Here is how you can  prepare for the Valentine’s Day dinner we described and recommended in two previous posts. Ro Howe, chef and owner of Barraud Caterers Limited, in New York City, came up with the ideas for this easy but impressive dinner.—Ed. For this meal I’m providing three recipes: the classic Spanish potato and onion tortilla (see Part 2 of this series for the recipe), the spicy lemongrass chicken (posted today) and, in my next post, the chocolate-Kahlua brûlée. Below are my general tips on how to plan and shop for your dinner easily and efficiently.

Set the menu and gather your recipes. If possible, print out the recipes so you can make notes. If necessary, adjust the ingredients to reflect the number of servings you’ll want. Most recipes allow for 4, 6, or 8 portions, so you will need to scale down.

Draw up your shopping lists. Use the menu and recipes to create two lists: dry and shelf goods that can be bought in advance, and perishables that will need to be purchased just before the dinner.

Draw up the non-food “to do” list. These are the things that tend to get overlooked until the last minute, when they can wreak havoc on even the most organized schedule. For example: ordering flower arrangements, selecting and checking over the table linens, polishing the silver. Use this list as the start of a timeline, and make sure all the tasks have been slotted into specific days.

Create your kitchen prep list. Go through your recipes and break each down into separate tasks. Figure out what can be done ahead, and how much beforehand. There’s nothing more satisfying than checking off the tasks, one by one, on a well-organized prep list.

Develop a timeline. This is essential. In addition to the non-food “to do” tasks mentioned earlier, you’ll want to assign every item on your kitchen prep list to a specific time slot, along with your shopping. If you don’t overload any one phase, you may find that you actually enjoy the process as you go along—and that when Valentine’s evening rolls around, you’re cool, calm, collected, and attractive!

Since you are cooking for only two people, your shopping list will not be overwhelming, but it’s still a good idea to section it into headings for the butcher, supermarket produce/dairy, supermarket grocery/dry goods, liquor store, florist. Go through your recipes one by one, checking the fridge and cupboard to see if you have enough of each ingredient you need—and things like the freshness of the cream. Write the list and go shopping!

Next: the dessert, and day-of tips.



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