While some years call for a big Valentine’s dinner out where you get dressed up and hit the town, this is not one of those years. Not only are we in the midst of a global pandemic; we’ve had such a busy few weeks that what’s really calling my name is a chill Valentine’s date night at home, just the two of us after we put Phoebe and Henry to bed.
For me, the most romantic nights with Adam are when we’re cozied up in front of the fireplace with blankets and a glass of wine, with good music that lets us get totally lost in the easy vibes and conversation.
And isn’t there something kind of refreshing about Valentine’s plans that don’t require booking a babysitter or breaking the bank? For me at this moment, that just feels so right.
But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it should feel like every other normal night at home.
What I love about Valentine’s Day is that it’s a holiday solely devoted to making the people we love feel special — finding little ways to say “you matter so much to me,” and I happen to be married to a guy who hears that message loudest through his stomach.
I thought I’d use this post as the perfect excuse to give our Valentine’s date night menu a test run, and hopefully give you guys some inspiration and ideas for your own romantic dinners.
Step 1: Get Inspired
There’s a restaurant in town called The Peacock, located inside the Austin Proper Hotel. It’s one of the first “cool” (ie not hole-in-the-wall) truly Mediterranean spots we’ve had open up in town, with a menu full of colorful, healthy dishes inspired by North Africa, Greece, Israel & Lebanon – all meant for sharing. Since it was one of mine and Adam’s fave date night spots pre-pandemic, that Mediterranean vibe felt like the perfect theme to tie together my table and menu. Plus, I’ve been dying to try out a homemade falafel recipe.
Step 2: Set the Scene
There’s something about a low, lounge-y table surrounded by floor cushions that just feels sexy. You’ve got to kick off your shoes and sit close, and you might even recline while your partner slowly feeds you… but I digress. For this simple setup, I moved our outdoor coffee table right in front of the fire, pulled out some cushions and sheepskins from indoors, and used some of our potted succulents as an easy centerpiece that doesn’t feel fussy. Besides, I didn’t want to buy flowers for the table since Adam might come home from work with an armful of peonies (not that I’m shamelessly dropping hints, or anything.) These pretty plates gave an earthy backdrop to my colorful menu, and the matte black flatware provided a touch of cool contrast.
Step 3: Mix Up a Festive Drink
A fun cocktail is an easy way to take things up on a notch for a Valentine’s date night at home. I’ve been loving shrub cocktails lately — they’re basically drinks made with infused vinegar, which sounds weird, but the vinegr actually provides a delicious acidity and a little fizziness. That said, I wanted to do something with strawberry flavor for V-day, and since I couldn’t find any strawberry-infused vinegar, I freestyled and grabbed some strawberry kombucha. I mixed my cocktail with 1 part kombucha, 1 part prosecco, and garnished with a cucumber spear and a sprig of mint.
NEW FAVORITE y’all, it was seriously so good. And now I’m obsessed with making cocktails using different kombuchas (this past weekend I added a splash of tequila to my lime-ginger kombucha and it was also amaze.)
Step 4: Plan a Sexy Menu
Here’s what’s on the menu for our Valentine’s Date Night:
The cauliflower tabbouleh in all its glory. My version is admittedly a very loose riff of on a traditional tabbouleh, but it includes a bunch of my favorite things and — gosh it’s so good. For the grains, instead of bulgur, I used a combo of 3 parts cauliflower rice (so healthy, more veg) with 1 part cooked farro (chewy and satisfies carb cravings.) Then I topped it with shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachios, and alllll the herbs — mint, parsley, and dill. A maple-lemon vinaigrette and big pinch of sea salt took it over the top.
Step 5: Spark Fun Conversation
I dug up a few old polaroids of us together from the past few years and used them as tabletop decor. For us, going through photos from fun times we’ve had together is one of the best ways to get in a romantic headspace and remember some of our favorite trips we’ve shared.
My “Love Hummus,” as I’ve dubbed it, is almost shockingly easy, so much so that it doesn’t deserve it’s own recipe card — it’s got those semi-homemade vibes, but it’s DELISH. Here’s what I did:
- Roast 4 small beets by wrapping them in foil and popping in a 450 degree oven until you can pierce them easily with a fork, about an hour.
- Let cool, then peel by rubbing skin with a paper towel.
- In a blender, combine a container of good store-bought hummus with 2 beets and a little olive oil and blend until smooth. Add another beet or 2 to get desired color.
- Drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle with sesame seeds, then serve with warm pita and crunchy veg for dipping.
And finally — my first foray into at-home falafel! To be honest, I’m kinda late to the falafel game altogether, but now that we have a truly great Mediterranean spot in town, I’m obsessed. And making it at home was way easier than I expected! No surprise that I loaded mine up with a crazy amount of herbs, and baked them instead of frying. So good and so simple, these will be in our rotation for everyday weeknight dinners, too.
Get the recipe for my herby green chickpea falafel right here!
What are y’all cooking up for Valentine’s Day this year? Leave a comment and let me know what you’ve got planned… and what’s on the menu!
This post was originally published on February 5, 2020, and has since been updated.