies are the “in” flower this season, according to Meredith Waga Perez, owner of chic New York florist Belle Fleur, and since they have lots of petals you only need two or three to make an impression. Pick white ones if you want an elegant look, or hot fuchsia to set a passionate tone. Place them in a vase or, if you don’t have one, cut off the stems and float the blossoms face-up in a bowl of water.

Dress up your table
Dining with real table linen in your lap instantly makes whatever you’re eating taste more gourmet, so break out the cloth napkins, and use a tablecloth too—it will create a fancier impression than place mats.

Introduce a cool new cocktail
Asking your date “red or white?” once he or she’s set foot into your abode is par for the course…or, you can win major points by offering up the drink du jour: a cocktail made with sparkling wine. Pick up a bottle of Prosecco, an inexpensive Italian bubbly that has all the elegance of champagne without the steep price tag. Fill a champagne flute 1/3 of the way with fresh juice (more on what kind in a second), then fill it almost to the rim with Prosecco, says Kim Haasarud, a Los Angeles bar chef and owner of beverage-concepts company Liquid Architecture. The trendiest juice options, according to Haasarud, are pomegranate and blood orange, but you can almost use any juice or fruit puree that appeals to you (just don’t use orange juice, since mimosas will remind your guest of brunch).

Get your date noshing pre-dinner
Have a stash of pre-dinner snacks on hand so you can give your date something to munch on while you finish up the food prep. Dave Lieberman, host of the Food Network’s Good Deal with Dave Lieberman and author of Young and Hungry suggests goat cheese and salmon crostini, which can be made a few hours in advance and kept in the fridge until your date arrives. Here’s how: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice eight 1-inch thick slices off a plain baguette, brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, then place them on a baking sheet. Bake for ten minutes, then flip them over and bake for another ten minutes. Once they’ve cooled, top each with a smear of soft goat cheese, a sliver of smoked salmon, and a spring of dill.

Choose your wine well
Clueless when it comes to which wine will complement your meal? You won’t go wrong with one of these three bottles recommended by Denis Toner, president of the Nantucket Wine Festival. All three are delicious, good deals, and pretty much guaranteed to complement any dish:
  1. Gallo of Sonoma Pinot Noir, $15. “Pinot Noir is absolutely the most versatile grape,” says Toner. “It’s soft and silky and marries well with chicken, meat and fish.”

  2. Serra Estrella Albarino, $14. “This Spanish white has a nice fresh floral quality. It’s especially great with fish but can go with almost anything.”

  3. Bergere de l’Hortus Pic St. Loup Rouge, $14. “Reds from the Languedoc region of France are a great value,” says Toner. “This one has a lot of dark fruit flavors and would match especially well with salmon or grilled meat.”
Pull off an entrée with ease
The last thing you want to do is be slaving away on an entrée while your date stares at the ceiling. The solution? Roast chicken—it’s elegant but easy to make, and can prepared long before your date gets there so all you have to do is pop it in the oven, says Dave Lieberman. Here’s how: Place two chicken thighs and two breasts in a 13x9 inch dish, and add ten small red-skinned potatoes and five thin carrots (peeled and left whole). Drizzle the chicken and veggies with olive oil, and throw in 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary, 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, the grated rind of half a lemon, and salt and pepper. Toss together, then arrange in the pan with the chicken pieces skin side up. When you’re ready to roast, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast for 35-40 minutes; the tops of the chicken pieces should be brown and the vegetables should be fork tender.

Serve salad with your own signature dressing
A side salad is a must for any romantic meal, so go easy on yourself and use prewashed mixed greens and dress them up with some extras like nuts, veggies, fruit or cheese. Then, the clincher: Skip the blah bottled dressing and create your own. Combine two Tbs of extra-virgin olive oil with 1 Tbs of white-wine or balsamic vinegar. Add salt and freshly ground pepper (and, if you’d like, 1 tsp of chopped shallots or flat-leaf parsley), then whisk together right before you pour it on the salad.

Indulge them with dessert
No dinner date is complete without a sweet finale, but save yourself from baking disasters by opting for a simple strawberry short cake (bonus: Strawberries are at their peak in May and June). Heat two thick slices of store-bought pound cake under the broiler for a minute, then top each with four thinly sliced berries and whipped cream. Score bonus points by making it—simply—at home: Beat 1/2 cup of chilled whipping cream with either an electric mixer or a whisk until stiff peaks form. Then add 1/2 Tbs powdered sugar and beat for another thirty seconds. To give the whipped cream an extra kick, mix in 1 tsp of vanilla extract or spike it with 1 Tbs of rum or liqueur.


Celeste Perron is the author of Playing House: A Starter Guide to Being a Grown Up.
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