How cooking can strengthen your relationship with your partner

How cooking can strengthen your relationship with your partner

It was a cold February evening in a cramped galley kitchen of a 1920s bungalow. We were a newlywed couple: young, in love, and hopelessly ambitious in our culinary endeavors (despite our vast lack of experience). Our mission that night: to create a pizza from scratch, a task neither of us had attempted before.

Of course, our high hopes for a perfectly round, elegantly charred Italian-style masterpiece went out the window after the first few minutes. But despite the mess, misshapen dough and pizza slices, laughter filled that tiny kitchen. It was more than just preparing a meal; it was about creating a bond through our shared creativity and teamwork.

Adventures like these blossomed into our life’s work. As a husband and wife team of cookbook authors, we’ve come a long way since our first pizza. But the essence of what we found that night remains at the heart of our cooking philosophy: Cooking is better together.

However, when we tell people this, we often hear, “Oh, I can’t share the kitchen with my husband, he’s too messy.” Or, “My partner refuses to cook, so she did the dishes.”

Now, we absolutely appreciate that dividing and conquering the kitchen works for everyday meals. But may we suggest a date night that flips the script? As Valentine’s Day approaches, crowded restaurants and extravagant dinners may come to mind. But we are proposing a more intimate bonding experience: cooking together at home.

Early on in our marriage, we discovered that cooking dates can be a way to relax, unwind, and tackle a fun recipe. Instead of butting heads (which, of course, happens!), we’ve learned to embrace our differences. Alex is always willing to try something new with gusto, and when we join my (Sonja’s) relentless search for the perfect bite, we become quite the team. We’ve prepared paella for two, seared scallops and truffle risotto, to name a few, right in the comfort of our own home. Not only did we end up with dinner, but we also gained memories and a greater appreciation for each other.

Get the recipe: Beetroot and Ricotta Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce

Get the recipe: Cranberry Gin Sour Cocktail

Here’s a cooking project we created for two. Do it on Valentine’s Day, or whenever you find yourself with a free Friday night. You’ll end up with homemade beetroot ricotta ravioli in a garlic butter sauce, a fresh salad and a festive cocktail, all in the space of one evening.

So grab your partner, clear your calendar and read on for our best tips and tricks for cooking together.

Set the scene. It’s easy to want to chop an onion before putting on an apron (guilty, here!). Start a playlist with some of your favorite tunes. Light candles for some ambiance. Wear your apron and don’t forget: It’s not a race, it’s an experience.

Set out a tray of veggies and hummus, nuts or olives to munch on: It’s key to getting through a cookout date without starving.

Finally, remove any distractions. If you have young children, try this bedtime cooking date. For older kids, hosting a movie night with pizza works wonders.

Get ready (mentally). Before you start, take time to assess each other’s work styles, skills and approaches. Some people work in linear thought patterns, while others like to multitask. Some cooks clean up as they go, while others like to leave a big mess for last. One of you may be more comfortable in the kitchen than the other.

We have learned to appreciate our differences instead of fighting against them. Remember: It’s all about working together! Find each member’s strength and use this food project as an exercise in communication and connection.

Gather your equipment. If you have a pasta maker (or a pasta attachment with a mixer), this is the ideal time to bring it out of the cupboard. However, don’t let the lack of this specialized machine stop you from making homemade pasta. We have included instructions for hand rolling the sheets with a needle.

Other equipment you’ll want to have on hand: a food processor, pastry brush, and pastry cutter (or pizza wheel). We recommend a flame pastry cutter to make fun wavy edges on the ravioli. For even more professional-looking ravioli, grab a ravioli press (you can even find heart-shaped ones!).

Follow this schedule for the evening:

  • Make the pasta dough and let it rest. It rests for 30 minutes (or up to 1 hour), which helps relax the gluten and makes it easier to roll. Use the time away to prepare your drink and side salad.
  • Make the signature cocktail. This cooking date shines with bright pink Cranberry Gin Sour. Our spin on the classic adds cranberry juice for a bold color and sweet sweet flavor. An egg white makes an impressively fluffy topping, adding a creamy mouthfeel and softening the flavors.
  • Use the remaining time to make a side salad and pasta filling. Cocktail in hand, whip up the beet ricotta filling and a side salad—like baby arugula lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and parmesan shavings. Or, turn to the Gemstone Lettuce Boats recipe.
  • The main event. Now, you’re up for the challenge: making pasta together! (Lots of romantic Italian music.) This will be a project, but there’s nothing more fun than seeing—and tasting—the result. If you are making this recipe for two, freeze half the ravioli for another meal and cook the other half. Next, halve the garlic butter sauce, which will make your kitchen smell like an absolute dream.

Keep the dessert simple. When you’re making several recipes together, it’s best to go easy on dessert to save effort and mess. A quality chocolate or an affogato (decaf) are simple but still satisfying. Even better, find a fun dessert from your local candy counter and share it.

We hope you find that in the often dreary month of February—and any time of year you need it—this cooking date can be a bright spot. Let it nourish your belly, and your relationships too.

We want to hear from you! Tell us how your cooking date in the comments or email [email protected].

Get the recipe: Beetroot and Ricotta Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce

Get the recipe: Cranberry Gin Sour Cocktail

Sonja and Alex Overhiser are creators of acouplecooks.com. Their new cookbook about cooking together, A Cooking Couple, will be released in September.

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