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How to pull off the perfect date at home 

Pre-planning strategies to keep you cool in the kitchen

click to enlarge > LINEN PLACEMATS, FROM $155 each; LINEN NAPKINS FROM $180 each at Leontine Linens. Menu cards, $24 at Scriptura. Champagne flutes, $23 each at Hazelnut New Orleans. Ceramic oyster shells by Loftin Oysters, $8 each at Hazelnut New Orleans. Spreading knives, from $7.50 at Estella’s Home. Flowers: blue delphinium, $2.95 each; pink stock, $3.50 each; roses, $5 each at Dunn and Sonnier Antiques, Florals, Gifts. Dinnerware: ivory fine china in “Tuxedo” pattern by Lenox, courtesy of Stephanie M. Quinlan.

> LINEN PLACEMATS, FROM $155 each; LINEN NAPKINS FROM $180 each at Leontine Linens. Menu cards, $24 at Scriptura. Champagne flutes, $23 each at Hazelnut New Orleans. Ceramic oyster shells by Loftin Oysters, $8 each at Hazelnut New Orleans. Spreading knives, from $7.50 at Estella’s Home. Flowers: blue delphinium, $2.95 each; pink stock, $3.50 each; roses, $5 each at Dunn and Sonnier Antiques, Florals, Gifts. Dinnerware: ivory fine china in “Tuxedo” pattern by Lenox, courtesy of Stephanie M. Quinlan.

If the idea of a romantic, home cooked meal for Valentine's Day induces panic, event producer Tessa Durbin and culinary director Geoffrey Rhode at Pigeon Catering and Events have some do-ahead strategies to keep you cool in the kitchen.

 In lieu of a coursed meal, Durbin suggests dining picnic-style on a low table arrayed with small plates and finger foods for grazing.

 "You can put out some nuts, fruits, jams and some crusty bread from one of our great local bakeries," Rhode says. "Keep the food simple. A display of cheese, smoked salmon or trout, some crabmeat ravigote and some seasonal and pickled veggies is a beautiful setup and can all be done ahead. Louisiana crab is starting to flood the market now — you could also make some crab cakes served with a few slices of tomato and drawn butter with a wedge of lemon or lime."

 "On the other hand, if it's a formal, three-course meal, bring out the nicest china you have in the house," Durbin says. "Use white china with an embroidered pattern or a rolled or gold rim — it brings up the elegance. For a romantic look, try different color plates or a collection of vintage plates. I love square plates for a more modern take." Arrange the table in advance so when your partner or date walks in, the mood is already set.

 Durbin likes to place individual stems of flowers around the room, using differently sized vases or empty wine bottles. A vase of your partner's favorite flowers is a lovely addition, but keep flowers (and candles) off the dinner table, so their scents don't clash with the food smells. Use table linens to bring in color and texture.

 For advanced cooks, Rhode suggests "big impact" make-ahead plates like salmon coulibiac (salmon, saffron risotto and wilted spinach wrapped in puff pastry) or seafood en papillote (seared seafood and julienned veggies in garlic butter and wine, wrapped and baked in parchment paper).

 For dessert, Rhode likes delicate sweets, such as light-as-air pate a choux or beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar, or Louisiana strawberries (also coming into season) dipped in chocolate.

 "You want the meal to be romantic and interactive — sharing is a big part of it," he says. "The last thing you want to do is spend too much time in the kitchen."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JONNY VALIANT
  • Photo by Jonny Valiant

Engagement chicken


A dish with its own origin story

Way back when (in the late '80s/early '90s), then-fashion editor at Glamour magazine Kimberly Bonnell developed a five-ingredient roast chicken recipe that she shared with four other women in her department as a date-night dinner idea. Soon after, three out of those four women became engaged. Legend goes that since the recipe was published in the magazine, more than 70 readers have become engaged after cooking the dish. Fact or fiction? You tell us!

Ingredients

1 whole chicken (approximately 4 pounds)

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 3 whole lemons (1 sliced for garnish)

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Fresh herbs for garnish (rosemary, sage, thyme, roughly chopped parsley)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove giblets from the chicken, rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water and let drain. Pat chicken dry with paper towels.

Place chicken breast-side down in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. Pour lemon juice all over chicken, inside and out. Season with salt and pepper inside and out.

Prick 2 whole lemons all over with a fork and place them deep inside the chicken cavity. Put chicken in the oven, decrease temperature to 350 degrees and roast uncovered for 15 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, turn the chicken breast side up, replace in oven and let chicken roast for about 1 hour, until a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees and juices run clear.

Remove from oven and let chicken rest 10 minutes before carving. Pour pan juices over chicken parts and garnish with herbs and sliced lemon before serving.

Pro tip: Rhode refrigerates the raw chicken unwrapped for up to two days before cooking. It dries out the skin, so it becomes crispy while roasting. For sides, he suggests simple dishes to mirror the simplicity of the chicken — a green salad of spicy arugula, sauteed baby vegetables and a quinoa salad with tabbouleh are his favorites.

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