With Valentine’s Day is just a few days away, we’re sure you probably already have your plans in mind. But if you’re a last-minute type of guy or gal, why not consider taking the evening to cook a meal together with a loved one?
We love spending time together in the kitchen. But, it’s taken us quite a while to hone the art of cooking together. Really. In our early days, it wouldn’t be uncommon to end a kitchen date in tears. So to help you not fall into this trap, we’ve offered a few suggestions below on how to successfully survive a cooking date.
Here is the menu we’ve developed for especially for this Valentine’s Day — though you could use it for a cooking date any time of the year. We’ve added some tips on preparation for this specific menu below as well.
Good luck — and happy cooking!
Cooking Date Survival Tips:
1. Don’t be overly ambitious. If you’re new to the kitchen or short on time, don’t try to make all of the recipes above. Opt for a simple green salad instead of the fancy salad, or a chocolate bar instead of the ice cream. The meal will be just as good, but with less dishes and prep time.
2. Avoid starting hungry. Cooking when you’re ravenous is no fun, and is sure to end in tears or a fight. Instead, start cooking an hour or more before you plan on being hungry — and set out some snacks (and wine?) during the cooking process. Having some raw veggies or nuts on hand has saved us from a few kitchen catastrophes.
3. Delegate. We’ve found it’s easiest to work in the kitchen by delegating a “lead” on the recipe, and a “sous chef”. The lead is in charge of reading the recipe and delegating the tasks to both him or herself, and the sous chef. The sous chef is at the beck and call of the lead, and can relax and worry about chopping or mixing, without having to also figure out what’s next. We’ve found it’s the smoothest way to get things done — and we alternate roles frequently depending on the recipe!
4. Slow down. When I first started cooking, I thought I was in some sort of gigantic race against the clock to see how quickly I could complete each task (which resulted in lots of pointless mistakes). Now, I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the process — to put on my apron first (it’s a rule!), turn on some music, take a deep breath, and enjoy the time together.
5. Clean as you go. No one likes ending with a huge pile of dishes, but it’s a universal law of cooking – you’re going to get dirty, and so is your kitchen. If you can, delegate one person or the other to do some cleanup before moving on to the next part of a recipe — it will save you a lot of heartache in the end. (Trust me. I’m a chronic mess maker and I’ve FINALLY learned this after years.)
6. Just have fun! Cooking can be a lot of fun, but it requires a sense of humor and a relaxed demeanor! Everything might not turn out how you planned, despite your best intentions. (We have constant failures in the kitchen — which we’ve learned to not take so seriously anymore.) Even if it doesn’t turn out quite like the picture or taste like you intended — enjoy the time you spent getting there!
Beet, Kale, and Kohlrabi Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette (or a simple green salad)
Dark Chocolate Coconut Ice Cream (or a bar of chocolate)
Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette: The salad is fairly easy, but it does take a while to wash all the vegetables, chop them, and throw together a vinaigrette, so make sure to leave enough time. A time saver is skipping the grapefruit wedges, since they take a bit of extra time to peel. Remember you can use any types of veggies you have on hand for the salad — or use just salad greens and the grapefruit vinaigrette.
Linguine with Pesto: This recipe uses fairly simple techniques, but has several different elements to put together. Start with the pesto, then clean up, take a break, and move on from there. You also could make the pesto ahead of time for a smoother assembly. (Note that a food processor is needed for the pesto.)
Dumplings with Pesto: These dumplings are a lot of fun to make, so leave time to enjoy the process here! It would be helpful to make the pesto ahead of time, but it’s not necessary — it comes together fairly easily. (Note that a food processor is needed for the pesto.)
Ice Cream: We like to leave cans of coconut milk in our fridge so they’re already chilled and ready to make this ice cream. The ice cream can be whipped up very quickly — you can do this before you start the rest of your meal. You could then mix it in the ice cream maker while you’re cooking and freeze the ice cream while you eat, or run the ice cream maker after the meal and eat it “soft serve” style.
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.