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Menu Inspiration: Romantic Dinner Date

It makes me cringe to know that we’re already a full month and then-some into 2019. January is in the books, and in a few days we’ll be coming up on Valentine’s Day. (We’ll be talking about spring next, then Memorial Day will be coming up on the heels of summer… yikes.)

For the last several years, I’ve found it more fun to lovingly plan a menu of delicious, home-cooked foods that both of us enjoy rather than going out for Valentine’s Day. Going out to eat on a holiday is rarely great, in my experience. Restaurants are often so crowded and everything, even at finer restaurants, feels rushed. It’s hardly worth getting dressed up only to come and go in a matter of an hour, maybe two, and not really have time to savor everything.

The planning of a special V-Day dinner menu only adds to the fun, and Dave and I have now made a little tradition out of it.

We take time to muse over what we’re eating over the few weeks leading up to V-Day. One night while watching TV, we’ll talk about what cocktail we might want to make. A few nights later, we’ll think of main course ideas. Seafood is generally top of mind, since it’s something a little luxurious that we wouldn’t typically eat during a weeknight.

If you and a loved one are looking to spend a night in this year, too, instead of dealing with the stress of dinner reservations and busy restaurants, this menu includes a few of our favorites. A little bourbon, a little seafood, and of course some chocolate. If you can find the time to prepare a few things in advance, or do a mix of home-cooked plus store-bought, it makes cooking on a weeknight more enjoyable.


Old Fashioned Cocktails: I tried several of the recipes from the list of bourbon cocktails a few years ago, which is a good list to check out if you’re looking for something new (or classic) to try. Everyone has a favorite version of an Old Fashioned to make. I’ve made this one a number of times, following the recipe pretty much to a “T” except for using Makers Mark, my bourbon of choice. I also like to top the drink with lemon-mint seltzer, which some may call heresy but I like the fizz it adds to the drink.

Of course, you also can’t go wrong with a little bubbly. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut is so delicious; I’ve purchased it for anywhere from $45-60 a bottle at local liquor stores. More affordable options include Chandon Brut (for me, usually $20 or less) and prosecco such as Lunetta (about $10-12 a bottle.)

You can be a little extra and make a Kir Impérial by adding 1/2 oz Chambord (raspberry liqueur) and a fresh raspberry, or a Kir Royale by adding 1/2 oz crème de cassis (blackberry liqueur) and a fresh blackberry, to a champagne flute before topping the rest of the way with champagne.


Smoked Salmon Bites: this appetizer is definitely not fussy. Spread herb cream cheese on bagel chips (make your own or buy them), top with a good-quality smoked salmon, thinly-sliced red onions, and a few capers for a perfect little bite.

Main Course

Shrimp Scampi: a classic dish that’s easy to make and extra easy when made in the oven, as it is with this Barefoot Contessa recipe for Baked Shrimp Scampi that has over 860 ratings on Food Network’s website. Don’t skip on browning the whole thing under the broiler as suggested in the recipe, which gives an extra crunch to the top. Long, tube-shaped bucatini pasta is a good substitute to serve with the garlicky shrimp if you’re sick of regular ol’ linguine or spaghetti, or even just some good, crusty bread and butter.


Mousse Parfaits: chocolate mousse is one of my favorite desserts, probably ever. I like it because it’s chocolate and it’s rich, but it’s not like a punch in the face of chocolate as if you were eating a chocolate ganache-topped cake or flourless chocolate torte. Alton Brown’s Chocolate Mousse recipe from Food Network’s website is one I’ve made several times with great results—many, if not all, of his recipes are virtually no-fail. I like to layer the mousse in a glass with regular whipped cream and fresh strawberries and raspberries to make an easy parfait.