A special Valentines meal can take many forms this year

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As we come to the end of a collective year of pandemic firsts, Valentine’s Day is next up. And showing love and gratitude can feel more important than ever.

Perhaps during a regular year, you and your dearest might have gone out for a romantic dinner, or somewhere special like the theater, a concert, a horse-drawn carriage ride. Or maybe you’d have chosen to stay in and have a quiet evening … but this year we’ve all had a lot of those.

If food is your love language, however, there are lots of ways to make this Valentine’s Day feel special without putting your health at risk or spending a lot of cash.

COOKING FOR 2 (OR A FAMILY)

Starting with the totally DIY: a home-cooked dinner for two. (Or more, if you have kids or others at home; this year, Valentine’s Day may well be a family affair.)

Is there a place you’ve vacationed that holds a special place in your hearts? A honeymoon in Thailand, an escape to New Mexico, a bike tour through Tuscany? Let that be the inspiration for your dinner. Plan a menu featuring your favorite dishes from that region: Recreate that pasta dish you adored in Lucca or those enchiladas from Santa Fe.

Or maybe there was a trip you were planning to take, and still hope to. Think about the meals you want to eat once you do get there: chakalaka and pap from South Africa, maybe, callaloo from Trinidad and Tobago, paella from Spain. Dive into a cookbook or a reputable website and make that your mission for dinner.

Another idea: Treat yourselves to a new kitchen appliance, and make Valentine’s Day the day to play with it. It could be an Instant Pot, say, or an Air Fryer, sous vide machine, pasta maker. Homemade pasta for Valentine’s Day? That seems pretty romantic to me.

TAKEOUT TWISTS

For less work, order in something special from a local restaurant, maybe one you’ve never tried before that specializes in a cuisine you might be unfamiliar with.

Some local eateries might be offering Valentine’s Day take-out meals, or menu items for special occasions. For instance, if you are feeling splurgey and live in New York City, Michelin-starred Aquavit has a very upscale meal kit for two, featuring your choice of entree (think rack of lamb or arctic char), plus a bunch of sides, and desserts including chocolate cake with mascarpone and coffee cream.

FOOD KITS

Or get yourself a kit and unravel the mystery of a new kind of food together. Uncommon Goods has a Chinese Soup Making Kit, Brooklyn Brew Shop has a bunch of beer making kits, and MMTUM shop has a molecular gastronomy cooking kit if you really want to geek out with your partner in the kitchen.

Williams-Sonoma has kits for making everything from the famous Rainbow Explosion Cake from Flour Shop, to a Cocktail Infusion Kit, to a mozzarella and ricotta-making kit. Internationally focused TakeOutKit.com will send you the basics for making everything from Japanese Tonkotsu Ramen to Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup to Aji de Gallina from Peru.

CLASSES FROM CUPID

Many classes offered online are geared specifically towards Valentine’s Day.

Sur La Table has an assortment of cooking classes geared towards Date Night, and the offerings around Valentine’s Day are robust. Choose from Sushi at Home, Italian Steakhouse and Cooking with Wine themed classes. Or learn how to make Pomegranate Kir Royales and Rack of Lamb with Polenta with celebrity chef Terrance Brennan. You’ll need to download the prep packet and purchase the ingredients to cook along.

Murray’s Cheese has expanded their selection of virtual classes, which include one on making cheese boards, and one on creating a “Most Decadent Valentine’s Day.” All the classes can be taken live or bought to view later. Cheeses and pairings such as sweets and preserves will be sent to your home ahead of the class.

If you and your boo are coffee fiends, there are some fun online choices. B Corp Counter Culture Coffee has online classes dedicated to making coffee experts out of coffee lovers. One, “Cupping,” helps participants develop their palate and learn the differences between coffee processing techniques, varieties, origins and even brewing variables. You need to have some equipment on hand, and they’ll send you the rest. Next time you head to your favorite coffee shop, you can go toe-to-toe with the baristas.

Eventbrite is a website that offers all kinds of events and classes on subjects ranging from Indian cooking to cocktail-making, and free workshops, too, such as one on how to make a chocolate lava cake.

At MasterClass, another online class hub, the classes are taught by the likes of Thomas Keller and Gabriela Camara, so they are pricier. But you are getting the definitive experts in their fields.

Your local cooking school or cookware store may also have some virtual (or possibly in person) options, and you can support a local business at the same time.

Finally, breakfast in bed is a very pandemic-proof way to celebrate the holiday, though you may have to flip a coin to see which one of you gets to lounge around waiting for the hot coffee to arrive.

Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at [email protected]

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