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Don’t panic! Here’s an easy last-minute meal that’s sure to impress your Valentine

Don’t panic! Here’s an easy last-minute meal that’s sure to impress your Valentine

The way to a person’s heart is quite often through their stomach.

It’s understandable then that this Valentine’s Day, you might be trying to impress that special someone with some scrumptious culinary achievements.

While restaurants are nice, and can be awfully romantic, reservations for Valentine’s Day are hard to come across. In fact, on reservation apps like OpenTable, they spike 500% in the days leading up to 14 February.

If you’re reading this article, chances are you haven’t planned ahead.

Don’t fret, procrastinator! We’ve got some tips for you on how to make an easy romantic dinner at home with ingredients that are scientifically-proven to get the love juices flowing.

And we promise, it’ll look like you spent ages planning this meal, which you can actually whip up in less than an hour from start to finish.

Here’s what’s on the menu.

Appetiser: Oysters / Mushroom toast

Oysters and mushroom ricotta toast is your Valentine's Day starter.
Oysters and mushroom ricotta toast is your Valentine's Day starter. - Canva

Okay, we know what you’re thinking. Oysters are such a cliché. These little shells have had their moment in the sun for far too long, but it’s for good reason.

Historically, they’ve been linked to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Legend has it she rose out of the sea in an oyster shell, so those looking for love would honour her by eating oysters, calling them aphrodisiacs.

These days, people still claim that oysters can boost libidos, though scientists aren’t so sure about their practical merits. They do contain nutrients that play a role in sexual function, like zinc.

More importantly for procrastinators, though, oysters require very little prep work. All you need is a good supplier (a trustworthy fishmonger is key!) and an oyster shucker and you’re in business.

Mmm...mushrooms!

If oysters are too slimy for your taste, another surprisingly romantic food is the humble mushroom. In 2016, a Stanford professor wrote an entire essay about why fungi are the most romantic food.

They’re used at various stages of the chocolate- and wine-making process, they’re known for their stunning longevity (the oldest mushrooms have been alive for thousands of years), and truffles are even known to emit pheromone-like chemicals to attract mammals.

Gastronomically-speaking, mushrooms pack an umami punch and they’re so easy to prepare that even the most culinarily-challenged can make them at home.

Here's what you need for a simple, yet impressive mushroom toast appetiser:

-1 pack of brown button mushrooms, sliced

-Ricotta, or other spreadable cheese

-1 tbsp butter

-1 tbsp olive oil

-Balsamic vinegar

-2 garlic cloves, minced

-1 handful parsley, chopped

-Your favourite crusty bread, sliced

Sauté the mushrooms in a blend of butter and olive oil with salt, pepper, minced garlic and parsley until they’re soft and browned. Spread a soft cheese like ricotta on a couple slices of toast, top with the mushrooms and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Add some fresh herbs and you’ve got a great start to your evening. You can even make these in advance and store them in the fridge until your loved one arrives. Feel free to omit the cheese and butter if you want a vegan option.

Main course: Spaghetti (cacio e pepe OR tomato sauce)

Spaghetti, a romantic and simple Valentine's Day meal.
Spaghetti, a romantic and simple Valentine's Day meal. - Canva

If you don’t have time to make something too elaborate, then lucky for you, one of the most romantic dishes in the world happens to also be one of the easiest to cook.

There is some debate as to why spaghetti is considered a go-to romantic date night meal. There’s always a risk that the sauce might stain your shirt or dress, or that you might slurp too loud and kill the mood.

It was popular long before that scene in Lady and the Tramp, and it’s become a timeless classic ever since.

This stringy pasta is still a favourite for lovers of all stripes, and it’s not hard to see why. Its simplicity is its strength – with very few ingredients, spaghetti can take you back to your childhood, straight to a village in Italy or to your favourite Italian restaurant.

Two options for you this Valentine’s Day, dallying friend. For cheese lovers, a cacio e pepe is the way to go. The recipe is so simple that it comes together in 15 minutes.

For two people, you’ll need:

-150 grams dry spaghetti

-42 grams (3 tbsp) butter, cubed

-1 tsp ground pepper (freshly ground is best)

-90 grams (1 cup) grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

Start cooking your spaghetti in well-salted water. Set a timer for the pasta to be al dente (you can find this on the packaging but it’s typically around 6 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt 2/3 of the butter in a skillet on medium heat. Once melted, add the pepper and toast in the butter for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add a ladle full of pasta cooking water to the skillet and let it simmer on low heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add it to the sauce along with the rest of the butter. When the butter melts, turn the heat down to low and add the grated cheese. Stir until a creamy sauce comes together. Serve with extra grated cheese on top.

A second option for vegans and others avoiding dairy is your classic tomato sauce. This is great in the winter because you can make it with canned tomatoes, but it also takes a bit more time to cook, because you need to simmer the sauce to get any acidity out.

For two people, you’ll need:

-150 grams dry spaghetti

-1 can of crushed or diced tomatoes (Italian is best)

-half a white or yellow onion, chopped

-3 cloves garlic, minced (more if you’re sure your date can handle it)

-1 pinch sugar

-1 tsp dry basil or oregano (or both if you want more flavour)

-60 ml olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onions until soft and translucent. Add the can of tomatoes, the dry herbs and the sugar to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce tastes sweet and all the acidity has gone.

Cook the pasta until it’s al dente and top with the sauce, lots of parmesan cheese (or a vegan alternative) and fresh basil.

Dessert: Chocolate mug cake / Strawberries and champagne

Simple Valentine's Day desserts: Chocolate mug cake or strawberries and champagne.
Simple Valentine's Day desserts: Chocolate mug cake or strawberries and champagne. - Canva

Chocolate has been associated with love and romance since long before Valentine’s Day was a thing. Cocoa powder became popular in the Aztec Empire, where it was consumed as an unsweetened beverage and believed to have medicinal properties.

The sweet treats are still the most popular gifts for the day of love, containing the natural mood boosters phenylethylamine and serotonin, which make people feel good.

For a simple, homemade chocolate dessert, wow your date with a chocolate mug cake. It comes together in 7 minutes and can be made entirely in the microwave, so you won’t see any carnage in the kitchen. Try this recipe from Downshiftology.

For two people, you’ll need:

-48 grams (1/2 cup) almond flour

-30 grams (4 tbsp) cocoa powder

-15 ml (4 tbsp) maple syrup

-2 tsp coconut oil

-2 tsp vanilla extract

-2 large eggs

All you have to do is add all the ingredients to a measuring cup, mix well and divide evenly into two large mugs. Then put them in the microwave one at a time for 1-2 minutes or until the cake is cooked through. Top with whipped cream and berries if you’re feeling fancy.

Now if that’s too much effort for the end of the night, no sweat. If all else fails, you can finish off your evening by popping a bottle of bubbly and eating some fresh strawberries.

Because classics never go out of style.

Now go forth and prosper, procrastinating friends. Happy Valentine’s Day!