From breaking scientific studies, surveys, and special promotional events, to the latest and greatest creations in fast food, drinks, and snacks, we’ve skimmed off the cream of the crop and are serving it up in fun and informative bite-sized pieces that are still enough to chew on.
The sun-laden crispness of fall’s return refreshes the senses and ushers in a bevy of celebrations that center around food and drink. One such beloved traditional excuse to socialize, imbibe, and indulge—even for those of us lacking German heritage—is Oktoberfest. But how to have Oktoberfest at home when you’re not able to make the joyful journey to Munich and don’t even have the option to go to a local celebration during the ongoing pandemic? Turns out it’s not that complicated to achieve authenticity even if you’re a newbie at hosting one.
“What strikes me the most about Oktoberfest is the camaraderie. It’s really about having a good time and enjoying each other’s company,” says Katja Lindemann. “Everyone is in a good mood. People sing, strangers become friends and everyone just gets along.”
And Lindemann ought to know. Born in Ulm, Germany and raised by a chef-butcher who instilled a love of cooking in her at an early age, at 18 she moved to the Black Forest for a three-year internship at the Hotel Traube Tonbach. This property boasts three restaurants including one that’s garnered a three-star Michelin rating for the past 25 years. From there Lindemann relocated to New York City to continue her hospitality management training and she’s called that city home ever since.
The communal aspect of Oktoberfest may be the very thing that’s verboten this year, but you can evoke the same spirit of fellowship with your lockdown mates—or host a virtual party with German flair.
Ideally you need a wooden table and bench known as a Biergarnitur, but if that’s not readily available, go for a look as close as possible. A beer tent is a classic element to include, especially for backyard or rooftop recreations, but that might be a bit over the top for those in apartments or without outdoor party space.
Ideally, Lindemann says a tablecloth with a Bavarian flag on it, is the perfect decor. “Stick to blue and white colors, those are the Bavarian flag colors,” she advises. “You can easily get just the right quality table cloth on Amazon if you search for Oktoberfest Tablecloth.”
“There is no Oktoberfest without a big, giant brezel,” explains Lindemann. “We eat the weisswurst with sweet mustard. In New York I see a lot of people eat brezel with mustard, but in Germany you wouldn’t do that,” she laughs. “The sweet mustard goes with the Weisswurst.”
Related Reading: The Best Sausages to Buy for Oktoberfest
As for the proper way to prepare and present these delicacies, the brezel really ought to be served hot from the oven and the simplest way to cook the weisswurst, according to Lindemann, is to boil it and add a pinch of salt to the water. However, if you’re really feeling ambitious, though Lindemann asserts it’s no easy task, you can grind your own sausage at home and then roast, pan fry or poach it.
Regardless of how you opt to get your weisswurst to your guest’s plates, Lindemann insists the only way to properly eat it, if you’re really going for the Oktoberfest gold at home, is a technique called zuzeln. “Basically, this means that you suck the sausage out of the skin. And, yes, that’s the traditional way of eating Weisswurst.”
Related Reading: German Recipes for Oktoberfest (and All Fall)
“The traditional Oktoberfest beer is being served in steins. You wouldn’t use any other glasses,” Lindemann explains. “Germans are very specific on what glass goes with what beer. When you serve Hefeweizen, make sure you use a Hefeweizen glass. This glass’ shape, long and widening at the top, is designed for head and volume. It also helps maintain the beer’s aroma.”
“It’s very important to serve the beer with foam on top, the head,” she adds. “In Germany, a beer needs to have foam on top otherwise it’s considered not fresh. And make sure it’s nice and cold!”
“If you can’t afford to hire an Oktoberfest band, which I assume most of us wouldn’t, you would play folk music,” she says. “A traditional song is “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit.” You would typically raise your glasses and cheer while singing to that song.”
“Germans like to schunkel which means that you wrap your arms with the person next to you and you slowly move from the left to the right while listening to and singing along with the music.”
And there you have it. What more do you need? Chill your beer, warm your brezels, savor some weisswurst, and schunkel the day away with your nears and dears (at least the ones you’ve already been quarantining with).
The original version of this story was published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect current information.]]>
In honor of Mardi Gras, Chowhound turned three classic New Orleans cocktails into elegant jelly shots—which is generally the non-branded term used to denote fancier Jell-O shots. And these certainly are elegant, but they’re also still pretty potent. (So be sure to have plenty of proper Mardi Gras food on hand to counter their effects, and complement their festivity.)
They look especially pretty because instead of the traditional paper or plastic cups, they’re made in baking pans and cut into cubes to reveal the layering. And they’re balanced and not too sweet, just the way a proper cocktail should be mixed.
If you still prefer your jelly shots (or Jello shots) quick and trashy, allow native New Orleanian Poppy Tooker to show you how they’re done:
But for those who believe frat party-style Jell-O shots are best left behind them, keep scrolling.
And for the curious—or cautious—we’ve also calculated how many jelly shots it would take to equal the alcohol in one cocktail…so you can plan (and consume) accordingly! These are just the thing for a Mardi Gras party, whether you serve them as an alternative to traditional drinks or a boozy Mardi Gras dessert (and unlike bananas Foster, no open flames are involved!), but be sure to keep them out of reach of kids.
Related Reading: Everything You Need to Know About Gelatin
6 jelly shots = 1 Hurricane Cocktail
Dark rum and high-quality maraschino cherries star in these little beauties, which also benefit from grenadine and passion fruit juice. Get our Hurricane Jelly Shots recipe.
8 to 9 jelly shots = 1 Ramos Gin Fizz Cocktail
A base of whipped cream, citrus juices, gelatin, and gin is gilded with a top layer bright with orange blossom water, orange zest, and club soda. Couldn’t hurt to add a little gold leaf if you’re feeling extra-fancy. Get our Ramos Gin Fizz Jelly Shots recipe.
5 jelly shots = 1 Sazerac Cocktail
All hail Rex, or Bacchus, or Punxsutawney Phil, or whomever is responsible for sending us a potentially early spring this year. Time for a party. And what better way to celebrate the annual return of the earth’s fertility, or whatever, just your love for humankind in a broader sense, by letting the good times roll with a Cajun-inspired feast? Time for a Mardi Gras party. Bead throwing? Optional. Hurricane drinking? Mandatory.
So in honor of the first time parts of your skin will see the sun in 2020, we offer a guide on how to assemble the goods for a Bacchanalian (but classy) affair to remember that is sure to set the tone for the kind of spring and summer you intend to have this year. I repeat: Bacchanalian, but classy.
Related Reading: The History of King Cake for Mardi Gras
I don’t recommend staging a full-out parade in your living room, but if it evolves or devolves into that naturally (see Hurricane Punch, below,) that’s your business. A few colorful and clever flourishes are all it takes to establish a festive, irreverent atmosphere evocative of the Big Easy.
Delineate different party zones with these French Quarter street signs. Only you will know why one room or another got designated as Bourbon Street…Buy Now
I mean, you gotta have them. It’s Mardi Gras. But you can flip the script on predictable party antics by encouraging their distribution as rewards for exceptional behavior such as attention to costume detail, service to the host, acts of chivalry, or impeccable storytelling. Or you can just scatter them around the place and whatever happens, happens.Buy Now
In the pre-electricity era of Mardi Gras, flambeaux (i.e. torches) were carried alongside the parades so that revelers could see the spectacle. Over time, they became part of the spectacle, as torch-carriers eventually turned a matter of practicality into a matter of performance. These tabletop torch candles add an element of nostalgia to the atmosphere with less threat of setting off your smoke alarm. Or if you really don’t trust your friends, try these adorable battery-powered torches.Buy Now
Along with your party invite, send a link to these elegant (read: sexy) lace masks to let your invitees know you are not kidding around thematically.Buy Now
Half the tunes have “blues” in their title, but the vibe from this collection of vibrant, brass-driven jazz bands is anything but. Plus the other half of the songs have cheekier titles like “Climax Rag,” “Snag It,” and “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” (I mean, have you seen her shimmy?) so you know it’s bound to be a good time. Get the Mardi Gras playlist.
Let’s be honest, in the tradition of the most ostentatious party hosts, you’re mostly in this to show off your culinary skills. New Orleans culture is abundant with Southern, Creole, and Cajun dishes that showcase your absolute prowess but are also easily adaptable for a cocktail party. (If you’re all about convenience, you can also just order New Orleans food online.)
Let’s begin, as all memorable festivities do, with a libation to get those good times rolling as quickly as humanly possible. As un-fussy as cocktails get, basically a vehicle for rum and fruit juice, (not this year, scurvy!) the Hurricane begs to be served in punch form. Keep it authentic with the appropriate elongated tulip-shaped glassware. Get the Hurricane Punch recipe.
Not to be overshadowed by the French Creole population, the Italian immigrant community in New Orleans mightily staked its culinary claim by putting forth the biggest, baddest sandwich: the muffuletta. Stacked with charcuterie, provolone, and a spicy olive salad, this miniature version does the original from Central Grocery credit. Get the Mini Muffuletta Bites recipe.
Two New Orleans delicacies rolled into one cute sandwich. You can fry the tomatoes earlier in the day and warm them up just ahead of assembly for easy party time management. In contrast to the showy muffuletta, the magic of the po’ boy is in its fresh simplicity. Have a bottle of traditional Louisiana hot sauce nearby for maximum authenticity. Get the Fried Green Tomato and Shrimp Po’ Boy Sliders recipe.
If you didn’t andouille, did you even Mardi Gras, bro? A little sweet from the pineapple tones down the heat from the sausage, plus they’re adorable, so toss a strand of beads or two the way of these skewers. Get the Andouille Sausage and Pineapple Skewers recipe.
There’s an old Creole saying: Anything worth making is worth making into a deviled egg. Okay, that’s not a real thing, but so long as they already have “devil” in their name, might as well get hella spicy. Get the Creole Deviled Eggs recipe.
You know you must have one. Traditionally, a king cake has one plastic baby tucked inside, of which the lucky recipient becomes obligated to the party host. Why not go ahead and tuck a multitude of them babies and see what you can make your friends do. Get our Mardi Gras King Cake recipe.
All you need is a corner, some colorful fringe, a handful of props, and a spare phone or tablet with remote control or selfie stick and you have a makeshift photo booth. The ultimate host or hostess, you’ll have excellent souvenirs for your guests, as well as top-notch social media fodder to establish that you are the rightful Rex of Mardi Gras 2020.
Valentine’s Day breakfast in bed is so much better than Valentine’s Day dinner; no crowds to contend with, no overpriced entrees, and no pants if you don’t want to put them on. So we curated six easy Valentine’s breakfast in bed menus, to serve and eat wherever you want to.
Waking up is hard to do for many of us. But not so much when the one you love hands you a special drink and a homemade meal—all while you’re still in your PJs snuggled under the covers. So this Valentine’s Day, give what you’d want. And you get to indulge too. Treat yourselves to one of these three make-ahead breakfasts instead of an overpriced dinner. Do whatever prep you can the night before, and enjoy it with your bed buddy.
Then you can both swoon over the food, presented, of course, in proper style.
But if breakfast in bed doesn’t suit you, trying making dessert for two, or invite a few other couples over that night and throw a beautiful party for Valentine’s Day. Not into this particular holiday? Fight the powers-that-be and learn how to throw a badass Anti-Valentine’s Day party.
If you love the thought of dining in first thing in the morning, just read on.
First up on our breakfast-in-bed menus for snuggle bunnies, this is one for lovers of the incredible, edible egg.
This yolk-colored drink is packed with orange juice, which is a great morning complement to the rich, savory main dish coming next. And to make it feel more festive, there’s ginger beer and sparkling apple cider in this alcohol-free mixed morning drink. Get our Autumn Chiller recipe.
Prepare this dreamy, rich, eggy breakfast dish the night before, all except the cooking. You’ll use a whopping dozen eggs for this dish. Put that dish in the refrigerator to set overnight, and then wake up about 1 hour, 15 minutes before your bedmate. All you’ll need to do is preheat the oven and slip it inside for an hour. Get our Cheesy Sausage Breakfast Casserole recipe.
As either a side dish or a breakfast dessert, a fruit salad celebrating the winter spoils (in Florida, at least) is a great finishing touch. The burst of color will make the plate look pretty too. Get our Zesty Lime and Ginger Winter Fruit Salad recipe.
When only the very best will do for your beloved.
If mimosas are acceptable in the a.m., then so is this. But while Champagne cut with OJ in the morning is just your basic brunch, Champagne served with nothing but a little ginger liqueur and halved kumquats is baller. Go ahead and break out the good stuff. Get our Kumquat Sparkler recipe.
Lobster alone would make soft scrambled eggs out of this world, but add silky crème fraîche and briny caviar and it leaves the stratosphere. Get our Lobster Scrambled Eggs with Caviar and Crème Fraîche.
A fruit course seems called for, but after that main event, you don’t need to be showy. Vanilla-speckled drunken prunes are understated yet luxurious after a soak in red wine and port. Serve with toasted pound cake and whipped cream or mascarpone, just a touch. But by all means, add a few flakes of edible gold leaf on top. Get our Drunken Prunes recipe.
For those who like to keep it clean.
The kiwifruit is considered a superfood, since it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It also gives a bright green color and tangy-sweet, tropical taste to this healthy soda alternative. Sweetened with agave and topped off with club soda, it’s a fizzy way to wake up. But if you want to make a pink drink, just replace the kiwi and lime with blood orange instead, then adjust the agave based on the sweetness of your fruit. Get our Kiwi Soda recipe.
While these healthy breakfast sandwiches can’t be made ahead, they hardly take any time; and an active valentine might not want to laze about in bed anyway, so don’t be surprised if they join you in the kitchen. You’ll top multigrain toast with sauteed kale or spinach, fried eggs (organic, please), and kalamata olives, but the addition of a little feta and creamy avocado keeps it from feeling too austere. If you’ve got a vegan valentine, just leave off the feta and replace the fried egg with a vegan scramble. Get our Healthy Open Face Breakfast Sandwich recipe.
For a sweet ending, toss together seasonal winter fruits—tangerines, apples, pears, pomegranate seeds, and more kiwi—in a maple-lime dressing with some poppy seeds for added crunch. But you can replace them with chia or flax seeds if you have those in the pantry. Get the Vegan Winter Fruit Salad.
Because, hey, it is Valentine’s Day, and chocolate needn’t just come in a heart-shaped box.
A mocha might be more traditional in the morning, but if there was ever a time to be extra decadent, it’s now. And homemade hot cocoa is the perfect blend of easy and impressive (not to mention, it tastes way better than the pre-made powder). The coconut milk gives a slightly tropical flavor that’s deliciously different. Get our Coconut Hot Chocolate recipe.
Treat them to double the chocolate and no end of nostalgia with these homemade toaster pastries (that are actually baked in the oven). You can make them a day or two ahead of time, then gently reheat before you bring them upstairs. But don’t dally, as they’re definitely best when still warm and melty inside (like your heart when you behold your S.O., right?). Get our Double Chocolate Pop Tarts recipe.
To help lighten things up, serve a banana-based fruit salad with kiwi, mango, papaya, and crunchy cocoa nibs to carry out the chocolate theme but in an intriguingly bittersweet way. Get our Tropical Fruit Salad with Cacao Nibs recipe.
For those who are apt to say “I dough.”
Bicerin is an Italian espresso drink with hot chocolate and heavy cream, the perfect complement to a morning pastry or two. Get our Bicerin recipe.
Eggs, chorizo, cheese, scallions, and cilantro are stuffed inside these flaky pastry pockets. Serve them with some sour cream and salsa, everything made the day before. Reheat and enjoy. Get our Breakfast Empanadas recipe.
We don’t care that empanadas and scones seem like a curious combination. Unlikely pairings can create something beautiful, don’t you think? Flaky and moist if done right, your breakfast can end on a slightly sweet note. Add freshly whipped cream … for the scones, silly. Get our Raspberry Scones recipe.
For when chocolate isn’t the answer, but a sweet tooth still needs satisfying.
Mix up that standard mimosa idea with a cranberry-laced version. It’s like a blushing cocktail juice packed with good-for-you vitamin C, yet a little naughty in the morning too. Get our Valentini recipe.
It’s French toast that you don’t have to stand over the frying pan to make, loaded with pecans, raisins, and maple syrup for a crunchy, custardy breakfast treat. Get our French Toast Casserole recipe.
Is it dessert or is it breakfast? Who cares? We love to blur the lines when it comes to enjoying what we want. Graham crackers go upscale in this fruit-and-yogurt trifle. Get our Honey-Ginger Pear Trifle recipe.
It’s almost Valentine’s Day and, like me, you may be scrambling a bit for the perfect gift. Your significant other, like mine, may be one of those “you don’t have to get me anything” people, which of course is no help at all. Plus, some people don’t like chocolate, so cliché Valentine’s Day gifts are out of the question. But don’t panic! A nice home-cooked meal is one of the most underrated and romantic gifts you can give.
Valentine’s Day, let me help you out with some recipes and tips. The trick is to focus on one part of the meal—be it the entrée, the dessert, or even the drinks—and then follow short and simple recipes for the other components of the meal. That way, you have time to prepare multiple elaborate courses and you’ll basically trick your partner into thinking you’re a professional chef. Just make sure they do their share by taking care of the dishes.Your S.O. will appreciate the effort you put in, and you guys will save so much money by having your fancy candlelit dinner in the comfort of your own home. If you’re considering cooking for your significant other this
I would like to shamelessly dedicate this first meal to my boyfriend, who could eat any of this stuff 90 times a day. But I can’t really fault him; he’s got great taste in food. For this meal, the entrée is the star, so it’ll take up most of your time. But I promise you that you will still have time (and room) for the side and dessert that follow.
There is something so classic and tasteful about chicken parm. It’s not terribly hard to make, it’s perfectly cheesy, and you can experiment with your own favorite flavors in your sauce. But, since you do have an entire meal to prepare, let’s not get carried away. This recipe for chicken parmesan should only take you anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour to prepare, and the sauce is easy to whip up! Get our Chicken Parmesan recipe.
Pair with: A red wine, obviously.
Chicken parm is a hefty, filling dish. Plus, it’s packed with tomato sauce. A scoop of pasta is the perfect complement to chicken parm, and angel hair works best because it’s so delicate and lends itself to a lighter, less filling sauce—like garlic and butter. And this side just sounds like something you’d see on the menu at a fancy restaurant on Valentine’s Day! But it’s not complex; the recipe (via thestayathomechef.com) takes all of ten minutes to make. Remember, it’s Valentine’s Day, so don’t be stingy with the parmesan cheese on top. Get the Angel Hair Pasta with Brown Butter Garlic Sauce recipe.
Remember how I said I was dedicating this meal to my boyfriend? I have literally seen that guy down a milkshake faster than I can take one tequila shot. But he’s onto something here; after this meal, you won’t really have room for much else, so a shared milkshake may very well be the best way to go! Plus it’s a really cute thing to do together. (An ice cream sundae is also more than acceptable.)
For this one, you have complete control. For example, my boyfriend loves strawberry shakes, so I’d make sure to have strawberry ice cream and strawberry syrup on hand. If your partner is a chocolate person, stock up on chocolate syrup, Oreos, and sprinkles. Don’t forget whipped cream and a cherry! For tips on getting the perfect creamy milkshake, watch this video. The last thing you want is to finish your meal with a watery shake.
This time around, we’re focusing on a decadent and more time-consuming dessert, so you’ll need a lighter dinner that cooks fast. Don’t think for a second we’re sacrificing taste for time, though. This entire meal is super flavorful, and you won’t be forgetting it any time soon.
I mean, this has “fast” right in the name. Pasta and shrimp are two of the quickest things to cook—so it’s convenient for us that they taste great together! You’ll need 30 minutes, tops, to get this done, and your S.O. will have no idea because they’ll be so impressed with how fancy and flavorful this dish is. The lemon and shrimp go great together, and the parmesan cheese and parsley on top make it even better. Get our Fast Lemon-Parsley Shrimp Pasta recipe.
Pair with: While gin and even whiskey would go great with everything in this meal, I think your best bet is a nice bubbly Champagne.
Again, we really want room for dessert with this meal, so we need a side dish that isn’t too over the top. Garlic bread is seriously addicting, and the parsley really ties it in with the pasta. Also, it’s great for dipping into any more lemony sauce you may have at the bottom of your bowl. If you so desire, I strongly suggest melting some mozzarella cheese on top of the bread. Get our Garlic Bread recipe.
I told you the dessert would be the highlight of this meal. Seriously, how impressed would your partner be if you put their own individual lava cake right in front of them? This recipe takes about an hour, but it’s so worth it. And it’s served with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream, which make it all the more perfect for Valentine’s Day. Don’t worry—you totally don’t have to make anything but the cake from scratch; your S.O. will be surprised enough that you even know what raspberry coulis is. Get our Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes recipe.
This is a bigger dinner with a light and sweet dessert. I’d say you’ll focus on the entrée, sides, and dessert pretty equally, but you can’t really have any one without the others!
Giving the gift of a steak dinner is a guaranteed success. And this recipe (via damndelicious.net) is flavorful, hearty, and promises the perfect steak! Don’t think the garlic butter is married to it, though, because it would also taste delicious on literally everything else. Get the Steak with Garlic Butter recipe.
Pair with: This meal screams Old Fashioned to me. But if you’re not a whiskey person, you can’t go wrong with red wine or a martini.
This would be a great side dish for most meals, but what’s a steak dinner without potatoes? The buttermilk in this recipe really takes it up a notch—your potatoes will be thick and creamy, and you and your date will be full to the brim! Get our Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes recipe.
If you’re going to make this, plan accordingly! You’re going to need to let these sit overnight, so this is not something you can whip up when your S.O. texts you that they’re on their way. That said, crème brulée is what you get for dessert when you don’t think you have room for dessert. Eating it also always makes me feel super fancy. Follow our recipe, and make sure you’ve got some fresh raspberries to sprinkle on top. This will finish off your steak dinner perfectly. Get our Crème Brulée recipe.
You don’t think I forgot about all the vegans out there, do you? If you’re not a vegan, but your partner is, I promise you I’ve selected recipes that will be just as delicious and satisfying for you too! The dessert will take the most time, but is so worth it.
I am such a sucker for sweet potatoes. I think they go with everything, so the fact that a sweet potato is the center of this whole entrée (via thehealthytart.com) is like a dream come true. The chickpeas, beans, spices, and homemade avocado sauce are healthy, flavorful, and filling. Forget Valentine’s Day—I’m making this one for myself! Get the Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Avocado Sauce recipe.
Pair with: I know most vodkas are vegan (don’t ask how), so keep this meal fresh with my favorite drink: a vodka seltzer with the tiniest bit of lime juice!
Bring out the avocado flavor in your entrée with this light, fresh side salad (via imperfectlybalancedsara.com). The lime juice and dill on top really join all these flavors together in a way you and your S.O. will love. Get the Corn, Cucumber, and Avocado Salad recipe.
Like the crème brulée, this one calls for a lot of prep time, so plan accordingly! Who says vegans can’t enjoy a cheesecake? This elaborate recipe (via cocooncooks.com) takes you step by step through the crust and cake, so you can do this. The cheesecake is actually an almond cinnamon cashew cream. Combined with an almond crust and homemade date caramel, this is going to be a big hit (and sure, make it for Easter too!). Get the Almond Caramel Vegan “Cheesecake” recipe.
If you prefer to make a morning treat, check out our Valentine’s breakfast in bed menu ideas. Get even more sweet recipes, tips, and tricks at our Valentine’s Day headquarters, including great last-minute Valentine’s Day gift ideas.
Valentine’s Day is on a weekday again this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t swing a memorable home-cooked dinner for your girlfriend, boyfriend, or even your mom (no judgements here!). The key is employing a few shortcuts—as Ina says, “store-bought is fine,” in many cases—and knowing where to concentrate your efforts. So here are some expert tips for easy Valentine’s Day dinners (and desserts).
First, memorize this mantra when trying to impress her or him on Valentine’s day with a dinner that feels special: “Less is more.” That’s sage advice from Christopher Kimball, the founder of Milk Street, a site dedicated to home cooking. Back when he was first starting as a chef, Kimball would host elaborate dinners, churning out seven-plus courses. But these days, he prefers to hone in on one or two easy dishes (we especially like this Grilled Skirt Steak with Red Miso, or this easy Chicken Pho) and dedicate the extra time to having a conversation with his guests and, you know, actually enjoying the evening.
The same concept applies to an intimate dinner for two. “It’s going to take you three times longer than you think to make it,” Kimball explains. “So I would start with the simplest possible menu, and no one’s going to complain that you didn’t make four other things.”
Related Reading: How to Pull Off a Perfect Wine & Cheese Valentine’s Dinner
Sometimes, the most intimidating aspect of preparing a home cooked dinner for your Valentine (something that goes beyond your weekly salmon-and-brown-rice-routine) can be the front-end work of grocery shopping and preparing the ingredients. But don’t panic—there are a few basic ways to streamline the process.
“The thing that I tell people a lot when they’re cooking for two,” says Dan Zuccarello, the Executive Food Editor at America’s Test Kitchen, “is to rethink the way that they shop for their groceries.” For a dinner for two, he suggests going for quality over quantity. Meaning, buying the perfect amount of organic vegetables over bulk non-organics, and opting for smaller organic or grass-fed cuts from the meat counter.
Also, keep an eye out for your grocery store salad bar. It’s a solid option for pre-cut vegetables like broccoli florets or sliced onions, and the produce there is generally fresher than in packaged salad or sauté kits.
Stocking up on pantry basics and what Kimball calls “big flavor ingredients”—soy sauce, fish sauce, gochujang, a great vinegar—is another simple way to add tons of different layers to a meal without making your pasta from scratch or trying your hand at a complicated ramen. “Let your pantry do the work,” he advises.
And when possible, always go with store-bought items that are just as good as homemade. For example, most home cooks who know what they’re doing will always tell you puff pastry is not worth the time or effort to make from scratch. Also, pre-made rotisserie chicken is a home chef’s go-to and can and should be mixed into a soup, casserole, or pot pie.
Or consider whipping up your own pizza. Grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s, and some neighborhood pizzerias, sell standout pizza dough. (We also love Rao’s Marinara as far as bottled sauce options go.) Add fresh mozzarella, some basil, and a nice bottle of red and you’re done. Bonus points if it’s heart-shaped. You can also use the dough for calzones, stromboli, or even zeppole.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid relying on pre-cooked foods that are tricky to reheat or toughen quickly, like steak or fish. To save time when preparing meat, Angela Davis, food blogger and recipe developer behind The Kitchenista Diaries, recommends salting the meat the night before to bring out more flavor in the pan.
If there’s one course you should try to make on Valentine’s Day, dessert might just be it. And because you have to do chocolate on Feb. 14th, mug cakes might just be that special unicorn of sweets you’re looking for. These individually portioned cakes are quick to assemble, and you can nuke them in just a few minutes.
Or make our pretty-in-pink Chocolate Raspberry Cream Pie recipe—but sub in a store-bought graham cracker crust and a good-quality raspberry syrup if you’re short on time.
Keep in mind fruit is super versatile and has seemingly endless variations. Davis suggests rolling out puff pastry and baking with fresh fruit and brown sugar, or even just combining berries, hand-whipped cream, and balsamic. And remember, nobody is going to turn down chocolate chip cookies baked from frozen dough.
Related Reading: How to Make Dessert for Two
Of course, even the best-laid plans might still go awry. Just in case you don’t make it home in time to get those filets on the table at 7 p.m. as planned, we say stock up on a few of Trader Joe’s beloved hors d’oeuvres, like the vegetable bird’s nests or French onion soup bites, in case you really get in a bind. After all, there’s nothing more romantic than a meal of improv small bites to share and a good bottle of wine.