How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day without a night out, dinner at a restaurant or social outings that might include large crowds? That’s what many folks are figuring out as the big day approaches this weekend.
If you’ve decided to stay home, roll up your sleeves and whip up a nice dinner for the person you love, you might be wondering how to make the meal special from every other day. Look no further.
Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management faculty members John Noble Masi and Brian Connors, share their tips for how you re-create the feel of an elegant culinary experience right from home.
The first thing you want to keep in mind is that making food for others and eating it together is a way to connect with people. “Some of the best things in life are food and the people you love. Putting those together is the best way to celebrate any holiday,” says Masi, who specializes in culinary and industry consulting.
Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore, Masi says. It can be an opportunity for loved ones to come together over food, whether cooking together or eating together. “It builds that bond,” he says. “[My family] always bonded at the dinner table. As much as COVID has created challenges, it’s allowed for more family quality time. What better quality time than at the dinner table?”
So, how do you create a spread to impress your valentine – or your family and friends at the dinner table?
First off, plan a four-course meal: Salad, soup, the main course and dessert. If pairing each course with a different wine, a good tip is to go from lighter white wines with the appetizers to red wines for the main course and rich, dark red wine for dessert.
Do a little extra work and set the atmosphere. Dust off your favorite set of china. Arrange some flowers in a vase or two around the area. Set the scene with some music or candles. Transform your home into your own restaurant.
If you’re looking for inspiration for your menu, Masi and Connors have created mouth-watering pairings that might get your creative juices flowing. Most any meal made with love will suffice, but reaching a bit higher on a holiday makes things special. Here is a suggested menu that can be made in whole or in part, or used simply as a jumping off point for your own ideas as you cater to personal tastes, dietary restrictions, eating practices and budget.
For the salad, Masi recommends fresh dill cured Alaskan salmon on a bed of frisée herb salad, cucumber and toasted pita. It works great paired with Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, says Connors, who is the director of the Bacardi Center of Excellence—a one-of-a-kind educational partnership between the Chaplin School and Bacardi USA.
For the soup, Masi suggests a dish that always captures his taste buds (even after test-tasting it hundreds of times!)—wild mushroom bisque paired with Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. This cream of mushroom soup, is Masi says, “like a warm hug.”
Nailing the main course, as you might imagine, is key. Masi recommends braised beef short rib served with parsnip puree, haricot verts (a type of green beans), shallots (a type of onion) and roasted tomatoes. Connors says the perfect wine pairing with this is a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
And for dessert: dark chocolate truffles, cheese (blue Stilton is perfect), toasted nuts and dried fruit, paired with Duoro Valley Port. If this decadent dessert is the one you’re going to try making, Masi’s biggest tip is to find good Swiss or Belgian chocolate. He prefers dark chocolate (since other forms have more additives), and he suggests purchasing a chocolate that has 60 to 75 percent cacao.