How to Make a Quick, Easy and Inexpensive Romantic Dinner for Valentine's Day

Photo by SteveR
An adorable and inexpensive Valentine's centerpiece, as found on Flickr.
Every year, it happens. The Valentine's Day procrastinators come out of the woodwork, desperately scrambling for flowers and chocolate at the very last minute. This past Sunday, my mother -- who is a private chef -- received an email from a man who wanted her to cook a romantic dinner for him and his sweetheart...with two days notice. (She was, naturally, already booked.) It never fails.

But procrastination isn't always borne out of laziness or obtuseness. Sometimes it's a genuine lack of time. And for those of you who have had to put off Valentine's Day plans until today -- V-Day itself -- this post will help you quickly navigate the grocery store tonight after work to grab some essential items and make a quick, easy, romantic Valentine's Day dinner.

First, a checklist of things you should already [hopefully] have in your pantry (and I don't think I'm asking too much here, but you can always grab these quickly at the store too):

  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Honey (or agave or even maple syrup)
  • Plain yogurt (or Greek-style yogurt or sour cream)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Valentines Dinner 001.jpg
These things are totally worth the $3, and will easily feed four.
At the grocery store, you'll need to buy the following items (start with the produce section and work your way around the perimeter of the store -- no time-consuming aisle-shopping today):

  • A bag of prepped Brussels sprouts (I cook with these all the time, and they're a pretty decent value)
  • Two heirloom tomatoes (the ones with the colorful flesh)
  • A bag of Fingerling or new potatoes (in other words, don't get Russet; get something with nice-looking skins that are kind of buttery on their own already)
  • One box strawberries
  • One bunch scallions or green onions
  • One bunch parsley
  • One large salmon filet (steaks are incredibly marked up today; go the non-traditional and heart-healthy route and get some salmon, which is actually on sale).

Valentines Dinner 002.jpg
Skip the meat counter and head straight to the seafood counter.
So far, we're at six things you should already have on hand at home and seven things you'll need to buy from the grocery store -- all of which should cost you about $25 total. While you're at the store, you can also pick up a bouquet of [extremely overpriced] flowers if that's your thing. I'd personally prefer a more inexpensive bouquet of daisies cut down and stuck into a Ball jar on the dining table, but you know your significant other better than I do.

Once you're at home, stick your salmon in the fridge until you're ready to cook it. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Take half the bag of Brussels sprouts, slice them in half and toss them in a bowl with enough olive oil to coat them along with a few pinches of salt and a few cracks of pepper. Set aside until the oven is ready.

While the oven is preheating, wash a few spuds and throw them into a pot. You don't need to cook the whole bag, obviously. Cover with water, toss in a little salt and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until soft and easily pierced with a fork. While the spuds are boiling, your oven should have come to 400 F.

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Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I completely forgot to tell y'all what to do with the heirloom tomatoes, but it should be obvious: slice them up, throw a little salt, pepper and olive oil on them and serve as a side dish at dinner from a separate plate for maximum prettiness.

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