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Who says Valentine’s Day has to be over the top?  The essence of the day – manmade or not – is to show the ones you love you really care.  What better way than through the stomach?  And everyone enjoys a home cooked meal.  It’s usually cheaper and let’s be real – probably more sanitary given it’s the flu season.   So here a several tips for cooking a flawless Valentines Day meal.


1. Have a plan.
There are times for spontaneous culinary improvisation, but this is not one of them. Yeah, on Top Chef they can make a gourmet meal out of peppermints and beef jerky, but someone always loses. That would be you. Figure out your menu before the event.


2. Go with what you know.
How confident are you in the kitchen? Not so much? I'd leave the lobster, lamb chops and soufflés for another time, and stick to dishes you can easily figure out. A simple, well-made dish served with confidence is always better than a noble, hot mess. 


3. Map it out.
Read through your recipes and make sure you can make them, have all the implements on hand, and that they don't compete for oven time, counter space, or attention at the same time. You wouldn’t believe how often this is overlooked.  Print out your recipes and tape them above your work surface for easy reference. Make a simple timeline of preparation order. You won't believe how much thinking this saves in a crunch.  The worst feeling is realizing that you need two different ingredients simmering at the same time, but only have one pan.


4. Shop in advance.
Once you know your shopping list, be sure it's ready in your pantry at least a day--or more—before. Shop early.  There’s nothing worse than having to change plans when your heart and mind are already made up. You don’t need that stress.


5. Shortcuts are okay—to a point.
Want to make a crabmeat quiche, but don’t trust yourself or have time to make the crust? It's okay to buy a few prepared items, as long as they're high quality with the fewest number of ingredients. But don't go overboard.  The more premade foods and substitutes you buy, the less you can account for the taste or quality of the overall meal/ recipe. 


6. If you don't know, ask.
How should I cook that side of beef I have in fridge? What wine goes best with pork rinds? Most market employees are actually flattered when someone asks their advice about food pairings and preparations; they're genuinely interested in food and want your business. And you might learn something.


7. Prep, prep, prep.
This is an extension of #3 and #4.  When you know what your recipes call for, you can often chop, dice, and prep days ahead of the final cooking.  Although we all start with good intentions, I’ve never seen anyone with an abundance of time.  Extra time will always come in handy.


8. Don't forget the table.
Also a cousin of #4, even if you've created a four-star masterpiece, your date is going to be underwhelmed when you invite them over to stand over the sink and eat it with you. A couple of matching plates and some candles are a bare minimum. Cloth napkins are a nice touch. Flowers, maybe?


9. It's supposed to be fun.
Nothing ruins the mood like a stressed-out cook. Your date is there for entertainment, not an intervention. Okay, say the steak caught fire and now the kitchen is being hosed down by the fire department. If you play it right, you can win major points for nonchalance and charm. Keep it light, keep a sense of humor, and have fun. With any luck you'll be doing it again, next year, for the same person.


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