Nine Fool-Proof Tips for Cooking a Romantic Date Night Dinner

Laura Vitale, chef and star of "Laura in the Kitchen," offers two easy-to-follow recipes and her guide to making Valentine's Day at home feel really special.

(Source: ConAgra)

Laura Vitale, the star chef of YouTube's "Laura in the Kitchen" (with more than 1.5 million followers!) and Cooking Channel's Simply Laura, wants you to stay home this Valentine's Day. "I don't know about you, but going out to a crowded restaurant, having to overpay for mediocre food and having to wait in a cold parking lot is not my idea of romance whatsoever!" she reasons. When put that way, celebrating Valentine's Day in the comfort of your own abode makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, not all of us have the skills to pull it off. Fear not—Vitale teamed up with ConAgra to share two scrumptious, easy recipes and other secrets sure to make your night a success. 

1. Don't experiment too much
"My biggest tip is to make something easy that you're somewhat familiar with," says Vitale. "[Valentine's Day] is not the time to make a brand-new recipe you've never made before and reinvent the wheel. Do something simple, something you know you love."

2. Cook the meal together
"Just have fun together! Pop open a bit of wine and put on a little bit of music," she suggests, adding that helping each other in the kitchen is a great way to bond.

3. Have groceries delivered
The chef said a major time-saver of hers is to shop on InstaCart, a delivery service that gets groceries to your door in as little as two hours. Just like that, you avoid long lines and added stress!

4. Don't try to make multiple courses 
"One thing you'd never want to do is make an appetizer, first course, second course, third course and so on—by that point, my towel is up in the air, I'm done cooking and want no part in the Valentine's Day thing! You don't want to get to that point."

5. Choose two food items to make
"I say choose two things you want to focus on—I focused on my lemon roasted chicken and make Alexia Food potatoes on the side because I know that those are something that I can fall back on as my side dish; they're perfect every single time, they take no effort whatsoever, you just pop them in the oven," the chef explains. "[By making a small menu], you'll have more time to work on dessert or set a nice table."

6. Go for one-skillet recipes 
"It makes the cleanup much easier!" Enough said.

7. Try a store-bought dessert
If you're really strapped for time, there's nothing wrong with going for a store-bought dessert. "Add a little Reddi-Whip to it and you're in business!," she notes.

8. Add some candlelight
These will definitely set the mood. One thing to keep in mind: "Make sure they're not scented because you don't want the scent of the candles to compete with the scent of the food," she explains. 

9. Serve the wine you cooked with 
"If I'm using the wine for a recipe, like Pinot Grigio with my lemon roasted chicken thighs, that's going to be the wine that we drink for dinner," she says. "That makes it cost effective, too!" No need to worry about special cocktails.

Follow the recipes below for some home-cooked dinners sure to please. 

Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs (serves four)

Nine Fool-Proof Tips for Cooking a Romantic Date Night Dinner
(Source: Alexia Foods)

2 Tbsp of vegetable oil
Seasoned salt and black pepper, to taste
8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs, a little less than 2lb total
2 Tbsp of unsalted butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of white wine (Vitale recommends Pinot Grigio)
3/4 cup of chicken stock
1 3” sprig of rosemary, needles stripped from the stem and roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon 
1/2 of a 32 oz bag of Alexia Roasted Tri-Cut Potatoes with Sea Salt 
1 Tbsp of chopped rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Position one oven rack in the lower third of the oven and the other in the center.
2. Season both sides of the chicken well with seasoned salt and black pepper and set aside.
3. Preheat an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat, add the oil and allow it to get nice and hot. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook for about three minutes on each side or until it develops some good deep golden brown color. Discard any oil from the pan.
4. To the same skillet over medium heat,  add the butter and allow it to melt, add the garlic and saute for about one minute.
5. Add the wine, allow it to reduce by half (this will take about 30 seconds), add the lemon juice, chicken stock and rosemary and bring mixture to a boil.
6. Add the chicken back into the sauce (skin side up) and pop it all in the oven on the middle rack. Roast for about 25 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked through.
7. Scatter the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer, and pop them in the oven on the lower rack. Roast alongside the chicken, giving them a toss every ten minutes to insure even cooking. Ten minutes after you put them in, sprinkle some rosemary over top (doing this at this point helps the rosemary adhere to the potatoes) and continue roasting.
8. Remove the chicken from the oven, scatter over some parsley and serve alongside the roasted potatoes.

Pasta with Pancetta and Cherry Peppers (serves four)

Nine Fool-Proof Tips for Cooking a Romantic Date Night Dinner
(Source: Hunt's)

12oz penne pasta or any pasta shape of your choice
1 Tbsp of olive oil
4oz of pancetta, diced into 1/4” pieces
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 14.5oz can of Hunts Tomato Sauce
1 tsp of granulated sugar
1/2 tsp of Italian seasoning
1/3 cup of pickled cherry peppers (about three peppers), seeds removed and peppers torn or chopped into bite-size pieces
2 Tbsp of freshly chopped parsley
1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano to taste

1. Fill a large pot with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil.
2. In a large skillet with high sides, add the olive oil and preheat it over medium heat, add the pancetta and cook until the pancetta renders its fat and crisps up a bit; this will take around five minutes.
3. Add the garlic, sauté for an additional two minutes or until the garlic lightly browns.
4. Add the tomato sauce, the Italian seasoning and sugar, give everything a nice stir, then bring the mixture up to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low. Partially cover the skillet with a lid and simmer for 25 minutes.
5. About ten minutes before the sauce is done cooking, the pasta water should be boiling. Add the pasta, cook according to package instructions and drain well.
6. Add the cherry peppers to the sauce along with a good pinch of salt and pepper, stir in the pasta, parsley and Parmigiano.

Former Associate Editor at StyleBistro. Willing to try any workout trend. Green beauty junkie. Fan of overdressing. Proud member of the cult of Beyoncé. Twitter/Insta: @kristinarodulfo Follow me: Google