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Valentines Dinner

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Gregory Cartier
Valentine's Day is right around the corner and you have no idea what to do to impress the lady in your life. Suffice it to say, you are paralyzed with fear. Do not despair because most men in your situation are as well. Is there an occasion more bewildering than Valentine's Day? Why does it even exist and what is expected of us?

The truth is, a whole lot in most cases, although your woman will never admit it. A box of chocolates and a rose are passé, my friend. You need to expend more effort than that to win her heart. We have you covered with our simple yet elegant Valentine's Day dinner menu. So start your oven, grab a spatula and get cooking.

On The Menu

Chilled Two-Color Soup

Mixed Vegetable Salad with Avocado Dressing

Golden-Glazed Chicken with Sweet Potato

Strawberries in Chocolate

soup's on!

I want to start you off right with a showstopper soup that's easy to prepare. If you pull it off, the rest of the meal will be gravy. This opening dish is a vegetable soup made from leeks, carrots and potatoes. The best part is that it should be made in advance so that it can be chilled before consumption. This will give you plenty of time and space to take care of the rest of the meal. To make the soup (enough for 4 servings), you will need:

1 ½ cups sliced leeks, white part only

½ pound carrots, scraped and diced

½ an onion, peeled and chopped

1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced

2 ½ cups water

2 tbsps butter

1 tbsp heavy cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the soup:

1- Put the leeks in one large saucepan and the carrots in another. Divide the onion, potato and water between the saucepans, cover and simmer until tender.

2- Purée the mixtures separately, adding half the butter to each. Add the cream to the leek mixture.

3- Season both mixtures (you can add herbs and spices to your liking if you wish), then put each soup into a separate container with a spout and chill.

4- Now here's where you have fun. To serve, pour the soup into chilled bowls, holding one container at each side of the bowl and pouring from both at the same time so that there is one color in each half of the bowl. Top each bowl with a mint or rosemary sprig. Trust me, it is easy to do and will look spectacular. If you want an even more colorful soup, substitute the carrots with beets.

the spectacular salad

Depending on your taste, you can serve this course after the soup, during the meal, or even after the meal. A fresh salad is simple to prepare but delicious, healthy and, with the right mix of greens and vegetables, can appear rather sophisticated. To prepare the dressing (about 1 cup), you will need:

1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled and pitted

1 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

dash of Tabasco sauce

1- Put the avocado into a blender or food processor with the lime juice, wine vinegar and Dijon mustard, and blend to a smooth cream.

2- Season to taste with salt, pepper and a drop or two of Tabasco. Taste and add more if you wish.

To prepare the salad:

For the salad, I recommend browsing the produce section of your favorite grocery store and selecting unusual ingredients that you may have overlooked in the past. Please refrain from using iceberg lettuce -- nothing says "I have no taste" more than a head of white iceberg lettuce.

Your salad would be enhanced with the addition of leafy vegetables like chicory, radicchio and arugula (or rocket). They all look good and have distinctive flavors that will ameliorate the foundation of the salad. For the rest of the salad, stay away from red onion or cabbage for obvious reasons.

I would recommend a minimalist approach -- dice an orange or yellow bell pepper and add it to the mix. The colors will make a nice contrast with the dressing. After all, the aesthetic value of the meal is crucial. Cherry or vine tomatoes would make a great addition as well, so long as they are ripe and without too much pulp to sog down the greens. Toss them in at the very end.

In fact, it would be beneficial to arrange the salads separately on two attractive plates, pouring a moderate amount of dressing onto each. For an extra touch, sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds or crushed walnuts and add a sliver of romano, pecorino or Parmesan cheese. The secret to success is to keep it simple yet refined.

glazed chicken with yams

Although it is the main course, it may turn out to be the least hassle to prepare. All you need is:

4 large, plump breasts... of chicken, unfrozen

2 sweet potatoes (or yams)

2 onions, sliced (try Spanish onions if you can)

3 tbsps liquid honey

2 tbsps lemon juice

2 tbsps curry paste (powder will do but paste is better)

2 tbsps olive oil

¼ cup Dijon mustard

3 cloves garlic, minced (trust me, your breath will not suffer because the garlic will cook)

salt and freshly ground pepper.

Gregory Cartier

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