I must confess: I'm a secret sucker for Valentine's Day. It's not that I support commercialized displays of love, but I am kind of all about that clearance chocolate (day-after holiday, 50% off shelf at Kroger #holla).
I've often found that the key to surviving Valentine's Day is to go in with supremely low expectations and a plan to do something fun despite your relationship status. With that in mind, here are ten awesome food-related things to do in Houston to celebrate love (or at least the love of food):
Go on a chocolate chip cookie tour of Houston: Grab a few bikes and map out an afternoon journey wandering from cookie spot to cookie spot (take copious mental notes so you can find your favorite — bonus points if you create your own cookie scorecards!). See how many locations you can check off this list before the sugar rush sets in (or try doughnuts or pizza or chocolate cake).
Bake something sweet: Not only do you get to eat the end product, but baking with other people is always a fun adventure.
For the classic sweet tooth, try a surprisingly easy chocolate soufflé.
For the cookie lover in your life, try Nutella-stuffed cookie cups.
For the adventurous, try these black tahini morning buns.
And for the sweets-eschewer in your life, try this stunning savory cake!
Omakase: Nothing says "I love you" like oh-so-delicately plated, buttery-soft raw fish. Uchi is offering a special Valentine’s Day omakase that consists of a seven-course chef’s daily tasting menu for two showcasing “the greatest hits” of the menu. Grab your best friend or significant other for this sure-to-be-phenomenal mix of savory and sweet courses for $150. The regular menu is also available, and reservations are strongly recommended. If you can't score an Uchi reservation, Kata Robata, KUU or MF Sushi are top-notch alternatives.
Volunteer, then wine down: If you're feeling down about your relationship status, channel that energy into helping others at a morning or afternoon shift at the Houston Food Bank (individuals and small groups can sign up for shifts online). Keep the altruistic streak going by stopping by OKRA Charity bar afterwards (where, for each drink purchased, guests receive a vote that can be cast for one of four local charities selected by OKRA’s members to receive the next month's profit).
Go on a dinner crawl: For a twist on the classic dinner date, the general idea of a dinner crawl is to start with appetizers or drinks at one spot, move to a different restaurant for the entrée at another, then finish with dessert at a final location. For example, one might start with drinks at Anvil, feast on a few shared plates at Underbelly, and then finish with the dulce de leche crepes at Hugo's. Or try the frozen mojitos at Boheme, the fontina and mushroom flatbread at Vinoteca Poscol, and the rose cake at Indika. (Bonus if your crawl locations are all within walking distance so you can get a breather between courses!)
Find a great deal on dinner: It's cliché, but going out to dinner on Valentine's Day is one of the best times to take advantage of special deals around town (think Houston Restaurant Month-type deals). Union Kitchen, for example, has a unique set menu (think lobster mac and cheese with tempura fried lobster and a 12-ounce strip with strawberry bacon jam) at each of its different locations for $50-$60 per person. For a more laid-back night out, Rouge Wine Bar is offering one wood-oven pizza with a select bottle of wine for $39. Check out this handy list for more ideas.
Take a cooking class: Take a cooking class with the people or the person you love most: Check out the classes at Central Market, Sur La Table, Well Done Cooking Classes or Urban Chef, or try to find a class through the newly-launched-in-Houston CourseHorse site. Most places offer tons of classes around Valentine's Day, with flexible offerings from the weekend before to lunch or dinner the day of. Expect gourmet recipes made easy enough for beginners — and a lot of chocolate.
DIY cooking class: If a professional cooking class is a little out of your budget and making dinner for someone else seems like an overwhelming task, take the pressure off by planning a potluck-style dinner party or a cooking date — and teach yourself to cook with the help of the Internet. Choosing a theme can both give structure and make dinner more fun, so try picking a country and selecting items to cook all from that country, right down to the cocktails. (If you're stuck, I recommend trying out a Latin American country — ceviche is much easier to make than you might expect!)
Netflix and Chill with upgraded snacks: For a laid-back approach to V-day, watching a movie can still be romantic with the right accessories. Fluff Bake Bar is doing personal cakes for two that can be ordered ahead and enjoyed at home (half bottles of bubbly in various flavors also available for purchase). The two available flavors are Black Velvet (red velvet cake, cream cheese frosting, cherry jam and dark chocolate crunchy pearls) and Veruca Salt (devil's food cake with salted caramel frosting and pretzel crunch). Cakes are $20 each, or you can purchase both for $35.
Picnic at a park: Browsing the aisles at Phoenicia for gourmet chocolate, Middle Eastern-inspired items like spanakopita and gyro wraps from the hot bar and fun snacks is sure to yield a delightful assortment of picnic-appropriate goods to transport and enjoy on the lawns of Discovery Green. (And February is probably the best time to picnic outdoors in Houston.) Or you could stop by H-E-B for cheese, wine and more and sprawl on the lawn of the Menil — the possibilities are wide open.