A Candlelit Dinner for Two
There are 5 key elements to prepare for a successful candlelit dinner, and they are all as important as each other - remember, this is not just about food. There's a section on each below.
The Food - what you serve and how you serve it makes a lot of difference
The Environment - the rooms you'll be spending time in need preparing, and you'll need to set the tone with lighting and music.
The Table - the focus of (at least part of) the evening
The Little Things - finishing touches, especially thoughtful ones, make the most impact.
You - don't forget to allow time to get yourself ready
Food is not just food. Careful menu choice is crucial to a successful dinner, and putting thought into planning your meal reflects how much you care about your partner.
Sophisticated food is romantic - anything flambee is impressive, provided you don't set fire to the kitchen (experience talking, here?). Mediterranean food is also a good bet - it conjures up images of passionate Italians, romantic holidays and warmth.
Of course, there are some foods which are always romantic - champagne and chocolate rarely fail, smoked salmon works well, and supposedly aphrodisiac foods such as oysters send the right message (even if you can't bear to eat them!).
Try doing a themed menu, for example specialising in food from a specific area, or making everything heart-shaped, or reflecting a treasured time (e.g. recipes from your favourite holiday destination).
Make sure that you have coffee and chocolates for the end of the meal.
If you need more inspiration, try:
getting hold of recipes from the internet (take a look at our suggested menu), the library, or by buying a new cookbook.
magazines, including supermarket magazines - these often contain recipes relevant to the season (of course, you are only likely to get Valentine's suggestions in January or February!).
Things to avoid include anything too filling (feeling bloated is not romantic), things which are difficult to eat (spaghetti can cause a mess, although you could copy the stars of Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp'! How romantic can animation be?), shellfish that need extracting (once prepared, oysters are reasonably straightforward, but there's nothing less romantic than pinging bits of crab shell across the table!), 'finger-dipping' meals such as spare ribs (if you must do finger food, keep it bite-sized). And, of course, the final thing to avoid is anything your partner doesn't like!
However delicious the food, it will never be romantic if eaten in a brightly-lit pigsty. In short, TIDY UP !! If it really isn't possible, clear everything into a large box in the darkest corner of the room, cover it with a tablecloth (a disposable one works fine) that matches the rest of the room, and stand a vase of flowers on it!
Don't forget to do any other rooms that might be used, including entrances and toilets. And don't forget to hoover and dust.
It's best to keep lighting subtle and intimate. Leave the main light off - use lamps, wall-lights and candles only. Experiment beforehand with the best places for the lamps. But remember people generally prefer to see what they are eating. For an extra-special effect, cover every available surface (except the table, of course) with lit candles - but remember that candles and their holders can get very hot, so PLEASE don't scar the furniture or burn the house down!
Of course, a summer alternative is a meal under the stars. This can be a bit hit-and-miss in the UK, and can get pretty chilly even during good weather. If you do this, make sure you have something suitable for draping round shoulders if required. Even though you'll be in the garden in the dark, it's worth putting the rake away and mowing the lawn!
Most people would agree that, unless you met at a Motorhead concert, that isn't romantic music. Again, try to choose albums that mean something to one or both of you. It can be useful to have a 'Love Compilation' album in your collection. If at all possible, line up a song during which you can say something like, "Do you remember, they were playing this when...".
The Little Things
It's the little touches that really make someone feel special. If you've gone to the trouble of dressing the table with flowers, candles and napkins, all in a consistent colour scheme, the table will look fantastic. Red or pink are probably the most romantic, but make sure whatever you choose doesn't clash horribly with the rest of the room. White can offer a 'pure' look, but a large expanse may need to be softened with another colour .
And if you have a gift to give, make sure that it is wrapped in co-ordinated paper - you could even extend the wrapping-paper theme onto the table, by making table decorations (e.g. round the candlesticks) and napkin-rings from the paper or ribbon you use to wrap. Silver is especially good for this.
You've gone to all this effort to get the food, the room and the table right, but don't forget to leave time to get yourself ready. A bath or shower would be a good idea after all that hoovering. Don't forget to shave (yes, both men and women), and don't use too much smelly stuff.
Smart clothes are one thing, but don't go Black Tie unless you've agreed this in advance - there's nothing worse than turning up and feeling underdressed - that makes for a self-conscious and uncomfortable evening.
And leave work behind. Your partner doesn't want to listen to a candlelit rant at the boss.
The most important thing is to relax and have a good time. It has been a lot of effort, but you'll have a wonderful evening to remember (until the flambee catches the curtains, the candle scorches your sideboard and you spill red wine on your partner's clothes!).
Here's my Suggested Menu
Recipes have been selected for ease of preparation - especially important on a weekday. You'll also find notes about bits that can be done in advance.
To Start: Heart-Shaped Smoked Salmon
Main Course: Chicken Escalopes with Continental Salad and French Fries
Dessert: Bananas Flambees
Cheese and Biscuits(optional)
Coffee and Mints
Starter:- Heart-Shaped Smoked Salmon
This looks attractive, feels indulgent, and goes very well with a glass of bubbly!
Bread - sliced wholemeal (1 slices per person)
Small tub soft cheese (e.g. Philidelphia)
Smoked Salmon (I like Gateway's best)
Fresh Dill to garnish (optional)
Spread 2 slices of bread with soft cheese (I find the low-fat version easier to spread and creamier, but it's a matter of taste).
Cover the soft cheese with a layer of smoked salmon. Use biscuit cutters or a knife to cut into several little hearts (as bite-sized appetisers) or one heart shape per slice of bread - click here to get a heart template the right size - just print it off then cut it out.
Arrange on a plate and garnish with a slice of lemon and a piece of dill.
A squeeze of lemon on the salmon adds to the flavour.
If you're using the template, don't forget to print it off ahead of time!
Main Course:- Chicken Escalopes with Continental Salad and French Fries
Chicken Escalopes Ingredients
One large/two small chicken breast fillets
3 slices wholemeal bread
Salad and Dressing Ingredients
Pack of Continental Salad
Home-made escalopes taste so much better than shop-bought and can be prepared ahead of time - you can do steps 1 to 5 the night before and keep the escalopes in the fridge overnight. If you're worried about the salad dressing, bottled ones are so good now that they are a suitable substitute (homemade ones can also be prepared the night before).
Cut the breast fillet(s) in half to make them thinner (i.e. cut them 'along' rather than 'across'), and then cover them with foil or clingfilm and use a rolling pin or similar to flatten them further. This doesn't harm the meat.
Sprinkle a plate with a good layer of flour, mixed with salt and pepper to taste (I don't add much at all, if any).
Beat an egg well in a cup, then pour onto a second plate.
Make breadcrumbs from the sliced bread using a liquidiser or grater (it is easier with older bread), then put the breadcrumbs on a third plate.
Coat both sides of each chicken breast with first flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.
The meal does not take long to cook, and can be done after you have had your starter, so you can linger over your bubbly!
Put the chip pan on (I am sometimes organised enough to get it fairly hot while preparing the starter, leaving it off while we eat - then you don't have to wait too long for it to warm up).
Toss the salad in a large bowl and take it to the table. Make sure your partner has a full glass and the music isn't about to end.
Heat some oil in a large frying pan. Make sure it is hot before you add the escalopes (not by sticking your finger in!).
Cook the fries when the chip pan is hot, and keep an eye on them as they cook much more quickly than fatter chips.
You may need to add more oil to the escalopes during cooking, as the breadcrumbs absorb it.
When one side is golden brown, turn them over. At this half way point, you'll get a good idea how long the escalopes will take - decide whether you want to put a baking tray in the oven (at about 150°C) to keep things warm.
When both escalopes and fries are ready, serve immediately.
Dessert:- Bananas Flambees
A very spectacular, tasty and simple dessert.
Bananas Flambees Ingredients
Juice of half an orange
1 tablespoon demerera sugar
2 tablespoons brandy (or rum will do)
Double cream to serve
Cut the bananas in half lengthways, so that they still lie flat on a plate (do not do this in advance, as the banana will discolour).
Fry the bananas in butter in a frying pan until the colour has gone slightly golden.
Add the sugar and orange juice and cook until the sugar has dissolved.
Dim the lights slightly, for extra impact!
Add the brandy, and set it alight.
When the flames have disappeared, serve immediately with cream (you can whip the cream the night before, or buy extra thick double cream).
If you're really pushed for time, supermarkets usually do a good range of suitable desserts, or a quality ice cream served in pretty bowls and garnished (think of wafers, quality biscuits, chocolate decorations, berries, etc, depending on the type of ice cream).
Don't forget the cheese and biscuits (if you've got room), followed by coffee and chocolates or mints to finish.