This Valentine’s will be a special one for couples across the country, including cooking instructor and culinary creator Janine Bruno. The Philadelphia-based social media personality wed her husband, Thomas, in October 2023, so this will be their first Valentine’s as a married couple — and the duo wants to make it extra special. 

In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s, we asked Bruno to let us in on what she and Thomas are planning and how they intend to make the day memorable. Build on her advice and make this Feb. 14 an evening you and your special someone will remember forever — whether it’s your first Valentine’s together or your 50th!

1. Set the mood

Romance means something different to every couple. For Janine and Thomas, it’s classic low lights and seductive music, just like in the movies.

“Music is so important for the mood, on Valentine’s Day or any romantic evening,” she says. “Put on a playlist of your favorite slow songs. Dim the lights, and light some candles — you can’t go wrong with the classics.”

MORE: 50 Best Love Songs of All-Time

If you can’t dim your lights, consider placing a couple of strands of fairy lights around your living room or dining room — wherever you’ll be hanging out that evening. For a warmer tone pick up bulbs in a soft pink, red, or orange color and experiment with them for the evening.

Or, for less than $100, you can invest in a versatile digital projector. Use it to display a carousel of photos of the two of you together. As a bonus, you can also use it for watching movies “big-screen style” at home throughout the year.

WATCH: Janine Bruno and her husband cook Valentine’s dinner

2. Splurge on romantic décor

Once you have the music and mood lighting in place, create the environment for your evening together. It might be a cozy indoor picnic on a blanket with cushions or a fully decked-out table set to re-create your first date in that French restaurant you both loved. 

For a romantic and heartfelt touch, have some pictures of the two of you printed and pin them on a string spread across one section of the room. You might also create a trail of flower petals, love notes, or small gifts leading your partner to some type of special surprise, such as something they’ve been hinting at wanting or even a basket of their favorite treats.

And don’t forget the flowers, Bruno says. “They’re so important to the mood, and make such a thoughtful and wonderful gift.” She’s partial to roses, but tulips, carnations, irises, mixed bouquets, and even live plants are also all amazing ways to show your love and create an unforgettable atmosphere for your romantic evening.

3. Indulge in sensual aromas

Fresh flowers are a surefire way to fill your space with heavenly scents, but don’t stop there. 

“A great smelling candle — or a bunch of candles — is always a wonderful way to fill your home with a romantic ambience,” Bruno says.

Look for candles with romantic fragrances, such as rose, vanilla, lavender, or jasmine, or warming scents, like cinnamon or brown sugar. If you have a fireplace, fire it up and add a savory whiff of pine and smoke to the air as well. (Plus, it will give you somewhere warm to cuddle after your meal.) 

For other beautiful-smelling options, simmer a pot filled with citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves on the stove, or use an essential oil diffuser to fill your space with lovely scents like ylang-ylang, bergamot, or sandalwood. Incense sticks and scented sachets are wonderful and fragrant options as well.

If your valentine enjoys baked goods, prepare a batch of their favorite cookies earlier in the day to fill the house with the aroma of spice — and love. Or, just spread out a tray of their favorite cookies at the start of the evening so you have something sweet and delicious to snack on as the night progresses.

And don’t forget bedtime! Mist your pillows, sheets, and comforter with a favorite romantic scent to keep that cozy, loving mood going all night long.

“There’s nothing better than somebody shipping you everything you need to make an incredible dinner at home. You don’t have to go to the supermarket. You don’t have to worry about anything. It’s the perfect date night.”

Janine Bruno

4. Create a personalized menu

You so want eating out on Valentine’s to be a wonderful experience, but more often than not, it’s a nightmare. Restaurants are busy, reservations are hard to come by, the prix fixe menus are limited and overpriced, and kitchens are overworked — and all that usually leads to a disappointing meal. That’s why Bruno suggests saving an evening out at your favorite spot for another night and enjoying Valentine’s Day at home, where you can make the evening as special as possible.

Best of all, if you order a ready-to-prepare meal, you don’t have to spend your whole night chopping and prepping.

“We’re enjoying a filet mignon dinner for two this year,” Bruno says. “There’s nothing better than somebody shipping you everything you need to make an incredible dinner at home. You don’t have to go to the supermarket. You don’t have to worry about anything. It’s the perfect date night.”

And this dinner is spectacular, she says. It comes with two filet mignons wrapped in bacon, plus two sides (Gruyère and garlic mashed potatoes, black truffle green beans) and three different appetizers (mushroom tarts, spanakopita, arancini).

“You could just go out to eat and have dinner,” Bruno adds, “but for the same price or less, you could plan a meal filled with foods you know you both will enjoy, and you can be comfortable in your own home. Plus, there’s no time constraint — you can hang out with each other as long as you want. What could be better?”

5. Prepare your meal together

Valentine's Day at home with Janine Bruno holding a plate of pasta.

In addition to laying the groundwork for a wonderful meal, preparing it for yourself and your loved one at home also gives you time to bond in the kitchen — something Bruno says she can’t wait to do with her spouse. 

“When I met this man, he was only eating pizza and hot dogs,” she says with a laugh. “He grew up around amazing food, but he hadn’t experienced it for years. My friends were like, ‘Janine, he’s not into food.’ And I was like, ‘He’ll be into food. He likes to eat. He just hasn’t had good food in a long time!’

“And now he loves to cook with me,” she continues. “He’ll be cooking the steaks — they take about eight minutes, so it’s fast — and we’ll be putting the sides in the oven together and sharing the kitchen, and a bottle of wine. It’s a wonderful way to get to flirt and enjoy each other, without any pressure over how your meal will turn out — because you know it’s going to be incredible.”

6. Create a new tradition

Maybe you dress up for your evening together. Maybe you exchange funny love notes. Maybe you play board games — or old school video games — by candlelight. Whatever options you land on, think of how those activities can become part of your annual tradition going forward, Bruno says.

For her and Thomas, that means fun customized dishes they can create easily together to further elevate their meal. 

“We’re going to make a really delicious herb butter for our steak, with thyme and garlic. It can be something that reminds us of this evening in the future,” she says. “We’re also going to get all our finest serving dishes out and really set the table to look nice. It’s going to add so much character to the evening and give it a real date night feel. And I’m going to make sure we’re eating over candlelight, with no phones, so we can really celebrate the moment.”

Whatever you choose, be sure to enjoy it, Bruno advises. And tell that special someone just what they mean to you.


Brian Good is a writer, editor, and project manager with more than 20 years experience in publishing. He's written for some of the country’s biggest magazine brands including Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Shape, Men's Health, Muscle & Fitness, US Weekly, AARP: The Magazine, and websites including Mashed, Health Digest, DiversityInc and others. Good specializes on topics including lifestyle, travel, pop culture, health, food and nutrition, spirits, products, politics, and activism.

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