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This was written for a Food mag with a tiny circulation, on a short deadline and in exchange for enough money to buy a pint of beer. It was submitted around Christmas and based on the presumption that cooking for that special person need not be an annual event, nor should it have to be related to a festive season.

And when speaking about a person whose attention we're vying for, I owe it to you, dear noder, not to circumvent the subject of aphrodisiacs. That said, I should also shatter your hopes by affirming that there are none.

A host of substances, potions, ingredients and spices have, since time immemorial, been proclaimed to contain the key to that special person’s holy of holies. None of them work, at least not in isolation and not without fail. The knowledge that the ingredient is inside the dish you’re serving is a more reliable factor, giving the self-confidence it takes to make that vital move.

There are factors that, while not exactly Cupid’s arrow, help to get things moving along smoothly. Alcohol is where the mischief starts. Too much of it will mess up your evening in one of a variety of embarrassing ways. A small amount will help overcome silly inhibitions like the refusal to string more than four words together every five minutes. So the first ingredient for the special event will be alcohol.

Go for quality over quantity. One bottle should do the trick. Try and follow the basic food-matching rules to avoid a hefty Barolo stomping all over your delicately steamed John Dory. Unless you’re certain about what you’re doing, try to stick to whites with fish and red with meat. Don’t skimp on the wine, either. A five quid (Euro 15) bottle won’t break the bank so don’t spend less. The sky is quite naturally the limit.

Champagne can be a good idea but this is so tricky that you must be absolutely certain about the person you’re meeting. Pop a cork the first time you invite Juliet over and you’re immediately labelled a premature Romeo. Wait for the glorious liquid to turn up in conversation and suggest indulging in a bottle when she comes over to your place for a lovely meal. “What meal?”, she’ll surely ask. And there’s your invitation sorted.

Open your front door and there’s your man, looking like Michelangelo’s David if Armani were entrusted with the finishing touches. Or your girl, bathed in the cool glow of the hallway’s energy saver. Whoever it is should walk into a room that has unmistakeably been prepared to host a special event. Gone are the dirty magazines and there’s a gap in your CD collection where you’ve thoughtfully removed all traces of Beyoncé. Turn down the lights. There is something awfully impersonal about the full-on glow of a bright bulb. If you don’t have dimmer switches you can always turn off the main light and strategically place lampshades and candles that will give you a multitude of little lights rather than one bright one.

Be careful with candles at table. Tall candles on a silver candlestick have been out of fashion for a long time for a good reason. Peering at your guest from underneath them casts shadows in the wrong places. It also looks like you don’t want to see your guest in too much detail. Bad move.

Lay the table. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this. Your guest will turn up on time. You’re unprepared and have yet another thing to add to your list of apologies. You can’t afford more than three apologies and your mother at table can’t be one of these three. Polish the cutlery until it gleams, steam wine glasses until they sparkle and iron napkins until they crackle.

Have some music playing in the background. Keep the volume low and the choice as neutral as possible. You should never, ever have to explain why you’re playing what you’re playing so be as safe as it possibly gets. If you love an obscure Renaissance composer like Corelli, and the music is acceptable to all ears, then just leave it on in the background but no one other than yourself is interested in his birth date or that he was buried at the Pantheon.

And then we get to the meal. Once Venus (or Adonis) is nice and comfy introduce the meal with an amuse bouche. The choice of menu is really up to you but go for sure-fire winners rather than a risky but hugely complex main course. Gently baked salmon, delicately seasoned is hard to mess up, especially if you’ve bought a decent cut. Traditionally roasted potatoes are always a winner and complement most baked dishes. Once again they’re hard to mess up and can be tastefully seasoned to personalise the flavour.

Food is the trickiest part, and here you’re on your own. If you hold a anyone in high enough esteem to bother cooking for her or him, you must know what the object of your affection likes and dislikes, or can and cannot eat. A ginger prawn stir-fry is easy, impressive and very, very tasty. It is also lethal if your special guest is allergic to seafood. And that is not quite the kind of horizontal you were aiming for.

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