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cooking for a new beau for the first time! help!

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Hi all,

A man I have been seeing is coming over for our fifth date, and it is the first time I will be cooking for him. I want to make something impressive, but that doesn't scream "I spent all day making this." He's a pretty decent eater; I'm not too worried about him not liking any certain flavors. But I'm having trouble figuring out the most date-worthy meal.


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  1. Don't go all out. Make something fairly simple, comfort food, something you've made before that you're confident about, something that won't require you to spend frantic last-minute moments in the kitchen. And finish it off with something chocolate.

    Don't know where you are or what the weather might be expected to be there. Will it be too hot for meat loaf and mashed potatoes? What about a paella or cioppino for two? Tell us more about yourself and what you like to cook and our recommendations might better hit the sweet spot.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      We're in Brooklyn, so I'd say it's probably too warm for any cold-weather foods. I think I'd like to do a main with a couple sides, instead of a one-disher like paella. As for what I cook, I'm pretty flexible and comfortable in the kitchen, though I make some especially mean mashed potatoes. The only limitation might be that I don't have access to a grill right now. Otherwise, the kitchen's fully stocked.

      1. re: shih

        If you do killer mashed potatoes, I'd say go with them. The hell with the weather. They'd pair well with roast chicken, which is always a man-pleaser. For a second side I'd do some combination of vegetables cooked with bacon. French beans? Corn? Peas? Some variation of succotash? Whatever looks great at the market. All pretty simple comfort foods that should be very satisfying and hit all the I'd-like-to-hang-out-here-more-often buttons without seeming as though you put too much effort into it.

        1. re: JoanN

          I'd have to agree with something simple like roast chicken and if you're in the mood for something different, try adding a little wasabi powder to your mashed potatoes for a little kick. Maybe a simple side dish of vegetables like green beans or fresh corn?

    2. With no grill, that means cooking indoors. Do you have air conditioning? It's really hot where I am (Madison, WI), and I roasted a chicken tonight which was a BAD idea temperature-wise (I don't have air conditioning), although the chicken came out deliciously.

      I agree with those who say, keep it simple. Assuming you have air conditioning, I would probably do an appetizer of blanched and chilled asparagus (which can be done in advance), wrapped with proscuitto, or proscuitto and melon. For the entree, you could do steaks in a cast iron pan on the stove, served with your killer mashed potatoes, and a nice green salad with a simple vinaigrette. Or, instead of the green salad, you could do a caprese salad, as tomatoes are getting good right now. Another option would be a whole roast chicken -- if done well, it's impressive, and goes great with mashed potatoes :-)

      If it is hot in your apartment, and you don't want to heat it up further, the recipe linked below for poached salmon with fingerling potatoes and tarragon sauce is really delicious, and can be made entirely in advance. I'd do it with frozen wild salmon from Trader Joe's instead of fresh farmed salmon, as I'm avoiding farmed salmon these days, but the recipe itself is a very good one, especially when you don't want to have to cook last minute:


      End it up with fresh strawberry shortcake or a summer fruit tart. I love chocolate, too, but fruit is at its best in the summertime, so it would be more seasonal and fun to go with a fruit-based dessert. If not the traditional strawberry shortcake, something like the summer berry tart recipe linked below would work great:


      Do you have any clue as to his favorite foods?

      1. would he like fondue? i think it's super- romantic ;-) (and easy)

        1. I agree with the posters who have already advised to go with something you are very comfortable with making. If you are at your ease, the whole evening will be more pleasurable for both of you.

          As well, any part of the meal you can make ahead of time will leave you less frazzled and anxious, as well as show your organizational skills. Roast Chicken is one of my standbys, and if you make it frequently, I would suggest you really cannot go wrong with that. You can roast some fingerling potatoes and garlic on a baking sheet underneath the chicken, then all you really need to do is toss a mixed green salad!

          1. Never, and I repeat, NEVER let a new beau know you can cook. Cooking may be the way to a man's heart, but if you start cooking for him now, that is all he'll want and you can forget him taking you out for a nice dinner!

            Save the cooking for when the relationship is getting serious. At the point where you REALLY believe this man will be in your life for awhile, then "pretend" to start learning to cook. He can be amazed at how you take to your new skill and will be impressed that this effort was all for him.

            I have a pat line when a new man asks what I like to make... I tell him coffee and reservations.

            Trust me, this is good advice. You'll have plenty of time to cook for him if he's the right one.

            4 Replies
              1. re: mollygirl

                If he's really the right man, he'll take you out to dinner any time you want to go. Mine does.

                1. re: mollygirl

                  I appreciate the sentiment and, Lord knows, none of us want to be taken for granted, but cooking was how I first got my husband's attention. He told me later that his internal reaction was " MAN, she can cook! This on might be a keeper.

                  Now every evening as I cook dinner he sits with me and we share our day ( and occasionaly chops, mixes and opens jars. Nine years later he still let's me know, after every meal, that he is grateful for my skills and still remembers that first meal I cooked for him.

                  It was in the fall so I made chicken breats with onions and Calvados, mushroom pilaf and Bananas Foster for dessert.

                  I knew he was serious because the next week he had made new lights for my poor dark little kitchen so I could see better when I cooked and he could see what he was eating.

                  1. re: mollygirl

                    Excuse me, but every Italian Male I have ever known first gave their girlfriends a cooking test to see if she was qualified to be considered for a wife....

                  2. What about a nice salad, and spaghetti carbonara. Maybe you can get some nice antipasti things to nibble on with drinks before hand? Profiteroles or something else like that with ice cream for dessert? Good luck and have fun!

                    1. Homemade pizza, big salad, and lots of wine. It's casual and fun, and doesn't look like you're auditioning for the role of housewife.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Channa

                        I like the pizza, big salad and wine idea. And maybe some cookies or brownies for dessert? Having a bit of wine in the kitchen as you finish up the pizza sounds perfect. These brownies are great for dessert - and they have a fun name. "Mancatcher brownies"....love them!


                      2. leave something for him to do after he arrives. it has been a while since i first called on the silver fox for dinner at her place. i do recall being in the kitchen and helping with little things as the dinner came about, even though things were thoroughly pre-planned and simple to execute. sauted shrimp and saffron rice is still one of our favorites.

                        1. I couldn't agree LESS with mollygirl! If you care about this man (and why would you be asking us to help with the menu if you weren't?!), cooking him dinner is an excellent way to show it. It's also an excellent way to show how capable you are. Cooking isn't easy, and pulling off a successful meal is impressive. If he's a good catch, he'll both respect your ability and will be touched by the effort you went to for him. Plus, I'm not into playing games. "Learning" how to cook on the sly is dishonest and isn't the best foundation for a relationship!

                          But back to the question at hand. I think Channa's suggestion is excellent because it would let the two of you work together to make the main course. Could you make the pizza dough and/or pizza sauce? Both can be done ahead and are fairly simple. You could make a summery salad to go alongside, invest in a good bottle of wine (or ask him to bring his favorite), prep some great toppings (fresh basil, caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, peppers, a nice italian sausage), and then pull out all the stops for dessert. He'll be so impressed if you make a beautiful pie, tart, or cake for him. And that can be done ahead (no trouble with the AC or timing). My new favorite pie is the mixed berry with ginger, orange, and almond streusel from the June Bon Appetit (link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...).

                          My husband and I can't remember the first meal I made for him, but we CAN remember the first dessert. Peach cobbler. And he still asks for it all the time! :)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: foodie4444

                            Mollygirl, right on!

                            I stand by the opinion that cooking should wait until after the first year anniversary! Cooking on a fifth date is Date Night Death.

                            "What do you want to do tonight?" Oh, let's go try that new restaurant on 5th.
                            "Oh, it couldn't be as good as your cooking. Let's just stay in"

                            Then, YOU plan, YOU shop, YOU cook and YOU clean up.

                            You'll have a life time to cook!

                            1. re: janetms383

                              Or, it could go like this:

                              "What do you want to do tonight?" Ohl, let's go try that new restaurant on 5th.
                              "Oh, it couldn't be as good as your cooking. Let's just stay in".

                              Well, dear, I'd enjoy the opportunity to eat someone else's good cooking, so would you care to try the new restaurant or should we order in?

                          2. I'd go with one of my tried and true standbys -- Ina Garten's Indonesian Ginger Chicken. You do all the prep work the night before and you just have to stick it in the oven to cook.


                            I usually make it with her Basmati Rice, but mashed potatoes would work well too for all that delicious sauce from the chicken.


                            And then during the summer I like to make this cucumber salad with it...recipe says make it 2 hours before, I make it 1 day before.


                            And I'd finish with something chocolatey for dessert.

                            1. I agree and disagree with some posts. Comfort food, but with a twist. Yes let him help a bit when he comes over I think is fun with the two of you in the kitchen.

                              Me I would do rack of lamb or lamb chops, easy oven baked, not much clean up, quick and easy, not a lot of prep and delish. And doesn't take long at all to cook. As they cook you and your SO can make a salad together

                              If you are comfortable with mashed potatoes by all means, that is great with lamb and you can add sour cream, bacon, fresh herbs, cream cheese anything to even make them more special. They can easily be made ahead as well which is great and then just reheated.

                              Vegetables, Something easy, maybe roasted asparagus or roasted beets, roasted root veggies or roasted green beans with grape tomatoes, again simple comforting, easy to make. Nice but still just good simple food.
                              Just a nice salad, let him help, do something easy and let him put what he likes in the salad. Have a few options, like cucumbers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and decide together. Also, have a plan for a simple vinaigrette made ahead so you two can either use that or another dressing you may have on hand.

                              Desert, I love the fondue. You can make a simple pot of melted chocolate with some fresh angel food cake, strawberries, or any fruit, pound cake, etc. Lots of easy sensual deserts for fondue.
                              My other suggestion is a hazelnut chocolate mouse. Also made ahead. Some fresh whipped cream with fresh hazelnuts, fresh raspberries and a drizzle of the raspberry syrup. It is simple but elegant.

                              A nice glass of wine, nothing fancy, just a nice bottle.

                              The menu really depends on him, is he really laid back, or likes to splurge now and then. Will he appreciate the lamb or rather have chicken.

                              To me chicken reminds me of Mom, I would never make then for a date meal, but that is just my opinion. No offense to anyones suggestions, I would do the lamb or even a filet or even a good pork tenderloin stuffed and then sliced on the plate. Something still comforting but not too over the top.

                              1. I was thinking country french and Ina's Barefoot Paris cookbook. Perfect for not too fancy or fussy, but different enough that its special.

                                And my two cents is that if cooking is a love of yours (and if you here I'm sure it is) it is something you should share with someone you are interested in. If you want an honest relationship, you have to be honest and you need to let him know who you are.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Stuffed Monkey

                                  I love your last sentence ...

                                  <<If you want an honest relationship, you have to be honest and you need to let him know
                                  who you are.>>

                                  So true, see I would want to make an impression, but still have it comfortable but let him know that I love to cook. I went out with a guy recently who claimed to like to eat and enjoy good food ... something in common. However he just wanted to eat out and had no interest in eating at home. My dinner to him was to show him I could cook good at home, still have fun and it didn't have to take hours. And to let him know what I'm like. He could of cared less. I learned a lot that night.

                                  Yess SM, you need to let the SO know who you are and be honest, not just try to impress but be yourself. If you are a pizza and salad gal or guy, go for it. Do what you enjoy and that says something about you..

                                2. Unless you've got great air con, the last thing you want to do is turn the oven on for a couple hours right before dinner. How about shrimp scampi or fish of some sort? you can make a beautiful salad, buy some great bread, and you're golden. Otherwise I would go with panfried steaks or some other top of stove dish. Or, if you want to get a little ethnic, how about Thai? Lots of ingredients, but otherwise tends to be sinple to make, looks impressive and if you are doing a curry, can be done well ahead of time. Actually, Indian food would be great too. Something like lamb curry, some rice, dal, good beer and you've got a wonderful meal.

                                  If you really want to turn on the oven, make fabulous sugar cookies ahead of time and serve them with fresh berries and whipped cream.

                                  1. Many moons ago, I cooked for the first time for the man I married. I made a dish from The Silver Palate Cookbook, Chicken Monterey, a colorful, summery, brightly flavored chicken stew. He loved it, and although I was not trying to hook him--I just loved to cook! --he has always maintained that that's when I did. Occasionally, I make this, and his eyes light up every time. It's a great dish because it can be prepared a day or two ahead and then finished easily just before serving. You could even accompany it with your mashed potatoes although noodles or rice work well, too. An easy app, a simple salad, and dessert (a fruit tart or cobbler w/ice cream--or just the ice cream and fruit, or chocolate sauce, if he likes chocolate; I've never known a man who didn't love ice cream) and voila, you've got a fabulous dinner that's not difficult or pretentious.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                      "a colorful, summery, brightly flavored chicken stew"

                                      Sounds lovely, recipe?

                                      1. re: ChrisKC

                                        Ok, here it is.

                                        Chicken Monterey from The Silver Palate Cookbook
                                        Serves 4-6

                                        5 T olive oil
                                        1 chicken 2 ½ to 3 lbs, cut into pieces
                                        salt and black pepper to taste
                                        1 c finely chopped yellow onion
                                        2 carrots, peeled and chopped
                                        4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
                                        1 c chicken stock (or canned broth)
                                        ½ c fresh orange juice
                                        ½ c canned crushed tomatoes
                                        2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
                                        1 med. red bell pepper, cut julienne
                                        ½ lg. zucchini and ½ lg. yellow squash, sliced diagonally
                                        1/3 c chopped flat-leaf parsley
                                        grated zest of 1 orange

                                        1. Heat 3 T oil in large skillet. Rinse and pat chicken pieces dry; season with salt and pepper, and cook in oil 5 minutes. Turn chicken, season; cook another 5 minutes. Do not brown; it should be pale gold. Remove chicken and reserve.
                                        2. Add onions, carrots, and garlic to oil and cook, covered, over low heat until veggies are tender. (25 minutes.)
                                        3. Uncover skillet and add stock, oj, tomatoes, and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer mixture uncovered, 15 minutes.
                                        4. Return chicken pieces to pan and simmer 20-25 minutes or until chicken is nearly done. Baste pieces with sauce and turn once at 15 minutes. You can complete the recipe to this point a day or two ahead; refrigerate the chicken in sauce and reheat gently before proceeding with recipe.)
                                        5. Heat remaining 2 T olive oil in another skillet and sauté pepper 5 minutes. Add sliced zucchini and yellow squash and season with salt and pepper. Raise heat and toss vegetables until tender, but still firm. 5 minutes or so.
                                        6. Transfer vegetables to skillet with chicken and simmer together about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and orange zest, and serve immediately.

                                    2. i think it is important to remember that cooking is an activity that results in a shared meal. it seems to me that a focus solely on the endpoint--the meal--defeats some of the purposes of having the guy over for dinner. if all that is intended is to co-consume, by all means go out. however, if you want to show him one of your interests and if you want to share an activity, focus as much on the cooking as the eating. now, i don't suggest working up a ten-pan lather with a guest scullery mate, but let him participate. lots of guys like to cook--or kibbitz. i assume anybody you'd want to keep seeing would want to be with you in the kitchen, not drinking a martini in the living room and watching the aquarium. give him a glass of wine, some trout pate, a chunk of french bread and have him peel shrimp and chop oregano while you run saffron thru the rice.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: silverhawk

                                        I disagree. I love to cook and I love to eat. I do not like help in the kitchen. Period. It makes me nervous. I have a husband but he was not always my husband, at one point he was this new guy that I liked (well, I still like him!). And I lived in a NYC apartment with a small kitchen so that last thing I needed was another person in there with me. But that does not mean that we always like to (or should) go out.

                                        So whether I am cooking for 1 guest, or we are hosting a party like we are on July 4th, I prefer to serve things that can be done mostly ahead (at least semi-prepared ahead). This way, I may have to go into the kitchen from time to check on something, but I rarely will make something for company that requires me slaving over the stove so that I can be with my guest(s), may it be 1 person or 25.

                                        Now we live in a house with a large kitchen/great room (and kids) so people are always in there with me. I don't mind them hanging around with me, but I still don't want their help. I'd rather have them eating my food and appetizers that I planned so carefully. And honestly, when it comes to cleaning up, I like to do it my way too.

                                        1. re: valerie

                                          I agree with you completely - and still live in said NYC apartment with a small kitchen!

                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                            I agree and disagree. I usually don't like help but I think for this meal and just getting to know one another it is nice to see how he likes cooking and how he is in the kitchen. That is why I mentioned to let him do the salad. Have the ingredients but let him help. It says a lot about a person how he or she is around food, how they set a table. etc. I wouldn't want every night to be formal ... I couldn't stand it but I would want him in certain circumstances to be able to enjoy a nice, slightly nice moment without pizza out of a box.. I like the kitchen to myself, but I think this is a good time to share and let him join in.

                                            1. re: kchurchill5

                                              When I met my husband, he ate spaghetti every night for dinner with Kraft parmesan cheese from the green can. That was all he could cook, not to mention that he really though the cheese from the green can was good. When I introduced him to freshly grated parmesan cheese, he was done with the cheese from the green can forever.

                                              Now nine years later, he is almost as much of a Chowhound as I am (although he does not cook) and he hates to waste a meal on something mediocre.

                                              My point is that seeing how somebody is around food may not always be the way to go. If I had judged my husband on his eating habits when I met him, I would have run for the hills!

                                      2. I would skip the fish (5th date- you don't want the place to smell) how about the roast chicken -- 2 breasts, the potatoes and maybe some broccoli rabe or baby broccoli- blanched then sauted with butter and lemon zest?

                                        if you are comfortable with garlic (again this being a 5th date :) ) i would also put out a cut artisen bread with roasted garlic and olive oil...

                                        you can always pick up dessert- but i like spiced chocolate anything (with cinnimon or ginger or something...

                                        what's in these mean potatoes anyway?

                                        1. this might be cheesy- but it would be cute to print little menus for each placesetting then you will have a nice keepsake from your first home cooked meal together

                                          1. i made dinner for my gf when we first started dating and it worked out pretty well. I did the alton brown cast iron ribeye recipe w/ manchego mashed potatos & roasted brussell sprouts ( think i did i adapted from teh momofuku recipe). steamed some mussells as an app. she dug it.

                                            1. I have two opposing contributions.
                                              1) My beloved adored that the first meal I served her consisted of steamed vegetables, rice, homemade asian style pickles and seaweed.
                                              2) I have (in my dating days, long gone) like the tactic of complex dishes with long periods of "spare time" in between steps. The down time is good time, the house is warm and welcoming, lots of things are possible (and they don't get the idea that a meal just appears out of nowhere.)

                                              1. If pasta works for you and nobody has any aversion to bacon, go with Spaghetti Carbonara. Total prep/cook time should take about 30 minutes. It's shockingly easy, but it impresses people every single time I make it. It was the first meal I made for my current boyfriend, and I love it because it's practically impossible to screw up (a plus if you're at all nervous).

                                                For every pound of pasta, I use one package of bacon, two whole eggs, and one egg yolk. Slice the bacon very thinly and cook it while you're waiting for the water to boil. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl. As soon as the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and immediately toss it with the cooked bacon. Add the egg while gradually stirring the pasta so that it completely coats the pasta and the bacon. Then add as much parmesan cheese as you'd like (I typically end up using more than I think I will). The heat from the pasta will cook the egg and melt the cheese so that it becomes its own sauce. Add pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

                                                Once you get the pasta and bacon going, you'll just have to stir both occasionally, so while you're cooking it, you'll still have time to enjoy a glass of wine and talk to your guy :)

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Al_Pal

                                                  I think that is a great idea. What guy doesn't like bacon?

                                                  Served with a nice side salad, some easy apps to start (some great options have been suggested). I would buy something for dessert, unless you're ambitious.

                                                  But, if your area is hot right now, definitely avoid the oven.

                                                  1. re: Al_Pal

                                                    That is a wonderful easy dish and every guy I have ever known likes it.

                                                  2. Once, at the age of 19, I got into the same situation. Panicked, bought food from a restaurant and passed it off as home cooked! NOT a great plan though I doubt he knew. I agree with the posters who said to keep it simple - a prosciutto and fig ( or asparagus) starter, maybe a poached salmon entree and a side dish and you have a lovely meal, not too much heat in the kitchen and not a lot of stress added to an already stressful event. And I have to say - I much prefer having people come around for dinner than going out but just in case your beau comes to like your cooking a bit TOO much, you can always come to agreement on how often in a month is reasonable to go out or have him cook.!

                                                    1. This post is making me walk down my own memory lane. A boy, who was a fellow graduate school, invited me on a date at his home. He made me pork chops on a grill on the balcony. Intently, he cooked as I tried to talk with him. The odd thing was, I really didn't like him particularly, but he was my fellow student and lived across the street. Heck, why not go?

                                                      He was a good cook and insisted that I take the bones back to my dog at the end of the meal. As someone who had only recently left vegetarianism, I exlaimed "but dogs can't eat meat!" He was right. My dog loved these grilled bones.

                                                      My first meal for him was a French omelette with a green salad. He brought that same dog some additional bones. He couldn't believe that I had all my pots hanging from the walls on peg hooks, or that I had learned to make an omelette in France.

                                                      We had come to the same place from such different backgrounds, but that dog did love him. Now, 29 years later, we still cook for each other. He mans the grill and I tend to the inside stove.

                                                      If you actually like someone, cook something that makes you happy. If it makes your guest happy, you might have something worth having.

                                                      1. I hope you will let us know what you made and how it went! ;)

                                                        and if you'd like the recipe for my Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar Sauce, let me know and I'll be glad to share. I caught a real winner with that one!

                                                        1. My husband still remembers the first thing I ever cooked him, and it's still one of his favorites - chicken and dumplings! What was so funny about it is that his ex had tried to make it for him once and he didn't care for hers at all - I had no idea - I just knew I made a mean chicken and dumplings and I wanted to share it with him. I had to ask him why he was chuckling to himself.

                                                          If you don't have a good a/c system, or if that just sounds too rich, I agree that your mashed potatoes with a pan-roasted steak or a pork tenderloin would be delicious and simple. Add a salad or some great summer produce and you're in business. And I'd probably go with homemade ice cream with berries for dessert. People are always so impressed with homemade ice cream and it's so easy!
                                                          Good luck and please let us know how it turns out!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: auburnselkie

                                                            My ex, the very first meal I cooked for him was chicken and dumplings. A bottle of wine, home made caesar salad and chocolate mouse for desert.

                                                            Call us traditional, but both working 2 and 3 jobs, him trying to get in the police department me working at a restaurant we lived at home with our parents trying to save up to buy a condo. So when his parents left for a once month cruise we had the place to ourselves. Well the first nite alone we were going to eat left overs and just relax, but getting ready to cook dinner, I took one bite of his Mom's chicken and dumplings and it was so bad, I said I would cook a fresh pot of chicken and dumplings for him. Trying not to offend his Moms cooking. Well a few hours later and our dinner was awesome, he was totally impressed. Every year after we celebrated that first night date that I cooked for him and we always had chicken and dumplings and chocolate mousse.

                                                            Just make sure you cook something that you are comfortable with cooking and that you both enjoy.