I have a friend who contacts me twice a year about helping him plan a special (but not super expensive) meal for his lovely wife, also known as asking "Please Tell Me Exactly How to Do This So I Get Laid & Don't Burn the House Down."
First up, Valentine's Day -- a made-up holiday for which restaurants often develop exotic menus and then (usually) charge twice the price.
It's also a night when I avoid going out to eat. There are so many tasties to make at home, often with the one you love by your side, or at least pouring you wine. And it's that much easier to get naked in your own kitchen.
Note: Do not try to get naked in a restaurant on Valentine's Day to prove me wrong. But if you do, tell me what happens.
This is the VTD menu I developed this year and actual e-mail I sent today, using simple recipes (he specifically requested steak) that I found online and adding my own notes for the home cook who needs a little direction ... or a lot:
If having an appetizer and a side are too much, drop the appetizer. I have tips for each recipe, but the recipes themselves are easy to follow. Let me know if you have any questions and leave yourself a few hours to cook. The bruschetta topping can be made ahead, as can the potatoes & dessert if you want more time with the steak.
Bruschetta. Minimal cooking needed. You get to use balsamic in 2 recipes, which ties it all together. Spring for the hot house tomatoes, it's winter and they will have better flavor. Fresh herbs should be available at the grocery.
Ribeye with arugula. A great combination because the greens cut the fat in the steak. Get good balsamic -- at least $10 bottle. It makes a huge difference. The only tweak I'd make to this recipe is you should get a bigger steak or 2 medium-sized steaks. Rib eyes have a decent amount of fat, so also ask that they be trimmed.
Potatoes with carmelized onion and goat cheese. Note: Be careful not to burn the onions. If you do, just throw them out and have potatoes with goat cheese. It's excellent and easy.
Chocolate-coffee cups. This is basically a rich pudding. You will need small white baking cups called ramekins, and you should be able to find them in a cooking store, such as Crate and Barrel or Williams Sonoma, if you don't already have them. They are useful. If you cannot find them, use the smallest bowls you have. This recipes makes enough for 4, so just double your pour! Get good chocolate such as Valrhona or Ghiradelhi, which you should be able to get at the grocery store with no problem.
I wish I was there to give you some of mine! Cab Sauvignon is the go-to wine for ribeye, but it can be so expensive. This is what you should consider picking up, all relatively inexpensive:
Côtes du Rhone -- you can find a good one for around $15. Look for a Clos du Mont Olivet Montueil la Levade, Delas Saint-Esprit or Michel Gassier Cercius.
Syrah/Shiraz -- Look for Stump Jump, Smoking Loon, J. Lohr or Jacob's Creek Reserve. You should be able to get a bottle for under $15.