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How to Make a Quick, Easy and Inexpensive Romantic Dinner for Valentine's Day

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Every year, it happens. The Valentine's Day procrastinators come out of the woodwork, desperately scrambling for flowers and chocolate at the very last minute. This past Sunday, my mother -- who is a private chef -- received an email from a man who wanted her to cook a romantic dinner for him and his sweetheart...with two days notice. (She was, naturally, already booked.) It never fails.

But procrastination isn't always borne out of laziness or obtuseness. Sometimes it's a genuine lack of time. And for those of you who have had to put off Valentine's Day plans until today -- V-Day itself -- this post will help you quickly navigate the grocery store tonight after work to grab some essential items and make a quick, easy, romantic Valentine's Day dinner.

First, a checklist of things you should already [hopefully] have in your pantry (and I don't think I'm asking too much here, but you can always grab these quickly at the store too):

  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Honey (or agave or even maple syrup)
  • Plain yogurt (or Greek-style yogurt or sour cream)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

At the grocery store, you'll need to buy the following items (start with the produce section and work your way around the perimeter of the store -- no time-consuming aisle-shopping today):

  • A bag of prepped Brussels sprouts (I cook with these all the time, and they're a pretty decent value)
  • Two heirloom tomatoes (the ones with the colorful flesh)
  • A bag of Fingerling or new potatoes (in other words, don't get Russet; get something with nice-looking skins that are kind of buttery on their own already)
  • One box strawberries
  • One bunch scallions or green onions
  • One bunch parsley
  • One large salmon filet (steaks are incredibly marked up today; go the non-traditional and heart-healthy route and get some salmon, which is actually on sale).

So far, we're at six things you should already have on hand at home and seven things you'll need to buy from the grocery store -- all of which should cost you about $25 total. While you're at the store, you can also pick up a bouquet of [extremely overpriced] flowers if that's your thing. I'd personally prefer a more inexpensive bouquet of daisies cut down and stuck into a Ball jar on the dining table, but you know your significant other better than I do.

Once you're at home, stick your salmon in the fridge until you're ready to cook it. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Take half the bag of Brussels sprouts, slice them in half and toss them in a bowl with enough olive oil to coat them along with a few pinches of salt and a few cracks of pepper. Set aside until the oven is ready.

While the oven is preheating, wash a few spuds and throw them into a pot. You don't need to cook the whole bag, obviously. Cover with water, toss in a little salt and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until soft and easily pierced with a fork. While the spuds are boiling, your oven should have come to 400 F.

Toss the Brussels sprouts onto a baking sheet (I line mine with foil to make clean-up even quicker and easier) and put into the oven. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes or until the leaves outside are good and toasty-brown. You'll also want to shake the sheet from time to time in the oven to make sure the sprouts are roasting evenly.

While your sprouts are roasting and your spuds are boiling, you'll have time to cut that bouquet of flowers you bought and stick them in a jar (or an actual vase, if you have one) and find some music to play on your TV, laptop, radio, etc. Use your time wisely and set the mood, y'all.

When the sprouts are done, take them out of the oven to rest. Grab your salmon out of the fridge, put it in a non-stick, oven-safe pan (I just use my All-Clad saute pan and put another piece of foil in the bottom to make sure the salmon doesn't stick and -- again -- to make clean-up easier) and drizzle it with olive oil, salt and cracked black pepper. Stick in the oven -- which is, of course, already at 400 F -- for 10 minutes or until flaky.

In those 10 minutes, drain the spuds of water and mash them up with butter, yogurt (or sour cream), salt and pepper to taste. I use about three tablespoons of butter and half a cup of yogurt. They should mash very easily with a fork in the same pan you cooked them in; don't dirty up an extra bowl or something stupid like a potato masher. Roughly chop the parsley and add it to the smashed potatoes toward the end.

When the salmon is done, cut the filet in half and plate it along with the smashed potatoes and roasted sprouts. Dice a couple of scallions and throw them on top of the potatoes; use some more of the parsley to top the salmon. Et voila! Valentine's Day dinner is done, ideally in under 45 minutes. If you're feeling extra fancy, you can even open a bottle of wine.

For dessert, just chop up those strawberries and toss them with the rest of the yogurt (or sour cream!) and top with a little drizzle of honey. It's decadent and pretty, but light and -- like the salmon -- heart-healthy. And the dinner and dessert won't leave you too full for the rest of the evening's activities...

(Hush. I'm talking about watching Edward Scissorhands on Netflix.)

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