The Perfect Valentine's Day Dinner

A few simple guidelines to give your special Valentine a day she won't forget.

Valentine’s Day isn’t the day for love. It’s the day when men try to make up for the other 364 days that they dropped the proverbial ball of love! I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day because the element of surprise is somewhat absent. She knows something is going to happen so she’s constantly on lookout.


It seems to me that Valentine’s Day is all nonsense marketing, over hyped romantic hysteria and far too much stress for us men to prove our love. The day is more about Victoria’s Secret (and not in the good way), jewelry and over priced flowers.


Do diamond earrings on a specified day mean more than a year’s worth of thoughtfulness?


Are one dozen delivered red roses more meaningful on the 14th of February than the random day when she really needed a smile?



For most women, Valentine’s Day is a day of reckoning. A measuring stick for the man in her life.


For most men, Valentine’s Day can be a stressful deal breaker. There are however a few ways to make Valentine’s Day a little more manageable.


Guys, think of it like football. For most men, Valentine’s Day is a 4th and long situation and she’s dialed up a blitz against your Swiss cheese like offensive line. You take the snap; scramble around with your hair on fire, screaming and yelping in a complete panic and within a few short seconds you’re carted off the field on a stretcher while the back up quarterback is getting loose! Trust me, every woman has a back up quarterback just waiting to get in the game. What’s worse is that the booing crowd (i.e. her friends) is already getting their pictures taken with him and asking for his autograph.  


Gentlemen, it’s not that difficult as long as you establish yourself at the onset. Let her know who she’s dealing with from the get go and stay consistent.  


First down. This is the time for the random act of kindness. It’s totally fine to tell her how beautiful she is, that you’re thinking about her and that you hope she’s smiling in the middle of a gorgeous day.


Second down. Cook for her on a weeknight. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re a bit of a foodie anyway so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. (If you need some help finding a recipe and appropriate wine, check out my year’s worth of recipes on this website. The recipes are like All State, “you’re in good hands.”) Weeknights are suggested because she’s already expecting special things on the weekend but the Tuesday night dinner is what keeps her thinking about you all week. It’s also a good idea to make enough for leftovers. While she’s sitting in her office eating your leftovers the next day, she’s thinking about you and your culinary brilliance and that’s a good thing!


Third down. Ask any offensive coordinator and they’ll tell you that games are won and lost on third down. If you stay on schedule on first and second down, third down becomes a simple “pick up” like doing the dishes after dinner, buying the components for her favorite drink along with shiny new glassware, grab her dry cleaning when she didn’t ask you to or anything that makes her everyday a little easier. If you’re not sure what that is, then you’ve got a problem of listening. Pay attention to her! This is easy stuff if you simply stop focusing on yourself and give her the attention she deserves. Just sayin!


If you consistently fail to focus on first and second down, then you already know about the slippery slope that is third and long. More often than not, third and thoughtless leads into fourth and long and hence the reason for Valentine’s Day.


Rarely do offensive coordinators draw up plays for forth and long but if you really need one on Valentine’s Day here it is.



Seared Salmon on Strawberry Ancho Risotto

with Goat Cheese and Broccolini


What you’ll need.


2-6 oz salmon steaks


1 cup of Arborio Rice

1.5 quarts of vegetable or chicken stock

½ shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ cup sherry wine


Strawberry Puree

½ pint of strawberries

3 oz goat cheese

½ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon Ancho powder


To start, puree the mix of strawberries, goat cheese, heavy cream and ancho powder in a food processor. When the mix is completely incorporated, turn off the processor and transfer the mix to a small mixing bowl.


To make the risotto, bring the chicken or vegetable stock to a simmer in a small stockpot with a ladle. In a sauté pan on medium high heat, next to the simmering stock, sweat the minced shallot and garlic in an ounce of olive oil. When the shallots and garlic begin to caramelize add in the Arborio rice and sauté until the rice begins to slightly brown, about three minutes. Next add in the sherry wine and reduce until the rice has absorbed the wine. Reduce the heat to a medium flame and add in a few ladles of the stock. When the stock has been added, begin stirring and stirring with your wooden spoon.


Critical point here, you must use a wooden spoon. For some reason that I cannot explain, a wooden spoon has some type of effect on the starches of the rice and risotto is, as you know, all about the starch. I’m a chef, not a scientist. Just trust me on this one. 


When the rice has absorbed the stock, add in a few more ladles and stir stir stir! The idea here is to let the rice slowly braise in the stock. Add in a few more ladles and repeat; making sure the liquid never achieves an aggressive boil. When the rice has become al dente or to the tooth, remove the rice from the heat and spread it over the surface of a sheet pan and let cool. This is how we do it in the restaurants by the way. We par cook the risotto in huge batches ahead of time and when we need it for a dish, we simply finish it in the fashion that I will further explain.


To sauté the salmon, season the room temperature salmon with salt and pepper. Bring a medium sized sauté pan to medium high heat with a touch of olive oil. When the olive oil begins to ripple, gently add the salmon steaks and sear on each side for three minute each. Transfer the salmon steaks to a sheet pan in the oven at 375-degrees along with the broccolini. Let the salmon steaks roast on the sheet pan for another 6 minutes. When the salmon steaks have reached a comfortable 145-degree internal temperature, remove from the sheet pan to a clean dish.


To finish the dish, heat the pureed strawberry mixture in a medium sized sauté pan on medium heat. Add in the now cooled, partially cooked risotto to the sauté pan and let the strawberry mixture braise the rice. When the rice is thoroughly cooked, check the risotto for any last minute seasoning adjustments and get ready to plate.



To Plate, add a spoonful of risotto to the center of you finest white-rimmed plate. Gently curl the long stemmed broccolini around the risotto and rest your perfectly seared salmon steak atop your artful mound of risotto goodness!


A few last touches to make your night complete.


Music, anything by Adele is a great choice. Create an Ipod playlist of HER favorites. It is very important to avoid anything too loud, obnoxious, or overly sentimental. Music is a key component in the evening but try not to go overboard. (This is NOT the time for your 80s hair band ballad collection!) Your Valentine and the food should always be on center stage. Stick to the cool and you’ll be just fine!


Wine, you ask? How bout Prosecco? It’s perfect for the strawberry and spice of the risotto and will stand up well to the salmon.


Did you stop and get good chocolate??? Candles??? No, you should!


Oh, one last thing! Go easy on the portion size. The risotto is extremely rich and filling so you must be careful. Too much risotto and you’ll find yourself lifeless for the rest of the evening. Not good!


OK, I think that covers it. I can’t keep giving out free tips so from here on out, you’re on your own! Just pay attention to her, make the day and everyday about her. It’s ok to be a good guy. The world could use more of us!


Buen Provecho!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mary Jo Valdez February 14, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Chef Aaron, this is another fantastic article. Your sense of humor is wonderful. I so look forward to reading your blogs. Happy Valentine's Day!!!


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