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Need relatively easy delicious recipe to impress a date!

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I am trying to get more into cooking, so at the moment my cooking skills are pretty basic. I've offered to cook for a guy I've recently been dating, and I'd like to make him something delicious that would be difficult for me to mess up. I know a lot of people have their kind of "go-to" recipes for purposes like this, and since I am such a new, inexperienced cook, I don't have one yet. I was hoping maybe some of you could share. Thanks so much!

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  1. What *kind* of food does he like, and would you like to do? Something "homey" or more "four-star"?

    I don't know too many guys who don't love a good meat loaf, and a baked potatoe, and I'm sure you could do a fine job with that. But if you'd like something more "gourmet-ish", let us know.

    1. Seriously nothing easier than a steak. You can start with basic sear on the pan, than finish in the oven, with nothing more than olive oil/butter, salt, and pepper.

      Then, there's lots of easy ways to make that basic recipe really fancy, like steak au poivre.

      1. I've got a bunch of stuff at home that I put together for my nieces when they came to our house for a weekend's worth of cooking lessons. I'll look for some basics when I get home from work tonight.

        Any dietary restrictions that you know about? I'm thinking of a very simple version of chicken saltimbocca (involves bacon, capers, lemon) that would go well with buttered, parsleyed noodles and fresh spinach sauteed in garlic and oil.

        1. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and a veg is a great dinner and easy- let me know if you need tips. Spaghetti carbonara is fast easy and yummy, paired with a salad and some bread, you are set. The most important thing, is dont stress and have fun. If you stay together, and as your skills improve, you can look back fondly on your first home cooked meal together. there are few things nicer than making dinner for someone you are about, so he will be happy no matter what!

          4 Replies
          1. re: cassoulady

            I like both those ideas, and am also happy to share any tips. Also, I made some wonderful mashed potatoes this weekend from the Goin book and she specifically says that you can make them ahead of time, refrigerate, and reheat - which I did. Would be happy to post the recipe if you like.

            1. re: MMRuth

              I would be interested in that recipe for sure. I often make them ahead but really only like 30 min ahead then just keep on low, so I would love to see your recipe.

              1. re: cassoulady

                I found the recipe on line:


                I only used one stick of butter, not two!

          2. Thanks for all the suggestions so far! No dietary restrictions that I know of... as far as whether to do "homey" or more "four-star"... I guess kind of in between, if that makes sense. Neither of us are big steak/red meat eaters, although the steak does sound simple and delicious! I was thinking more along the lines of fish with a nice salad or something?

            6 Replies
            1. re: sf850

              If it's fish you want, then take a look at this recipe. The effort:reward ratio is definitely in your favour. Hubby and I just love this for it's simplicity and elegance. Looks great on a plain white plate. It even comes with wine pairing suggestions. We drink soave with this dish and find it complements perfectly. Don't skip the oven warming part. It brings the internal temperature up just enough that you maintain a rare tuna steak, but give it a warm middle.

              1. re: sf850

                If scallops are easy to find in your area, they are a great choice. If you just dry them off, add salt pepper and dredge them in flour, you can sear them in a skillet with a litle butter and oil. Literally a min or two per side. Then you can take them out, add a little white wine to pan, simmer, then add butter and lemon juice and parsley and pour over scallops.

                1. re: cassoulady

                  Personally, I think scallops are chancy for an inexperienced cook wanting to make a first impression. There is just a point when they are right and then they become tough. And, if they aren't "dry" scallops, and instead have been treated with a solution, they won't brown properly. I think salmon or another fish is much safer!

                  1. re: MazDee

                    What if she did Coquilles St. Jacques? It's relatively easy and delicious

                2. re: sf850

                  Fish and salad is a great idea. I'd do oven-poached fish, fennel and rucola salad, and good bread.

                  For the fish, get a couple of thick pieces of good fish from your local market. Wild salmon would be good, but don't go any more bland than snapper. Put the pieces in a baking dish, add a little whole, flat-leaf parsley, and one or two shallots cut in half, and some capers. Add half water, half white wine until it comes about half way up the fish. Cover and bake at 350 until it's done. That will probably be about 20 min, but you should check on it. Ask your fishmonger how to tell when the particular fish you got is done, but generally it's done when you can easily flake the sections apart with a fork. Pick one of the pieces to poke and prod at, and make that one yours.

                  When the fish is done, remove the parsley and shallots from the poaching liquid, pour the liquid off into a saucepan, and re-cover the fish. Reduce the poaching liquid over high heat, stirring, until you have about two or three teaspoons of liquid. Stir in two tablespoons of butter, and you have your sauce. Put the fish on each (warmed!) plate, then pour half the sauce on each one.

                  For the salad, I'd thinly slice fennel, toss with (well-washed) rucola and toasted almonds.

                  1. re: sf850

                    When I saw the title of your post, I immediately thought of baked fish. It's about as easy as it comes.

                    Place filets on aluminum foil or parchment lined oven pan. I'd coat each filet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. If you like, you could lay a few thin slices of lemon over top or sprinkle w/some paprika for color or both.

                    Bake filets (skin side down) on a rack in the middle of the oven for 10 min per inch of fish @ 400 - 425.

                    That seems too simple, I know, but truly, that's all there is. I'd just be sure to do a "test" run on yourself first.

                    If the fish is thinner and "flakier" by nature (talapia, snapper, etc), go at 400 degrees. For "meatier" fish (salmon, tuna, swordfish, etc), go at 425. At the end of the cook time, remove, insert fork into the center and give a slight twist to check for complete doneness throughout. It should be flaky. If not, put it back into the oven for another 4 or 5 min.

                    Depending on where you live, finding a good fish may cause you the most stress. Be certain you start with the freshest of fish that you can find and wait until the last minute to make your purchase. Do not buy it more than 1 day in advance. Even at a highly reputable store, the fish monger/butcher should not take offense if you ask to smell it before it's wrapped. It should not "smell" like anything, most assuredly it should NOT have a strong/any fishy smell. If it does, pass it up and go elsewhere.

                    After cooking, garnish with lemon juice or wedges, capers - whatever you wish. I'd keep the sides simple and buy frozen from a quality maker such as Bertolli, Stouffers, etc. Good luck!!!!

                  2. Here is a very simple recipe for an amazingly good skillet lasagna. Whole thing made in a 12" non stick skillet with a lid. Impossible to mess up and incredibly good. You can make this a hour or two in advance. When you're ready, reheat and do the last step to add the ricotta and cover for a few minutes. The only skill you will need here is to mince an onion, dice a red bell pepper and crush some garlic. Serve this with a simple salad (get a bag of mixed greens - mesculin mix) if you feel salad challenged and pick up a nice crusty loaf of bread to serve with it.

                    1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
                    1 tablespoon olive oil
                    1 medium onion , minced
                    1 red bell pepper, diced
                    Table salt
                    3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
                    1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
                    1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and broken up
                    10 curly-edged lasagna noodles , broken into 2-inch lengths
                    1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
                    1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus 2 additional tablespoons
                    Ground black pepper
                    1 cup ricotta cheese
                    3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

                    1. Pour tomatoes with their juices into 1-quart liquid measuring cup. Add water until mixture measures 1 quart.

                    2. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and red pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until veggies begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sausage and cook, breaking apart meat, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes.

                    3. Scatter pasta over meat but do not stir. Pour diced tomatoes with juices and tomato sauce over pasta. Cover and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

                    You can stop and this point and just bring up to temp and proceed with step 4 when you're ready to serve:

                    4. Remove skillet from heat and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot with heaping tablespoons ricotta, cover, and let stand off heat for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Serve.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: bnemes3343

                      While I make this skillet lasagna often for my kids (it comes from Cook's Illustrated), I'm not sure I'd make it for a guy that I was dating, at least for the first time I was cooking. It's tasty, but looks a bit sloppy.

                      I'd go with my old standby -- Barefoot Contessa's Indonesian Ginger Chicken. You do all of the prep the night before and all you have to do is stick it in the oven.


                      I like to serve it with rice -- her Basmati Rice is easy and good too -- or just plain rice.


                      Or if you want to make mashed potatoes, I like these Parmesan Smashed Potatoes. They are not very cheesy, but super rich. You can make them a day in advance, place in a casserole dish, and re-heat in the oven. By the way, you don't have to use an electric stand mixer -- I use a plain old potato masher.


                    2. This is a simple, visually appealing chicken dish with great flavor: Preheat oven to 375.
                      Lay a skin-on, boneless chicken breast half in a baggie, skin side up. Pound it (a sturdy, flat-bottomed pan will do if you don't have a food mallet) so that it is of even thickness and nearly twice the surface area. Do the same with a second breast half. (Note: since you are a new cook, just to clarify, a chicken has one breast comprised of two halves. In many recipes, "breast" means "breast half", and if it means the two pieces, still on the bone, the recipe will say "whole breast"). Lay flattened pieces skin side down and put 2 Tbsp or so of flavored cream cheese in the middle of each piece. Either chive/onion or garden vegetable flavor will do. Roll up and lay in a baking dish, skin side out, with the seam on the bottom and smooth the skin to cover any explosed meat, tucking in any loose edges. Lay a strip of bacon lengthwise over each roll, and tuck the ends underneath. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp, the chicken skin golden-brown, and the juices in the dish golden-brown at the edges.. Some of the cream cheese will seep out of the rolls and combine with the bacon drippings to form a delicious sauce, which is very good over rice or mashed potato. There's a lot of flavor in this dish, so I think the vegetable accompaniment should be simple and unadorned - corn, carrots, or a green veg.

                      1. How does cod with a Thai coconut broth sound? I serve it with rice and an asian green. It's very easy, though will require a trip to the asian market. Let me know if it sounds good and I'll type in the recipe.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Frommtron

                          Oooh that sounds great! And there are an abundance of asian markets in SF, so that wouldn't be a problem. Yeah, if you don't mind sharing the recipe, that would be awesome.

                          So many great recipes here, thank you everyone! Let's just hope I date this guy awhile and can try them all out :)

                          1. re: sf850

                            after a few good meals, you may never be able to get rid of him! ha ha!

                            1. re: sf850

                              Here is a recipe I use often. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/el...
                              I use ling cod or snapper since that is what I usually have in the freezer and dredge in seasoned flour and saute in olive oil & butter rather than cook it in the sauce. I don't do the spinach and I serve with white rice.

                              1. re: sf850

                                Heat 3 cups of chicken stock

                                2 minced shallots
                                6 inches, thinly sliced lemongrass
                                2 inches, thinly sliced ginger (or better yet, galangal if you can get it)
                                4 wild lime leaves
                                2 sliced and seeded thai chiles
                                1 tablespoon of fish sauce (I prefer Vietnamese brands because they seem more assertive to me)

                                Simmer this fortified stock until the flavors come together (15 minutes)

                                Strain broth though a fine mesh strainer (or you can run it through a coffee filter or even a colander lined with a paper towel.

                                Return the broth to a sauté pan (see option 1) or a sauce pan (see option 2)

                                Add about a cup of coconut milk to the broth. If following option 2 then place several leaves of Holy or Thai Basil in the broth. Do not use Italian sweet basil for this. You can substitute several sprigs of cilantro.

                                Add two sliced carrots to lightly cook in the the simmering broth.

                                Option 1 – Poached Fish

                                Most often, I’ll just season some rock cod fillets lightly with salt, nestle the fish into the sauce, cover, and let the fish poach in the rich broth for a few minutes. Be sure to lower the heat. You don’t want the broth to boil after you’ve added the fish.

                                Option 2 – Sautéed Fish

                                Sometimes if I have a thicker fillet of a nicer fish (maybe black cod or even sea bass), then I’ll season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and sear them in a lightly oiled pan (use a neutral oil like canola for this). Once you have a good sear on one side and the fish releases from the pan on its own, you can flip it and either finish it on the stovetop (if the fish isn’t too thick) or finish it in a 375 degree oven if it’s a very thick fillet like a sea bass. Most of them time I just do it on the stove top.


                                Take the fish out of the poaching broth or sauté pan and plate (a shallow pasta bowl would be very good).
                                Add some fresh squeezed lime juice to taste to the broth (1-2 tablespoons should get you started.)
                                Spoon the broth and carrots around the fish (avoid the cooked basil leaves).
                                Top with a small dab of sambal oelek on top of the fish and a mint sprig

                                SERVE WITH
                                Steamed rice is standard with this. I might go with a purple/forbidden rice for something more interesting
                                Stir-fried asian greens (on choy, pea leves)
                                Steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce
                                Baked Okinawan Purple yam (add some coconut cream where you might add sour cream)

                                1. re: Frommtron

                                  The infused broth can be made a day or more ahead.

                              1. Don't forget dessert! This has been my go-to dessert recipe for years and it always gets raves. You can make it with stone fruit and berries in the summer or apples or pears in the winter. When I'm using apples or peaches, I like to use brown sugar in with the fruit, which give is an almost carmelly complexity. And it's super, super easy, doesn't require any exotic or expensive ingredients, can be served warm or room temp, with or without ice cream, etc.


                                1. Okay, here's an old recipe that I've never fed to a man who didn't love it! It calls for beer, and what man doesn't love beer? It's called Swedish sailor's stew, and there are several recipes on the web, but none that are the same as my recipe from the 60's;

                                  First off, it works best in an enameled cast iron dutch oven or covered stewing pan. Preheat oven to 450F.

                                  2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck trimmed of large chunks of fat and cut into 1 1/4 inch cubes
                                  1/2 stick unsalted butter
                                  3 or 4 medium large yellow onions, diced
                                  about 4 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch rounds
                                  1 bunch chopped parsley
                                  kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
                                  3 cups of your favorite lager beer

                                  Melt butter in cast iron skillet and saute meat until lightly browned, transfer to a bowl. Saute onion in same pan, remove to another bowl.

                                  Butter your stew pan/Dutch oven, then lay a slightly overlaped layer of potatoes similar to the way they are set out for pommes Anna. Top potatoes with an even later of beef. Top beef with a layer of sauteed onions. Top onions with a sprinkling of parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Build second layer as above. Depending on the size of your pan, if you have enough for a third layer, go for it. Finish with a layer of potatoes on top, sprinkle with a bit of parsley and salt and pepper. Deglaze frying pan with beer, then gently pour over contents of roasting pan/Dutch oven.

                                  Put lid on securely and place in 450F oven for about 2 hours. Potatoes will melt and break down into a rich gravy. This is one delicious stew!

                                  Serve with tossed green salad, crusty bread and the same brand of beer you used in the pot. And the only thing easier is to go out to eat! Enjoy!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Yum! That sounds delicious! Just the thing to make on a cold Sunday afternoon. I wonder if you could make it in a crockpot?

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      It might be good, but I doubt it would be the same since the high oven heat is what turns it into a stew. I don't think a crock pot would break down the potatoes the way the Dutch oven and high heat do. It really is good and well worth the oven time.

                                      On the other hand, I don't own a crock pot. I was seriously turned away from them when a male friend (who knew nothing about cooking) invited us to dinner and made a "Crock Pot Stew" with WHOLE asparagus, including the ropey ends, AND a whole artichoke mixed in with other "stuff." Injured my taste buds so bad they were in a cast and on crutches for weeks! '-)

                                  2. a super-easy cheater meal is to use vacuum-packed gnocchi, toss with store-bought pesto, add toasted pine nuts and sauteed shrimp and top with parm. serve with a simple arugula salad with canned artichokes and, since i love em, more toasted pine nuts and shaved parm and voile!

                                    1. If you're considering fish, a baked whole sea bass with potatoes, tomatoes, and brine-cured olives is stupid-simple, quite elegant, and unbelievably delicious. And it's a whole meal in one dish. Needs nothing more than an accompanying salad and perhaps some bread to mop up the juices.

                                      The recipe is from James Peterson's "Fish & Shellfish" but I found an unattributed plagiarism of it online. Scroll down about two thirds of the way looking for "Baked Whole Sea Bass with Potatoes."


                                      1. Here's a simple sure to impress fish recipe that everyone loves and looks quite impressive.
                                        Not sure what it's called at the moment, but first just buy any white firm flesh fillets. Even frozen will do. I usually use Tilapia or Flounder.
                                        Here's how simple it is.
                                        Dust the fillets with flour.
                                        Beat up an egg or two in a seperate bowl.

                                        Then heat up a good saute pan over medium heat. When hot add butter and a spoon or two of olive oil.
                                        Then dip the floured fillets in the egg and add to the pan. If using a small saute pan put the oven on 200 degree's to keep the completed fillets warm while you finish all of them.
                                        Because of the egg coating the fillets get a gorgeous browned appearance.
                                        When the fish is done add some more butter to the pan and the juice of about a half lemon. You can also add some herbs to the sauce. A little Dill would be a good choice.
                                        Plate the fish and spoon the gravy over. With rice and a vegetable I can guarntee some oohs' and ahh's. And probably hints for repeat visits lol

                                        1. My suggestion is swordfish filets with hoisin sauce. It is super easy, and always impresses people who I serve it to. You buy 2 things-swordfish filets and hoisin sauce. You put very little oil in a pan, turn pan to medium/low heat, place swordfish filets in pan and cover. Cook until brown (about 4-5 minutes). Flip over and spread 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce on swordfish. Cook until brown/done. If you would like, garnish the top with green onion cut very finely and mounded. Serve with steamed (nuked) snow peas with butter and a cold noodle salad that you can buy in advance.
                                          Congrats on the new beau! I remember the excitement of dating someone new...

                                          1. If you're considering poultry, here's the easy chicken recipe I taught my nieces.

                                            Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Bacon, Shallots and Capers

                                            Serves 2

                                            1 split boneless, skinless chicken breast
                                            (2 pcs.), pounded fairly flat
                                            4 slices of thick-sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
                                            2 or 3 shallots, minced
                                            dried thyme
                                            freshly ground black pepper
                                            kosher salt
                                            ¼ cup dry white wine
                                            ½ cup chicken broth
                                            1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed & drained
                                            unsalted butter
                                            a couple of sprigs of parsley, chopped

                                            1. Sauté the bacon over medium/high heat until it’s done, but not quite crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and pour out most of the bacon grease, leaving about two tablespoons. (Reserve the poured out bacon grease, just in case you need a little more when sautéing the chicken.)
                                            2. Sauté the minced shallots in the remaining bacon grease over medium heat, stirring, until they are translucent. (Doesn’t take long.)
                                            3. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Add to the pan with the shallots and sauté over medium/high heat, browning both sides. (If more fat is needed in the pan, use a little of the reserved bacon grease.) After both sides are browned, add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and cover. Let the chicken simmer until done. Timing depends on how thinly the chicken has been pounded.
                                            4. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan. Deglaze the juices in the pan by adding the wine (and a little more chicken broth, if you like). Bring to a boil, scraping up any hardened bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, then reduce to a simmer. (This is the real secret to the sauce—the most concentrated flavor is in the drippings.) Add the bits of bacon back in, as well as the capers and a sprinkle of thyme; simmer, stirring, until the liquid reduces somewhat. Optional: swirl in a pat of butter, which helps to enrich the sauce.
                                            5. When ready to serve, put the chicken breasts pieces back in the pan to warm for about 30 seconds. Remove the chicken to a warmed serving platter and pour the sauce over. If you like, sprinkle with a little chopped parsley, for color.

                                            1. Well, watching my friends cook, and messing things up myself, I'll offer you tips on whatever you choose.

                                              1) Don't try to roast a chicken... that takes a tad bit of practice - breast meat dries out before the thighs are cooking, if done wrong.. do individual parts
                                              2) Meat cooks to temperature, not time.. don't rely on the recipe estimate - get a thermometer
                                              3) If searing, most people don't get the pan hot enough.. searing is really quick, really hot.. and don't sear on a teflon coated pan
                                              4) Don't dress a salad ahead of time.... dress it right before you eat it, or have the dressing at the table
                                              5) Grind your own pepper..
                                              6) Marinara sauce is really easy to make.. don't buy a bottle of it for dinner
                                              7) Always add a bit less salt until you've tasted it.. then you can amp it up.. its tough to unsalt (although you can mask it with a bit of honey/sugar and some acid like lemon juice). Don't salt something you are reducing (like a sauce) until near the end
                                              8) Try to chop an ingredient evenly - so it gets cooked evenly
                                              9) Boiling water always takes longer than you think.. better to bring to a boil and add a cup of water once in a while, than sit there waiting for it.
                                              10) Warm your plates.. nothing sucks heat from a dish than putting it on a cold plate
                                              11) Preheat your oven for a while - longer than you think - and try to minimize opening the door

                                              Good luck.. btw, I am big fan of a nice thick cut of halibut with a sauce on top. A wilted spinach salad with crimini mushrooms is easy.

                                              2 Replies
                                                1. re: grant.cook

                                                  Grant, re. Point #10:
                                                  How DO you warm plates satisfactorily? I always have the problem, haven't found a solution.

                                                2. This recipe for Rigatoni Caprese is super easy and you can just get a loaf of Italian bread and make a simple salad to serve with it...