Make it a ‘Date Night In’ for Valentine’s Day

First Published      Last Updated Feb 10 2015 11:54 am

On Valentine's Day, it's a tradition to take the one you love out to dinner.

Or is it?

Only 42 percent of adult diners brave the crowds on Feb. 14, according to a 2014 survey conducted for Zagat.com, a national dining survey company.

The rest of us celebrate either with a home-cooked meal (30 percent), by ordering in (5 percent) or with chocolates, flowers and such (23 percent).

For all those who prefer to have a "date night in" on Valentine's Day — which this year is Saturday — we asked some culinary experts for ideas on what to serve to make it special.

Wendell White, chef at Salt Lake City's Cucina Deli, said he went all out the first time he made Valentine's Day dinner for his future wife, Kristy, making tandoori spiced salmon — "she likes Indian food" — with saffron mashed potatoes and grilled white asparagus. He followed with chocolate for dessert. (See recipes below.)

"But you don't have to go extravagant like I did," said White, who also operates Gourmet Fusion, a local catering company. "A simple dinner done well will be much appreciated."

He said part of the meal's success wasn't the food but the atmosphere. He took the pillows off the couch and made floor seating around a coffee table, which had been covered with a tablecloth and decorated with a candle and daisies.

"What made it perfect was that I cooked the food she enjoyed and created an atmosphere," he said.

When asked for her best "date night in" meal, Salt Lake City food blogger Becky Rosenthal said it would have to be "something rich and Italian" like pasta with Bolognese sauce.

She's not alone in her choice.

According to the Zagat.com survey, Italian wins when it comes to what type of cuisine diners find most appropriate for Valentine's Day, selected by 28 percent of respondents. French food was a close second, at 27 percent, followed by New American at 19 percent. Spanish/tapas was a distant fourth place with 7 percent.

Rosenthal, who co-wrote "Salt Lake City Chef's Table" with husband Josh, said Italian food has special meaning for the couple.

"When we were in Italy a few years back, we fell in love with this sauce," she said. When they returned from the trip, they never tried to make it at home, thinking they could never re-create the magical flavors. But that was before Rosenthal's friend shared her recipe.

"It was as good as we had in Italy," she said, "so it's a sweet memory for us."

Rosenthal said her other favorite choice for a Valentine's Day meal is something chocolate. She makes a pudding cake that is "super gooey and yummy," but still vegan and gluten free so it accommodates those on special diets. (See recipes below.)

Blogger and cookbook author Ashley Rodriguez may be the queen of the "date night in." About four years ago, the Seattle-based writer and her husband, Gabe, decided to set aside one night a week for a date night in. After they put their three young children to bed, they would pour each other a cocktail, make dinner and reconnect.

"We were both so busy putting time into the kids, we neglected to put time into our relationship," she said during a recent telephone interview. "My husband became a roommate rather than best friend and husband."

Planning a date-night meal also renewed Rodriguez's love of cooking.

"I had gotten into a rut. Trying to feed the family had taken the joy out of cooking," she said. Planning a special meal really "inspired me in the kitchen."

Her posts with recipes also resonated with online readers and inspired the recently released cookbook "Date Night In" (Running Press, $27.50).

"I was really honest about being in a long-term relationship; once the butterflies fade, you have to put effort into it," she said, "and people could relate to that."

So what would she choose for a Valentine's Day dinner at home? "There's no limit," she said. "It should be the food you really want to eat."

That said, she is especially found of the raclette recipe in the last chapter in her book. (See recipe below.)

The Swiss dish, which involves dipping meats, breads, potatoes and other accompaniments in melted cheese, was something the couple had enjoyed early on in their marriage.

"I think having a big platter of food like that is perfect," she said, adding that for dessert she wants chocolat chaud, a decadent version of hot chocolate that she eats with a spoon.

"It's my all time favorite dessert," she said, "so simple and so good."


Tandoori salmon with saffron mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus


1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

Pinch cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup Greek vanilla yogurt

1 lime (juiced)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound salmon fillet, skin removed and cut in half

Saffron mashed potatoes:

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes

2 tablespoons salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup whole milk

1 small pinch of saffron threads

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Salt and pepper to taste


1 small bundle of green asparagus

1 small bundle of white asparagus

Nonstick spray

Salt and pepper to taste

For salmon: In a medium bowl, whisk together spices, yogurt and lime juice. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Rub mixture onto the flesh side of the salmon only. Place on a plate and refrigerated for 20 minutes to marinate.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking tray with nonstick cooking spray. Place salmon on baking tray and cook 10 to 12 minutes or until the center of the salmon begins to flake. Remove from oven and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes before serving with saffron mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus.

For saffron mashed potatoes: Put potatoes in a medium pot, add 2 tablespoons salt and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. In a separate saucepan, heat butter, milk and saffron. Drain potatoes and mash. Slowly add milk mixture, stirring until potatoes are smooth and creamy. Add chives and salt and pepper to taste.

For asparagus: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 2 inches from the bottom of green and white asparagus, place on a baking sheet and spray asparagus with nonstick spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes.

Servings • 4

Source: Wendell White, chef at Salt Lake City's Cucina Deli and owner of Gourmet Fusion Catering


Butter poached potatoes:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium-size shallot, sliced

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces small new potatoes

1/2 cup water

Other accompaniments:

Walnut bread or other bread cut into chunks

4 ounces dry cured sausage, such as saucisson, or other favorite meats

1 apple, sliced

1/2 cup cornichons pickles

Grainy mustard

4 ounces raclette (or other semi-firm cheese that melts well such as gruyere or fontina)

For the potatoes, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and salt. Sauté 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant.

Add potatoes and stir to coat in butter. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender and cooked through.

Remove lid, increase heat to medium and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until liquid reduces and potatoes are tender. Give potatoes a couple of gentle turns.

(Potatoes can be made ahead and refrigerated. Rewarm or bring to room temperature before serving.)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Assemble a platter of raclette accompaniments: potatoes, bread, sliced meats, apple, cornichons and a dollop of grainy mustard.

Place the raclette in a small skillet or baking dish. Place in the preheated oven and bake 6 to 8 minutes or until parts are melted and edges are starting to caramelize. Remove from oven and serve immediately with accompaniments. If raclette begins to firm up, return pan to the oven to melt.

Servings • 2

Source: "Date Night In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship," by Ashley Rodriguez

Bolognese Sauce for pasta

This sauce will take 5 to 6 hours to cook, so start midmorning.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)

1/2 cup celery, chopped

1/2 cup carrots, chopped

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 cups milk

2 cups white wine

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained

1 1/2 to 2 cups water

1 (1-pound) bag rigatoni, spaghetti or other favorite noodle cooked according to package directions

1 cup parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a wide pan, heat oil and butter, add onion, celery and carrots and sauté until softened.

Add ground beef. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium high heat. Add cayenne and nutmeg.

Turn heat to low and add milk. Bring to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer until the milk is absorbed, stirring occasionally.

Add wine and simmer until wine is evaporated, stirring occasionally.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a medium bowl and break them up with your hands. Add tomatoes and juices to the sauce and continue to simmer.

Stir in 1/2 cup water, add more water as needed. (You want the sauce to have some liquid, so add 1/2 cup at a time until you're ready to serve the sauce.)

Serve over fresh cooked pasta. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Servings • 6

Source: Becky Rosenthal, author of the Vintage Mixer blog and co-author with husband Josh of "Salt Lake City Chef's Table"

Chocolat Chaud

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

2 cups whole milk

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 percent), roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

Whipped cream, for serving

Combine the cocoa powder and confectioners' sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

In a medium saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over medium-low heat. Then whisk in chocolate and cocoa powder mixture.

Whisk vigorously to combine. Bring to a boil and gently boil for 30 seconds while continuing to whisk.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and salt. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps.

Serve warm with a side of cold whipped cream, unsweetened or lightly sweetened.

The chocolate will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to 1 week. Reheat slowly on the stove before serving.

Servings • 4

Source: "Date Night In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship," by Ashley Rodriguez

Mexican chocolate pudding cake


1 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour)*

3/4 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vanilla almond milk

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons cocoa

1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9-inch round cake pan or pie plate.

For the cake, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, cayenne, cinnamon and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together coconut oil and almond milk (if you have trouble combining them, you can heat them in the microwave for 5-second intervals, whisking in between until they are at the same temperature). Stir in vanilla to this mixture.

Pour almond milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula just until combined.

Pour this batter into the prepared pan and smooth over the top.

For the pudding, combine sugars and cocoa and spread evenly over the cake batter. Then, pour the water over the top, making sure it's evenly distributed. Do not stir. The cake will rise to the top and the pudding will set at the bottom with the sugars creating a crispy top layer.

Place the cake in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. The cake is done when the edges are crispy and the top is dry to the touch.

Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

* To make this cake gluten free, substitute the flour with a gluten-free flour, cup for cup. For a less-spicy version, only add a dash of cayenne pepper.

Servings • 6

Source: Becky Rosenthal, author of the Vintage Mixer blog and co-author with husband Josh of "Salt Lake City Chef's Table"

Flourless chocolate cake with raspberries


1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup unsalted butter

4 eggs, separated

3/4 cup sugar

Raspberry sauce:

1 pint fresh or frozen raspberries

1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur

1/4 cup fine sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 3-inch nonstick round pan.

Melt chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler. Cool to room temperature. Whip the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale. Whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold one-third of the chocolate into the yolks. Fold in one-third of the whites. Fold in the remaining chocolate and whites. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 15 to 20 minutes. The cake edges will be set, but the center will still be soft. Cool in the pan and chill overnight.

For the sauce, place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth, strain and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Servings • 2

Source: Wendell White, chef at Salt Lake City's Cucina Deli and owner of Gourmet Fusion Catering