Valentine's Day

This year, millions of people will rush out on Valentine's Day to crowd into fancy -- and not-so-fancy -- restaurants only to spend a fortune, face long waits for good tables, and work around the annoyance of being surrounded by other couples who are also trying to make the evening romantic. Do you want to try something else?

Why not enjoy dinner in this year? If the thought of cooking your own dinner makes you nervous, never fear! I really simple, yet elegant dinner menu that can be on the table in less than a half an hour is the key to this romantic evening. Add a few more special items and you've got more romance than any five star restaurant can muster!

Creating the Perfect Atmosphere

A couple days before your big night in, make sure the rooms that you will be using are cleaned. Nothing too fancy, just make sure that the carpets are clean and there's less than an inch of dust on all surfaces! You'll also want to make sure that you've got enough candles on hand to maintain a candlelit room for several hours.

On the day of the big event, you'll want to scatter candles throughout the rooms you'll be using. Hopefully, you'll have enough to light the rooms completely with candlelight. Otherwise, choose soft lighting sources to compliment the candles. Make sure you have a way to light them handy too!

You'll also want to prepare some other things in advance. For example, if you have a fireplace, you'll want to have all of the wood on hand to quickly assemble a fire when the mood strikes. You might even want to set up the logs in the fireplace so that all you'll have to do is light a match. If a fire is in the works for the evening, you'll want to make sure there are lots of cushions and blankets available for snuggling too.

Another good idea is to set up a bathtub with candles, matches, scented bath oils and bubble bath for a candlelit bath later that night! You might also want to place a vase with fresh flowers nearby to add a beautiful touch and to help scent the room.

No romantic evening would be complete without some beautiful music. Favorites include soft instrumentals, jazz, classical and new age, but choose something that you both will love.

Finally, you should dress up! Just because you aren't going to a restaurant doesn't meant you shouldn't look great. However, because this is a dinner just for two, you can avoid wearing things you don't like -- like ties, pantyhose or heels. There's nothing quite like being able to wear a beautiful outfit with satin slippers instead of pantyhose and high heels!

Creating the Table and Menu To create a beautiful place to serve your meal, adorn your table with fresh cut flowers, candles and nice tableware. Try to avoid roses -- they tend to be very expensive around Valentine's Day and are a bit too expected. Why not place a vase of springtime tulips there instead? If you really want to include roses, stop by your florist and ask for a bag of rose petals. They are much less expensive and are lovely scattered over the table.

When it comes to creating a romantic meal, there is one important rule: keep it simple! If you spend hours slaving over a stove, you aren't going to feel very romantic when it's done -- you're going to be ready for a nap instead. So, in the interest of simplicity, speed and elegance, here's a perfect Valentine's Day menu. If you really want to enjoy your evening, try putting it together as a couple:

  • Olive and Tomato Bruschetta
  • Cranberry-Spinach Salads with Feta and Walnuts
  • Lemon Pepper Fettucine with Portabella-Red Pepper Sauce

Olive and Tomato Bruschetta

Finely chopped tomato and kalamata olives make for a simple appetizer.
  • 1/8 c. finely chopped tomato
  • 1/8 c. finely chopped kalamata olives
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Mix to combine. To serve, spread one tablespoon over a thin slice of toasted Italian bread.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cranberry-Spinach Salads with Feta and Walnuts

These tangy salads don't need any dressing.
  • 1/4 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 c. baby spinach greens
  • 4 T. dried cranberries
  • 4 T. crumbled feta cheese

Toast the walnuts by laying them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil under the broiler for 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Divide the remaining ingredients between two salad bowls. Sprinkle evenly with the toasted walnuts and serve.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Lemon Pepper Fettucine with Portabella-Red Pepper Sauce

If lemon-pepper fettucine is unavailable, use your another variety in its place.
  • 10 oz. dried lemon-pepper fettucine
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 6 oz. sliced portabella mushrooms
  • 1/4 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese

Prepare fettucine according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pepper and saute for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and walnuts and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the walnuts are toasted.

Toss the fettucine and mushroom mixture in a warmed serving bowl. Grate fresh parmesan cheese over the top and serve immediately.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Serve your dinner with a fruity white wine that you like and end it with assorted fresh fruit and chocolate dipping sauce or some elegant chocolates that are easy to feed to each other. I'm sure that after enjoying a tasty meal and nibbling on chocolate and fruit, you'll be able to figure out something to do! At the very least, not having to fight with traffic and cold weather should give you something to celebrate! Happy Valentine's Day!