Valentine's Day

A Genius Valentine’s Dinner Strategy—Tuesday-Appropriate, All Fun, No Tears

February  8, 2017

On the ten Valentine’s Days leading up to our wedding, year by year, I became a little bit more of a monster. The cocktail of work nights and wine, mixed with the pressures of Valentine’s Days past and larger relationship questions hanging in the air started to turn me into an unrecognizable version of myself: a water balloon overfilled with emotion and a half-bottle of Prosecco, ready to pop. And every damn time I did, it was over a $60 plate of steak, with a waiter skulking nearby.

But last year, newly engaged, Mike and I broke the curse. There were no more relationship questions—we had a wedding to plan, to hell with fancy restaurants. We stayed in. We made our favorite speed-luxury dinner—together. And not just together, but literally side-by-side, flipping steaks every 30 seconds like ice dancers, the way I always do now, thanks to J. Kenji López-Alt’s technique over at Serious Eats, which I included in the book version of Genius Recipes.

Every couple has their own methods of maneuvering in the kitchen. Ours has evolved, like the rest of our ten-years-and-some romance, in beautiful ways I didn’t see coming. Even though I’m the only one who really obsesses over food, I learn new perspectives on cooking from him all the time (like the best eggs are fried so much hotter than you think they should be, and beers can be opened with just about anything). He keeps me company and tells me jokes, grinds the pepper while I wrestle with the chicken, and lets me teach him, too. I only hope I can be as gracious about his passions, even though I might never truly understand what envelopes have to do with the ambient electronic music he makes. None of this came naturally to us (see the water balloon moments above). We had to work to get good at it.

Whether you and your person have a natural rhythm in the kitchen, or struggle for power, or you’ve never considered cooking together before, I can recommend side-by-side cooking as a great unifier. You’re completely in sync as you watch a timer and flip every 30 seconds. Your adrenaline surges together. If you don’t have two matching pans, so what? Compare how stainless cooks versus cast iron. If one steak is perfectly cooked and the other less so, give the good one to your partner and reap the points. Or share it—you’ll have too much steak anyway—and save the leftovers for side-by-side tacos or sandwiches tomorrow.

It doesn’t have to be steak. Anything à la minute is ideal, especially if it’s something that one person alone would have to cook in batches—omelettes, smash-burgers, crispy-skinned fish, slabs of cauliflower. But steak is good. Here’s the formula for our perfect speed-luxury dinner, based on recipes from my two bosses, Merrill and Amanda. It never fails to be delicious, dirties very few dishes, and takes about 30 minutes all told—especially when you work together.

  1. Boil some little potatoes.
  2. Heat two pans, salt your steaks liberally,* and get the stop watch setting on your phone ready.
  3. Slosh a little neutral oil in each pan and start your steaks (and your stopwatch). Flip every 30 seconds, like ice dancers.
  4. (Optional but fun) Toward the end, drop in a knob of butter, some sliced shallots, and thyme sprigs and, tipping the pans, spoon it all over the steaks to baste them.
  5. When the steaks are looking nice and browned and hit 125° F on an instant-read thermometer (or are done in whatever way you want to check them, poking or even cutting to peek), move them to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Squash the boiled potatoes into funny, flattened shapes about 1/2-inch-thick. Crisp them up in the steak-y juices left in the pans. Mike calls these “Splats.”
  7. Pile arugula on two plates. Shower the piles with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Slice the steak and lay it on top, then pour any juices over. Shave Parmesan all over the top with a vegetable peeler. Serve with Splats.

*Or salt them 40 minutes or more ahead for a dry brine to make them even juicier and more flavorful, if not doing the speed-luxury version.

Photos by James Ransom

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Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps a genius dessert? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to our photographer Bobbi Lin for convincing me this was a strategy worth sharing.

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Top Comment:
“You could not have said it better with "unrecognizable version of myself: a water balloon overfilled with emotion and a half-bottle of Prosecco, ready to pop." That is me! Can't wait to do this on Tuesday and will try my best not to make it into a competition. ”
— Bobbi

Oh, p.s. This is Mike ❤

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Sarah C. February 7, 2018
Do people here have inspired thoughts for a vegetarian valentine's day? As elegant as this one is, and simple, but on that axis. Would love to hear.
suzanne_hamlin February 7, 2018
Very sweet! Make sure the rib eyes are at room temp before cooking. For 45 years my late husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by cooking at home--and it was on New Year's Eve. So, like yours, it was OUR celebration, not the rest of the world's... Happy V Day!
Virginia December 27, 2017
Am curious about the brand of cast-iron pan shown in the photo. Could you identify that please? Thanks so much, and looking forward to giving this recipe a try this Sunday (NYE).
Kristen M. December 30, 2017
These are Smithey skillets, an American-made cast iron we love and sell in our shop, but any good, heavy pan will work just fine with this recipe. Here's the link to the skillets to learn more:
Marian B. February 22, 2017
i love you !!!!!!!!
Bobbi February 10, 2017
I have been waiting for this article. Thank you, Kristen!
You could not have said it better with "unrecognizable version of myself: a water balloon overfilled with emotion and a half-bottle of Prosecco, ready to pop." That is me! Can't wait to do this on Tuesday and will try my best not to make it into a competition.
Lisa February 10, 2017
This is the perfect idea for crazy busy VDay evenings - I am all about this and love the story too! L
Kayleigh February 8, 2017
My husband and I spent our first Valentine's Day married (we got married April 2015 so it'd been almost a year) at home, with a lovely cheese board and a homemade skillet cookie for dessert. Best Valentine's Day ever, and apparently it shall become a tradition--he's asked for the same thing this year. (Although due to our conflicting work schedules we'll be celebrating on the weekend.)

It's all about love, after all. If you don't love a busy, expensive night out (and some people do, and that's fine!) then don't do it!
Jane K. February 8, 2017
got teary eyed reading this ~*in the open lounge*~
Kristen M. February 8, 2017
;) Sorry to make you cry at work!
Hannah W. February 8, 2017
+1 Jane
Nancy February 8, 2017
I like this one. I am a fan of cooking at home on Valentine's day. Love that it's "Tuesday appropriate." I don't have 2 hours to cook dinner after work, but still want something special with my boyfriend on V Day. Thanks for the inspiration!
Kristen M. February 8, 2017
Exactly—why does Valentine's Day always have to be on the busy, tired nights? Thankfully this will work, even then.