Date Night, in Your Kitchen

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Extra Virgin on Cooking Channel

It is nice to get out of your house and have an intimate date at a cozy restaurant. Your palate deserves something special, every now and then. Dinner and a movie (or a concert!) with my wife—yeah that's the kind of date I like. Usually there is room for negotiations: "You want to watch a chick flick? Then we're having steak for dinner!" Or … "You want to try a new vegetarian restaurant? Ok, but then we see a movie where at least two dozens of cars explode!"

But now with kids, and no nearby family to watch them, when Debi and I go out, it is usually for a spontaneous lunch date, when our children are in school. We make time for ourselves when we can, and considering we don't have a 9 to 5 kind of job, the middle of the day works really well for us. The evening though, the evening is tough!

We both love the whole idea of a romantic dinner in our favorite restaurant, a movie where we hold hands, and come home to our kids asleep. But do you realize how expensive that is? Dinner with wine, movie, nanny… cab for the nanny that does not drive! We are a regular family, and we cannot always afford all that; it is almost unfair how taking your wife out on a date becomes a luxury once you have kids! My daughters are very young, but I'm already looking forward when they will be out of the house, and Debi and I can play boyfriend and girlfriend again. But then I think: "My girls out of the house? With who?" This idea alone is enough to bring me right back to reality.

My wife and I need to have dating life, we need to carve special moments that are just for us, even when we are strapped at home for one reason or another. In the end, we have in our house everything we need to make us happy: good food, decent wine, our favorite music… and a bed that can be reached at any moment. That’s a big plus! —No cops to stop me between the dining room and the bedroom, which means I can fully enjoy my glasses of wine!

When we do decide to have an evening date at home, Debi and I get down with the planning. The kids need to be tired, fed and bathed before 7:30pm, they’re allowed a half hour of semi-junk TV so Debi and I can get to work on setting the table, dimming the lights and heating up our dinner. We prepare it during the day, allowing it the time it needs. It could be a risotto, a pasta sauce, or something more complicated—it is really just a matter of how much time we have. When the kids finally go to sleep Debi and I dress into something special (or undress into something special), just to spice it up, to get rid of the clothes we had on all day: I personally love the fact that my wife comes back to the dinner table clicking her high heels, even if she just decided to wear her pajamas and a robe!

My grandmother's lasagna recipe is one of our favorite dishes to prepare for entertaining friends and family, but also to share just with each other. Lasagne are ideal whenever you need to cook a meal in advance; they might take longer to prepare, they can be cooked a half hour shy of done, set aside and then re-heated for the evening, or cooled off and frozen for some fun weekend lunches in the future.

For me, making lasagne is like going to the shrink! It is a labor of love, in my recipe book second only to eggplant parmesan, and, all in, takes me about 5 hours to assemble two full trays and cook them. It is actually much cheaper than one hour of therapy, even if you shop for prime ingredients and a good bottle of wine!

I have a rule that I religiously observe when I cook dishes that require over 3 hours to make: I make double the amount, and freeze half. For me, it is like having money in the bank, or a piece of real estate. It gives me a feeling of security knowing that in a month from now, or next week for that matter, I can defrost one of my very favorite meals and treat my family or a couple of guests to something fantastic. And that I won't have to spend one minute working in the kitchen; Debi will whip one of her fantastic salads, while I set the table and uncork the wine.

So take a morning for yourself, make two hearty trays of lasagna, listen to some favorite records, call grandma long-distance, look out the window and lose yourself in a comfortable place: tonight you will treat yourself and your loved ones to something special.

And I will keep you company—I know I got a tray of pesto lasagne in the freezer. No time to cook today, I have to practice Native American poems with my oldest daughter, her show at school is in three days and she's summoned me! Well, at least she does not mind if I have a glass of wine while we work together.

Buon Appetito!

Watch Gabriele and Debi Mazar cook meals from their home every Wednesday night at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT on Cooking Channel.

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