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The first step-getting a date or cooking companion-is up to you, and I have full confidence that you can accomplish this task. Once that is done, you'll need to choose your Dinner Date menu. All the recipes are designed for any skill level so even a novice chef can cook and have fun while cooking. Remember, you and your date will be cooking together, so the pressure isn't entirely on you.
Try to read the entire menu and complete instructions for the Dinner Date you are planning before you begin, so you have a good idea of what is involved and where you are headed. Make sure you read at least the Dinner Date Hints closely before you shop for groceries. As host or hostess, you should do the shopping (even if your date is with someone you already live with) and make sure your kitchen is equipped for the meal you will prepare. Both shopping and equipment lists are provided.
Look around your kitchen and think about two people cooking in that space. Is there anything you can do to make sure you have sufficient room for both of you (like putting away your toaster)? Even if you live in a tiny one-room studio with a kitchenette, two people can cook together; you just have to plan ahead a little bit. If counter space is limited, where can a second person chop? Set a cutting board on your dining table, if necessary. You'll find a way to improvise.
Depending on which menu you pick, you may have some prep work to do as the host or hostess of your Dinner Date. This will be detailed in the Host Prep section. Make sure you schedule time to do this in advance. You don't want to be rushed in the minutes before your date joins you in thekitchen.
Use the section titled Marinating the Chefs at your own whim. The term is a joke I used to have with my former roommates when we'd have big dinner parties. Marinating the Chefs was an opportunity to get the party started long before our guests arrived. Think of it as having a cocktail before your meal, as many people do in a restaurant. When possible, I try to provide nonalcoholic suggestions, so don't feel obligated to serve alcohol. Also you may want to consider having a few munchies available: olives, carrot or celery sticks, pita wedges. You don't want to starve while you're cooking, but you also don't want to fill up either, so munch wisely!
You will see that the directions for each Dinner Date are divided into two columns. The left column details Chef Uno's tasks, and the right column details Chef Due's. You and your date will need to pick who will be Chef Uno and who will be Chef Due. You may decide this ahead of time, but remember that Chef Uno and Chef Due share all the tasks, and neither role is designed to be more difficult than the other. Each chef should proceed with his or her role following the steps assigned in the order they appear. It is a good idea for each chef to read through his or her instructions before you begin cooking. This way you'll each have a sense of the "flow" of your Dinner Date.
Make sure you tell each other periodically what you're working on. I try to build in reminders for each of you to communicate with the other. Anytime you see this icon <> take a moment to talk to each other. However, if you find yourselves in the midst of a fascinating discussion about her childhood in Norway or about his choice to drop out of school and raise llamas on a farm in Wisconsin, don't be afraid to interject: "Oh by the way, I'm working on the salad now, and I'll need that lettuce you just washed."
As your date progresses, don't get too bogged down in the timing of all the dishes. If, for example, you get to a step where your date needs the onions you are chopping and you are nowhere near done, don't sweat it. Or, if you find you are standing around while your date feverishly stirs risotto, lend a hand, move on to your next step, or perhaps set the table. Again, make sure you communicate with each other while cooking: How is Chef Uno doing? What is Chef Due doing? Do you need help? Can I rub your shoulders? Can I pour you more wine? The rule is, there are no rules except to have fun, talk to each other, and enjoy the process of cooking together. If you follow that rule, everything will turn out wonderfully!
A special note to "serious" couples (i.e., you married folk, those living together, or those who have been dating a really, really, really long time), try to treat the Dinner Date as a date. You may go so far as to send an invitation to your significant other. Remember what it was like when you were first dating and how exciting it was? Go back to that time and stay in that special place for the whole night. You may even get butterflies in your stomach.
Making your Dinner Date a truly magical one depends on several things. Don't worry about the food, it will be fabulous; but there are some other things you can do to make the date romantic and memorable.
Think "romantic dinner" and what is the first thing that comes to mind? Candles, of course; everyone knows that. Arrange candles all around the table, or if you are short on candlestick holders, you can buy some inexpensive votive candles and put them on little plates. Try to make your meal entirely candlelit if possible. If you want to try something different, string Christmas lights around the room (you can do this any time of year). You don't want to overdo this effect, so do it sparingly.
You shouldn't feel that you have to go out and buy new dishes and napkins, but do use your best things. Unless you need the table as a food prep area, try to set it before your date arrives, so that he or she can have a preview of what is to come. Depending on the season, decorate the table with flowers, fall foliage, or evergreen sprigs. If you have a hunch your date will bring you flowers (and I certainly hope he or she does!), keep a nice vase aside to make an instant centerpiece.
Everyone has his or her own notion of romantic music. You may want to think ahead of some upbeat music to play while you're cooking and some soothing and calm music for while you're eating. Here are a few suggestions in the soothing, calm, romantic category: