Boiling an egg, steaming rice and baking a piece of chicken: These are just a few of the how-to principles of Cooking 101. If you’ve never learned the basics, the challenge of preparing a home-cooked meal for someone new may seem like Dinner Impossible. It’s important not to lose perspective or momentuml you’re not exactly competing for the title of The Next Food Network Star. Stay-at-home dates should be intimate as well as exciting and nothing measures up quite as memorably as a homemade dinner for two.
Sure, we cannot all cook (or look) like Giada De Laurentiis or Jamie Oliver in the kitchen, but we can take some lessons from our celebrity chefs. So for the next time dinner is at your place, here are a few pointers to take home with you:
Ina Garten: Simple = Scrumptious
For more than 20 years, The Barefoot Contessa has been dishing out quick and easy recipes while her fans keep coming back for more. What’s her secret? Ina’s elegant, earthy approach to home cooking is reflected in the recipes she creates – a small ingredient list is always packed with quality products. When planning your menu, follow Ina’s lead by sticking to recipes that sound tasty but look simple enough to tackle on your own. To do so, review ingredients beforehand and avoid recipes that seem too long or include flavors or items that are foreign to you.
Rachael Ray: Be Playful, Not Perfect
There’s something to be said about a woman who built an entire empire on her 30-minute meals. More than just quick, Rachael Ray’s dishes are always more playful than perfect, which is a good yardstick to follow when attempting to woo someone. When selecting recipes, stick to those that are categorized as “easy.” By keeping prepping and cooking times at a minimum, you will avoid potential mishaps and be able to focus on the main ingredient: your guest. Remember, too, that a diner date should be fun – serving foods you eat with your fingers can be flirty, shared plates can be intimate and small bites always leave room for dessert.
Giada De Laurentiis: A Taste of History
Getting to know someone requires sharing, and food is a great way to spin your story. It’s precisely the model Giada De Laurentiis follows when she serves up homemade recipes from her childhood and family on her show, Everyday Italian. Try serving up a favorite dish(es) you grew up on and you won’t have to waste time searching for new ideas or figuring out the cooking instructions. The past is rich with flavor so don’t be shy about introducing new tastes, textures and ingredients to the meal, even if they seem old country.
Bobby Flay: Spice things Up with Seasonings
Want to heat things up? Do like Bobby Flay and try playing with fire! Fresh, hot produce like chilli peppers, spices and other seasonings are bound to boost the temperature as well as the hormones. You can add subtle hints of hot on top of vegetable and salad dressings, as garnishes in cocktails or to compliment soups and sides, especially if they are sweet.
Caramelized Onion and Grapefruit Salad
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
2 onions, very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pink grapefruits
1 head romaine lettuce, thinly sliced or torn into 1-inch pieces
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
3 scallions, finely sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- For the caramelized onions: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.
- For the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, lemon juice and honey. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until blended. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- For the salad: Peel and trim the ends from each grapefruit. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a large salad bowl. Add the lettuce, fennel, cucumber, scallions, and thyme.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Arrange the caramelized onions on top and serve.
Filet of Beef au Poivre
Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten
6 filet mignon, cut 1 1/4 inches thick
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
1 cup canned beef broth
1/2 cup good Cognac or brandy
- Place the filets on a board and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the filets with salt and then press the black pepper evenly on both sides. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
- Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until the butter almost smokes. Place the steaks in the pan and lower the heat to medium. Saute the steaks for 4 minutes on 1 side and then for 3 minutes on the other side, for medium rare. Remove the steaks to a serving platter and cover tightly with aluminium foil.
- Meanwhile, pour all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the sauté pan. Add the shallots and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the beef broth and cook over high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until reduced by half, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add the Cognac and cook for 2 more minutes. Off the heat, swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Serve the steaks hot with the sauce poured on top.
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