Are you all looking forward to Valentine's Day? What's that now? No? Do you mean to tell me that you are going to stand up to all the media hype and risk the wrath of your partner if you don't go all out? I haven't completely lost touch. I am well aware that any celebration is all about herd mentality. Take, for example, that exercise in futility that is Super Bowl Sunday: We all know Super Bowl Sunday has little to do with watching the terminally boring encounter of two dozen gorillas on a green field ... it's all a very blatant excuse to get absolutely sh*tfaced with your friends on a Sunday afternoon and pass out in bed at 9:30 p.m. For you and me, it might not sound so exciting, especially seeing how that's what we do every Sunday to begin with (well, I know that's what I do anyway), but for some married folks, it does make a difference. Problem is: while it might add to the fun to wedge yourself between 50 of your fellow beer-swilling football fans at your local watering hole, it adds very little to the romantic frame to be competing against every other couple in the city for mediocre seating at some not-so-great restaurant on Valentine's Day. You might enjoy a communal atmosphere on your intimate dates, I don't. Valentine's Day has become all about eating out, and failure to secure a reasonable booking on the 14th can be cited, if not as grounds for divorce, at least for weapons-grade recrimination for the rest of the year. And so, for one blissful night, the balance of power shifts away from the whiney, demanding and unpredictably fickle customer and firmly into the hands of the restaurateur. (The Power is all mine!!!) This is a time he can be sure of filling every available seat several times over. If you can't fill a place on Valentine's night, you have no right to call yourself a restaurant. It's not just the quantity of customers that's different on this, the catering trade's most magical night of the year, it's also the quality ... as far as the restaurant trade is concerned, and it is the time when they'll get the most inexperienced diners. As one high-end chef, anonymous for obvious reasons, put it, "Everything sh*tty, cliched, and horribly '80s gets wheeled out. Duo of lamb chops, cut to resemble hearts. There will be at least one nancying, ninnying chicken dish, especially for the ladies, and steak, which will be ordered by 80 percent of the men. Well-done, of course - medium if you're lucky." Dining out on the 14th of February is an experience that doesn't reflect well on any of the participants. We go because we feel we have to, we're served by people who'd rather it was any other day of the year, with food that the chefs are ashamed of because they know they could do better. My solution is to postpone Valentine's Day (the Vatican took it off the official calendar in 1969; it's only Hallmark that keeps it going these days). But it is the day where we make the most money at the restaurant, so we can't. I'd much rather be in a hot tub though with a bottle of champagne than queuing to get into a restaurant. It is like New Year's Eve - amateur night out. Let's face it, you and your partner can choose any other day of the year to go out, get treated well by a decent restaurant and create your own romance. What do you think? I think you should stay home and make this: CHAMPAGNE SHRIMP AND PASTA INGREDIENTS 8 oz of angel hair pasta. 1 lb of shrimp peeled and deveined. 2 cups of Champagne. 1 cup of fresh mushrooms, sliced. 1 cup of heavy cream. 3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped. 2 tablespoons of minced shallots. 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. 1 / 4 teaspoon of salt. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper, to taste. METHOD Cook the pasta as directed on its packaging; then drain afterwards. While the pasta is cooking, heat the extra virgin oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Cook the mushrooms in the olive oil until tender; then remove and set aside. Combine the shrimp, Champagne and salt in the pan, then cook over high heat. When the liquid starts to boil, remove the shrimp, then add the shallots. Boil for 8 minutes (until reduced to about half a cup). Stir in cup of cream and boil for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and the mushrooms to sauce, heating through. Add salt and pepper. Toss the hot, cooked pasta with the remaining cup of cream and the freshly chopped parsley. Spoon the shrimp with sauce over pasta, and top with Parmesan cheese. See that wasn't so hard was it? AND FINALLY... Before marriage, a man yearns for the woman he loves. After marriage, the "y" becomes silent. CHEF GILLIGAN
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