Gentlemen: As you may have noticed, women love a man who listens, but just behind him are a man who can make them laugh and a man who can cook. I'm still working on listening, but the other two have stopped my wife from hurling me into the street and changing the locks on several occasions.
I can't give you a sense of humor, but I can provide you with a plan for a slow-paced, sensual dinner that will knock your loved one's socks off. It's fairly easy, but try to do as much ahead of time as you can. The idea is to pick the recipes for your ideal menu, then relax and make a long, unhurried evening of it. Put on some mood music with a jazzy crooner like Georges Moustaki or Van Morrison, and serve each course with chilled white wine — by candlelight, of course. She'll love you for it.
Serves 2 / Ingredient tips: I use ghee (clarified butter) for high-heat cooking. In a pinch, substitute light cream cheese for the mascarpone. Prep tips: Find more online recipes for duck stock and Asparagus Bundles (shown, right).
Serves 2 / Ingredient tip: A zinc-rich aphrodisiac. Oysters perish quickly, so if possible buy them the same day you plan to eat them, and choose the smallest oysters you can find. They should be closed tightly! If you've never shucked oysters you may want to buy an extra one and practice beforehand — but don't worry, it's not hard. Prep tips: Make the ponzu (Japanese dipping sauce) the day before, but cut the chile and scallion close to serving time. For less spice, omit the Sriracha (Thai hot sauce). View full recipe.
Serves 2 / Prep tips: The secrets to this salad course are a very crisp apple and a very hot pan for searing the scallops. Prepare the lettuce and dressing the day before, but bring the dressing to room temperature before serving. Don't be tempted to get ahead on anything else; this dish only sparkles when everything is very fresh. View full recipe.
Makes 12 / An easy appetizer. Prep tips: The crostini and tapenade can be made a day or two ahead. Keep crostini in an airtight container at room temperature. Wait until the last minute to assemble so the toast doesn't get soggy. View full recipe.
Serves 16 / Prep tips: This dessert needs to be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated, then brought to room temp before serving. (Don't serve cold, or it will be too firm to enjoy.) If you want to roast the pears in advance, keep them in the pan and reheat briefly before serving. View full recipe.
Alan Roettinger, world traveler and bon vivant, was a private chef for 25 years. His book Omega-3 Cuisine (Book Publishing, 2008) can be ordered at alanroettinger.com.