With the caveat that he can "barely boil water," a reader recently reached out to Salon Food for suggestions for a Valentine's Day dinner that feels special. Fortunately, one of the best, most romantic meals in the world requires no boiling at all. In fact, dear reader, you don't even have to turn on the stove.
Whether you call it an antipasto platter, a charcuterie board, a grazing board, a mezze platter or a smogasbord, the basic idea is the same. Nothing says "be mine" quite like a bunch of really delicious stuff on a platter.
I think everyone owes it to themselves to develop a basic level of cooking aptitude. When you're trying to impress someone, however, what truly matters is being the most confident, generous, relaxed version of yourself. I can trace the moment my heart was done for with a former flame back to the night he wordlessly removed a pint of Ben & Jerry's from the freezer — and two spoons from a drawer. I can recall sitting in the park with another man, laughing at his jokes as he cut us slices of salami with his old Boy Scout knife. Cooking is great, but the simple act of feeding somebody you like? Whew. That's sexy as hell, all by itself.
The mixed plate offers a number of advantages to the at-home chef. For starters, you don't have to keep track of time. No real measuring is required, and there's no risk of burning or undercooking. You can be as extravagant or frugal as your budget allows. There's enough variety on the plate that your date is almost certainly guaranteed to like something, even if you don't know each other all that well yet. Best of all, you're presenting foods that tend to make people really, really happy. (I'm looking at you, cheese).
Your plate can be whatever you want it to be. Estimate at least two ounces of each item per person, but don't be fussy about it. I recommend a minimum of two kinds of cheese, two kinds of meat, one bread, one fruit and one vegetable. I have also never been able to get the suggestion, from Tamar Adler's "An Everlasting Meal," of a rough tumble of broken chocolate and a neat glass of whiskey out of my head as the epitome of casual hospitality. Do with that information what you will.
On the plate I created here, I brought together an Applegate charcuterie trio of prosciutto, salami and soppressata; a block of Boursin and a wedge of hard goat cheese; and bread. I rounded everything out with some jarred artichokes, olives, orange slices and a bar of dark chocolate with almonds.
Imagine it: You smell good and you've got a cool playlist in progress. You offer your date a drink. It's going really well — and you can eat whenever the hell you feel like it. Now, that's amore.
- Marinated artichokes, olives and/or roasted peppers
- 2 ounces soft cheese, such as brie or chèvre
- 2 ounces hard cheese, such as cheddar or gouda
- More cheese, if you wish, such as blue cheese or mozzarella
- 1 or 2 fruits, such as cherries, grapes, sliced oranges or strawberries
- Crusty bread, sliced
- 2 sliced meats, such as prosciutto and salami (more if you like)
- Nuts, such as roasted almonds or cashews
- 1 bar of good chocolate, broken
- Optional: dried fruit, jam, mustard or small pickles
Want to make it vegetarian? Omit the meats. Want to make it vegan? You can easily make this with more fruit and nuts, vegetables and an added spread like hummus.
In terms of fruit, I don't opt for apples here because they discolor so quickly. You can also have crackers, but I think crackers are overkill.
When looking for optional add-ons, rummage around your cupboards and see what's lurking in there. Maybe something from a holiday gift basket that a client sent?
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More romantic we love:
- A salmon and pesto pasta to fall in love to
- Red wine whoopie pies are the ultimate Valentine's Day dessert
- This chocolate-covered strawberry shortcake is an easy-to-make treat that looks like a labor of love
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