Nothing beats a luxurious night out at the hottest restaurant in town. But boy can those meals get pricey.
You can’t always afford to take your date out to Chez Felix, and greasy take-out isn’t going to win you points. The delicious middle-ground is a home-cooked meal. Women love men who know how to cook and it’s easy to imagine why. Cooking is a romantic gesture that takes places in the intimacy of your one’s own home. Cook her the perfect shrimp scaloppini and you can bet she’ll be bragging about it to her friends tomorrow.
The only problem is that you’re no Anthony Bourdain, far from it. In fact, “Ramen à la microwave” is the most impressive meal in your culinary arsenal.
Cooking is a lifelong skill that you cultivate over many years. It’s immensely rewarding to see and taste your progress develop from hotdogs to haute cuisine. We all have to start somewhere. Guys who want to cook their date a knock-out dinner should follow these simple steps to execute the perfect home-cooked romantic dinner.
1. Stock Your Kitchen
An artisan is nothing without his tools. If you want to cook your date dinner, then you’ll need the gear to get the job done.
Spices: Until you learn how to build flavor, your spices are going to be doing a lot of work for you. As you get more adventurous with your cooking you’ll need some more exotic stuff, but there are a few staples that can get a lot of mileage out of. I’d start out with salt, a pepper grinder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, and dried oregano. In addition to these make sure you always have some olive oil, canola oil, and butter in the house. Check out this list for a few other ideas.
Equipment: There are a thousand different cooking gadgets out there but you only need a few when you’re just starting out. A couple high-quality items will do you better than a bunch of cheap ones. Invest in a stainless-steel chef’s knife. This is your katana. Learn how to wield it and learn how to maintain it. Get a wood cutting board, a set of measuring cups, a wooden spoon, spatula, a baking sheet, a sauce pan, a colander, a frying pan, a grater, and a large pot for boiling water.
2. Hone Your Technique
You wouldn’t rack 300lbs the first time you go to a gym, and you aren’t going to pull off a rack of lamb the first time you set foot in a kitchen. If you’re new to learning how to cook then you’ll want to pick some easy projects your first time around. Mess around with easy stuff like tacos, pasta, and salads to practice your knife-work and timing.
Pick some recipes online that only require a few ingredients and a small number of steps. Master them. Cook with the same ingredients every day for a week or two until you start to get the hang of it. Play around with different combinations of spices. Pay attention to what the heat is set at and how long you cook it for. Did it taste better when you doubled the cumin or was that too much? What happens if you add some chopped cilantro? Be extra observant of everything you do. Jot some notes down on your computer if you have to.
In the age of the internet there is a treasure-trove of instructional videos that can help you with just about anything. If you are having trouble with a recipe, watch how other people do it on youtube. Pick a series or channel that you like and follow their videos. I enjoy Gordon Ramsay’s stuff– short, entertaining, and informative.
You don’t need to be a super-star chef to pull off the perfect dinner date. Eventually you’ll have the skills to craft a whole arsenal of tasty meals for every occasion. For now you only need to get one or two done. Pick something easy, tasty, and classic to impress your date with. Practice making that meal until you are confident enough to make it blindfolded.
And don’t be afraid to sandbag parts of the meal. In the cutthroat world of professional cooking sandbagging, or preparing parts of your meal ahead of time, is a terrible sin. But unless your date is a food critic (at which point you are SOL), she won’t notice or care if some prep is done ahead of time. So chop those veggies before she shows up. Boil that pasta ahead of time so you just need to reheat it. That way you don’t have to split your attention between her and the meal, and there is less chance of a catastrophic disaster at game time. You want to make the whole process look effortless.
I’ve prepared a few sample menus that only require common ingredients and low technical prowess, but still yield a tasty and impressive meal:
MENU 1: Classico Italiano
Wine: Chianti Classico
Appetizer: Caprese salad with warm bread
Main Course: Cacio e pepe
Desert: Sorbet (store bought is totally fine)
MENU 2: Asian Fusion
Wine: Pinot Noir
Appetizer: Ginger spinach salad
Main Course: Pork with hoisin sauce
Desert: Chocolate mousse
MENU 3: Light Seafood
Wine: Pinot Grigio
Appetizer: Naan, veggies, and hummus (you can buy store bought, just transfer it to a serving dish beforehand)
Main Course: Dijon salmon with parmesan roasted potatoes
4. Mind Your Mise-en-place
If you are still rocking those neon-green plastic plates you bought during college for a buck, it’s time for an upgrade. Pick out some classic ceramic white plates, stainless-steel silverware, and cloth napkins. Next time you are in a nice restaurant pay attention to what’s on the table and try to mimic that.
When your date arrives your place should be spotlessly cleaned, the table should be expertly set, and your sandbagged meal should be almost ready to serve. Some background music at a low-level replicates that restaurant ambiance (though turn it off when you sit down to eat), and strategically placed candles will give your place a welcoming glow.
There it is, the big night in!
Oh and one last thing: if things go well, you might want to have something ready for breakfast.