Rock a 3 course valentine's day dinner

How to Rock a Three Course Valentine’s Day Dinner

Valentine’s Day dinner. Ug, am I right? Like I need another special meal to plan in between the cleaning, working, and baby-watching. I suppose I could be like most normal people I know and go out on the town. But it’s not exactly romantic when I have to drag my toddler along, especially considering he’s incapable of sitting down. Does anyone else have that problem? I’m not sure why my husband and I even try to go out anymore. We can’t talk to each other because one of us is always walking around the restaurant following our son. We do occasionally have a baby-sitter, but my parents have been happily married for three hundred years and it’s also my mom’s birthday, so they’re out for this one.

I’m left with two choices. Either I cook, or I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day at all. That actually doesn’t sound so terrible, but my husband does like to acknowledge the holiday even though we don’t do gifts. So, cooking it is. Some of you may think I should have the hubby cook. No. You come eat his cooking sometime and then see how you feel about that. More power to you if you’re in a couple where you both cook. It sounds amazing. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my plan to fix a three course Valentine’s Day dinner without wasting all day in the kitchen.

Plan your Valentine’s Day Dinner Ahead

I would love if I always had everything I needed in my refrigerator, but it’s a rare rare day when that happens. I go through phases where I meal plan a week at a time, with some great advice, but I can’t keep up with myself during tax season. There could be anything in my fridge right now. Or nothing, which is probably more likely. This means for a three course meal I really need to come up with a plan ahead of time. Then I can grocery shop in advance, not have to run to the store later, and know exactly how much time I need to carve out of my day.

Pick a Cohesive Menu

Do you like Italian? Greek? Want to recreate some meal you and your lover had all those years ago? Pick one and go with it. The last thing you need is to have to come up with some sort of palate cleanser in between the important stuff. I’m going Greek this year because I need to practice a baklava recipe. Yes, I know baklava is originally from Turkey. That doesn’t mean they don’t make it in Greece. Anyway, that’s not the point. I want to practice this recipe, and my husband loves Greek gyros, so that’s the direction I’m going. Last year we had Italian if I remember correctly, and I also seriously considered French, but we’ll take it one year at a time.

I do have one caveat for your cohesive menu – the emergency cheese. What? You’ve never had to invest in an emergency cheese? Well, you should get used to the idea. It’s great. I know I’m going to do my best to plan everything and have a fixed schedule. I also know that’s not going to happen, because, life. That’s why I like to buy a good block of cheese when I’m doing my special occasion shopping. For my husband, only Gouda will do, so that’s what I get. Once I get backed up, which I inevitably will, he can munch on that with some apples. It also works as a first course appetizer or a dessert cheese plate if you really get behind. Wah lah! Emergency cheese.

Make Ahead Dessert

Dessert is the last course of the day, but I think it’s a great idea to make it the first course you cook. I’m going to make mine Thursday night after the kid goes to sleep. That way I know it’s done. Here’s a quick list of make-ahead desserts, but I’m sure Pinterest will show you a thousand more ideas if you can’t find one to fit your theme. Some desserts, like cheesecake, actually taste better to me after a day of sitting around, and it will allow you a little more time to do something fancy if you like. Plus, it’s the last course of your Valentine’s Day dinner so if you’re too tired to cook anymore, it doesn’t matter. Even something like creme brulee, which sounds really difficult but isn’t, can mostly be done ahead, then crisped up at the last second.

Easy but Elegant Salad

Anyone can dump a package of salad in a bowl. In fact, if that’s what you want to do, I’m not going to stop you. But, salads can also be really beautiful and elegant without a lot of work. When they’re not the main course, you usually don’t have to worry about getting a lot of protein in there, and that saves you cooking time. I think the last time I did a French salad the most difficult thing I did was toast some walnuts and dump in pre-crumbled goat cheese. Here’s another good list. If you’re following along my Greek menu, I’ll be doing your basic Greek salad by picking up a bunch of ingredients at the grocery store antipasti bar. They let everything swim in oil, so I probably won’t even have a dressing. I’ll throw my antipasti in a bowl with some lettuce and mix. So easy!

Spend your time on the Main Dish

You have to make a main dish, right? The emergency cheese just can’t replace your main course, no matter how much you want it to. If you’re going to get crazy, this is the place to do it, although I wouldn’t necessarily advise it. Does your theme have a slow cooker meal you could try? That’d save some time. You might not have to cook anything by the time Valentine’s Day dinner starts! I will be making gyro meat and tzatziki sauce. Is this complicated? Yes. I’m not going to pretend it’s not. But, I can do it in phases, like sauce in the morning, meat mixing afternoon, cooking it while I mix the salad. If I could ever find a good tzatziki, I would buy it and save myself the trouble, so please feel free to make recommendations. I do like cooking the meat though.

Whether you’re spending a lot of time on the main dish at night or in the morning, I would still aim for something really tasty. This actually is a special occasion. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t go through all the trouble. As for a side dish, that’s totally up to you. I’m going to buy pitas to serve our meal as a sandwich, but other dishes might necessitate something more. Pasta’s fine on it’s own. A piece of chicken or steak might require a vegetable or something though. In that case I’d suggest steaming a vegetable, or maybe throwing a baked potato in the oven when the cheese comes out. Those are both super easy options that won’t distract you from the other stuff. Alright, readers. Go out and put together a fabulous three course Valentine’s Day dinner!

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Holding an Easy Mini Wine Tasting Party

If you aren’t a drinker, then a post about wine tasting is not the one for you. I try to make food and booze interchangeable, but unless you’re going to do a mini-prepackaged food party, it would take a lot more work to incorporate food. I’ve talked about having mini-cooking competitions before, so maybe that is the way to go for you. But if you do like wine, one of my favorite ways to have a classy little gathering is to host a wine tasting.

Readers, you do not have to be a wine expert to do this. You honestly don’t need to know anything about wine at all, as long as you can read the labels when you’re buying the bottles. If you do want to know a little something before you start, you might want to pick up The Wine Bible or Wine for Dummies. Be warned: They’re not quick reads. There are other books about wine that are a lot smaller, but I haven’t read them so I can’t recommend any. When my sister and I started drinking wine, we went all in. You don’t have to read the whole book to host a little party though; once you decide what you’re tasting you’ll be able to find that specific chapter.

Preparation

Okay, so this is going to be a super easy prep. First choose, your guest list. I usually invite a couple or two, or friends that really love wine. Sometimes I’ll do a combination, but I try not to make anyone a fifth wheel during a wine tasting. I don’t personally mind being a third or fifth wheel, normally, but if you put me in Napa Valley with two couples and not  my husband, I think I’d wind up drinking too much.

Anyway, who you invite isn’t really that important, except for their level of wine knowledge. Do they like wine, but basically know nothing past red or white? Are they so advanced you’ll have to impress them with a tasting of Bordeaux’s by year? (Good luck with that one.) Knowing this will help you pick what wine to drink. Now, you can ask them to bring wine, or buy it all yourself, but that’s up to you. Just make sure they know what to bring. Last time I did various white wines; we each picked one and tried to see if we could guess what it was. Fun fact: We could not.

Execution

You already decided whether or not you’re buying all the wine or not. If you are, better go get some! You also absolutely need to make sure you have enough wine glasses. Guys, this is the easiest kind of gathering to throw. You’re not cooking or decorating anything. It would just be silly to your good wine in plastic cups to avoid cleaning a few glasses. Everything else is going to go straight in the garbage, so get out the good dishware.

Next, you’re going to want some kind of a palate cleanser (like oyster crackers), or even little bites to go with the wines. Again, this is something you can ask your guests to bring if you like. Sometimes if I get the wine, my sister will get cheese, or vice versa. If you don’t already have a wine guide, a quick Google search will tell you what to pair with which wine. Set it out nice and pretty, and then cut a few pieces of printer paper in half for tasting notes. If you want to get really fancy, you can print out your tasting notes instead. That’s it! How easy is that?

Wine Tasting Example

White wines

Need: 3 bottles of wine (1 chardonnay, 1 sauvignon blanc, 1 pinot grigio)
Cheese Pairings: Brie & chardonnay; mozzarella & sauvignon blanc; ricotta & pinot grigio
Tasting notes: You’ll definitely want to list what type of wine it is, along with taste. Some other ideas are aroma/smell, taste, finish, appearance, and points. I’m attaching a downloadable version of my own super simple notes here. Notes for Wine
Things to write on tasting notes if you are not into wine but want to feel like you are: fruity, leafy, earthy, oaky, buttery. Or, my personal favorite, bramble. A sommelier once told me to call all wines brambley and everyone will be confused enough to agree.

I really do hope you can enjoy a little tasting party like this. There’s not a lot of effort to it, but you know what? Making wine the focal point of the event honestly does make it seem like it’s a high class affair. I don’t know why that is – I guess rich people have succeeded in their trickery of getting us to believe whatever they want to tell us. We’ll talk about beer tastings at some other time; strangely enough, I do not throw those the same way. If you don’t drink at all, I do apologize! I’m sure you could come with an alternate; apple cider maybe? That actually sounds kind of fun, it is a little chilly right now. Maybe next time…