I hate going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. The restaurants are usually crowded, the staff harried, and the chefs are often operating with a reduced menu. Even if you can get a table (I’m notoriously bad at getting reservations), and even if the food is good…it’s not typically the best dining experience.
Besides, baby, it’s cold outside.
I much prefer to stay in on Valentine’s Day. But I am a sucker for festivities, so I want our Valentine’s Day in to feel special. It should feel celebratory, not like a regular day.
Since Mike and I both like to cook, one way to make Valentine’s Day feel festive is to cook something new together. It’s something we can reliably make happen even if Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday (like it does this year). The key is to stop working a liiiiiitle earlier than usual, pour a glass of something bubbly (or a Negroni, Mike’s fave), and — here comes the key lesson learned — already know what you want to cook.
Nothing derails a relaxing night of cooking faster than frantically trying to find a recipe (“What do you want to make”, “I don’t know what do YOU want to make”)…then sourcing the ingredients (gahhh, a trip to the store??), then having to deal with the World’s Most Annoying Person In The Kitchen, Get Out of My Way, MIKE.
I’ve found that if I do a little prep work beforehand, which can even include treating myself to an exciting new cookbook, we have a blast. And, if we’re really lucky, the kids will join us. I’ll buy them fancy sodas, we’ll turn on music, and then…they will sometimes pitch in with the cooking. (Dessert or any homemade bread is usually a good way to lure them in.) Otherwise, our rule is that they have to stay downstairs while we cook, and no screens. Sometimes they’ll play board games, but they will often hang out. I love it.
I’ve also found that if I order the cookbook well in advance of Valentine’s Day, it gives me a chance to pick out a few recipes for the big day, as well as order any ingredients or kitchen tools that we might need to successfully execute them. I can then wrap up everything — cookbook, spices, tools, etc. — into one big gift to be opened on Valentine’s Day.
One cookbook I highly, HIGHLY recommend is Yasmin Kahn’s Ripe Figs. It’s gorgeous, and the kind of travelogue cookbook that I can just read cover-to-cover. Her recipes are also delicious. Her Black Eyed Peas With Chard recipe is now in the weekly rotation. It’s simple…but a little extra and even the boys love it.
The focus of Ripe Figs is Turkish, Cypriot, and Greek cuisine (with influences from the Middle East and Mediterranean). She cooks with things like sumac, Aleppo pepper, and pomegranate molasses. And she swears by toasting cumin seeds whole and then grinding them in a mortar & pestle (I like the look of this one).
I can’t recommend this cookbook highly enough. The section on mezze has a ton of fun, snacky foods that would make for an epic Valentine’s Day (you could also pair a selection of mezze with either Turkish or Greek meatballs), or, frankly, just recreate her Turkish breakfast — it’s certainly hardy enough for dinner. Personally, I’ve been dying to try her version of spanakopita.
If you’re looking for more low-key ideas for Valentine’s Day, I threw some ideas into this post last year: Winter Date Ideas For Valentine’s Day (With our Without Kids).