Meals to cook for a nice dinner for two
February 9, 2018 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for meals to cook for a nice dinner for two. Details inside!

Sure, Valentine's Day is the impetus, but let's not limit it to that.

The gustatory parameters:

- Omnivores, but don't much do shellfish
- Love all kinds of global cuisines but also suckers for American comfort food
- Looking for main dish, sides, optionally dessert options

The technical parameters:

- We're experienced cooks and bakers
- We have a well-appointed kitchen (double oven, instant pot, pots/pans of all types)
- We have access to good but relatively standard American grocery stores for produce, meat, etc
- Also have access to Indian and pan-Asian specialty stores
- Labor- or time-intensive dishes are fine but not a requirement
- Expensive isn't a huge problem but also isn't the point, memorable/worth cooking is the main driver

So ... what should we cook?
posted by tocts to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't particularly fancy or laborious but if filet mignon is not a part of your regular routine, it makes a nice treat. It's kind of a comfort food because it's steak but it's also very neat to eat as opposed to romantically watching your dinner partner doing surgery on a ribeye.

Get some hollandaise or some crab and hollandaise involved and you're looking at something seriously decadent.
posted by ftm at 8:53 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I find making risotto together pretty romantic, and it's just labour-intensive enough to feel special, without being an all day, many-dishes affair. Bonus points for visiting and drinking wine while you visit and take turns stirring.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 9:02 AM on February 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

I made a delightful pasta alla vodka last week for a special occasion. I used fresh pasta and some pancetta in the sauce to make it more special than usual.
posted by asphericalcow at 9:03 AM on February 9, 2018

Ramen! You can make a broth from scratch relatively quickly with that Instant Pot. There are also enough moving parts that it's perfect for 2 people to make together.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:04 AM on February 9, 2018

Ha, Sweetchrysanthemum beat me to the risotto punch. It's a great dish for two people to cook together, and a great way to use fancy mushrooms if that's your jam.

The fanciest meat course we ever made was a roasted lamb tenderloin. Holy wow that was delicious.
posted by torridly at 9:06 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Duck breast is my favorite bang-for-the-buck meal for two -- it's actually stupidly easy to do well. Here's a nice guide. I usually pair with mashed potatoes mixed with celery root.
posted by neroli at 9:14 AM on February 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

One rack of lamb is perfect for two! Cut in half first. We like to sear it, put a bunch of rosemary/thyme/garlic/mustard paste on it, and let it go in a low oven or grill until the middle hits 136F. Goes great with mashed sweet potatoes and whatever roasted veggies happen to be around.
posted by sapere aude at 9:35 AM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ah, memorable we can do! For the last couple of years we’ve made red-wine pasta, which is a delightful purple color. We pair it with roasted beets and usually make a salad that’s topped with raspberries and almonds. One year we had a roasted pepper and tomato soup. The point is to make everything purple, pink or red.
posted by MadMadam at 10:17 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I find making risotto together pretty romantic

An excellent suggestion, and may I add since you have Indian stores nearby that unless you have a purist streak, idli rice is a fine substitute for arborio without costing the insane amount that arborio does (at the stores in my area, at least).

Carbonara is a fun dish for omnivores that is easy to scale to the needs of the evening.
posted by solotoro at 10:19 AM on February 9, 2018

Since you say you have an instant pot, why not make the risotto in it? It's got the Kenji seal of approval.
posted by peacheater at 10:52 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm really digging the risotto suggestion, over the meat suggestions, because

1. only one pan to clean and no gross meat drippings, no possibility of fire alarm going off while you sear meat, etc
2. comforting, satisfying result that you can't screw up, unlike meat - it is not sexy to have one partner find her steak leathery while the other is getting up to re-cook his because it's too bloody
3. simple to prepare but can be made to taste fancy
4. can have a "story" to it -- easy to find in Italian cookbooks

I wouldn't use the Instant Pot for a romantic dinner. I love my instant pot but it doesn't have the romance of fire, heat etc.

Pasta would also work for the same reasons. Carbonara as mentioned above is maybe the most delicious of pastas. But it can be finicky (those eggs can scramble) in a way that risotto is not.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:09 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Great suggestions so far!

Amusingly, Kenji's pressure cooker mushroom risotto is a standard in my house, so probably not quite what I'm looking for. Not that it's a bad idea, just, I guess our weeknight cooking is sometimes a little ambitious already.
posted by tocts at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2018

Lamb chops on the grill and finished with a paste made up of Stilton, fresh rosemary, garlic, and red wine which will get melty. Pair with grilled asparagus and baked potatoes with butter, sour cream and chives. Kiss fingertips in a chefly manner.
posted by carmicha at 11:33 AM on February 9, 2018

Beef Wellington, individual style? One person can do the duxelles and pastry and another the meat. A Sicilian orange salad with it and a veggie plus maybe something like a mousse or panna cotta with strawberries for dessert?
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 11:35 AM on February 9, 2018

On the dessert angle, what about making chocolate truffles rolled in assortment of ingredients (cocoa powder, toasted coconut, finely crushed pretzels, spices that have an affinity for chocolate, etc.). It is a good thing that can be done together and you'll likely have something to enjoy together over several days.
posted by mmascolino at 11:42 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cornish game hens are festive!
posted by carmicha at 11:46 AM on February 9, 2018

If the pressure cooker risotto is a bit too simple, how about this scallops with almonds recipe as an appetizer (have made it many times and it's delicious with good scallops) followed by a crown roast of lamb? For dessert you could do something simple but festive like Nigella's chocolate lime flourless cake.
posted by peacheater at 11:54 AM on February 9, 2018

FWIW, I made this meal for my wife when we first started dating:
Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

We've been married for over 15 years and she still requests it each year for her birthday.

The recipe above was modified from Diana Kennedy's "The Art of Mexican Cooking". I mention this because that book has a range of recipes, some of them quite time consuming, but worth every minute. For example, there is a mole poblano recipe in there (similar to this one), that is ridiculously good but I've only done it once because it's really, really exhausting to make. However, the result is memorable.
posted by jeremias at 12:33 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

French cooking seems to have dropped out of sight. I wonder what they are eating in Provence.

Beef Bourguinon

Chicken Crepes

Or that old favorite, Coq au Vin. Julia Child suggest serving with braised onions which I found out close to dinner time and which take 45 minutes.

All these recipes are just what i found on the web.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:26 PM on February 9, 2018

The coq au vin a la Mme Maigret is a coq au vin with white wine instead of red and in my opinion it is much better. It also strikes a nice balance between simple and difficult. This recipe is what I could find on the web. It's slightly adapted from the Larousse Gastronomique. There are two things to be aware of: the time and scale is based on an actual boiling rooster. I have tried to make that once in Belgium where one could but such an animal, and it was amazing. But with a normal supermarket chicken, you need to adjust the cooking time, and also, rather than only using the breast meat in the dish, you can and should use the thighs, with or without bones.
Also, the use of sloe brandy in the recipe is a mistake made somewhere in the transcription from Simenon's original (I forgot where I read this, but it is really helpful, where the heck do you get sloe brandy?) the original recipe uses plum eau de vie, Prune.
If you don't own it already, you should give yourselves the Larousse Gastronomique. It is full of food adventure.
posted by mumimor at 1:59 PM on February 9, 2018

Not to abuse the edit window: what I'm saying is, one normal free range chicken, where one uses the breast and thighs for the actual servings and all the rest of the bird for cooking the stock (perhaps in the instant pot) is perfect for a dinner for two. And in that case the meat should only be cooked in the stew for perhaps 20, at most 30 minutes, not the absurd 90 minutes in the recipe.
posted by mumimor at 2:06 PM on February 9, 2018

Really excellent fried chicken has my vote; there’s a lot to decide (coatings, method) and a range of prep to do (brining? marinating? double-frying?). You could also go fancy on the comfort sides: up your mac & cheese game; make biscuits from scratch; wilt some greens in bacon drippings and then go all out on a homemade salad dressing.

You could make a cheese ball to enjoy while you cook and maybe butterscotch pudding with shortbread for after dinner.

Oh, and enjoy a good bourbon. You could also make cocktails.
posted by pinkacademic at 2:31 PM on February 9, 2018

This is such a nice subject. Recently we tried Felicity Cloake’s perfect beef stroganoff, and it was so good. Great for a special night.
And if you can get good wild salmon, steamed salmon with sauce hollandaise and a side of spinach is also inspiring.
One thing that is almost better in a pressure cooker than the traditional way is osso buco, and it is one of the few great stews that scales down to two nicely.
posted by mumimor at 2:56 PM on February 9, 2018

Handmade ravioli is perfect for this.

Get the best steak you can, use the reverse sear method and serve with bernaise sauce
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:02 PM on February 9, 2018

Recently made April Bloomfield's (Spotted Pig in NYC) gnudi . They were glorious. Fun to make, too. You'd have to buy the ingredients by Sunday or so for them to be ready for VDay, though. I served them with a simple roast chicken and a shaved brussels sprouts salad (lemon juice, olive oil, parmesan). Dessert was a gateau basque.
posted by AceRock at 9:05 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chicken Saltimbocca! With or without the cheese, I actually prefer without - you just slice a chicken breast in half (butterfly) and stuff with a few sage leaves. Then wrap the whole thing in prosciutto and cook in a pan. It is beautiful. Great served with risotto and some sautéed green beans. This is a super easy and fast recipe with a fancy show-stopper look. Total comfort food too.
posted by belau at 7:12 AM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Make peking duck! Kenji already has a recipe for it!

You will never forget making this lmao
posted by yueliang at 7:53 AM on February 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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