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Five Easy Prep-Ahead Valentine's Day Dinners & Desserts

Use the slow cooker to your advantage and make short ribs for Valentine's Day dinner.
Use the slow cooker to your advantage and make short ribs for Valentine's Day dinner.
Photo by kimberlykv

If you haven't made reservations for Valentine's Day (which is this Friday, FYI), then have no fear, because you can easily prepare a romantic dinner for you and your Valentine at home.

But, we know that not everyone has the time to cook a fancy, four-course dinner the second they come home from work on Friday, so, rather than stressing yourself out to cook a scrumptious meal and have it on the table at a reasonable hour, try one of these five dinners -- with wine and dessert pairings -- that you can prep ahead of time. You'll have more time to spend with your loved one rather than being attached to the stove and oven.

Slow-Cooked Short Ribs

Valentine's Day dinner calls for rich cuts of meat, such as short ribs. Don't let the time constraint sway you from enjoying something tender and delicious when you can prepare it with a slow cooker. Coat the short ribs with salt, pepper and herbs, then sear on all sides in a skillet. As you brown the short ribs, place quartered onions, chunks of carrots, celery, and red russet potatoes or fingerling potatoes into the slow cooker. Season generously with salt and pepper, then add the seared short ribs, more herbs, and either a dark beer or rich red wine, along with beef stock. Cook on low for up to eight hours, then enjoy when you get home from work.

Dessert: Complement this hearty dinner with a creamy, smooth no-bake cheesecake for dessert. Use cream cheese, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla extract for a light and tart cheesecake with a graham cracker crust. Top with strawberries and a drizzle of chocolate sauce for the perfect sweet touch.

Wine Pairing: Serve the short ribs and cheesecake with a bottle of a Spanish red wine, such as a Rioja.

Assemble the lasagna ahead of time.
Assemble the lasagna ahead of time.
Photo by fred_v

Lasagna

When you prep lasagna the night before, you give yourself more time to perfect each individual component. You don't have to make your own pasta, unless you're a gung-ho kind of person, then by all means! Dress up the lasagna with herbed noodles and a variety of cheeses. Mix ricotta with fresh herbs and sauteed garlic; add cream cheese for a richer, heartier (and tastier) lasagna; or incorporate a pesto for another savory element. Don't use a jarred tomato sauce for the lasagna. Instead, cook your own sauce from crushed tomatoes; add garlic, oregano, basil, a hint of sugar, olive oil and possibly red pepper flakes for a spicy component. Cook your ground meat of choice, then cover in the sauce. Assemble your lasagna in a baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, place in the refrigerator, then pop in the oven when you get home.

Dessert: Keep the Italian theme alive by prepping a simple vanilla panna cotta the night before.

Wine Pairing: Pair the entire meal with a rich bottle of Chianti.

Use angel food cake or pound cake for this strawberry shortcake dessert.
Use angel food cake or pound cake for this strawberry shortcake dessert.
Photo by Molly Dunn

Roast Chicken

Roast chickens always seem intimidating, but prep it ahead of time and you won't feel any pressure come dinner time. Stuff the bird with a variety of herbs and seasonings (salt and pepper, herbs de Provence, garlic), vegetables (onions, carrots, celery), and of course, lemon slices. Place pieces of garlic, basil leaves and butter under the chicken's skin to enhance the overall flavor and make the bird's skin nice and crispy. Coat the outside with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs, then stick in the fridge covered with foil for up to 24 hours. Once you get home from work, heat up the oven to 425 degrees, bring the chicken out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature, then cook for an hour and a half. Serve with roasted carrots and potatoes for a complete meal.

Dessert: Accompany this classic meal with a classic dessert, such as strawberries and whipped cream with pound cake or angel food cake. Make the strawberries sweeter by coating with sugar and Grand Marnier, then place a couple spoonfuls over a slice of cake and top with whipped cream.

Wine Pairing: Enjoy a light and sweet Riesling or a Chardonnay with this meal.

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Serve this scrumptious pork chop with mashed sweet potatoes.
Serve this scrumptious pork chop with mashed sweet potatoes.
Photo by naotakem

Slow-Cooked Pork Chops

Use bone-in pork chops for this slow-cooker recipe from Alton Brown. Make a marinade by cooking a pot of vegetable broth, salt, light brown sugar and black peppercorns on the stove until the sugar and salt dissolve, then add ice. Place the pork chops in a gallon-size Ziplock bag with the marinade and place it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, remove the pork chops, coat in salt and pepper, then sear all sides of the chops in a skillet on the stove. Add dried apple slices to the slow cooker, followed by the seared pork chops, olive oil, onions, chicken broth, black pepper and herbs. Cook on high for about an hour and a half, then on low for four and a half hours, or cook on low for seven hours. Serve with a side of mashed sweet potatoes and green beans.

Dessert: To complement the apple flavor in these pork chops, roast granola stuffed apples in the oven, then serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can prepare the apples in advance, then stick in the refrigerator before you cook them in the oven.

Wine Pairing: Try a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir with this pork chop recipe. The sweetness from the apples will complement the sweetness from the Chardonnay or the lightness from the Pinot Noir.

Place a pat of butter on the steak for the perfect finishing touch.
Place a pat of butter on the steak for the perfect finishing touch.
Photo by Molly Dunn

Marinated Filet Mignon

Marinate two filets in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs (such as basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano) and cracked black pepper and salt. Let the steaks marinate overnight or during the day in the refrigerator. When it is time to cook, remove the steaks from the marinade, and sear them on all sides in a cast iron skillet with canola or vegetable oil -- this will take about 10 or 15 minutes. Finally, turn the oven on broil, and place the skillet in the oven to cook the steaks for another five minutes. Place a pat of butter on each steak at the end to make them even more rich. Serve with crispy baked fingerling potatoes, carrots and a salad.

Dessert: Prepare the ingredients for this warm slow-cooked brownie cake from Food Network in advance, then as soon as you get home combine the wet and the dry ingredients and place them in a slow cooker to bake for three hours. Once dinner is finished and the dishes are put away, you'll want to get to this warm, tender, gooey brownie cake, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course.

Wine Pairing: Serve the steaks with a lighter red wine, such as an acidic floral Pinot Noir or fruity Beaujolais.


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