Your life as a couple may be hectic, mundane or a combination of the two, but no matter what your dining style, Valentine's Day presents an opportunity for you to break the mold, smooth out the daily grind and partake of a sensual feast, satisfying to palate, eye and heart. If you're short on ideas as well as time, you can still feed all your senses by nabbing these simple yet elegant ambiance boosters suggested by lifestyle designer Robert Beukema, as well as several select recipes that ooze love as well as flavor.
Even if your home is typically scattered with Tonka trucks and your idea of a color palate is whatever food your kids smear on the wall, you can alter the ambiance of your humble abode with a few simple tricks and mood-altering lighting. Hopefully, your babysitter didn't cancel and you'll have time to swap out your 75-watters with more flattering and soft, pink light bulbs, creating a delicate cast to the room.
A quick once-over with a dust mop couldn't hurt, but also take the time to scout out simple, special table touches such as heart-shaped dishes, red napkins, dime-store doilies or lovely pink and red-wrapped chocolates you can place in simple white bowls.
No time to shop? "Look around the house for random decks of playing cards for Kings and Queens of Hearts," suggests Beukema. "You can script each other's names on them and slip them into small frames to create romantic place settings, or simply use place cards, which can be fun and festive," he says.
After setting the stage, opt for a succulent meal elegantly infused with fruity red wine, like Coq au Vin. Contrary to popular belief, this opulent meal doesn't need to cook all day. Go for this 30-minute version of this classic French feast:
- 4-5 chicken legs and thighs
- one cup Porcini mushrooms
- 3 strips pancetta
- 1 cup frozen, cooked pearl onions
- 1-2 carrots, chopped into large pieces
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups fruity red wine, preferably not cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme and parsley to taste
Wash and season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown the pancetta and add onions and chicken to the pot until browned on all sides. Drain fat and add the rest of the ingredients, except parsley. Simmer until chicken is cooked thoroughly, around 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and boil the rest of the ingredients until the liquid reduces by about half. Place chicken back into the pot and garnish with parsley before serving. Serves 2.
Sumptuously indulgent but messy to eat, lobster is rarely on the average cook's weekly shopping list. For Valentine's Day, why not surprise the love of your life with this delectable adaptation of the Maine Lobster Council's Beurre Blanc Lobster and Spaghetti, made all the more special with a hint of vanilla? This is not a meal that lends itself to paper plates, so don't forget to break out the fine china and set a table to remember.
- 2 lobsters, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds each
- 5 tablespoons softened butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 red onion,medium sized
- 1/2 cup sweet white wine, preferably not cooking wine
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- nutmeg to taste
- 1/2 box spaghetti or linguine
Cook pasta, set aside. Boil water for lobsters, cook covered until done, approximately 15 minutes, reserving cooking liquid. Remove lobsters to cool, and remove meat from shells. Add 3-4 ounces of cooking liquid to the lobster meat in a covered pan. Make the beurre blanc sauce by sautéing the onion in butter and olive oil until soft and deglazing with apple cider vinegar. Add the bay leaves and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add the half and half or heavy cream, whisking until reduced by about half.and add vanilla and nutmeg. Remove lobster from cooking liquid and return to pan. Pour beurre blanc sauce over the lobster and heat in the oven for 15 minutes until warm. Serve over spaghetti. Serves two.
"The Valentine's Day table provides you with a chance to create a little magic," says Beukema, who suggests ramping up the romance with candles. "Try nestling pillar candles inside glass cylinders, wrapped with delicate handmade paper, doilies, love-song sheet music, poems or intimate love letters. The light from the candles will become almost translucent and very flattering to the skin. Vary the cylinder heights for added interest or cluster on an elegant table runner," he suggests.
Of course, you can't forget dessert. Delicious yet masquerading as calorie-conscious, chocolate-dipped strawberries are always a welcome after-dinner treat.
Lunch is For Lovers
Nothing is more romantic than the element of surprise. Send a limo to your sweetie's work place and sweep her off her feet and into your romantic, flower-filled home. If you really want to be a hero, let partner's boss in on your plans with a secret request for the rest of the day off.
Set the stage by serving romantically pink-hued cocktails like Cosmopolitans, or jazz your drinks to ruby red with an infusion of raspberry vodka. Make sure the table is immaculately set with an elegant place setting for two and don't forget to soften the feeling of daylight with light dimmers, sheer, drawn curtains and candles.Play your favorite mood music and let the scent of Cherry and Apricot Cognac-Baked Brie and crusty French bread waft into the room. Throw lump crabmeat or jumbo shrimp into a crisp green salad and indulge in a slow and easy, all-day Valentine's lunch. Don't forget to top it off with insanely delicious, red velvet cupcakes. Ah, romance!
- 1 full round Brie cheese (8 ounces)
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- 1/2 cup dried, diced apricots
- 1/2 cup walnuts or other nut
- 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup cognac
Combine cherries, apricots, walnuts, cognac and brown sugar. Spoon over cheese which has been placed in baking tray. Back in oven for approximately 20 minutes or until cheese softens. Serves two.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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