Going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day can be more trouble than it's worth. Every good restaurant in the city is packed, and don't even get us started on the surge pricing you'll have to deal with in order to get across town. It’s enough to make anyone want to shoot Cupid with his own arrow. It's not that we're totally anti-V-Day. We just happen to think that there’s nothing better than a night in with a homemade meal to set the right tone.
So, to give you a little inspiration, we consulted some of our favorite Chicago foodies for their best recipes for romance. From a decadent chocolate cake to oysters that are equal parts sweet and spicy, these dishes are to die for. (And, we included a few cocktails for good measure!) Added bonus? Because you're enjoying this culinary experience in your own digs, the bedroom is just steps away. Cooking was never so much fun.
Ginger Cherry Cake With Cardamom Dark Chocolate Sauce
"I love this recipe for Valentine's Day because not only does it include aphrodisiacs like chocolate, cherries, cinnamon, and ginger, the cardamom sauce gives it a strong, citrusy aroma. It’s also easy to make in advance and looks impressive when finished." — Claire Hewson, Pastry Chef at Chicago q and Blue Door Farm Stand
Ginger Cherry Cake Ingredients
1 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
Ginger Cherry Cake Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Grease an eight-inch square or round cake pan.
3. Toss halved cherries with sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Arrange flat side down on bottom of pan. Sprinkle any remaining sugar mix on top.
4. Cream butter and sugar until soft. Add eggs one at a time, making sure mixture is homogeneous. Add vanilla extract.
5. Mix remaining dry ingredients. Add to butter-sugar mixture slowly, making sure all is incorporated. Spread evenly on top of cherries.
6. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. The cake is done when there is a golden crust and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for five to seven minutes. Invert onto plate or serving platter while still warm.
7. Cake can be served at room temperature, but to warm, return to oven for seven minutes.
Cardamom Chocolate Sauce Ingredients
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
1 cup dark chocolate
Cardamom Chocolate Sauce Instructions
1. Combine cream, sugar, and cardamom. Bring to a boil.
2. Pour over chocolate and stir to melt. Add salt. Serve warm.
True Romance Cocktail
"This drink has a beautiful red hue to it, and the depth of flavor and spice will make you want to lock the doors, close the blinds, light some candles, and settle in with your significant other." — Alex Renshaw, Bar Manager at Drumbar
1 oz Pimm's No. 1
1 oz Appleton Estate V/X rum
.75 oz lemon
.75 oz raspberry syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
1 dash Bar Keep Chinese five-spice bitters
Shake and strain into a coupe glass; garnish with a mint leaf.
White Chocolate Cinnamon Crème Brûlée
"Crème brûlée is the perfect dessert to share. It’s easy to dig into the decadent custard with two spoons, and it has an amazing sugar crust that's fun to crack. As intimidating as crème brûlée sounds, it really is one of the simplest desserts you can make, and will definitely impress that person you're cooking for." — Jim Teutemacher, Executive Chef at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House
1 qt heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
6 oz white-chocolate chips
1/4 tsp iodized salt
7 to 8 egg yolks
1. Heat cream in saucepan to 110°F.
2. Whisk together sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, egg yolks, and salt in mixing bowl. Slowly temper the egg mixture with hot cream.
3. Once tempered, pour hot cream and egg mixture over white chocolate and mix until fully dissolved and smooth.
4. Strain through mesh strainer into a separate container, then pour mixture into brûlée dishes, filling to about half an inch from top.
5. Place filled brûlée dishes in a water bath and bake at 275°F for 50 to 55 minutes, or until firmly set.
6. Remove from oven and let cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, then refrigerate until ready for service.
7. Once you’re ready to serve the dessert, pour two tablespoons of granulated sugar over the top of each dish. Roll dish around to coat the top evenly with sugar. Using a small kitchen torch, gently melt the sugar using a back-and-forth motion, with flame just touching the surface to achieve a caramelization of the sugar on top. Garnish with fresh berries and mint sprig.
Beausoleil Oysters With Pomegranate Chili Mignonette
"The combination of chili and pomegranate offers a sweet and spicy alternative to a normal mignonette. Also, this dish has three different aphrodisiacs (pomegranate, chili peppers, oysters) for triple the love." — John Hogan, Executive Chef at River Roast
12 raw Beausoleil oysters, opened
2 oz pomegranate vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
1 small Fresno chili, finely diced
1 tsp minced chive
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
1. Combine all ingredients (aside from oysters) in a bowl until blended.
2. Top on raw oysters and serve.
Beg, Borrow, Steal Cocktail
"Chili peppers are considered an aphrodisiac, so our Beg, Borrow, Steal made with Thai chili-infused Green Chartreuse will definitely spice things up on Valentine's Day." — Brian Sturgulewski, Fulton Market Kitchen
1 oz Reposado tequila
.75 oz Thai chili-infused Green Chartreuse
1 oz fresh pineapple juice
.75 oz lime
.5 oz simple syrup
A pinch of cilantro
Shake all and double-strain into a coupe glass.
Roast Chicken With Garlic, Pearl Onions, Potatoes,
And Bacon In A Rosemary Jus
"Garlic is an unassuming aphrodisiac and can spice things up in an out-of-the-box way. Also, nothing says, ‘I love you’ more than comfort food." — Steve Chiappetti, Chef/Partner at Marion Street Market
5 whole fryer chickens
1 1/2 lbs of bacon, diced
40 garlic cloves
40 pearl onions
1/4 cup oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1. Remove backbones from fryers. Place chickens breast down and remove breast cartilage and wish bones. Cut in half lengthwise, cut wings at first joint, cut off end of leg bones, and loosen meat around bones. (You can ask your butcher to complete these steps for you.)
2. Place chickens on a roasting pan, brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
3. Roast for 45 minutes. While roasting, peel potatoes and quarter them. Blanch and peel garlic cloves. Remove chicken from pan. Add potatoes, garlic, onions, and bacon. Roast until vegetables and bacon are browned; approximately 30 minutes.
4. Remove rib bones and cut chicken pieces in half, separating wings from legs. Place the chicken pieces, potatoes, garlic cloves, onions, and bacon in a pan; heat 10 minutes in the oven.
5. Finish under broiler to crisp.
6. Place breast on leg, with bone up, on plate with potatoes. Garnish with parsley and rosemary sprig and spoon on one to two ounces of jus.
Rosemary Jus Ingredients
3 cups rich chicken stock
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 oz unsalted butter
TT salt and pepper
Rosemary Jus Instructions
1. Add rosemary to stock and reduce by half.
2. Cut butter into pieces and whisk into jus, season with salt and pepper. Keep warm and reserve for service.
Candy Heart-Inspired Sugar Cookies
"No matter what stage of your relationship, you can decorate these cookies with fun words and designs. It's even fun to work on them together!" — Anna Majewski, Sugar Hills Bakery
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out dough on floured surface, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies one inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
3. Bake six to eight minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.
4. Decorate to your heart’s content!
Butter-Poached Lobster With Creamed Kale And Spicy Pickled Daikon
"Lobster is a great dish to serve for a celebratory occasion like Valentine's Day. This dish is delicious and elegant, but isn't too hard for the home cook to pull off!" — Bobby Mayo, Executive Chef at CH Distillery & Cocktail Bar
4 lobster tails
4 lbs butter (one pound per tail, so add more if cooking additional tails)
1. First, clarify the butter by placing it in a heavy saucepan. Allow it to melt slowly over low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for five minutes. Skim the foam from the top and slowly pour into a container, discarding the milky solids in the bottom of pan.
2. Poach the tails in the clarified butter on low heat until the shell changes color and the meat firms up. The tail meat should slide out of the shell when fully cooked. The meat will get tough and rubbery if overcooked.
3 bunches kale
1 qt stock (veggie or seafood)
1 pt heavy cream
Half cup of remaining butter from poached lobster
1. To cream the kale, soften the shallots with a little bit of oil. Do this in a large enough pot to fit the kale. Note: If cooking more kale, add one shallot for each additional bunch.
2. Add the kale and quart of stock; cover. Once kale is cooked down, add pint of heavy cream and half a cup of the butter you poached the lobster in. Let that reduce by half.
1. Make three piles of warm creamed kale on a plate.
2. Heat lobster tails in the same butter they were poached in. Remove from butter and slice on a bias into three pieces.
3. Mount lobster slices on top of creamed-kale piles. Add three or four spoonfuls of Mother In Law’s Kimchi Daikon (or good-quality pickled beets) to the base of the kale piles.