Food on Fire

A romantic dinner for two: Setting the stage and preparing the meal

Chicken Parmigiana with veggies and even a great chocolate dessert are on the menu

Two dinner place settings with wine glasses and white flowers are set on a wooden table.
Relax with your loved one over a romantic dinner. — Timothy Fowler photo

Clear the deck

My wife and romantic dinner partner of 36 years says the first thing required for a romantic dinner is a clean house. Seriously. And she means toilets too! And to have the kids taken care of. (Ours left home a few years back, but you might have to arrange care for yours.)

Set the stage

Buy flowers and arrange them yourself or take a favourite vase to your local flower shop and have them put some fresh flowers together for your table. On a side note, make your local florist your best friend––a weekly visit is not too often. Hopefully, this won’t be your last romantic dinner.

Set the table

This is the time to break out your best china and silverware. If you only have paper plates, go with the best ones you have.  If you are one of the lucky folks with grandma's silverware in your buffet drawer, bring it out, carefully polish it and set your very best table. This is the dinner when you use the crystal. Tulip-shaped stemware is preferred.

Make dinner

Chicken Parmigiana is an intermediate dish. It's enough extra effort to earn special credit but simple enough to nail it with modest kitchen skills. Buy a good bottle of wine or some other beverage that says this is a special celebration and get cooking.

Set the mood

How about a bit of Marvin Gaye or Van Morrison on the playlist for dinner? Light some tall candles and dim the lights low enough so the periphery disappears but your partner can still see well enough to wind linguine on a big spoon. Remember to put the cellphones in a drawer in another room. You won't be needing those.
 
Now, slow down, enjoy dinner, listen well and enjoy the luxury of an uninterrupted conversation. It's as good a time as any to hold hands.
 

The recipe: Chicken Parmigiana, Brussel Sprouts and Oven-Roasted Tomato

Ingredients
  • Two skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (250 ml) fine bread crumbs
  • ½ cup (125 ml) finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) balsamic vinegar
  • 4 slices provolone cheese
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 whole egg
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) milk
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh linguine or fettuccine noodles to serve two
  • Tomato sauce 
  • 2 cups (500 ml) Brussels sprouts, bottoms and loose leaves trimmed and halved
  • Two medium-sized vine-ripened tomatoes 
 
There are four things going on in the kitchen at the same time for this dinner. It takes a bit of co-ordination to pull this off. I suggest you fill your date’s crystal glass with the special beverage you prepared, put on a little Marvin Gaye and finish up dinner while they relax.
 
You are going to prepare the Brussels sprouts, roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce and chicken in advance. When the pasta water goes on the stove to boil, put the veggies in the oven. Add the chicken to the pan in the oven when the pasta goes in the boiling water. I cook the chicken and vegetables on one baking sheet.

Method - Initial preparation for the vegetables

  1. Brussels sprouts: blanch the trimmed Brussels sprouts by placing them in boiling water for one minute, remove immediately and rinse with cold water to cool. Drain well, and cut in half.
  2. Place on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle with coarse salt.
  3. Vine-ripened tomatoes: wash tomatoes and cut in half horizontally. Place bottom down on cooking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper and parmesan cheese, one tablespoon (15 ml) of cheese per tomato. Leave room on the baking sheet for the chicken cutlets.
  4. Prepare tomato sauce by combining 28 ounces (830 ml) crushed tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon (3 ml) coarse black pepper and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) Italian seasoning (or buy prepared tomato sauce).

Method - Initial preparation for the chicken

Preheat oven to 450 F (177 C).

  1. Set a heavy skillet on medium heat on the stovetop.
  2. Place each half skinless boneless chicken breast between sheets of plastic wrap over a heavy cutting board.
  3. Use the flat side of a meat-tenderizing hammer, heavy cleaver or sanitized axe to gently flatten chicken cutlets to a thickness of ¼ inch (6 mm). 
  4. Season well with salt and pepper. 
  5. Make three plates to hold breading mixes. First plate - flour. Second plate - beaten egg and milk. Third plate - breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.
  6. Dredge each half of chicken breast with flour, dip in egg mixture and finally in bread crumb mixture, patting the crumbs into the breast for full coverage.
  7. Drizzle olive oil in the heated skillet and carefully place cutlets so the edges do not touch.
  8. Lightly brown one side, turn the cutlets, brown the second side and remove to a paper towel-covered plate while you prepare the other ingredients.

Method - Final assembly and cooking

  1. Bring 8 to 12 cups (2 to 3 L) of salted water with a tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil to a boil. At the same time, put the vegetables in the preheated oven.
  2. When the water boils, add the pasta. Remove the vegetables from the oven, add the chicken cutlets, top with tomato sauce and provolone cheese, and return the vegetables and cutlets to the oven.
  3. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and retain 1 cup (250 ml) of liquid to go back in the pot with the pasta.
  4. As soon as the provolone cheese begins to bubble and colour on the chicken cutlets, remove, plate cutlets and vegetables, lift a portion of pasta alongside the cutlet and serve.
 
When you have pulled this meal off, you can celebrate your accomplishment. Now cut yourself some slack and prepare a delicious chocolate dessert that is home-baked (meaning you bake it in your own oven). M&M Food Market sells a delightful ready-to-bake lava cake. Go ahead and pick up a pair and follow the instructions. 

Chocolate Lava Cakes with Raspberry Sauce and Whipped Cream

Here is a lovely topping for the cakes that will surely impress your dinner date.
  • 1 cup (250 ml) raspberries, less a small handful of berries for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) Grand Marnier liqueur, or substitute 1 teaspoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) orange juice
  • A canister of real whipped cream 
  1. Mix berries, sugar, Grand Marnier and orange juice; purée it into a sauce in a food processor. 
  2. Bake the lava cakes based on the package directions and then place on plates.
  3. Drizzle raspberry sauce over the freshly based cakes. 
  4. Top with a rosette of whipped cream and half a handful of fresh raspberries.
Now you are on your own.

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