Your lady or gentleman caller never has to know that their perfect meal wasn’t actually hard to make.
1. Coconut-crusted tilapia with a pretty pomegranate salsa:
You get points for using unusual ingredients, even when it isn’t actually any more complicated. http://www.howsweeteats.com/2013/01/toasted-coconut-tilapia-with-pomegranate-salsa/.
2. A low-maintenance but very chic kale risotto:
The beauty of this vegetarian risotto is that you bake it instead of standing there stirring for 20 minutes, so you can devote your undivided attention to your bae. Store-bought pesto is totally fine if you don’t have time to DIY. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/oven-risotto-with-kale-pesto.
3. Individual steaks with sweet balsamic-roasted cherry tomatoes:
You could cover a piece of cardboard in roasted cherry tomatoes and it would be delicious. But steak is much better than cardboard. http://keystothecucina.com/2014/07/31/pan-seared-steak-with-balsamic-and-basil-cherry-tomatoes/.
4. Perfectly seared scallops with herb-infused brown butter:
Scallops are so fast to cook that you can do it while your date is watching and show them how talented you are with a frying pan. (Just maybe do a practice round first?) Serve these with a starchy side or plenty of good bread to soak up the sauce. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/scallops-with-herbed-brown-butter.
5. Roasted sweet potatoes topped with a pretty mix of chickpeas, tomatoes and herb sauce:
Just act like you came up with that genius flavor combo yourself. No big deal. http://www.loveandlemons.com/2013/11/25/stuffed-acorn-squash/.
6. Cozy chicken piccata:
I don’t know about you, but if someone cooks me something with capers in it, I’m going to be very impressed. Serve these up with pasta. http://www.redshallotkitchen.com/2014/01/chicken-piccata.html.
7. Mussels steamed in white wine:
Mussels are super fast to cook, suggest a very romantic Parisian-bistro vibe, and dealing with the shells provides a fun(ny) date activity. http://www.inspiredtaste.net/1773/steamed-mussels-in-a-white-wine-broth/.
8. Super-simple cacio e pepe spaghetti:
This is the extremely classy, grownup version of the butter-and-cheese microwave pasta that was your passion as an 8-year-old. But it still only takes four ingredients. http://www.buzzfeed.com/melissaharrison/heres-what-you-should-make-for-your-next-date-night-dinner#.tfbvOmEyWK.
9. Easy roasted salmon with crispy potatoes:
Fish is so much easier to cook than you think, and salmon is the most forgiving fish of all. http://www.buzzfeed.com/emofly/quick-and-easy-salmon-recipe#.eyRKBN7wqy.
10. A cheesy skillet full of chicken and zucchini parm:
This borrows the things that make everyone love pizza (tomato, cheese) and applies them to something a little more impressive. http://www.simplebites.net/skillet-chicken-and-zucchini-parmesan/.
11. Creamy lemon & asparagus pasta that just happens to be vegan:
Because nothing says “I love you” like working with someone’s dietary limitations and making it look easy. http://minimalistbaker.com/creamy-vegan-lemon-asparagus-pasta/.
12. His-and-hers pork chops with mustard greens:
You can skip the quick-pickled shallots if you’re in a hurry, but they’re worth a lot of extra credit points. Try kale if you can’t find mustard greens. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/flattened-pork-chops-with-greens-and-mustard-pan-sauce.
13. A Thai-style fish fillet cooked in its own little parchment packet:
No love interest could possibly resist their own personalized fish gift. http://www.gomakeme.com/2013/04/go-make-me-thai-fish-fillets-en-papillote-or-steamed-in-a-bag-recipe.html.
14. Crispy chicken and Brussels sprouts that get cozy in one pan:
You brown the chicken, add the sprouts, and roast with a little broth until everything’s tender on the inside. LIKE YOUR DATE’S HEART. http://soletshangout.com/one-pan-crispy-chicken-legs-brussels-sprouts-gluten-free-paleo/.
15. A bright coconut curry that doesn’t actually require exotic ingredients:
Nothing you can’t find at your normal grocery store, and you could make it a day ahead of time if you’re prepping for a weeknight assignation. Serve this with rice or quinoa. http://minimalistbaker.com/30-minute-coconut-curry/.
16. A perfectly seared steak:
17. Shrimp scampi lounging on a bed of linguine:
Shrimp is the fastest thing in the world to cook, and the only other stuff you’ll need is basic pantry staples. Plus, you’ll have wine leftover! http://cookingalamel.com/2014/04/shrimp-scampi.html.
18. Pulled pork that you secretly had going in your slow cooker all day:
Serve with buns, slaw, and any other sandwich fixings you like. http://www.chow.com/recipes/30356-easy-slow-cooker-pulled-pork.
19. A simple veggie stir-fry that actually makes tofu taste good:
Believe me, that accomplishment will get you major points with any cute vegetarian. http://minimalistbaker.com/tofu-that-tastes-good-stir-fry/.