Valentine’s Day Dinner, Perfected

Written by    Last updated: February 10, 2012

By Sarah Copeland, Author of The Newlywed Cookbook

I’m a sucker for unexpected, every day romance. But I still love Valentine’s Day for giving us all a nudge to indulge and practice loving our beloveds even better. Whether you’ve been together ten years, ten months, or ten days, this is the night for putting in a little extra effort. It doesn’t need to be epic making-pasta-from-scratch effort. On the contrary, sometimes a simple meal, subtle surprises and thoughtful touches that make our world slow down for us for a night are just right.  Here are a few ideas, and my favorite recipe, for creating all the seduction and surprise you’ve been wishing for at your own table.

The Menu ~

It’s a splendid idea to sometimes go all out for special occasions, but instead of putting undo pressure on this meal, make it fun, casual, and predictably delicious. Cheese Soufflé is the perfect example—elegant and lovely, impressive but surprisingly simple to make. It requires so few ingredients you still have time to soak in the tub, slip on something pretty and sip some bubbly while it bakes. Serve it hot with two spoons in the center of a tiny table set just for two.

A Chef’s Trick ~

A little advance prep will make the meal more relaxed and luxurious for you both.  Prepare a big salad in advance (to be dressed, right before you eat), bring some good salted butter to room temperature and lay the table with an immaculately fresh French baguette for sharing an hour before you bake the soufflé.

The Perfect Pour ~

The best bottle of wine is the empty one between you and the one you love. Save extravagant splurges for your anniversary. For tonight, ask the expert at your wine shop what untapped treasures lie within your reach. Better yet, start your Valentine’s date at the local wine shop the weekend before, tasting and picking the wine you plan to pour later in the week. Anticipation will only add to the ambiance.

Mood Makers ~

Light those candles! You’ll feel and look elegant by the flicker of the flame, and it’s the simplest way to get your guy in the mood for a little romance. Promise not to stop laughing, talking, and staring into each other’s eyes until the last candle burns out.

Chocolate Please ~

Splurge on something spectacular for dessert. Chocolate is always a good idea. Make homemade chocolate pudding or a silky bittersweet chocolate tart the night before, or swing by our favorite bakery in the morning for that sweet your love is always eyeing. Your gesture won’t go unnoticed.

Charm School ~

Dress up in your favorite dress or even your favorite jeans. Put on pearls or lipstick or whatever makes you feel lovely. Be a good sport, no matter what he gives you (or doesn’t), and don’t even blink if he eats more than his fair share of the soufflé. It doesn’t need to be the most perfect night of your lives, simply a celebration of your love for each other.

Two for Two-Cheese Soufflé
Recipe Courtesy of Sarah Copeland and The Newlywed Cookbook. Reprinted with permission from Chronicle Books.

There is nothing cozier than a cheese soufflé for two, hot from the oven. Light a candle, bring the dish to the table with two forks and an herb salad for two, and let the world melt away.

Serves 2
1 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for brushing
½ cup/60 g finely grated aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 2 oz), plus 2 tbsp for topping
2 tbsp all-purpose/plain flourPinch of nutmeg
¾ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup/180 ml whole milk
½ small garlic clove, minced or pressed
¾ cup/85 g finely grated semi-hard cheese such as Manchego, Gruyere, or Comte, or a blend (3 oz)
3 large eggs, separated
½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375˚F/190°C/gas 5 with a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter an 8-cup/ 2-L soufflé mold and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano to coat completely all the way to the top. Shake any excess cheese out into a bowl. Put the mold in the freezer to chill.

Melt the 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour, nutmeg, and salt; whisking constantly, cook the flour without browning, about 5 minutes.

Whisk in the milk and garlic and continue to cook, whisking, at a low simmer until the mixture is smooth and thick like pudding, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the Manchego and any Parmigiano-Reggiano left over from coating the molds and cook, stirring, until the cheese melts. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolks, one at a time. Continue stirring vigorously with a rubber spatula to cool.

Whisk the egg whites and lemon juice in spotless bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high until they just hold a soft peak. The key is to not over-whip the whites, which would give your soufflé a cloudy instead of creamy consistency.

Fold one-fourth of the egg whites into the cheese mixture with a rubber spatula, carefully turning the bowl and mixing gently until the whites are streaked throughout. Add the remaining whites and fold in but don’t overmix, which can deflate the whites.

Transfer the batter to the chilled mold and scatter the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top. Place the dish on a baking sheet/tray and set in the oven, decrease the oven temperature to 325˚F/ 165°C/gas 3, and bake until the soufflé is golden, puffed, and set but just a touch wobbly inside, 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve immediately.

The Newlywed Cookbook – Fresh Ideas and Modern Recipes for Cooking With and For Each Other By Sarah Copeland
Published by Chronicle Books, available on AmazonUK

You’ll find more fun and romance in our Valentine’s Day section!

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