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Meals made for eating with the person you like the most

A spin on the famous Zuni Cafe chicken and bread salad, spiced with classic jerk seasonings
This spin on the famous Zuni Cafe chicken and bread salad, spiced with classic jerk seasonings, is a a great meal to share for Valentine’s Day.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)

This past week, I wrote in my ode to chocolate desserts that the only good thing about Valentine’s Day is it reminds me how great chocolate is. And to prove it, I gave you three desserts that play up my favorite flavor pairings with chocolate: a chewy chocolate-hazelnut tart, fragrant chocolate-orange cake with ganache glaze, and a potent mint-chocolate pudding enlivened with a splash of absinthe. If you like any of those combinations, pick that dessert and make it tonight to celebrate the true reason for this season. But for those of you who might actually take this holiday as an opportunity to cook for your beloved, here are some easy last-minute meals that are great to eat with your hands in that way that you only feel comfortable doing with the person who knows you best.

My half-salted steaks may sound gimmicky, but the gimmick is practical for home cooking: It keeps your kitchen wonderfully smoke-free, an important factor when you need to keep romantic feelings in the air instead. Slice the steak once it’s rested and serve with some mashed potatoes and a salad, making sure to drag each slice through all the tart kale sauce. My Zuni-style chicken and bread salad with a jerk twist is made for picking at with your fingers, alternating between pieces of chicken and large lettuce leaves dressed in a spicy dressing mixed with the chicken juices. Similarly, chicken thighs braised in olive brine and kale are an easy one-pot roasted meal where everything you need is already in the dish — no extra plates necessary.

For this hotpot, one person grabs the spoon and the other a pair of chopsticks; then you and your partner can take turns picking up pieces of squash and chicken for each other while taking sips of the warm, aromatic broth in between. And for a classic spaghetti and meatballs, try this vegan version that still tastes like you’re sitting at an Italian-American restaurant with a red-checkered tablecloth, slurping in a strand of spaghetti with your partner, like in “Lady and the Tramp.”

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All these meals promote hands-on, carefree eating from the same dish with your loved one. It’s for amorous reasons, yes, but the upside is it also saves on extra dishes to wash. On a holiday based on acts of love, what could be more romantic to offer each other?

Jerk-ish Chicken and Bread Salad

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Makes 4 to 6

Skip the overnight marinating and roast the chicken as soon as you get the flavorful paste under the skin — it will still taste great.

Kabocha squash and chicken hot pot

Time 45 minutes
Yields Serves 4

You can use sweet potatoes or carrots in place of the kabocha for their similar, earthy sweetness.

Brine-Braised Chicken Thighs With Kale and Avocado

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Serves 4

The olive brine here tenderizes and seasons the thighs well, while the olives and avocado balance it with some needed richness.

Half-Salted Steaks With Kale-Caper Sauce

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 2 to 4

Spring for the best steaks you can afford since their flavor is what will shine through the most.

Spaghetti and 'Meat' Balls

Time 1 hour
Yields Makes about 30 balls

Beets, lentils and sunflower seeds take the place of meat in these red-sauced vegan meatballs that provide the same heft as the beef version.

Los Angeles Times Dinner Series: Dear John’s and Jamie Lee Curtis

On Saturday, Feb. 20, Dear John’s restaurant will host actress Jamie Lee Curtis for this dinner event featuring a fun gourmet take on classic American continental cuisine inspired by the Frank Sinatra era. Enjoy the four-course takeout meal while tuning in to a lively conversation between chefs Josiah Citrin (Mélisse, Charcoal, Openaire) and Hans Röckenwagner (the Röckenwagner Bakery Group) with Curtis, hosted by L.A. Times editorial staff.

Dear John’s Four-Course Meal by chefs Josiah Citrin and Hans Röckenwagner

  • Hors d’oeuvre: Chilled shrimp cocktail
  • Starter: “Tableside” Caesar salad for two
  • Main: Old-school TV dinner of chicken Parmesan with spaghetti marinara and creamed spinach
  • Dessert: New York-style mascarpone cheesecake

Tickets for each dinner are $105 per person and include the four-course meal, cocktail pairing, Dinner Series oven mitts, complimentary cookies from our charity partner Project Angel Food and more. Go to eventbrite.com for more information.

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