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Romantic Dinner Recipes

Forget the reservation this year. The Barefoot Contessa shows you how to pull off the perfect dinner for two

Ina Garten romantic meal, chicken and potato au gratin

Photographed by Melina Hammer

Select a foolproof menu when planning your romantic meal this Valentine's Day, recommends Ina Garten.

As a busy professional chef, Ina Garten doesn't cook much at home. But once a week the host of the critically acclaimed Food Network series Barefoot Contessa plans a home-cooked meal for her husband, Jeffrey, a Yale professor who returns to their East Hampton, New York, home on Fridays after teaching all week. "When he walks in the house and it smells like roast chicken or something yummy, that's nice," says Garten. "A quiet dinner for two is always romantic."

Here are Garten's best tips for planning your own romantic meal this Valentine's Day.

1. Set up in a surprising place. "Instead of eating in the dining room, cover a card table with a pretty cloth and set it in the library or in front of the fireplace — someplace you wouldn't expect to have dinner," she says.

2. Turn on the tunes. "The music should be quiet and lovely," Garten says. "All of the senses are important when you're dining."

3. Select a foolproof menu. Garten's latest cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, features dozens of easy, never-fail recipes. Or try the Valentine's Day menu recipes in this article. All dishes can be prepared in advance.

4. Make a timeline. That way you won't forget a step — and you'll be able to relax and enjoy the meal.

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Lemon Chicken With Croutons

Serves 8

  • 1 roasting chicken (4 to 5 pounds)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 cups bread cubes (1 baguette or boule)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 ° F.

2. Take the giblets out of the chicken and wash it inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers. Toss the onion with a little olive oil in a small roasting pan. Place the chicken on top and sprinkle the inside of the cavity with salt and pepper. Place the lemons inside the chicken. Pat the outside of the chicken dry, brush it with the melted butter and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body.

3. Roast for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh. Cover with foil and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil until very hot. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté the bread cubes, tossing frequently, until nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add more olive oil, as needed, and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Put the croutons onto a serving platter. Slice the chicken and place it, with the pan juices, over the croutons. Serve.

Nutrients per serving: 645 calories, 62g protein, 4g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 41g fat, 201mg cholesterol, 1,099mg sodium

Truffled Mashed Potatoes

Serves 8

  • 2½ pounds large Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1½ cups half-and-half
  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces white truffle butter, at room temperature (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Place them into a large, deep saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until very tender. Drain; return the potatoes to the saucepan.

2. Meanwhile, heat the half-and-half and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Take the pan off the heat, then add the truffle butter and allow it to melt. If the butter doesn't melt completely, heat the mixture until butter is melted.

3. Using a hand mixer, beat the hot potatoes in the pot until they are broken up. Slowly add in most of the hot truffle cream, the Parmesan, 2½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and beat until the potatoes are thick and smooth. (You may have some truffle cream left over; reserve it for reheating.)

4. To keep the potatoes hot or to reheat them, place them in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat slowly, adding more truffle cream if the potatoes get too thick. Season to taste and serve hot.

Note: I buy truffle butter online at D'Artagnan ( and Urbani Truffles (

Nutrients per serving: 305 calories, 6g protein, 28g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 19g fat (12g saturated fat), 53mg cholesterol, 818mg sodium

Zucchini Gratin

Serves 8

  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
  • 1 pound (about 3 large) yellow onions, cut in half and sliced
  • 2 pounds zucchini (about 4), sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup hot milk
  • ¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup grated Gruyère

1. Preheat the oven to 400 ° F.

2. Melt the butter in a 12-inch sauté pan, and cook the onions over low heat for 20 minutes or until tender but not browned. Add the zucchini and cook, covered, for 10 minutes or until tender. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes. Stir in the flour. Add the hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until it makes a sauce. Pour the mixture into an 8- by 10-inch baking dish.

3. Combine the bread crumbs and Gruyère and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter cut into small bits and bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

Nutrients per serving: 231 calories, 7g protein, 18g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 16g fat (9g saturated fat), 41mg cholesterol, 532mg sodium

Ina Garten romantic dinner, Chocolate cake

Photographed by Melina Hammer

Create a sweet end to a romantic dinner with this mocha-chocolate cake.

Mocha-Chocolate Icebox Cake

Serves 8

  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 12 ounces mascarpone
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Kahlúa liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, like Pernigotti
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages thin, crisp chocolate-chip cookies
  • Shaved semisweet chocolate, for garnish

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, mascarpone, sugar, Kahlúa, cocoa powder, espresso powder and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine, then slowly raise the speed until the mixture forms firm peaks.

2. To assemble the cake, arrange the chocolate-chip cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. (I break some cookies to fill in the spaces.) Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching, followed by another fifth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 5 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

3. Run a small sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the top with the shaved chocolate, cut the cake into wedges and serve cold.

Nutrients per serving: 950 calories, 9g protein, 81g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 65g fat (33g saturated fat), 146mg cholesterol, 276mg sodium

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