For a guy that lives, eats, breathes cooking, writing, entertaining, and all things food, I often get asked, “But do you really cook at home—for your wife?” My answer? Yes, basically every night I’m home.
Perhaps it’s my “duty” or simply our own routine, but I’m a big believer in practicing what I preach: cooking and sharing food with others is one of life’s most simple pleasures.
It’s usually around this time of year—Valentine’s Day—when most folks start paying more and more attention to my mantra. After all, scrambling to get a seat at an overcrowded and overpriced restaurant for a special
Valentine’s Day meal sounds more like a cattle call than a romantic evening.
Imagine the ambiance, intimacy, and personalization you can add by settling in for a romantic meal and evening at home. The best part? You don’t need to have a show on HGTV or be an expert cook to pull it all off.
Dial back the stress a bit, forget about fighting the crowds, and instead, put a game plan together to enjoy a special evening together.
Not sure of your game plan? That’s why I’m here!
Fortunately, the holiday falls on a weekend, allowing you a day or two to get things together without having to worry about the usual stresses of a work week. Sure, I might be speaking from a gent’s perspective, but this can also work for you gals too. It’s all about being prepared—allowing you to enjoy the actual evening.
Saturday morning—Clean! I mean it. Get up, turn on some music, and get into the spring cleaning mode. Nobody wants to eat in a cluttered, dirty environment. Think about it: would your appetite go up if you walked into dingy, smelly restaurant? No. Get to work on every part of your house that will be used—living rooms, kitchen, bedrooms, and of course, the bathroom.
Saturday afternoon—Shop and Prep. I’m never one to send you out looking for a laundry list of ingredients. That said, it’s a good idea to shop and prep a day in advance so that you can be sure you have everything you need on hand. I’m outlining the main course—a comforting and satisfying risotto. Pull that dish off, and you don’t need anything else. But while you are out and about, pick up a nice serving of cheese, olives, and crackers to serve as an appetizer. And if you have a sweet tooth, some nice chocolates are always a classic and simple way to finish the meal.
When it comes to design and décor, use some common sense. Don’t pull out the plastic forks and paper plates for this meal—some simple white plates, napkins, and glassware are timeless and classic. If you don’t have any, go buy a set or two. Pick up a nice candle or two, along with some fresh cut flowers for the table. Don’t stress too much on making things look like you are an interior designer. Mason jars can always serve as a vase or as a carrier for tealight candles.
If you want to enjoy a nice glass of wine or bubbly, buy it today—remember that most places down South might not sell such items on Sundays. Last but not least, put together a playlist of some of your favorite tunes (no workout or metal tunes) to help set the mood.
Saturday evening—Keep the house clean. No Animal-House–style parties tonight.
Sunday afternoon—Set the table, tidy up, take a shower, and get ready. No need to sport suit, but a pair of jeans with a well-tailored sports coat says it’s a special occasion—but comfortable. Set out your appetizer. Crack open a cold beer, and let’s get cooking!
Green Pea + Portobello Mushroom Risotto—Risotto is one of my go-to dishes whenever I’m looking to make something that’s comforting and romantic. Plus, it doesn’t involve too many pots and pans at the same time, making cleanup super simple. The key to making any great risotto is love and attention. With constant stirring, you allow the natural starches in the rice to develop into a creamy, rich base. You’ll need to be on standby and keep close watch over the dish, but that’s what a glass of wine is for. I also like the fact that this dish is vegetarian-friendly. Yep, I said it. A dish this indulgent doesn’t need much else—but if you do want to heft it up a bit, some sautéed shrimp will work nicely. That said, the meaty Portobello mushrooms add a good heft of texture to the creamy rice, and the sweet green peas add a nice pop of flavor and color. This whole dish can be put together within an hour or so.
6 cups vegetable stock
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
¼ tsp. dried crushed red pepper (optional)
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup fresh green peas*
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 (8-oz.) packages portobello mushroom caps, cleaned and cut into ½ inch slices
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
*Frozen green peas, thawed, may be substituted.
1 Bring stock to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Reduce heat to low; gently simmer until ready to use.
2 Place a large skillet over medium-high heat 1 minute or until hot;
add 2 Tbsp. oil. Add garlic and shallot, and sprinkle with ½ tsp.
salt, ¼ tsp. black pepper, and, if desired, ¼ tsp. red pepper; sauté
2 minutes or until shallot is tender and garlic is fragrant. Add rice,
and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until rice begins to look
opaque. Add wine, and cook, stirring to loosen any browned bits from
bottom of skillet, 1 minute.
3 Reduce heat to medium; add 1 cup warm stock, and cook, stirring
constantly with a wooden spoon, until liquid is absorbed. Repeat procedure
with remaining stock, 1 cup at a time, until liquid is absorbed
and rice is al dente and creamy (all of the stock may not be used).
Total cooking time is 25-30 minutes. Stir in green peas, and cook 2
minutes or until thoroughly heated.
4 Add butter, ¼ cup cream, and ¼ cup cheese, and cook, stirring
vigorously, until blended and smooth; add more cream, if needed, to
ensure mixture is creamy. (Risotto should spread, not stand, when
spooned onto a plate.) Cover and keep warm.
5 Place a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat 1 minute or
until hot; add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with
remaining ½ tsp. salt and remaining ¼ tsp. black pepper, and sauté 4
minutes or until mushroom slices are softened and tender.
6 Spoon risotto into center of shallow bowls; top with sautéed mushrooms,
and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. fresh basil and desired amount of
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve immediately.