You've probably heard that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. What you may not know is that women like to eat too, and cooking for your girlfriend is a great way to show your appreciation for her. If you're reading this article, you probably haven't cooked for your girlfriend before, or if you have, it didn't turn out as well as you hoped, or you are just concerned with doing things to make your girlfriend happy. Don't worry, though; with a little planning and work, anybody can pull off a thoughtful, home-cooked dinner. Follow these tips and you'll be cooking up romance in no time.
1. Assess your relationship. Before you plan that exquisite gourmet meal, it's a good idea to think about where you are in your relationship. If you've been with a girl for a while, cooking a fancy meal that takes a lot of time to prepare can seem really romantic. If you just met the girl last week, however, that same meal can seem kind of creepy. Early in a relationship, it may be best to stick with simple dishes--still mindful, of course, of what your girlfriend likes to eat or you might give the impression that you're too eager to please her. Besides, if you cook a six-course dinner on the second date, imagine how many courses you're going to have to make if you're still together in a year or two.
2. Discover what your girlfriend likes to eat. You can cook just about anything you want, really--it's the thought that counts. Put a little more thought into the meal, however, and it counts a little more. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if your girlfriend is a vegetarian you should skip the meatloaf, but if you really want to make the meal special, you'll need to look beyond the obvious. This can require some advance preparation you need to listen to her and make mental notes to yourself. For example, maybe a couple months ago she mentioned how she used to love Brunswick stew but she never learned to make it. Surprise her with some for dinner, and she'll be amazed you remembered. In other words, you're not just cooking, you're being an attentive boyfriend or girlfriend.
3. Search for a recipe. By now you should know what you want to make. Get out the cookbook (there's probably one lying around somewhere) or get on the web. Want to make chicken enchiladas? Just enter "chicken enchiladas recipe" in your search engine, and you'll have probably hundreds of variations to choose from. Read the instructions and ingredients and choose a recipe that you feel comfortable making--if the first one you find looks too difficult, keep looking.
4. Choose accompanying dishes. Depending on what your main dish is and how big a production you've decided to make your meal, you may want to add side dishes, a salad or a dessert. Often, entree recipes will have suggestions for side dishes and wines, or you can find an entire meal planned out. If the recipe you've chosen to make doesn't give you any suggestions, look at similar recipes for ideas.
5. Decide on a date for the big meal. If you're planning on cooking today, you're probably in a hurry--skip this step. Otherwise, make plans with your girlfriend. You can just tell her you'd like to cook dinner (or breakfast or lunch) for her, or you can surprise her. If you're going to surprise her, make up some pretext--a good one is to tell her you're taking her out to eat--so that she will (a) show up and (b) show up hungry.
6. Make a shopping list. A day or two before you will cook, go through each and every item in your recipe(s) and see if you have it in your kitchen. Make sure you have enough of each ingredient, as well, and make sure they're all edible (1 egg won't substitute for 3, and rotting vegetables just aren't the same as fresh). Also, check to see that you have all the kitchen utensils you will need (you can buy these or, preferably, try to borrow them from somebody). If you don't have something, write it down on your shopping list. Make sure your list is detailed--include the quantity you'll need and any other pertinent information. Of course, if you're like a lot of bachelors, you can probably just take the recipe with you to the grocery store--you know you don't have any of that stuff.
7. Go grocery shopping. Bring your list to the grocery store and purchase what you need. Cross each item off the list as you put it in your cart, and before you leave, make sure you've got everything. You'll probably see a lot of girls at the grocery store; this is not the time to flirt.
8. Pre-prepare. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Sometimes this is absolutely necessary (you may need to marinate something overnight, for example), so pay close attention to your recipe. Even when advance preparation isn't required, the more you do early, the easier your cooking experience will be.
9. Prepare the meal. Make sure you start your cooking early enough to have the meal ready on time, but not so early that it's sitting around for hours. The recipe may give you an estimate of preparation and cooking times; you may want to add a little time onto these if you're not a proficient chef. Unless you really know what you're doing, follow the recipe's instructions exactly.
10. Set the mood. Be creative with the ambiance you set for your meal. Maybe you want to have it on the balcony under the stars, or maybe it's breakfast in bed--the sky's the limit. As in your choice of meal, you may want to consider where your relationship is at. If you're looking to inject some romance into a long-term relationship, dim the lights, hire a violinist and break out the candles and roses. If you've only been dating a week, however, you might want to keep it simple: dim the lights, get a friend to guard the door to make sure no other girls stop by, and break out the thick, classy paper plates.
11. Serve the meal. Your service will depend on the meal you've chosen, of course, but a couple of rules apply regardless. Make sure the food is ready to be served--hot foods should be hot and cold foods cold, for example--and serve your girlfriend her food first. Make sure she is comfortable and has everything she needs to enjoy your magical feast. Wait for her to take her first bite before you dig in.
12. Relish the togetherness. Just focus on your girlfriend, not the food. Even if you're insecure about your cooking, act confident. Don't keep asking her if she really likes this or that. You've worked hard to prepare this meal for your girlfriend, but you don't need to tell her that--she knows.
13. Clean up everything yourself. This may make the best impression of all.