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What's a simple yet romantic dinner I can make for my girlfriend at home?

©iStockphoto.com/Slivano DeMarchi ©iStockphoto.com/Slivano DeMarchi
By Victor Scargle
Q: I can't afford the jacked-up prices restaurants charge on Valentine's Day. What's a simple yet romantic dinner I can make for my girlfriend at home?
A: I recommend halibut poached in olive oil, served with vegetables and a cucumber salad. This dish is elegant, healthy and looks lovely on the plate. Even better: It's very difficult to get wrong. The ingredients are easy to find, and you can even do a whole chunk of it in advance to take the pressure off. 

First, you'll need to blanch the vegetables. Get equal portions of broccoli florets, cauliflower and green beans, and boil them until tender in salted water -- 3 or 4 minutes maximum. Then drain them in a colander and put them directly into an icebox. That'll stop them from cooking further. You can do this hours beforehand. 

Now for the fish. You'll need two 6-ounce pieces of halibut -- skin off, center cut. (The fishmonger will do all that for you.) Fill a pan about half a finger deep with olive oil, throw some herbs in there -- tarragon, chervil and parsley stems work well -- and heat it on low for a few minutes. When it's hot but not scalding (i.e., when you can still put your finger in it), submerge the fish and leave it for about 6 minutes. If your fish is more than an inch thick, leave it a couple of more minutes. And that's it! It's impossible to overcook, and the fish comes out nice and moist. You can check if it's done by sticking a skewer into the flesh -- it should go in easily. If it's still firm, then just give it another minute. And if you can't find halibut, you can substitute albacore tuna or salmon. 

A few minutes before the fish is done, it's time to finish off the vegetables. Heat some chopped shallots in olive oil until they're soft, then add the blanched vegetables and a dash of salt and pepper. In a few minutes, they'll be good to go. If you can find verjus (an acidic juice made from unripe grapes) in your local supermarket, drizzle it over the top just before you take it off the heat. If not, you can use rice wine vinegar. Either way, go easy. Drizzle -- don't drench! 

This is a dish that's easy to arrange on the plate, restaurant-style. First, arrange the vegetables in a layer on the plate and cover them with some freshly torn herbs -- the same kind you put in the olive oil earlier. Drain the oil from the fish, pat it with kitchen towels and then place it on top of the vegetables. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the top and sprinkle with some chopped chives. Then place some chopped cucumber in thin slices over the top of the fish. Finally: a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of salt.

A quick, easy and super-romantic dessert is strawberries dipped in chocolate. The day before, melt a couple of high-quality dark chocolate bars in a saucepan, dip the strawberries halfway, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and store in the refrigerator. If you want to go more decadent, I recommend buying a chocolate panna cotta. It's complicated to make, and there's really no need to keep impressing her with your kitchen skills -- she'll be blown away by this stage anyway.

For more tips check out The Style Glossy's "Romantic Dinner for Two," by aphrodisiac-food authority Amy Reily. 

Once your Valentine's Day menu is ready, read on to make sure you are ready for the big night:

Victor Scargle is a chef instructor at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif.

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