It’s OK if your fish is a flop, you burn the rice, and you forgot dessert altogether.

If you’re planning on making a Valentine’s Day meal for a loved like thousands of other Americans this year, you just have to keep one thing in mind, says local chef Mike Sanchez.

“You’re cooking from the heart and that’s what counts,” said Sanchez, who has been cooking professionally for almost three decades and is currently the executive at Shooters Wood Fire Grill. Sanchez is originally from New Mexico, where he attended the Santa Fe School of Cooking and fine-tuned the art of southwestern cuisine.

Experts say Valentine’s Day this year is expected to be as popular as ever, with U.S. consumers expected to spend an average of $136.57, according to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Total spending could reach $18.2 billion. Those numbers are down from last year’s high of $19.7 billion, the cap on a decadelong increase of Valentine’s Day spending in America.

“Valentine’s Day continues to be a popular gift-giving occasion even if consumers are being more frugal this year,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a released statement. “This is one day of the year when millions find a way to show their loved ones they care regardless of their budget.”

According to the NFR report, consumers plan to spend the most money on an evening out and purchasing flowers. But plenty will stay home this year too, experts say, and that most likely means making a meal.

If that’s the case, there are plenty of romantic, easy dishes to prepare in your own kitchen, said Beth McIntyre, a chef and instructor for Someone’s in the Kitchen.

“There’s a lot of personal preference,” she said, but fish is always a good way to go.

“If it’s just for two, seafood is always good,” she said. “You can do shrimp or nice salmon fillets or scallops.”

McIntyre said she would start the meal with a cheese course, including two to three different varieties like a cheddar, blue or brie. She would follow that with a spread of mixed nuts, fruit, baguettes and figs. It’s a strong start to a great meal, she said, and it pairs well with a sparkling wine.

The salad that accompanies the main dish could be a fresh, green salad with a vinaigrette, feta cheese and roasted beets.

“It’s a lot of food, so you don’t want a heavy, creamy dressing,” she said.

If you chose salmon as your main dish, she recommended rice and broccoli as sides. The salmon could be roasted with lemon and olive oil and spices.

Dessert is a must, McIntyre said. 

“You have to do chocolate,” she said, laughing. “I do little chocolate soufflés that you can make ahead of time. A dollop of coffee ice cream is perfect on top. It looks like you worked all day on them.”

Sanchez said he would also choose something simple but elegant for Valentine’s Day. At Shooters, they will stick with a favorite holiday pick for their Valentine’s Day special — steak. The restaurant will serve three large shrimp covered in garlic parmesan, placed on top of two New York strips.

But Sanchez, who has that night off, will be at home cooking something else.

“My wife likes pasta,” he said. “So, I might do a stuffed manicotti.”

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It’s no surprise to him that people pack restaurants and envision elaborate dinners for the holiday every year.

“You feed your body, you feed your soul,” he said. “And on Valentine’s Day, I think people tend to eat heavier meals because it gives you that nostalgic feeling.”

Looking for a great recipe to cook up on Valentine's Day? Our chefs recommended these dishes: 

Parmesan Crusted Tilapia

Courtesy of Mike Sanchez, pair with a moscato or white wine

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Purchase fresh 6- to 8-ounce tilapia fillets. Salt and pepper fish to taste. Drizzle olive or cooking oil on cooking tray. In a small bowl, mix crushed Ritz crackers, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 cups parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon fresh or dried parsley. Liberally coat fish fillets with cracker mix and place on tray. Cook for 15-25 minutes, or until top of fish are golden brown

Chocolate Molten Cakes 

Courtesy of Beth McIntyre

6 teaspoons sugar plus 2-1/2 tablespoons sugar

4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

6 tablespoons butter plus more

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

1-1/2 teaspoons flour

Generously butter four (3/4 cup) souffle dishes or ramekins. Sprinkle inside of each with 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar. Set aside. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs, egg yolk and remaining 2-1/2 tablespoons sugar in bowl until thick and pale yellow in color. Fold 1/3 of warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture, then fold in remaining chocolate. Evenly sprinkle flour over and fold in gently.

Divide batter evenly among ramekins. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap; chill. Bring to room temperature before baking.) Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place ramekins on baking sheet. Bake uncovered until edges are puffed and slightly cracked but center moves slightly when gently shaken, about 11-13 minutes. Top each with a small scoop of vanilla or coffee ice cream and serve.

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