Fans of Food Network's Barefoot Contessa know that the show really has three stars: Ina Garten, the beautiful food she makes, and her husband, Jeffrey.
Whether we're watching Ina's face light up when Jeffrey walks into the room, or waiting with faux-suspense for Jeffrey's reaction to the food Ina's prepared for him (spoiler alert: he always likes everything she makes), it's obvious that these two lovebirds are the real deal. They plan thoughtful surprises and leave little notes for each other; they still act like teenagers in love even though they've been together for almost five decades. Basically, as the kids would say, Ina and Jeffrey are #relationshipgoals.
In her new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey (out October 25), Ina shares treasured recipes and personal anecdotes about cooking for the people she loves — most notably, Jeffrey. I spoke with her recently to learn how she makes dinner at home with her husband feel special. With 48 years of marriage under her belt, I think it's safe to say Ina has date night in covered.
1. Treat dinners together as a gift.
For Ina and Jeffrey, every dinner together is a special one since Jeffrey is gone during the week. He commutes four hours from work on Fridays to spend the weekend at home, and he and Ina always share a home-cooked meal together upon his arrival.
"Any night at home is special," Ina tells me. "I think just making dinner takes a real effort — to shop and cook and clean up afterwards — it's a real gift to someone you care about. By definition it's date night."
Date night tip: Celebrate any night you sit down to dinner with your loved one. You don't need to go out of your way to create the perfect evening — with busy schedules, finding the time to simply share a meal together is special in itself.
2. Don't go crazy on fancy food.
When cooking for the people she loves, whether that's Jeffrey or her friends, Ina likes to keep things simple. The goal is to make a meal that's really delicious, but not one that will leave you so exhausted by the end of it that you can't enjoy the time with your company.
"That's when you really connect — over a really nice, simple dinner rather than a fancy dinner that's meant to impress people," Ina says. "The key is to make something so when you're done with dinner, you can still be present for the people who are there — that's what makes them feel special."
Date night tip: Don't worry about serving an overly ambitious meal. Instead, stick to recipes that are big on flavor and low on stress. Here are three recipes from Cooking for Jeffrey for your own date night menu.
3. Dress up your table — a little bit.
Ina doesn't go overboard when setting the dinner table, but she does rely on a few small touches to make things feel a bit more special, like fresh flowers, candles, and linen napkins.
"It's really worth the time to use a great linen napkin," Ina says. "You can use folded paper towels for Sunday night takeout, but when I'm actually making dinner, it's nice to honor it with a nice napkin."
Date night tip: While it might take a little more effort to use cloth napkins over paper ones (you'll have to throw them in the wash post-meal), light candles, or arrange fresh flowers, these tiny gestures help recreate the fancy restaurant experience at home.
4. Share the workload.
When it comes to the cooking, Ina happily does it all — but that doesn't mean Jeffrey doesn't help in his own way.
"He's very good about clearing the dishes and stacking them, which makes it much easier for me to clean up afterwards," says Ina. "He makes really good coffee, too, which I like; when I wake up in the morning, there's coffee waiting for me — and the newspaper."
Date night tip: If you enjoy cooking (and are as wonderful at it as Ina Garten is), by all means, do the cooking! Your dining companion can hang out with you in the kitchen and keep you company while you chop and sauté, and help wash those fancy linen napkins afterwards.
5. Save your binge-watching for after dinner.
While Ina and Jeffrey are fans of international TV series like Broadchurch, Borgen, and 30 Degrees in February, they wait until after dinner to watch episodes so they can spend their meal focusing on each other instead of a screen.
Music softly playing in the background is totally encouraged, though. Ina and Jeffrey listen to a series of CDs released by Hôtel Costes in Paris; the eclectic mixes evoke fond memories of their time spent abroad.
Date night tip: While it's tempting to invite your laptop to the dinner table so you can catch up on your favorite shows, try listening to music instead. Take turns creating a Spotify playlist, or stream something that's special to you both — maybe it's the new album of a band you just saw live, or the soundtrack to that movie you saw last week.
What are your best tips for date night in? Share with us in the comments!