Inviting a date back to your place at 7 pm (rather than 3 am) can be both an exhilarating and intimidating experience. Dining chez toi is clearly more intimate than dining at a restaurant, which can be good if you’re hitting it off, and bad if you’re a bit shy or awkward. At best, cooking for a potential mate allows you to reveal your talents and tastes. It’s offbeat, economical, and fun.

Here are our tips for helping your kitchen make you the most eligible bachelor/ette in town.

Assess your experience. No matter how cocky you normally are, being honest about your cooking ability in the lead-up to a date at home is crucial. If you haven’t cooked a lot, or cooked a lot for other people, stick with something simple. It’s not the best idea to invent a brand new dish when your love life is on the line.

Make ahead… Choose food that keeps well, and make the bulk of your meal in the morning or even the night before. Wash up any dishes you’re done with long before your esteemed guest arrives — you want your kitchen to be neat. Stews like Beer Beef Stew keep for days, so you can make them start to finish (and know that they’re tasty!) in advance. Salad dressings can be made a day or two ahead, and onions, garlic, and carrots can all be chopped beforehand.

…But don’t finish everything. You’ll want to show off your cooking prowess once your date has arrived. Be sure that risotto needs one more stir or that chicken one more baste. Talking while cooking is less awkward than talking while gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. It gives you something to do with your hands, not to mention a point of conversation (“This stew and I go wayyy back”).

Save one special task. Give your date something small and foolproof to do while you place the finishing touches on your dish. Cooking together is fun, and remember — having something to do with your hands prevents awkward eye contact and awkward silences.

Open a bottle of wine. Does this go without saying? Cocktails first can be nice, but they’re surely not required. Don’t serve beer unless you’re sure your date likes it; some women, unfortunately, don’t.

Avoid clichés. Sure, some women might not drink beer, but they don’t want to be served salad and seared tuna. And maybe men don’t always want burgers (though maybe they do…). Try to serve something surprising — aim for “classic with a twist.”

Consider the aroma. Dinners that might not stink up a restaurant can be frustratingly fragrant in a home kitchen. Unless you’ve got the most powerful kitchen fan in the world, you’ll normally want to steer clear of curry powder and fishy fish. (Also, consider your own aroma and try not to use excessive garlic.)

Consider your teeth. Beware of foods that have a habit of getting stuck in your teeth. Pesto has been known to kill the mood on more than one occasion.

Serve dessert. Not only does it prolong the romantic moment, dessert also gives you a chance to make up for any gaffes that might have occurred during dinner. Chocolate can take the form of brownies, mousse, and ice cream with hot fudge sauce.

Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine are the bloggers behind Big Girls, Small Kitchen. Their first cookbook, In the Small Kitchen, is in bookstores now.


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