I’ve got two friends I’ll call Katie and Mary–no idea why all my friends are so opposed to me writing about them. I mean, gosh!!
Anyway, Katie, Mary and I were firing away at our group text the other day when the topic of Katie’s impending date came up. She’d been on six or so dates with this guy Todd (one of them was to the New England Boat Show–I’m sure you can now imagine the type of people I’m describing) and that day she was prepping for the first At Home Dinner Date. Literally, at the grocery store purchasing her supplies as we texted.
Anyone who has ever dated anyone knows the At Home Dinner Date is a Big Deal. It reveals several things:
1. Are you a good cook? (Duh.)
2. Are you a good hostess? This reveals itself in several ways–do you offer a beverage upon your guest’s entry? Did you put out the nice guest towels and the pretty guest soap?
3. Do you have a sophisticated palette? Obviously it’s not necessary to set out caviar, but if you’re serving boxed macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets for dinner, no one is going to nominate you for Pinterest-er of the year.
Bottom line: Dinner is, whether the guy knows it or not, a total audition. Anyone can sit at a table in a restaurant and eat dinner. It takes actual skill to cook and make it appear effortless, even though you’re internally freaking about whether or not your pan is going to burn the butter and eventually set the entire apartment on fire. (No…I’ve never done this…)
Katie asked us if we thought she should do a “test-run” of the entire dinner, which would be the next night. She’d decided to make lemon garlic chicken over pasta (we decided placing the chicken ON the pasta was way cooler than putting it to the side), a recipe she hadn’t tried before. Mary and I weighed in, and the consensus was, of course, DUH, she should do a test-run of the meal. I mean, come on. Maybe you didn’t read this post, but I’m the girl who buys fancy cupcakes and messes up the icing a little bit so they appear homemade to any man entering my apartment. So, DUH, I think a test-run is necessary.
Katie’s dinner date got me thinking about this topic and the absolute must-dos. I’ve never read any article instructing me, from start to finish, how to do this successfully. It’s a miracle I even knew I was supposed to do something other than get Subway and eat ice cream out of the carton with a guy, which is what I do by myself on a regular basis.
Let’s start with the basics–home presentation. You should buy fresh flowers (hydrangeas are good because they’re relatively inexpensive and the blossoms are big) because guys never have them in their own house and it subconsciously reminds them that you’re a girl. They may not say anything about them, but trust me, they make a subconscious impact. Kind of like long hair. Guys LOVE it. Or manicures. No guy is going to comment on your geometric nail art, but he would definitely notice if your hands looked like raggedy coal-miner paws.
Next–beverages. Katie has this one in the bag. I remember the first time I went to her apartment, years ago, and opened the freezer to be faced with chilled beer mugs. I’m serious. That is preparation and dedication to the art of hostessing.
At a minimum, you should stock two types of beer in your house if you know a guy is coming over. I suggest a cheap beer like Bug Light and a nicer beer, maybe something seasonal or a microbrew, so it looks like you know what you’re doing. I don’t even drink beer and I keep it in my house. To indicate how many men I have over on the reg, the same Sam Adams bottles have been sitting in there since late October. Soo…maybe you shouldn’t be taking any advice from me. Lolz.
You should also keep one bottle of red and one bottle of white (at least) wine in your house at all times. Unless you’re dating a European or a vineyard owner, it doesn’t matter if they are cheap bottles. No one will know. Everyone pretends they know about wine, but the truth is, a blind taste test will reveal 9/10 people in their twenties are freaking clueless and wouldn’t know if they were drinking cherry Kool-Aid or a nice Malbec. Side tip–the more a person talks about how “oak-y” or “fruity” a wine is, the more clueless they are. But if they say anything about tannins, you better go purchase “Wine for Dummies” because you’re probably dining with someone who knows something. Or, on rare occasion the person will be like me, who learned all the important terms so I don’t embarrass myself at a restaurant but still doesn’t know shit about wine.
Next, the meal. If you don’t get appetizers you are going to have to deal with the guy hovering over you the entire time you cook, sticking his fingers in the mashed potatoes–so get appetizers. This is also a chance for maximum impressiveness with minimal effort. Since you’ll be busy making the actual main course, I suggest purchasing your favorite appetizer, un-cooked, from your favorite restaurant, then popping them in the oven the second Mr. Wonderful walks in. You can totally pretend you made them, because technically, you did put them in the oven. Any overachievers looking for an actual appetizer recipe can stop reading now because, as Sweet Brown says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!!!” Seriously, don’t you people work? Or at least have to catch up on The Bachelor?
Next, the main course. Don’t you dare make something girly, like salmon. Mary made salmon “all the time” for her current boyfriend at the beginning of their relationship and he later told her he hates salmon. Mary, Mary. Guys don’t care about getting in their Omega-3’s. They want a freaking steak, so make one. And if you’re tallying calories in your head right now you don’t deserve male attention. Making dinner for someone for the first time is about THEM, not YOU. So cut out any quinoa, too. Quinoa tastes like the dumpster in back of Whole Foods.
My go-to first dinner date meal is the peppercorn steak from the Balthazar cookbook. Balthazar is a restaurant in New York specializing in French bistro food, and trust me, you can’t go wrong with this recipe. The steak, when cooked correctly (and it really isn’t that hard to make) tastes like BUTTER. Just divine! Everyone I’ve made it for, guys and girls, tell me it was one of the best meals of their life. I will scan the page with that recipe later. One of these days I will try something else from that cookbook, like the seafood tower. You know, just a casual cascading tower of crustaceans.
By the way, there is a recipe for herbed butter in the cookbook too, and even though it’s a bit labor intensive, I suggest making that too and putting a pat of it on top of the steak when it comes out of the oven. When your man’s eyes widen and look at your like you’re a hot Julia Childs all that effort will seem worth it.
Okay, let’s assume you’ve cooked all this food without burning down your apartment. You’ve already conquered 2/3 of the battle. Now the question becomes (especially if you haven’t eaten together at either of your apartments)–where do you eat? Sure, you sit in front of the TV stuffing your face with Baked Lays every night, but is the couch really an acceptable spot for a nice dinner?
If you don’t have a real kitchen or dining room table, then yes, the couch is fine. It’s really not a big deal. The guy will probably be relieved he doesn’t have to deal with some formal setup involving fifteen forks. After all, the purpose of dining at home is to enjoy a more comfortable setting. Well, that’s the intended purpose. My personal intended purpose is to demonstrate how superior I am to every other girl who has cooked for him.
So there you have it. That’s how you do dinner at home. I’ll end the blog post with a picture of Katie’s test chicken. Doesn’t it look yummy??? Don’t you wish you were Todd?