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Need a last-minute Valentine’s Day dinner idea (or just planning ahead and keeping it simple)? Something easy and quick is in order, but maybe a little more thoughtful than a heart-shaped delivery pizza.
If you can get to the grocery store for a few relatively simple items, you can whip up a number of refined, unfussy meals that demand little in the way of forethought or active preparation, without seeming thrown-together. Easier than snagging an eleventh hour reservation, and decidedly more romantic than plastic takeout clamshell containers, too.
Whether you totally forgot Valentine’s Day was coming up and you need to make it look like you had it covered all along, or you just found a last-minute Tinder date you want to woo with an impressive but labor-light meal (because, hey, you never know if it’ll be worth it), these options are easy-peasy yet fancy-schmancy enough to elicit adoration. And if you’re spending the “holiday” alone, why not treat yourself—to a marvelous meal and a relaxing evening?
Option 1: Curate a Cheese Plate
Gather a bunch of artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, nuts, and fruit, perhaps a nice jar of mustard or preserves, good bread or a couple different high-quality crackers, a bottle of wine or craft beer, and some dark chocolate (or Reese’s hearts, if you prefer), and make a lavish spread on your nicest plate or serving platter once you get home. A few minutes of slicing and artful arrangement and you have a lovely meal. Get tips on putting together a cheese plate here, but ask the kind folks behind the cheese counter for additional guidance if you need it; they’ll be happy to help.
See more tips on putting together a Valentine’s-themed wine and cheese dinner so your cheese plate is even more on-point.
Option 2: Make a Marvelous Instant Pot Meal
If you have an Instant Pot (or any other pressure cooker), you can make all sorts of normally time-consuming fancy fare in a flash, from risotto to coq au vin and beef bourguignon—Julia Child herself would approve. Either of the latter recipes would be great over mashed potatoes, which, conveniently enough, you can make at the same time in the Instant Pot, if you have a metal steamer basket you can nestle on top.
Yes, it’s basically beef stew, but it has red wine and a French name, so it fits the romantic bill. Best of all, this version cooks in under an hour and leaves you free to make dessert or tidy up in the meanwhile. Get the Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon recipe.
Transfer to a chic serving dish and it’ll look like something you slaved over for hours. This recipe uses white wine instead of the traditional red, but you could go either way. Get the Instant Pot Coq au Vin Blanc recipe.
If you don’t do lobster, try this Instant Pot mushroom risotto. Otherwise, get cracking—and have the person at the seafood counter steam the lobster for you if you want; it’s generally free of charge, and if you’re eating the meat within a day, it’ll still taste good, very gently warmed up from the residual heat of the risotto. Get the Instant Pot Lobster Risotto recipe.
Option 3: Go For Old-School One-Pot (and One-Pan) Dinners
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, don’t sweat it. Regular one-pot and one-pan meals can still save you time (on cooking and clean-up), but if you choose them wisely, they’ll still seem elegant enough for a special occasion. Take these, for example:
Who doesn’t love shrimp scampi? And if you’re both eating garlic, who’ll mind the breath situation? These would be perfect twirled with quickly cooked fresh pasta, or you could throw some asparagus and potato wedges on the pan to make it a full plated meal—although if you do that, start cooking the vegetables first, since they’ll take longer than the shellfish. Get the Sheet Pan Garlic Butter Shrimp recipe.
Adding black olives (good-quality, not from a tin can) and whole lemon slices elevates chicken thighs to something Valentine-worthy; the carrots and potatoes add enough heft to satisfy, and they all cook in the same pan. The harissa packs some heat, but you could go with gentler herbes de Provence if so inclined (in which case, add some fresh fennel too). For a side dish, couscous cooks in minutes and is easily dressed up with fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper, a touch of garlic, and fresh herbs. Get the Sheet Pan Chicken with Carrots, Olives, and Lemon recipe.
Related Reading: Where to Buy Humane & Organic Chicken Online
Mussels are undeniably romantic, and the classic white wine steamed version is a perfectly good option, but why not spice things up with red curry and coconut milk? It’s still great sopped up with the trusty loaf of crusty bread, or steam a quick pot of rice for the side. Fragrant with lemongrass and Thai basil, this is also a great choice for those who don’t do wine. Get the Red Curry Mussels recipe.
Cook your spaghetti and homemade sauce in a single pasta pot, at the same damn time. For something even simpler but less saucy, get our Cacio e Pepe recipe, but spaghetti was the first date dinner choice for Lady and the Tramp, so it gets the edge. Make it meatless if you wish. Fresh herbs, grated cheese, and cracked pepper should be applied at the table either way. Get the One-Pot Spaghetti recipe.
Related Reading: An Easy One-Pot Veggie Ravioli That’s Ready in 5 Minutes
Another one-pot pasta (that feels more like rice), this Greek-flavored chicken and orzo bake achieves elegance with fresh oregano and feta sprinkled on top of each bowl. Get the One-Pot Greek Chicken with Orzo.
Option 4: Serve Store-Bought Stuff, with Improvements
If you really don’t have a lot of time (or kitchen skills), you can always buy ready-made ingredients and turn them into something special:
- Give store-bought ravioli some pizzazz with chopped sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed), toasted pine nuts, and wilted spinach; be careful not to overcook the pasta, then gently stir in all the other ingredients and let the greens wilt for a moment before serving. Add a green salad with a simple lemon-and-oil vinaigrette on the side (good advice for many of these dinners, really).
- If you must resort to jarred spaghetti sauce, try this brilliant trick from Raquel Pelzel’s “Toast” cookbook: blitz up some pepperoni butter and stir it into the warmed sauce until well incorporated before plating it with pasta. Scatter some real, freshly grated Parmesan (not the stuff from the green can) and some fresh basil on top and you’ve got it made.
- Grab a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat to use in a homemade pot pie; it’s way easier than you might think, especially when you also use store-bought puff pastry for the lid, and mixed frozen peas and carrots in place of fresh vegetables—for a little Valentine’s Day flair, cut small hearts out of the top instead of plain old venting slits. You can halve the recipe and divide it among ramekins for a more precious presentation (bonus points if they’re heart-shaped). Rotisserie chicken also pairs well with pre-made gnocchi and a simple cream sauce; see this one-pot gnocchi recipe for proof.
Get more tips on easy semi-homemade Valentine’s Day dinners from the experts.
Also: Don’t Forget Dessert
If you’re not about baking, you can still pull off a dessert with panache. Consider simply broiling some fruit with a little brown sugar and butter (and maybe a splash of booze), then add a scoop of ice cream, crème fraiche, or even soft cheese, and a scattering of chopped pistachios or hazelnuts, cocoa nibs, or crumbled cookies, plus a drizzle of honey, caramel, or chocolate syrup. Pretty impossible to screw up, yet impressive. Or try one of these easy dessert recipes:
Sure, it may be cliché, but it’s downright delectable and almost laughably easy to make. Pick up an assortment of dippables at the store—fresh fruit, pound cake, pretzels, marshmallows—and most of the work is already done. If you don’t have a fondue pot, you can keep this warm in a slow cooker instead. Get our Chocolate Fondue recipe.
There’s no shame in store-bought brownies here, as long as you know the bakery turns out good products. If you’re in doubt, go halfway and pick up a box of Ghirardelli brownie mix. If you have an electric mixer, it’s a breeze to make your own whipped cream, and so much better than from a spray can. Feel free to add some warm chocolate sauce to the layers. Get our Brownie Ice Cream Parfaits with Raspberries recipe.
Utterly sweet in both looks and taste, this strawberry frosting-based fudge is easy enough for anyone to mix up, and is ready to enjoy after only 15 minutes in the fridge. Get the Easy 5-Minute Strawberry Shortcake Fudge recipe.