How to cook the ultimate Valentine's Day dinner

When it comes to romantic repast, a lovingly home-cooked dinner will score you top marks over a soulless restaurant every time. So dim the lights and stir up some seduction, with 4Food's guide to cooking the ultimate Valentine's dinner

Champagne

The mood

Nobody wants to be greeted by a sweaty, flustered host with dubious stains all down their apron, so pick recipes that can be prepared calmly in advance, or assembled easily while they wait. Fill the house with good smells (if the oven isn't producing any, cheat with a scented candle), and make sure there are drinks on hand to welcome them. That means champagne, wine, their favourite spirit, or something fruity and posh for a non-drinker. Robinsons squash doesn't count.

Fancy table settings aren’t the be-all and end-all of mealtime seduction, but nobody ever got lucky after a supper on beanbag lap trays. So make a bit of effort with a nice tablecloth and flowers, or if you don’t have a dining table, try a picnic on the floor with cushions and sharing plates. Mmm, cosy.

Beware of background music. While that Barry White compilation CD might be a great idea if you’re planning an evening straight out of a Jilly Cooper novel, there’s a hefty chance your date might just get the giggles. Keep it subtle.

And forget locking yourself away in the kitchen; your guest wants to spend time with you, not an empty place setting. If you’re not ready when they arrive, let them help with some of the cooking – it’ll give you plenty of opportunities for hand-brushing and lingering looks over the crisper drawer.

Cupcake

The meal

Unless you're a cordon bleu cook, Valentine's Day is not the occasion to be super-ambitious. Attempting your first soufflé under the pressure of romantic expectation might just leave you with egg on your face (pun intended). Instead, choose recipes that you feel confident with and know you can cook well.

It might sound obvious, but cook something you actually like. If shellfish makes you squirm, wincing your way through a plate of oysters won't make for successful seduction. Far better to choose a food you both love and cook it in the nicest way you can.

Cooking for two is a great excuse to splash out on luxurious ingredients like scallops or fillet steak, but humble dishes like pie or stir-fry can be just as romantic if you pick a great recipe. Dessert will be your pièce de résistance, so make it sinful – meringues can be made earlier and turned quickly into mini pavlovas, while chocolate mousse is a Valentine’s classic for a reason.

If you’re still dithering over a menu, try invoking your inner love god or goddess with some aphrodisiac ingredients…

asparagus

Asparagus

Believed to have such potent properties that 19th century bridegrooms were fed three courses of the stuff, asparagus falls into the naughtily-shaped category of aphrodisiac grub. Try it lightly grilled with a soft-boiled egg for a simple starter, and try to eat it with a straight face.

Roast asparagus with lemon, feta, mint and capers recipes
How to make soft-boiled egg and asparagus
Asparagus recipes

Oysters

Oysters

The classic go-to for debauched dining – just ask Casanova, who reportedly ate 50 for breakfast each morning. Learn how to prepare and eat oysters in an elegant fashion with our video tutorial, and they’ll be a treat well worth shelling out for.

How to prepare and eat oysters
Oysters Rockefeller recipe
Irish beef and oyster stew recipe

Spices

Spice it up

Chilli, ginger and garlic are all stimulants that increase heart rate and get blood pumping around the body – ideal for adding a little va va voom to your Valentine's dinner. Combine them all in an Oriental noodle recipe (but prepare for sexy slurping) or go for a feisty dessert with chocolate and chilli or ginger. Not garlic.

Chilli chicken with ginger and udon noodles recipe
Chilli chocolate brownie recipe
Ginger chocolate cheesecake recipe

nuts

Nuts

Oh, behave… Almonds, cashews, pine nuts and sesame seeds are all rich in zinc, which stimulates the libido and is thought to aid fertility. Take your pick from these nicely nutty dishes.

Pesto, bacon and pine nut gnocchi recipe
Cherry almond tartlets recipe
Nut recipes

chocolate

Chocolate

We don’t need a lot of science to convince us that chocolate’s an aphrodisiac, but just in case you do… it contains phenylethylamine, which the body releases naturally when it's in love, as well as serotonin and dopamine to make you feel happy and calm. It also melts in contact with the body and mouth, which just adds to the sensual experience. In fact, forget the date, just give us a bar now.

How to make Valentine’s chocolate truffles
Valentine’s chocolate pots recipe
Chocolate recipes

honey

Honey

While some foods look naughty, others are said to be aphrodisiacs for their texture, such as honey – sticky, sweet and thoroughly lickable, it's also rich in Vitamin B, which increases testosterone production. If you get lucky, don't forget to thank the bees.

Honey and ginger chicken recipe
Walnut and honey tart recipe
Honey recipes

But whatever you cook, keep the portions modest and try not to scoff all the ingredients. We're aiming for romance, not Rennies (and you can always eat the leftovers after they’ve gone home).

The aftermath

Unless it turns into a sudsy waterfight, washing up isn't sexy. It just isn't. Put the Marigolds away and leave the dishes till morning – even that dried-on cheese sauce pan isn't more important than your love life.

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Pavlova

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