Most dates involve a meal for a reason. After a certain point, 50 percent of every relationship’s discussions are about what to eat and when.
It pays to evolve beyond the frantic, all-leftovers-in-the-pot bachelor meal. Nobody feels romantic after a pound of pasta with red sauce, egg, sausage, onion, cheddar cheese, red wine, butter and beer.
So, here are some cooking tips and a few basic date meal ideas, when you’re trying to impress a lucky person in your life.
We’re going to assume that you can already Google recipes on your own. This will take you to websites with titles like “munchery," where you have to scroll through about seven hundred video ads to find out what to set the oven to. What might be more helpful up top is a few basic tips.
The biggest tip when cooking for a date is to make things easy on yourself. Avoid last minute prep, have a recipe in mind, and do your shopping ahead of time.
Consider doing your chopping in advance, too. If your recipe calls for carrots, onions, sauces or marinade, spend an hour before your date comes by to get it all together. You can keep all the chopped up goodies in the fridge and you’ll look like a pro when you toss it all into the pan with that Marvin Gaye playlist going (how very subtle).
With that in mind, here are a few ultra-basic recipes to get you started, and give you a foundation in the kitchen.
Despite Americans eating something like 8 billion chickens per year, we often eat it in the most tasteless way possible. Cubed, cold, chopped… this does a disservice to the noble bird. Baking a chicken has a ton of bang for your cluck: it’s easy, delicious and fun to spice up.
Take two chicken breasts and season them according to your tastes. You can get creative here - honey maple glaze, lemon ginger, buffalo or just salt and pepper. Then, put them on an oiled baking sheet or cast iron pan and toss them in an oven at 375, for about 30 minutes. We say about because every oven is different. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you may have to slice into the meat to make sure it’s cooked properly. Nobody wants chicken sushi.
The great thing about baked chicken is that it can be part of a one-pan meal. Oil up some sliced-up sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic or whatever you like, and put it in the pan with the chicken itself.
Alternatively, you can also bake an entire chicken. This is just as easy, though it takes a little longer, and slicing the bird can be tricky if you’ve never done it before. Still, it’s much more impressive than chicken breasts, and gives you leftovers, too. We like to shake some parmesan on ours halfway through the bake, for a crispy crunchy skin.
Steak is a stereotypical manly food for a reason. But becoming Ron Swanson does take some technique, or rather, preparation. First, it helps to spend a bit more on a decent slice. Thinner cuts (strip, sirloin) are easier to cook, but a fat ribeye sure is tasty.
The key thing with any steak is to let it come to room temperature before you cook it. Let it sit for about a half hour before you throw it on a searing hot pan.
Otherwise, the inside might not cook properly. Don’t forget to salt and pepper the meat before you cook, too! Salt, especially, is key to bringing out the meat’s natural flavors. You can marinate it too, but it’s not necessary with a quality cut.
As for cooking, let’s just say there are opinions here. It’s probably easiest to use a hot, lightly oiled skillet, with three minutes on the first side and four or five for the other. Then, let it sit on a cutting board or plate for about ten minutes while your dog stares desperately at you.
Some people use an oven, which is helpful if it’s an especially thick cut. In that case, sear the meat well on each side, then transfer the pan to an oven set for 375 for about ten minutes.
Like the chicken, it really does help to have a meat thermometer, but in a pinch you can slice into it to check. This is not exactly a "pro move,” but if you’re a beginner, you’re better off knowing the meat’s cooked perfectly.
Steak is easy to pair. Go with some vegetables, like some baked sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts for healthier carbs and veggies. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, pair with some frozen french fries (your date doesn’t have to know!) for easy steak frites.
Fish is also easy to cook, and a great date meal because it’s light. A lemony salmon with some broccoli or pasta won’t make you feel guilty afterwards. That said, cooking fish can be tricky, because it’s more delicate than steak. Don’t overcook it!
Our favorite way is to sear one side of your filet skin-side down in butter. When the skin’s crispy (about three minutes), pop it in an oven at 400 degrees for about 9 minutes. You will know when it’s ready when you can flake the meat off with a fork. Drizzle a bit of lemon on afterwards for a zesty touch.
Fresh salads, while delicious, are actually rather time-intensive to make. One lazy option here is getting a premade salad at the grocery store, and dressing it up with extras, like cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, walnuts or your own dressing. This is an easy way to spruce up a meal, and add a side.
But more importantly, you should take the time to learn how to roast vegetables properly. Roasting is both easy and fairly healthy. Chop your veggies up in easy slices, put them in a mixing bowl with olive oil, or another good cooking oil. Don’t use too much! You don’t want a puddle at the bottom of the bowl. Make sure your veggies are evenly coated, then add salt, pepper and any other spices you like. Next, spread the veggies out on a baking sheet, and put them in an oven set to about 425 (give or take, depending on what you’re roasting). From here, you can usually eyeball it, but most veggies are done in 10-20 minutes.
Pasta is a classic date meal and its varieties are endless. It is a great option for people with dietary restrictions as you can make a really hearty filling pasta that is vegetarian or vegan. The trick here is to cook your pasta right. Add a bit more salt than you think to a pot of boiling water and then boil for the amount of time indicated on the package.
You can add veggies or meat to your pasta dish to make it more hearty.
Once plated, finish your pasta with a hearty drizzle of olive oil, parmesan cheese and basil, when appropriate.
Unless you grew up making them, curries can seem intimidating, but they’re actually both simple and fast. A curry simply needs some coconut milk and curry paste. It doesn’t take long to cook either and it’s a hearty, potentially vegetarian meal. Basically, you assemble your spices together in a mixing bowl, cook your onions, garlic and ginger until the onion is translucent, add your broth, season your sauce and add vegetables, meat, or whatever you like. You may need to add cornstarch or cream for the proper consistency.
Stir fries are as easy as it gets, and a great one-pan meal, too. The most important part of a stir fry is the sauce.
We like honey, soy sauce, a bit of sesame oil, red pepper flakes and whatever else we’re feeling. Try to use fresh, non-frozen vegetables. The easiest way to make sure everything is cooked properly is to cook your meat, vegetables, garlic and ginger separately, then mix together at the end. Paired with hot rice or noodles, and you can be done with dinner in less than 30 minutes.
Remember, the best dates are those where you can relax and chat… you don’t want to be running around, screaming, throwing flour or lighting yourself on fire. To that end, you may even want to practice some meals beforehand, maybe with a non-romantic friend who doesn’t mind if they get a very, very well done piece of steak.
Lastly, if you drink, get some wine. You don’t need to spend more than $20 for a great bottle. Talk to someone at your local wine market and let them know what you’re cooking for optimum pairing. If you get a red, open it an hour or two before you plan to eat. Good luck and bon appetit!