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Looking for a Valentine's gift for your lady? Try cooking Add to ...

What is the sexiest, most romantic thing you can do for your sweetheart this Valentine's Day?

If you're a woman, it probably involves something black, sheer and lacy. But if you're a man, the most direct route to your lady's heart is through her stomach.

I'm not talking about a big, expensive feast at a high-end restaurant. I'm talking about a quiet, cozy dinner at home that you, sir, cook for her yourself.

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One of my first dates with the man I later married took place on Valentine's Day at his house. He cooked dinner for me -- a simple roast chicken with beets and a spinach salad -- and afterwards, in front of a roaring fire, we kissed for the first time. Feb. 14 is still our most important anniversary. And who knows, if we'd gone out on the town that night, we may never have made it to first base at all. Romance is a precarious thing. So listen well: As cool as you may think you are, it is romance in all its corny, dewy-eyed manifestations that keeps the fires of love burning.

Which raises the question of why, when so many men can cook, the idea of the guy making dinner is still special. "It's a real sign that they're making an effort," says Maureen Goulet, who runs Ambrosia Adventures in Cooking in Vancouver.

"Cooking is something that women are usually more tuned into on a day-to-day basis, so it means a lot that he went out and did the shopping, the cooking, that he went to all that trouble. I think it's very romantic."

For the past 10 years, Goulet has organized an annual one-night Valentine's dinner cooking course designed specifically to instruct men in the art of preparing a seductive dinner for two.

This year, 35 big-hearted guys enrolled in the course, which was held last Friday at the Westin Bayshore Inn. Some of the men take the course every year. "They come to get help planning the menu as well as to learn new techniques," Goulet says.

Cooking a three-course dinner, even a fairly straightforward one, is not a simple proposition.

Goulet says the most important thing is to plan ahead and to do as much advance food preparation as you can. She asks the chefs who teach her Valentine's course each year to put together a menu that "looks difficult and impressive, but is actually quite easy." She also instructs them to incorporate elements that can be dropped without detracting from the overall dinner.

To that end, The Globe's Lucy Waverman has created a Valentine's Day menu that is delicious, elegant and should be a breeze for any man who knows his way around the kitchen, even if he doesn't don an apron all that often. (It's also a perfect meal for a woman to make for a man -- or for her gal pals, for that matter.)

So leave the office early on Thursday and surprise your best girl with this feast that's sure to warm her heart.

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