Classics become classic because they don’t succumb to time or trend but grow true to themselves. Such is the case with the makers of the beloved blue box with the white ribbon. As Valentine’s Day rolls around, naturally my mind, as well as my hopes, go straight to that classic blue box.
Growing up, my mother and her sisters were my style mentors. It was my younger aunts in particular with their gold bracelets and brooches, that cued me into the finer things in life. Their heavy gold link bracelets, laden with charms that made music as they walked, and the jeweled pins that adorned their dresses and sweaters were all, as I learned early, from Tiffany’s. That blue box tied neatly with the white ribbon became a familiar site under our Christmas tree, on my mother’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary. It became for me, a style-precocious child, something to aspire to.
My first blue box came at 18 from my first serious boyfriend. He would later become my first fiancé, gifting me yet again with a coveted blue box containing The ring. But the first box which was indeed ring-size and had my fingers trembling as I opened it, held two enamel and gold bands. Pre-engagement rings was how I viewed my Valentine’s Day gift of the blue and gold, and green and gold Schlumberger bands that stacked beautifully on my finger.
All couples have the story of how they met. Ours comes with a small bit of fate – if you even believe in that sort of thing. It was Christmas-time and the charity I worked for was throwing a small bash to thank our local volunteers and meet some of our vendors. It even included an uptight board member or two. My future husband-to-be was not officially invited. He had other plans that night; however, his date canceled at the last minute to finish her holiday shopping. So, he called his good friends, Peter and Jo, to see what they were up to. Jo, being Jo, invited him to join them at my party. They were only about 15 minutes ahead of him and, she cajoled, the charity was chock-full of single women. She was not lying about that. Ten of the eleven employees were young women. Of course, since she had never met any of us, she did not vouch for our attractiveness.
I got their side of the story from them at a later date. Apparently, they had scoped me out and then engaged me in witty repartee until the unknown man of my dreams arrived. We were already fast friends by the time Dave turned up – aided a bit by some very strong margaritas – and in no time we were all chatting as if we'd known each other for years. It goes without saying, I gave him my card – though it was the first time in my life I had agreed to go on a date with a man who until moments before was a total stranger.
Sharing things is always dicey, and dicing while cooking together is definitely no exception. The kitchen can morph into a metallic boxing ring. One of you is the wild, inventive cook and the other is the chop-a-holic, compulsive one. But one thing I’ve realized after decades of co-cooking is that both co-chef-partners are actually doing the same things, just at different moments.
Take me, for example. I am not a compulsive dicer and slicer, but I do like my implements put back in their proper places. My co-cooker partner likes to splatter garlic when throwing it with wild abandon into a pan, but follows recipes as if his children’s lives depended on it.
The trick is to find a way to have our mutating cooking styles come together rather than clash. In formal holiday moments, I have learned to stand back and let him plan away.
My husband, David, and I are both chefs, so we are always busy working in our respective kitchens on Valentine’s Day. Cooking for hundreds of people while miles apart is a bit romantically challenging. So we try to capture and share the spirit of the day through our food, like this classic dessert, which has a few distinct twists to make it worthy of this special day.
We use wild flower honey to give an exotic flavor to the panna cotta and then we top it with deep-red blood orange granita. I love the texture of the granita – instead of being smooth like a sorbet – it's actually crunchy and icy (in a good way). I love the combination of rich and creamy with icy and tart, which makes it like a grown-up creamsicle, so refreshing, but also so beautiful to look at.
Kumquats are another of my favorite ingredients that I can't get enough of when they are in season. I seriously find myself trying to think of new ways to use them! In this case they are tossed with the wildflower honey and become rather “fresh-candied.” It’s an elegant and colorful dish, which is just perfect for Valentine’s Day. In our kitchen, it is executed by our pastry chef Breanne Varela who started at Lucques and A.O.C and because of her skill with sweets of all types, is now in charge of all bakery duties at our newest place,Tavern.
No Valentine’s Day meal is complete without a fantastic dessert, perhaps enjoyed after some champagne and caviar, which we rush home to indulge in – if Dave remembers to buy them, which happens about 50% of the time.
There's no other holiday like Valentine's Day when lovers are given the chance to express their affection in many ways, be it something as simple as flowers or as fancy as a restaurant dinner. Here in New York City and there are many Valentine's Day dinner specials soon to be available. There is always an opportunity for couples to dine out and have a great, albeit, expensive time. But a private dinner at home can be just as special and a lot less pricey. I don't think there is anything more romantic than cooking for your other half. A meal that's made with love has so much more meaning than anything a restaurant could offer.
I have a simple dinner in mind. This entrée is simple and easy, using basic cooking techniques, so you don't have to spend too much time at the stove. It's uncomplicated, unfussy, hearty, and familiar in flavors: it's steak, potatoes, and spinach. These petite filet mignon make an elegant dinner for two and, with the side dishes included, come in well under 20 dollars, 30 if you include a good bottle of red wine. Celebrate your Valentine with this easy and affordable meal.
I do love a good holiday and any holiday that gives me an excuse to bake with a theme is fine by me. This year, dinner is at home with my four boys (M is included as he is in fact still a boy). Making all of their favorites; grilled lamb chops with a delicious marinade (parsley, basil, garlic, shallots, and coconut oil), asparagus tart, stuffed tomatoes, and chocolate lava cakes for dessert.
Now that my family is taken care of, I couldn’t let their teachers and some of our favorite people go unnoticed. Isaac has the greatest teacher this year and not only is she going to get a huge box of Sees Lollypops (her favorite), but she is going to get a selection of both butter-sugar cookies and these cocoa shortbread cookies. There are countless other teachers and staff members that will also be getting a neat little box wrapped in ribbon. Each box will represent how much we adore and love each and everyone of them.
On this Valentine’s Day, I will hug and kiss my kids and tell all my boys how much I love them. Yet, come to think of it, it really doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to say and do these things; it pretty much happens everyday!
Lee's biggest complaint regarding my cooking is that I "never repeat", meaning I never make the same thing twice. Which isn't true of course, but I know what he means. I'm always looking to improve upon recipes and try something new. So for Valentine's Day I let him choose the menu, something new or a repeat of an old favorite.
For celebratory meals it seems eating in is at least as romantic as eating out, maybe more. And with a few possible exceptions, no matter what ingredients you buy, you'll be hard pressed to spend more than you would dining out. One year I even made platters of seafood--oysters on the half shell, poached shrimp, mussels, smoked salmon, etc. But the biggest hit was the time I made cheese fondue followed by chocolate fondue. So after deciding we'd rather do Valentine's Day dinner at home this year, Lee expressed his desire for "Fondue x 2", which is our menu du jour.
When I was 7 my mother, Susan, met my future stepfather, Larry. They had been dating for about a month when she made him a batch of caramel nut brownies—a recipe she’d come up with herself. Larry took one bite and blurted, “Oh my gosh, I love you!” It was the first time he’d said anything like that, and it was sort of a joke—but then he followed up with, “Actually, I really do love you, and I’ve been wanting to tell you that.” After they got engaged, Larry renamed the recipe “Man-Catcher Brownies.”
Mom taught me how to bake when I was 12, and these brownies were one of the first recipes she shared with me. “Remember, Amy, whoever eats these will fall in love with you,” she said. I knew she was teasing, but the brownies still took on magical properties in my mind. My friends and I would have sleepovers and bake batches of them for boys we had crushes on. Sometimes we’d be sneaky about it and bring the brownies to the whole class, just so that a particular guy would be sure to eat one. When one of us had a steady boyfriend, we’d make up a nice little bag for him and tie it with a bow. Larry was on to our schemes. “Those man-catcher brownies work, so y’all be careful,” he’d say. “Don’t give ’em to anyone who won’t treat you right for the rest of your life.”
It’s almost unseemly that so soon after the holidays I already find myself back in the midst of boxes of chocolate, imagining all the sweet treats I’d bake if only I had the time. But that is in fact the case.
I think it speaks to the nature of this month, and not just because Valentine’s Day is smack in the middle of February. I think it has more to do with the cold, long nights … all those hours between dinner and bedtime. What better way to spend them than baking scores of delicacies in the imaginary kitchen in your mind?
When I imagine the sweets that I would like to bake, there’s always one that makes a repeat appearance in my baking fantasies: coeur à la crème.
French in origin, coeur à la crème means "heart of cream." A classic dessert, it’s components are simple and sublime.
My grandma's favorite gift was a box of chocolate covered cherries. I can still see her biting into the first one she picked from the box my uncle would bring her from Walgreen's Drugstore in Chicago. The liquid insides would ooze out and drip down her chin. She'd smile and her eyes would sparkle with delight. I never did grow fond of the chocolate-cherry treats that would bring her such glee. Even as a child, they were just too sweet for my liking.
I've never really developed an appreciation for the combination of chocolate and cherries. Rich, creamy chocolate -- yes. Sweet-tart juicy cherries -- yes. But together in one bite? No.
Despite my dislike for the marriage of chocolate and cherries in anything edible, each February since I was old enough to read a recipe, I've been baking a chocolate and cherry treat to celebrate the month that claims Valentine's Day and George Washington's birthday. These two days make February a time to hail chocolate and observe National Cherry Month.
I have two boys. At the ages of eleven and one that's moments away from turning thirteen, it's getting harder and harder to impress them. Or maybe it's better to say, it's getting harder and harder to do things together they think are cool.
Take for instance baking, when they were little pulling out the sprinkles got them excited about spending time in the kitchen. Now, it's getting challenging to keep their attention when it comes to helping. So I asked them to hang out and help me make these chocolate chip bars. Big yawn. Then I told them, how about we make chocolate chip bars with chocolate hearts that bleed red blood right on top? Magically, I had their attention. Boys. Of course they would think a bleeding heart is the perfect Valentine's Day treat!
These little hearts are Junior Mints made especially for Valentine's Day. Their insides are either red or white. The colors are mixed in a package so you do not get all reds in one box. I explained to the boys I could only get maybe half of them to bleed. The white ones also bleed, you just can't see them when they do.
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