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Tag Archives: valentine’s day

Treat Your Valentine

Treat your valentine to a day’s worth of mouth-watering meals. Here are three ideas for each meal, from super simple to more elaborate. Click on the pictures or the links to see the recipes!

You can also check out the Recipes section at the top of the page for more ideas to delight your sweetie.

Breakfast

Super Simple: Strawberry and Nutella Stuffed French Toast

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A Bit More Complex: Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

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Manageably Elaborate: Eggs Benedict

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Lunch

Super Simple: Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup

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A Bit More Complex: Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

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Manageably Elaborate: Quiche Lorraine

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Dinner

Super Simple: Penne a la Vodka

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A Bit More Complex: Pork Chops with Fontina and Marsala

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Manageably Elaborate: Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs over Creamy Brie Potatoes

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Dessert

Super Simple: World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies with Raspberry Coulis

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A Bit More Complex: Chocolate Raspberry Torte

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Manageably Elaborate: Fresh Berry Mousse with Vanilla Panna Cotta

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Cherry Cordial Brownie Bites

My Lucas is charismatic, enigmatic, and profusely loving. There’s just something insanely captivating about him. He’s a heart-melter for sure, with his big blue eyes, sweet dimples, and long, dark lashes. And he’s mine. More than anyone or anything in the whole world (except perhaps Ninjago legos), he loves me. Not sure how I got so lucky!

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Just look at that face!

The kid says, “I love you sooooo much,” so many times each day that I’d begun to suspect it was just a filler statement; simply something to say when there was nothing else to be said. He even says it in his sleep, when I sneak in at night to kiss his little head before I tuck myself into bed. “Mommy, I love you so much.”

But I’ve come to realize that his words are so much more than sounds to fill the silence. He recently turned to my husband and began to say, “Daddy, I love…” I’d expected the statement to end with his predictable “…you soooo much.” But it didn’t. It was quite beautifully, “Daddy, I love Mommy soooo much.” He’s my precious little lovebug.

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On a recent trip to the grocery store, as we walked hand in hand through the parking lot, he squeezed my hand and expressed his sweet statement of love. I returned the sentiment, then we continued into the store. An older woman, who’d been coming from her car, caught the exchange as we passed. I saw her pause and hold her heart for a moment. We ran into that woman as we made our way through the store and she stopped to comment on my sweet boys. I thanked her and she parted with a friendly, “God bless.” As we began to walk away, she shouted back, “What am I saying? Clearly, He already has.”

He certainly has. I have been so generously blessed in love; a family who cherishes and supports me, a husband I can laugh with, children whose love is more contagious than the flu, and the most beautiful friends, who persistently raise me up. This Valentine’s Day, I will celebrate every bit of that priceless, precious love.

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Sweet treats are the perfect way to celebrate the sweetest people in your life, like these absolutely decadent, truffle-like cherry cordial brownie bites. They start with my World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies, which are then blended with a bit of cream cheese, until rich and smooth. The luscious brownie mixture is then rolled into small balls with a Grand Marnier (or orange juice, for the kiddies) soaked cherry in the center, before being dipped in smooth, melted chocolate. A drizzle of melted pink candy and sprinkles provide the perfect final touches.

Today’s Focus on Technique – Using a Double Boiler

The process of cooking with a double boiler (also called a bain marie) is an ideal technique to use when preparing delicate sauces, such as hollandaise, or when melting chocolates. In a double boiler set-up, the food is placed in a bowl which is suspended above simmering water. The water provides a gentle, consistent, indirect heat which prevents finicky foods from breaking (separating) or burning. It works in a similar manner as using water bath to prepare custards and other delicate egg-based dishes. No special equipment or dedicated ‘double boiler’ is required to utilize a double boiler technique. Simply fill a saucepan with an inch or two of water. Place a stainless steel or glass mixing bowl on top of the pot, so that the bottom of the bowl dips into the pot, but does not touch the water. Place the food you’re preparing in the bowl, bring the water to a simmer, and you’re set to go!

For more useful tips, techniques, and culinary photo guides click HERE.

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Cherry Cordial Brownie Bites

Ingredients

For the brownies:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the brownie bites:

  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or orange juice (approximately)*
  • 3 dozen dried cherries
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)
  • Pink or red candy melts and sprinkles, for decorating (optional)

*Be aware that no alcohol will be cooked off in the preparation of these candies, so it would be wise to use the orange juice for children, pregnant women, or anyone who is avoiding alcohol intake.

Directions

To prepare the brownies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips and butter until smooth, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Stir in the sugar and salt until dissolved. Stir in the flour. Add the eggs and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes.

To prepare the brownie bites:

Soak the dried cherries in approximately 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier or orange juice for at least an hour.

Once the brownies are cool, crumble into small pieces, then place in a food processor. Add the cream cheese and pulse until well-blended and smooth. (A food processor would work best for this task, but it can also be done by hand. If combining by hand, cut off the crispy brownie edges before blending, for a smoother result. If using the food processor, it’s not necessary to cut off the brownies edges.) Roll the mixture into small balls (less than 1″ diameter), inserting a soaked cherry in the center as you roll. Refrigerate until well chilled.

Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, stirring frequently, until smooth. Use a fork to lower each brownie ball into the melted chocolate. Shake off the excess chocolate, then place on a baking sheet, which has been lined with parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set. If desired, drizzle the brownie bites with melted pink or red candy melts and decorate with sprinkles.**

**Click HERE to see an easy pastry bag technique, which can be used for drizzling the brownie bites.

Makes 2.5 – 3 dozen candies

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Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

I’m going to become an Irish step-dancer. Stop laughing… I’m serious. Well, that’s assuming I can find a dance teacher to take on this 35-year-old mess of incoordination, with zero dance experience, but a whole lot of passion.

It’s just always been one of those things for me. I regret never having done it as a child. Years ago, I told my husband that if we ever had a girl, I’d be signing her up for lessons as soon as she could walk, so I could live vicariously through her. He was smart enough not to argue with me on that plan. But since it seems we’re destined to create a big brood of boys (and they’re much more interested in busting ghosts than dancing), it looks like I’m gonna need to live this dream for myself. Probably best that I fulfill my own dreams anyway, rather than pushing them on my kids, huh?

I’ve contacted a few local Irish dance schools and have yet to find anyone offering adult beginners classes at a time and location I can get to, but I’ve not given up hope yet. This middle age mom is ready to show Michael Flatley who the real lord (rather, lady) of the dance is. Stay tuned…

We had a lovely Valentine’s Day around here, filled with enough delicious goodies to throw me off my diet for at least the rest of this week. Oh, but it was worth it. So worth it. I surprised my loves with this special breakfast, which had everyone oohing and ahhing with each bite. For a weekday breakfast, it’s surprisingly easy to pull off. Simply prepare the ‘sandwiches’ the night before, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. This will actually help firm up the Nutella, which will make the sandwiches easier to dip in the morn. You can cut the sandwiches into any shape or not cut them at all…though the scraps make a really nice snack with a glass of red wine…just sayin’.

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

Ingredients

For the French Toast:

  • 8 slices white bread
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 4-6 large strawberries, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
For the Raspberry Coulis:
  • 3/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of nutella. (Fight the urge to spread it too thick.) Place the sliced strawberries on four slices of the bread, then place each of the remaining four bread slices on top to make four nutella-strawberry sandwiches. If desired, use a cookie cutter to cut the sandwiches into creative shapes. If preparing ahead of time, wrap the sandwiches in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Eat the scraps.

Lightly beat the eggs with the milk and salt. Melt a bit of the butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Dip both sides of each sandwich into the egg mixture. Place the dipped sandwiches in the hot pan and cook for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. The nutella will become warm and melty. (It’s easier to carefully flip the sandwiches using a fork and your hands, rather than a spatula.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

For the raspberry coulis, puree the raspberries with the sugar. If desired, pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

Diet  Update: Avoiding the scale like the plague this week and enjoying my valentine’s day chocolates. Will be back on track next week…promise!

Almond Joy Pie (for your Valentines)

For almost as long as the internet has existed, my father has sent a daily message to his mom, my sisters, my brother, and I. Each message begins simply, Good Morning Mom, Girls, and Guy. The messages share the details of his day to day events; a note about the weather, stories of his daily LIRR commute, or tales of the ‘Russian babe’ at the barbershop. What is unique is the way my dad weaves these everyday happenings into special stories which are simultaneously comical and meaningful.

Take this recent excerpt about clothes shopping and color-blindness:

When I opened the package that arrived last night, I discovered I’d ordered Sea Lavender. I will I admit that I didn’t actually know what color lavender is, but I thought it was blue. In truth, it’s the color of the sky on the horizon just before sunrise, actually more pink than blue. I wish I’d known this sooner, because not only would I probably not have ordered the shirt, I wouldn’t have described the sky in earlier blogs as ‘salmon’. I was never comfortable using a fish to describe such a beautiful sight.

At any rate, I hate sending stuff back and I’m wearing my new lavender shirt as I write. I’m thinking about getting a pinkie ring and maybe some kind of piercing.

And sometimes, his messages take us by surprise, filling us with uncertainty about our father’s mental state. Like when he wrote this message about his fellow LIRR passengers:

There were medieval people on the train with me on the way in this morning. Peasants, actually. There was a large, florid faced innkeeper with thinning blond hair sleeping with his chin on his chest and a small, bald palleted monk with a fish face snoring in a single-seated nook reserved for handicapped people. He would jostle back and forth between the walls as the train moved, but he never woke up. His snoring made him sound like he was choking.

Followed the next day by this message:

I took some heat yesterday for my revelation about seeing medieval characters in people’s faces. I guess this might as well be a good time to reveal that I also see animals is some faces. You know, weasels, squirrels, rabbits, horses, sheep, wolves and sometimes, fish. Might as well get it all on the table so we don’t have to deal with it again, right?

PS – I think I saw one of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men on the platform at Hicksville on the way by.

Clearly my father had been rereading Pillars of the Earth, again.

Weather is another common theme in my dad’s messages. Weather, in general, is one of my dad’s most favorite topics. He watches the weather channel like some people follow sports. And occasionally, we’ll get a story about the weather in his daily message, often involving Murphy’s law and umbrellas. Or something like this note on a chilly day:

Hoarfrost! Huh!?! Yep, you heard it right. I know it’s not a word you hear in polite company anymore, but I gotta’ call it the way I see it. There was no sunrise on the platform this morning. Instead, I was surrounded by fog and hoarfrost. If you look it up, you’ll find that ‘hoarfrost’ is defined as “white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when radiation losses into the open skies cause objects to become colder than the surrounding air”. Hoarfrost.

So, why is it that, as I stood in the icy fog waiting for train, I hesitated blurting out, “Hey, look at that there hoarfrost!”? Of course, I knew the answer. It was because, Mary, the little, 4’10” , short-haired woman, who waits for the train with me every morning, would have grabbed me by the ear lobe, dragged me down to the ticket office, and demanded that I have my mouth washed out with soap. I guess ‘hoarfrost‘ is just another victim of guilt by association.

And then there are the stories involving food. Like me, my dad likes to write about food; his lunch at the deli, stories of grilling in the snow, or tales of the adventures involved in clearing out the basement chest freezer. I’d like to believe that I acquired my interest in writing from my dad, right along with my shiny brown hair, bad eyesight, and love for corned beef hash…

Anyway, early yesterday morning, as I was setting myself up to actually accomplish something during the day, I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. I turned to see a very large lady eating a fried egg sandwich on a roll. She had a large Styrofoam resting on the ledge outside my window and she stood facing me as she chomped on her sandwich. Nose to nose, we couldn’t have been much more than three feet apart, but it was apparent that, while she was uncomfortably visible to me, I was not visible to her. I wanted to tell her, “These are not the droids you’re looking for”.

We shared breakfast together, every little bite, for about five minutes before she left. If I had been hungry before her visit, I was not when she left. Mercifully, I was spared any of the eating sounds although I could hear them clearly in my mind. (sigh)

And sometimes my dad’s messages are so filled with love and so poignant, that I find myself simultaneously laughing and crying. Like when he shared this simple memory from my childhood, from a time not long after we’d lost our mother to breast cancer:

Daaaadeeeee, I want a drink of waaaaater.

I can still hear the mellifluous call in syncopated unison from the upstairs bedroom of the small Cape Cod in Valley Stream. I would dutifully trudge up the single flight of stairs and deliver water to the three little girls who were my life. I’d get my hugs and ‘butterfly kisses’ and leave them to sleep peacefully.

I’ve come to understand that the call for water was really a call for security. They needed the peace in knowing I was there for them.

I always felt sorry for the times I let myself become annoyed at this evening ritual, but I feel sorrier still that those days are gone.

Now, my beautiful little girls are all beautiful brides and will someday gladly carry water to their own children.

I hope they sing the way you did.

My dad makes me smile everyday. And sometimes we cry too. But these daily messages keep us all connected, no matter how far separated we are. Eventually, the email list for these messages became longer, as my aunts, uncles, and cousins joined in. Soon family friends were on board too. Once the back and forth responses starting overflowing in each of our e-mail inboxes, it was decided that the daily message should be moved to a message board, which is where it sits today. And every Monday through Friday, we all log on to connect with each other. What a beautiful thing!

And here’s the best part…when I sent my Dad a message to see if he’d be ok with me sharing a few bits of his writing with all of you, his response was, They’re to you; they’re yours!  – Love ya!  ~Daddo 

My dad’s the best!

Valentine’s Day is typically a holiday celebrated between significant others, but it is impossible for me to think of Valentine’s Day without thinking about my dad, the man who has been my Valentine for all of my 35 years. My father taught my siblings and I about love and family, in the way he loves us and in the way he continues to hold an unending love for those we lost too soon.

And so, on Valentine’s Day, I will celebrate my love for my five special valentines; my husband, my three little men, and my dad. For my husband, I’ll be making lobster pot pie in a puff pastry shell and filet mignon with caramelized onions and gorgonzola. For my boys, heart-shaped nutella-stuffed french toast with raspberry syrup and berry red smoothies. And in honor of my dad, this Almond Joy Pie. Daddo, I’d send you a slice, if I could. You think one of those padded envelopes might work?? Maybe I should wait until the next time we visit…

It’s always fun to celebrate your sweeties with something sweet and I’m certain this pie would fill your loved ones with coconutty joy! It starts with a homemade chocolate cookie crust, which is then coated in a creamy milk chocolate ganache and sprinkled with a layer of sliced almonds. An irresistible coconut custard fills the pie. Skip the box of candy and make this instead…it’ll save all that time and wasted chocolates trying to find the coconut filled ones.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!  

Almond Joy Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 chocolate cookie pie crust (store-bought or homemade)*
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, divided

For the Custard:

  • 3 cups milk (skim milk will work fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
*Click HERE for the procedure for a homemade crust, though to be honest, in this case, it’s more cost effective and just as tasty to buy a prepared cookie crust. (In my stores, the ingredients to make your own cost twice as much as the prepared crust.)

Directions

To prepare the milk chocolate ganache: Bring the heavy cream just to a boil. Pour the cream over 2/3 cup of the chocolate chips and stir until smooth. The chips should melt by the heat of the cream, but if necessary, microwave the mixture for 10-15 seconds, then continue stirring until smooth. Pour the ganache into the pie shell. Scatter about half of the sliced almonds over the ganache. Refrigerate to set the ganache. Prepare the custard while the ganache cools.

To make the custard: Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken (it should only take a few minutes), reduce the heat to low. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a very slow drizzle to avoid scrambling the eggs. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk mixture in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut.

Allow the custard to cool at room temperature, stirring frequently, until it’s just barely warm. Pour the custard over the cooled ganache in the pie crust and refrigerate until the custard is completely cool and set, about 2 hours.

Melt the remaining 1/3 cup of chocolate chips in the microwave (a few seconds at a time, stirring often) or over a double boiler. Spoon the melted chocolate into a plastic baggie. Cut off a small tip of one of the corners of the baggie, then drizzle the chocolate over the pie. Garnish with the remaining sliced almonds.

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Cranberry Horseradish Relish

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My husband and I almost didn’t make it to midnight this year. We were totally ok with missing the official beginning of the new year, in return for sleep; sweet, precious sleep. But, the baby had other plans. The littlest man start fussing somewhere around 11. By midnight, he was in my arms vying for the first kiss of the new year. I told him that his daddy always gets the first kiss. Baby love got the second.

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are not nearly as exciting as they were in the past, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. No streamers, no crowded bars with inflated cover charges and subpar food, no need to call a taxi home…just calm, quiet, together. Perfect.

I made us a nice dinner after the kiddies were all tucked into bed; an incredibly simple roast rack of lamb over a cranberry horseradish relish with a big pile of roasted red potatoes. Notice the excess of potatoes and lack of a green veggie. Mmmm…potatoes! Totally overcompensating for the diet we knew we’d be starting the next day.

You may have noticed that I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to my recipes. It doesn’t take a lengthy list of ingredients or elaborate techniques to get great flavor when you’re working with fresh foods. The shopping list for this elegant meal is short (you’ve probably got most ingredients in your pantry) and it’s a cinch to pull together. Makes a great date night meal too…you might want to mark this one for Valentine’s Day!

Cranberry Horseradish Relish

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • Black pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until all cranberries have burst and the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Season with black pepper, as desired. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Easy-as-Can-Be Roast Rack of Lamb

Ingredients

  • 1 rack of lamb, trimmed and bones Frenched
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Trim off any excess fat or silverskin from the lamb. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in an oversafe pan over medium/medium-high heat. Place the lamb in the hot pan and sear for about a minute on each side. Then, place the pan in the oven and cook until it reaches your desired doneness. 15-18 minutes should give you a nice, juicy medium-rare/medium. Allow the rack to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing between the ribs.

Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds baby red potatoes, quartered
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the potatoes in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes. Use a spatula to occasionally turn the potatoes as they cook.

Meal Serves 2-4 People

Timesaving Tips:

  • Preheat the oven and prepare the potatoes first.
  • After the potatoes are in the oven, make the cranberry relish.
  • While the cranberry relish is simmering, trim and season the lamb.
  • Sear the lamb while the cranberry relish is cooling.
  • Place the lamb in the oven 20 minutes before the potatoes are done. The lamb will finish before the potatoes. Allow it to cool while you plate the cranberry relish and potatoes. Slice and plate the lamb last.

A Sweet for your Sweetie: Chocolate Raspberry Torte

Years and years ago, I received a free sample pack of Make It Italian recipe cards in the mail. I never ordered the complete recipe card collection and most of those sample cards have long since disappeared, but one of those recipe cards has been well-loved and well-worn over the years; a recipe for a rich, delicious Chocolate Raspberry Torte.

I’ve made this torte many times over the years for guests and for our own enjoyment, with a few little adaptations. It’s always a treat; dense chocolatey cake, with a sweet raspberry filling and and rich, dark chocolate ganache. And when the time came to decide on a sweet, chocolatey treat to make for my sweeties on this Valentine’s Day, this torte came first and foremost to my mind.

So, whip out your baking supplies and whip up this sweet treat for the sweeties in your life!

P.S. I won’t tell a soul if you make it just for yourself instead! You deserve it!


Chocolate Raspberry Torte

Adapted from a Make It Italian recipe card

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 6 Eggs, divided
  • 3/4 cup (plus 1 teaspoon) Sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) Butter, softened
  • 4 (1-ounce) squares Semisweet Baker’s Chocolate, melted
  • 3/4 cup Flour
  • 1/8 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1/8 cup Raspberry Liqueur (optional)

For the Filling

  • 1/2 cup Raspberry Jam

For the Ganache

  • 4 (1-ounce) squares Semisweet Baker’s Chocolate
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream
  • Fresh Raspberries and Chopped Walnuts, for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9 or 10″ round cake pan.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg whites with the teaspoon of sugar for several minutes until firm peaks form. Set aside.

Rinse the beaters. Then, in a separate bowl, beat together the sugar and softened butter until creamy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until well blended. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate, flour, cocoa powder, and liqueur until well blended.

Gently stir in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites, until well combined. Then, fold in the remaining beaten egg whites.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool completely. Then, halve the cake and spread the raspberry jam between the two layers.

To prepare the ganache, heat the cream just until boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Spread the ganache along the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with fresh raspberries and chopped walnuts. Chill in the refrigerator to set the ganache.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends!!

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