Oh, you are in trouble. Big trouble.
Yes, you forgot it was Valentine's Day. Fortunately, help is on the way, with the role of Cupid played by experts in the field of romance -- Bay Area chefs and an award-winning mixologist. Once they stopped laughing at the idea of the poor schmo who managed to forget Valentine's Day, they rallied to offer a game plan -- several, in fact -- to get you from panicked commute to candlelit dinner in two hours flat.
First, they said, you need to set the mood. Light the candles. Cue up some music on Pandora or Spotify -- may we suggest a hip, romantic play list from music critic Jim Harrington?
Next, pour a perfect cocktail with a little fizz, something like a Heaven Help Us from Joe Wrye, the mixologist at San Francisco's Waterbar. It's a rosy mixture of peach and orange liqueurs and sparkling rosé, garnished with a twist of orange peel and a cherry. The ingredients are straightforward -- no need to search the universe for esoteric bitters and Italian liqueurs you can't even pronounce. Wrye prefers Grand Marnier but says you can use Cointreau or triple sec. It's the combination of flavors that makes the drink so seductive.
"Serving such a drink indicates one had to put in effort," Wrye says, "even if it is 'after the fact.' "
A lovely cocktail like this one buys you time, too, especially if you serve it with cheese and crackers or some marcona almonds. Then head for the kitchen to cook together, says chef Bibby Gignilliat, founder of San Francisco's Parties That Cook.
"I think it's really romantic to cook with your partner, fun things that have a little aphrodisiac focus," she says. "Salmon is an aphrodisiac, so do spice-crusted salmon with coriander, fennel and cumin. Make a pasta with garlic and red chile flakes -- chile is an aphrodisiac -- or fusilli, burrata and spinach. Leafy greens are also an aphrodisiac."
The fusilli dish, with its bright lemon, garlic and spinach flavors, comes together faster than you'd think, and the fresh mozzarella gives it just enough heft to stand on its own as a vegetarian entree. It's also lovely with chicken.
Cooking for a steak lover? Steak frites, that classic of French brasserie cuisine, makes a perfect entree, says Jodi Liano, chef and co-founder of the new San Francisco Cooking School. "The whole meal is done in under 45 minutes, and it feels as special as any steak frites I've had at a restaurant."
Boneless rib-eye is Liano's "go-to steak for special occasions." Cooked on a "screaming hot" cast-iron skillet, the steaks come out with a browned, crusty exterior and medium-rare interior that goes beautifully with red wine, a peppery arugula salad and bistro-perfect crispy potatoes, done in the oven.
Of course, you'll want to end the evening on a sweet note, and there is no better way than with chocolate -- another aphrodisiac and the perfect path to any valentine's heart.
Make Gignilliat's luxurious hazelnut-chocolate mousse, a Nutella-based, four-ingredient recipe that comes together in minutes. Or take a tip from Yigit Pura, the pastry chef behind San Francisco's Tout Sweet Patisserie and first season winner of "Top Chef: Just Desserts."
His patisserie is known for its sorbet-hued macarons, glorious gelees and delicate cakes. But when it comes to Valentine's Day desserts, he says, "It definitely has to be chocolate. One of my favorite things is a die-hard classic, a chocolate souffle. It's one of those things people think is a lot harder than it is. It's a good way to impress people, and it won't take you more than half an hour or 40 minutes."
Best of all, the souffle batter can be made ahead and popped in the oven, in individual mousse cups, seven to 10 minutes before serving. A chocolate souffle is pretty fabulous on its own, but Pura likes to add a drizzle of chocolate sauce or a scoop of salted caramel ice cream.
"It has great heat and texture," he says, "the steaming souffle and ice cream, fluffiness and creaminess."
The only rules to souffle success: Don't underwhip the egg whites, don't open the oven door to peek, and the only correct answer to, "OMG, you are amazing," is a simple, "Why, yes, I am."
More Valentine Tips
§ A formal white linen-draped table isn't necessarily the most romantic place to dine. Dress up your coffee table with black paper and some artful chalk -- je t'aime, sweetheart -- for a quick, simple and seductive tablescape, inspired by It's Overflowing blogger Aimee Lane.
§ You don't have to cook the entire dinner. Swing by your favorite market to pick up gourmet components, as well as Valentine chocolates.
§ Cooking by candlelight is romantic, says Bibby Gignilliat, as long as you can see. Want to mess up someone else's kitchen? Parties That Cook is doing Valentine's Day Couples cooking classes Feb. 14 and 15 in San Francisco and Redwood City, and Date Night classes March 8 and April 20 in San Francisco. Details: www.partiesthatcook.com.