For the Guy Who Can’t Cook: A Guide to Faking Valentine’s Day DinnersAugust 21, 2018
- Lars RoxasWords
There’s nothing more romantic on Valentine’s Day than a homemade dinner for your significant other. It beats even a reservation at that trendy new dining spot, the one with an entire guest list made up of the beautiful people you see on television.
Unfortunately, not everyone can cook well. A lot of us can’t cook at all. Usually, just dropping two eggs into a pot of instant ramen is enough to make us feel all gourmet and rebellious. However, Valentine’s Day with your special someone is worth going the extra mile for. The occasion calls for something heartfelt and thoughtful. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. But if you do make the effort, and she still isn’t happy, just get her a bucket of KFC instead. She doesn’t deserve the fruits of your (fake) culinary labor.
If you’re lucky enough to have a girl that’s worth the effort, but also unlucky enough to need directions to correctly boil water, I’ve got your back. I’ll help you fake that all-important Valentine’s dinner to impress your date. It’ll be easy, foolproof, and impossible to mess up.
If your girlfriend is currently sitting beside you, bookmark this page, close the tab, and distract her with pretty pictures of playing puppies on Pinterest. I’ll wait.
Is she gone? Okay then, let’s proceed.
There are three things we want to achieve at this dinner:
- You actually eat something decent.
- Your girl goes home impressed.
- You successfully pull off the previous two without burning down your kitchen (or yourself).
I’m not giving you straight-up recipes, though. I figure it would be better to keep things flexible, since you guys will vary wildly in terms of actual cooking skill. Instead, I’ll suggest some general strategies, and a few specific options, which don’t require a lot of specialized equipment.
When choosing your appetizer, pick something that’s simple and easy to prepare, while still being fancy enough to pique the girl’s interest. Something that you can believably pretend to have just thrown in the oven, so you can lie and tell her she arrived earlier than expected. If possible, try to do all that while wearing a manly apron (one with pictures of eagles or lions, or steak).
Roasted garlic, spread over warm slices of French bread, is a favorite of mine. It’s classy, visually interesting, and a cinch to prepare. Just cut off the top quarter of a full head of garlic, drizzle olive oil over the top, and pop it in the oven for half an hour, or until it’s all deliciously mushy. Make sure you tell her about all the oil drizzling you did. It’ll make you sound (and look, if you mime it well enough) more professional.
You could also opt to mash the softened garlic with some sour cream, plop it in a fancy bowl, surround that bowl with crackers arranged in the shape of a heart, and call it a day. However, do note that this is the less sexy option. Crackers don’t really evoke the same mental images that anything French does.
Regardless of what appetizer you choose, make sure you don’t give your date too big a serving. It’ll ruin her appetite, and prevent you from doing a smooth and rehearsed segue into, “Oh, you’re done. Want to help me finish up in the kitchen?”
The Side Dish
Salad is the order of the day. I won’t name the kind of rabbit food you’re supposed to buy since I don’t know what your local grocery would have in stock. When in doubt, take your mother with you. She’d know what to buy, and you really need to spend more time with her anyway. (She misses you, trust me.) Whatever you do, don’t get anything pre-cut or packaged. Those things are terrible.
Divide the work between you and your date. Have her slice the veggies while you take care of the dressing. Any basic vinaigrette will work. Even something as simple as drizzling lemon juice and a light salad oil over your choice of greens will prove tasty and effective.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try mixing your basic vinaigrette with a bit of salt, pepper, and other herbs and spices appropriate for your selected produce. Just dump everything in a clean Mason jar, screw the lid on tight, and shake it hard and fast. This is your chance to show off the results of all those bi-weekly push-ups. If your date blushes, or gives a sharp gasp during all the manly jar-shaking, you’re doing well, young padawan. Just try not to mess up your hair, or hit her in the face accidentally.
The Main Course
Pasta is the perfect choice for the man who thinks poaching an egg involves stealing from an inattentive mama hen. There is a plethora of pasta types in your local store, any of which will be more than sufficient for a good meal. Also, the extremely short cooking time will further minimize the already miniscule chance of you messing up.
Any choice of sauce you make will have its pros and cons. Simmering freshly chopped garlic in olive oil is straightforward and delicious, when tossed with perfectly cooked spaghetti noodles. However, this method relies heavily on the quality of its very few ingredients. Using high-quality olive oil is imperative, and that stuff is significantly pricier than the mediocre, cheaper variety. One good thing, though, is that you’d be able to say the words Spaghetti Aglio e Olio repeatedly throughout your date. Foreign words always sound sexier on Valentine’s Day.
For those leaning towards tomato-based sauces, I hesitate to give a legitimate recipe. I think making one from scratch is a bit beyond the very limited culinary abilities of a guy who’s reading an article on how to fake knowing how to cook. Instead, I suggest using the canned Italian pasta sauce they sell at the grocery. It’d make the skin of any self-declared “foodie” crawl in abject horror, but we don’t care about them. Just have the sauce simmering, then place some canned tuna in a cute ramekin beside the stove, and you’re golden. Wait until your girl shows up in the kitchen, and then make sure she sees you adding the fish into the pan. You’ll look like a pro.
Try to time it so that you finish cooking both the noodles and the sauce at roughly the same time. A double burner comes in handy for this. Follow the pasta’s package directions to the letter, and you’ll be fine. Don’t forget to add oil and salt to the water. Also, after you’ve drained the cooked pasta, don’t rinse it under the tap. If you do, the sauce won’t stick to your noodles as much. For ultimate style points, let your date see you ladle some pasta water from the pot to your sauce. The starch from the water will thicken the sauce, and it’ll look really slick, fooling her into thinking you actually know what you’re doing.
Cheese is also a crucial part of the equation. Please, please, don’t use the “Parmesan” powder they sell in tall, green tubes. It’s a special occasion, so spring for the good stuff. Get a small wedge of quality Parmigiano-Reggiano from your nearest deli, and grate it yourself. Better yet, shred the cheese directly over her plate of spaghetti. Believe me, it makes a difference. You can thank me later.
Dessert (AKA the Most Important Part)
This is the part where I’m supposed to share a super secret trick that’ll let a dude who can’t cook bake a cake, or a make a flan. It’ll be clever, effortless, and will not require any equipment beyond those in Mr. Instant Noodle’s cupboard. Now you’re probably thinking, “Is such a thing even possible?”
No, of course not. Are you high?
Go get a store-bought pie. Throw away the box, and hide it where your date will never stumble upon it, like Mordor, or wherever the guy who plays the teacher on Glee holds solo concerts. Get something tart, like a lemon meringue pie, if you made Spaghetti Aglio e Olio for dinner. The tartness will help cut through the oily garlic taste in your mouth. If you went for a tomato-based pasta sauce, something mellow and sweet, like caramel pecan pie, should do the trick.
Don’t forget to buy a tub of ice cream to go with your pie. One scoop, and boom, instant pie ala mode. But please, don’t pretend you made the ice cream too. If you do, your date is required to laugh at you until you cry.
A Few Final Reminders
Throughout the whole process, involve your date as much as possible. Preparing a meal together is a potentially great bonding experience.
If, through some really unfortunate accident, something goes wrong and you wreck the meal you’re cooking, don’t panic. The evening is far from ruined. Remember, you still have pie. And each other. But mostly, it’s the pie.