If you read here often, you know I don’t like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. An hour or less… and I aim for the “less” any time I can get away with it! A romantic dinner to me normally involves telling my husband where I want him to take me, haha. But I recently had a chance to try a few new products from Nestle to create a romantic meal: their Buitoni pasta sauces, and their Tres Leches Cake baking kit. I made a very simple menu: a 4-ingredient Chicken Tortellini Alfredo for our main course, and Tres Leches Mini Cakes for dessert. Not only was it delicious, but I didn’t spend all my time in the kitchen. There are MUCH more important things to do to get ready for date nights – like have a glass of wine with your sweetie (or at least take a hot bath and shave your legs beforehand).
Anyway – since Valentine’s Day is coming, I wanted to share this perfect meal plan for beginner cooks. See, I remember the first time I tried to cook a romantic dinner. It was a disaster – I couldn’t get the side dishes to finish when the main course was done, half the dinner was cold by the time it made it to the table, it was under-seasoned… well, I really blew it. And worst of all, I had spent HOURS on it. By the time we could finally eat, my date had watched half a movie by himself and I was pretty cranky. Definitely NOT the romantic picture I had in my head!
I am going to gear today’s post toward absolute beginner cooks. (If you’re experienced, you know the brilliance of keeping it simple already – and you know what to do!) But if you have never prepared a nice dinner before, you can totally do this! I will walk you through making an impressive (but easy!) dinner from start to finish – including the time management tips to get it on the table when you’re planning to.
1-3 days before: Buy your groceries.
I picked up everything I needed right at Walmart. Here’s your shopping list (if you don’t have these things at home already):
- Buitoni Tortellini. I was undecided on whether to get cheese- or meat-filled tortellini but I opted for the Herb Chicken flavor (and it was WONDERFUL) – I highly recommend it!
- Buitoni Alfredo Sauce. The pasta and sauces will be in the refrigerated/deli area, not in the pasta aisle.
- Fresh Spinach from the product department – you’ll need 3 cups. More is fine.
- One Roma Tomato
- Optional: Grated Parmesan Cheese to top your pasta dish
- A loaf of Italian Bread
- Tres Leches Baking Kit from the baking aisle
- Oil (canola or vegetable work fine – your preference)
- Small carton of Whole Milk
- Whipped Cream (I like the kind in the can, but it’s up to you!)
- Wine, champagne, sparkling juice, or your choice of beverage
- Optional: heart shaped pan, if you’re making this romantic! I used two 6-cavity heart-shaped cupcake pans, and they turned out awesome. You can easily use a traditional pan, though.
At least 5 hours before dinnertime: Make your cake(s). 20-30 minutes.
You can do this in the morning, it’s pretty fast. But you’ll need to chill your cakes for at least 5 hours, so be sure to start this early enough. Just follow the baking instructions on the box to bake your cakes! Tip: be sure to preheat your oven while you mix up your batter to save time! You can also mix up your milk mix while the cakes are baking.
Baking adjustment: For cupcake-sized cakes, reduce your baking time to 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them. When they start to brown on top, poke one in the center with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean, they are done. If batter sticks to the toothpick, it needs to bake longer.
When they are done baking, cool them and remove them from the pan(s). I found that placing your cakes in a shallow dish for the Tres Leches (3 Milks) worked MUCH better when it came to serving time – if your cakes are small, just pour the milk mixture into the pan and the cakes will soak it up. That way, you’ll still have the pretty crisp edges right on top, but the cake itself will be infused with the sweetened milk mix.
Note: You will wait until dinnertime to take them out of the soaking dish, and put them into a serving bowl and top with whipped cream. But look how beautiful they will be!
30 Minutes before dinnertime: Make your Tortellini. 25-30 minutes.
Put 5 quarts of water plus one tablespoon of oil on the stove to boil. While you wait for that, wash your produce, and dice your tomato. If your spinach leaves are quite large, chop them into halves or quarters. When your water comes to a boil, add the tortellini. Stir it often so it doesn’t stick together and boil for about 8 minutes. Drain it, and add it to a large skillet on medium heat with your spinach, tomato, and alfredo sauce. Stir it until it’s well-coated and heated all the way through. You will know it’s done when the spinach cooks down, and the sauce just begins to bubble.
5 minutes before dinner: Plate it! 5 minutes.
Set the table, slice the bread, pour the wine. Put your desserts into bowls and top with whipped cream, then stash them back into the refrigerator until dessert time.
Put the pasta into shallow bowls and top with parmesan cheese, if you want.
You did it! Now light some candles if you like, get your sweetie to the table, and enjoy the quality time you did NOT spend slaving over the stove all night!