As we all continue to adjust to new schedules and stresses, sitting down to relish a beautiful, shared meal together is a powerful means to connect. To help you make the most of your meal time, we've compiled this list of tips to elevate your takeout game and at-home cooking skills. You’ll also find tips for beverage pairing, creating ambiance and a few ideas from local experts to take your stay-at-home dinner dates to the next level. Bon appétit!
1. Perfect the Menu
There's no shame in outsourcing your meal and it's a great way to stay safe while continuing to support our local restaurants.
For a special date night, skip the pizza and create your own gourmet date night at home instead. Head to Fig & Julep in Hyde Park Village for fancy kitchen pantry items, and stock up on quality meats from the butcher at Renzo's, or grab Italian favorites from Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Pete.
Also try Rooster & The Till's Sunday Supper, a weekly dinner deal that includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert for two for $60. Orders must be placed by 5pm on Thursdays and will be available for pickup on Sunday between 11am and 12:30pm (see the menu online here and order here).
Try something new
Take your takeout to the next level by planning a fun international date night. Grab takeout from a local restaurant that specializes in a type of cuisine you've never tried before. Then, queue up a special playlist and pair it with a corresponding movie. Our Date Night Around the World dining series will get you started.
Cook it yourself
If you're a foodie couple looking to level up your at-home cooking skills (or just want to seriously impress your date with a made from scratch feast), Edible Orlando Publisher Kendra Lott has a few expert tips that will set you on the right track.
“Setting yourself up for success is one of the most important and easiest ways to elevate at-home dining, and nothing can secure your success quite like the right cookbook. When I need inspiration for a memorable menu, I turn to my favorite cookbooks,” she says.
A few of Kendra's go-to cookbooks from seasoned pros include:
- Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking by Matsuharu Morimoto
- Bon Appetit, Y'all by Virginia Willis
- Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
- The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittangsall
- If you know what you want to make in advance, there's always Mark Bittman's classic compendium How to Cook Everything
You can also refer to Edible Orlando's recipe and video series What Chefs Actually Cook at Home for a peek at what chefs make outside the restaurant.
2. Learn new Tricks
If you're new to cooking or just want to add to your existing skillset, enrolling in a local cooking class may be just the boost you need. Earlier this year, I joined a virtual cooking class and felt like a proper chef after preparing a delicious multi-course meal at home with my boyfriend.
Some local classes have resumed in-person, like Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium and Publix Aprons Cooking School (locations in Citrus Park and Lakeland). Online and in-person cooking classes with local chefs are also available throughout the city through Cozymeal.
3. Pair Your Meal Like a Pro
No stay-at-home dinner date is complete without the perfect accompanying cocktail or bottle of wine. Our friends over at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits have compiled a helpful wine Q&A that covers the basics.
If you're a beginner when it comes to wine pairing, ABC Sales Manager Nathan Dale offered up a few tips.
“Think about what you are familiar with and try out a new producer from that region. Smaller producers can be more adventurous. If it looks weird, don’t be afraid to take the chance on it. You may be surprised. Buy a nice Tuscan red, vintage Champagne, White Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, or a nice German Riesling. Easy rules to play by.”
And, if you need general wine pairing guidance, try these pairings as recommended by ABC's expert wine team:
- Chicken: Go for a heavier white or lighter style red depending on sauce and seasoning. Recommended wine – Octopoda Russian River Chardonnay ($17.99)
- Seafood: You can't go wrong with a Sauvignon Blanc to complement just about any seafood dish. Recommended wine – Nicolas Idiart Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc ($21.99)
- Vegetarian: Opt for a dry, crisp aromatic white to pair with vegetarian meals. Recommended wine – Jules Taylor Gruner Veltliner ($14.99)
- Pasta: Choosing a wine to pair with pasta is all about the sauce! A recommended wine to work with creamy and tomato-based sauces – Agostino Pavia & Figli Moliss Barbera d'Asti Superiore ($13.99)
- Beef: Choose a wine from Argentina to complement the richness and fattiness of beef. Recommended wine – Cuvelier Los Andes Coleccíon Red Blend ($19.99)
ABC's corporate chef, Chef Macy, also offered up some of her favorite recipes paired with wines to make your next at-home dinner date super simple. Try her Mushroom Buckwheat Risotto, Roasted Cauliflower and Garbanzo Bean Salad, or Tempura Fish Sliders with Pickled Onions, to start.
4. Hit the Market
If you're feeling creative and spontaneous, head to the nearest farmer's market. Grab interesting local ingredients you don't recognize to conduct your own cooking challenge at home, or go on the hunt for a meal made with only locally-grown, in-season ingredients. I love visiting my closest local market each Saturday. I pick up fresh pasta for my weekly Sunday pasta dinner and love getting meal inspiration from what's available from local farmers.
A few of our favorite local markets include the Ybor City Saturday Market and St. Pete's Saturday Morning Market.
5. Plate your Dinner Like a Chef
Central Florida-based food blogger and wine expert Lisa Wilk (follow her @tastecooksip) is a pro at re-plating takeout dishes from her favorite local restaurants. Refer to her account for inspiration, or even as a reference as you plate your food in real time.
Of her own stay-at-home dinner dates lately, she says, “During all of this- being stuck at home, it's been fun to pick up a few place settings for two in different styles to use for our own date nights.” And I agree! Cooking at home way more than usual inspired me to invest in a new set of fancy dishes, making meals all the more beautiful.
Lisa also recommends enhancing your meal by carrying the restaurant experience over. After your dish is plated, queue up a playlist of music that corresponds to the restaurant or type of cuisine, and pair it with wine from that region to bring things full circle.
Other tips for plating like a pro:
- Use elegant garnishes
- Drizzle sauces in an artful way to make patterns or smears of sauce on your plate
- Incorporate different colors for visual interest (we all know our eyes eat first!)
- Think of your plate as your artistic palette; instead of just dumping food onto the plate, arrange things in patterns or designs to make your own edible masterpiece
6. Set the Scene
When planning your stay-at-home dinner dates, the ambiance is just as important as the meal itself! Go the extra mile by using the “good” dishes, trading harsh overheard lights for romantic candlelight, and getting out a nice white tablecloth to give your dining table a fine dining touch. You could also pick up a fresh bouquet from a local florist.
Missing the vibe of your favorite restaurant? Get creative and emulate specific details in your own home. For example, maybe you'd like to recreate the sultry, low lighting and white tablecloths of your favorite steakhouse, or put together a playlist of European music to channel your go-to French cafe.
If you'd rather not do the work and don't mind a daytime date, local picnic company That's My Jam will set up an elaborate themed picnic in your own backyard.
Feature image credit: Lisa Wilk, @tastecooksip
Disclosure: ABC Fine Wine & Spirits is one of our valued advertising partners.