It’s a dream that often clashes with reality. You’re planning to cook a delicious Valentine’s day meal for your partner, with candles flickering, every bite purred over and every perfectly paired drop of wine savoured. When the night arrives, you’re red in the face, flustered, covered in various sauces (and not in a saucy way), the candles have caught fire to the tablecloth and the wine’s been spilled. It shouldn’t have to be this way. Take the pressure off, loosen up, enjoy yourself, and watch the fireworks fly. Here’s how; our 5 tips for cooking the IDEAL meal this Valentine’s Day.

CHOOSE A THEME

Sometimes, it’s the selecting of appropriate dishes that’s the hardest part of the whole meal. Indecision and a burden of responsibility can build, and suddenly you’re in the aisles of Waitrose on the evening of the 14th, elbowing other shoppers out of your path in search of a ready meal deal. You need a little structure and guidance, we think, and setting a theme for your meal can really provide that framework.

You could choose the cuisine of a country you’ve visited together which you particularly enjoyed, or you could recreate your first meal together, or even try to use an ingredient you both adore in every course (anchovy dessert, anyone?). Having a blueprint such as this enables you to flex some creativity and have a little fun, too!

SHARE THE DUTIES

Happy, harmonious relationships are all about compromise, right? Just as in every aspect of your union, the heavy lifting shouldn’t be left to just one of you. This only builds a simmering resentment sure to bubble over if left unattended. So, make the home-cooking into a fun, fulfilling experience for both of you by sharing the duties. Though it’s lovely to be waited on hand and foot, the couple that cooks together stays together, right? Because there’s nothing sexier than discussing seasoning, after all.

PLAN & PREP BEFOREHAND

Valentine’s this year falls on a Friday. After a tough week at work, whipping up a three-course meal might be the last thing on your mind when you crash through the door at 6 pm. Indeed, you don’t want to spend the entire evening in the kitchen while your date sits alone or vice versa; it’s one hell of a romance killer, that. Instead, do plenty of preparation and planning well ahead of time, including all the shopping, chopping and any other bits which won’t do the meal detriment by being completed in advance.

Some meals, of course, actually benefit from being made the day before. Anything which requires low and slow braising is great and can be simply warmed up when you’re ready to eat, perhaps garnished with some fresh herbs at the last minute. The fact that the flavours have had time in the fridge to develop is an added bonus!

TAKE A COUPLE’S CLASS

This is as much about the foreplay as the actual event, but it can have long-lasting benefits for your relationship (and your belly) too. So, in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (quick! It’s soon) consider taking a couple’s cooking class to hone your skills, and more importantly, bond with your significant other prior to the big day. And if a little competitiveness creeps in over your cooking, then all the better; it’s healthy, after all.

These days you’ll find cooking courses in most major cities tailored to a variety of disciplines and cuisines, so you can either hone in on a country’s food you both love or focus on an area of your recipe repertoire which is a little, shall we say, underdeveloped.

NOTHING TOO HEAVY

The ideal meal on Valentine’s Day is not one which induces a food coma and has you retreating to the sofa for a snooze and snore for the remainder of the evening. Nope, you want to leave the dinner table feeling footloose and fancy-free, a little light on your feet and in your head for whatever activity might follow. Choose your menu accordingly; go easy on the red meat, cream, and butter, and instead prioritize light dishes which make use of seasonal produce where possible. No one likes to feel like they’ve been screwed by their meal; that comes later.

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