Valentine's Day has evolved into a sweet culinary feast. What would the day be like without a box of chocolates to give to your special someone? It is also a day when many people make reservations at their favorite restaurants and, even in these challenging economic times, most fine-dining establishments will be packed.
Another option for celebrating the day is to prepare a special meal for your lover. A couple of rosemary grilled lamb chops, creamy saffron risotto and fresh green beans sautéed in butter until just tender would be a delightful way to stir the emotional embers of your romantic partner. But that meal would be expensive.
Another option that would be less costly would be to celebrate Valentine's Day with a selection of sweets and a good bottle of wine.
Skipping the costly lamb chops would add coins to your coffer that might be better spent on pastries prepared by a pastry chef or by taking the plunge and preparing something yourself, which would be a culinary feat to brag about.
Giving sweets on Valentine's Day has been a tradition for many generations. The holiday itself has evolved significantly since Valentine of Rome was martyred in AD 269, one of many Christians who bore that name and who met a cruel end for disobeying Roman rule.
Exchanging romantic Valentine cards has been popular for several hundred years, but the giving of chocolate became popular only in the 20th century.
For those who don't want to labor in the kitchen baking, take the time to find a pastry shop that offers more than doughnuts and specialty cakes. Pastries in the Italian and French tradition have a growing following and a quick Internet search should lead you in the right direction.
For a surprisingly few coins you can select a visually stunning assortment of sweets, but don't stop there. This is the one time when presentation is of vital importance. Remember you are sending a message to your loved one, and you should take the time to get it right. Set the table, use a table cloth, flowers should play an important role, too.
There's no reason to spend a fortune on roses as camellias and azaleas are in bloom this time of the year.
Use other colorful visual aids such as a small bunch of grapes, bright orange cumquats or sweet red strawberries. Now is also the time to get the family silver out and to give each piece a good polish. Remember visual presentation is half the battle.
A good bottle of wine can be expensive, but if your purse strings are tightly knotted there are affordable options. An Italian prosecco can be quite good, just make sure not to get one that is overly sweet.
Cheap Champagnes should be avoided at all costs as their contribution will be most likely nothing but a headache. Of course a hearty red is always a romantic choice and a good red Zinfandel just might be the right pick for you.
If you do have money spare look for a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, it will change your opinion on American Pinots forever.
PUMPKIN CHEESE CAKE
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 stick butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup sour cream
2 eggs, 1 egg yolk
1 can pumpkin
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and ground cloves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whole pecans for garnish
Prepared caramel sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and cinnamon, melt the butter and mix well. Press down in individual container like a cylindrical ramekin or other decorative oven-proof container to form crust. Make sure the cream cheese and other ingredients are at room temperature. Combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour this mixture over the crust and bake for 1 hour. Garnish with whole pecans and a swirl of a prepared caramel sauce.
SEMI HOMEMADE CANNOLI
1 package Alessi cannoli shells
3/4 cup drained ricotta cheese
3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Small chocolate chips
Mint leaves for garnish
Mix all the ingredients for the filling and refrigerate for an hour or so. Do not fill the shells too far in advance as they will get soggy. Pipe the filling into the shells (use a plastic bag with a corner cut off if you do not have a pastry bag) from both ends until completely filled. Decorate the ends with the chocolate chips. Place on an attractive plate (individual plates are the most striking) and sprinkle a few more chocolate chips around the plate. If you have extra filling use it as a garnish, either by running a swirl around the outside of the plate or in attractive dollop's. Finish by scattering a few mint leaves on the plate.
TRUFFLES FOR THE BAKING IMPAIRED
8 ounces cream cheese
3 cups confectioner's sugar
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Sift the sugar and then beat the cream cheese until well blended. Slowly add the sugar to the cheese, blending carefully. Melt the chocolate with the vanilla added and stir into the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, the using a melon baller form into balls.