Linzer cookies are based on the famous Linzertorte - a delicious tart made using a rich buttery dough with ground nuts, lemon zest, and cinnamon. It is one of the oldest known tart recipes, discovered in an Austrian abbey that dates back to 1653. The tart is traditionally filled with black currant preserves and topped with a lattice crust.
In the States, raspberry has replaced black currant as the jam of choice. Linzer cookies employ the same recipe as the Linzertorte but instead the dough is cut into cookies and two of them form a sandwich with the preserves. Many years ago, when I was working long hours on a television show in NYC, my friend Michele stopped by my office and surprised me with a box of homemade heart-shaped Linzer cookies.
It’s still a favorite Valentine’s Day memory – make some for your Valentine this year, it will make a lasting impression.
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!
I was pretty impressed when I cruised one list of Top Valentine’s Day Gifts For Men. But after careful consideration, I decided to go a more traditional route.
See, while the Pickle-of-the-Month gift idea had a certain appeal (pickles are one of Tom’s favorite food groups), when I imagined sitting down to a candlelight dinner on 2/14 and handing him this month’s selection, it just seemed like a buzz kill.
I thought seriously about the personalized romance novel. Called “Blood Lust,” the manufacturer promises the customized book will feature 30 personal details. I’m not sure I have that many personal details (are they gonna discuss my back scratcher? My Necco wafer obsession?), but I am sure I don’t want them exposed in any book, no matter how limited the distribution. (Also, there’s a disconcerting typo in the promo: Cosmopolitan Magazine calls this book “One of the sexist (sic) gifts ever!”)
Another top pick was the Ultimate Stock Car Ride-Along. The giftee gets to ride shotgun, at 150 mph, in a stock car race, with a “professional” driver at the wheel. Now, call me a softie, but I decided I didn’t think it was friendly to gift my husband with an activity that would almost certainly result in his death.
Aside from those choices, I loved the Custom Bobble Head, but it seemed overpriced at $105, and the World’s Largest Gummy Worm seemed like too much of a good thing. So, I decided to head to the kitchen and make Tom some chocolate truffles. (All he really wants is chocolate anyway.)
While I may be a decent home cook - I have my share of successes in front of the stove and am pretty good at food and wine pairings - I loathe baking. It’s just too precise for me and since we rarely eat sweets anymore - I’ll take the cheese course over the dessert course every day of the week - I’ve never felt compelled to get any better at it. Which is weird because I really like science. I am super impressed by what people are able to create, but the time and energy involved makes me want to run from the kitchen.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I wanted to create a special treat that did not take hours upon hours, any unusual equipment, or a mass of specialty ingredients to end our home-cooked meal. Yes, I know, I’m a lazy chef. Plus, I’ve been married a long time and honestly it doesn’t take much to impress my husband in the kitchen. He can barely boil water…though he can fix ANY computer or iPhone problem, so we must celebrate each other’s strengths.
When I came upon Chef Ludo Lefebvre's Hot Chocolate Galettes from the CRAVE: A Feast of the Five Senses - 10th Anniversary Edition, I knew I hit the jackpot. We are big fans of his cooking and while I love this book, many of the recipes in it are still way out of my league. Most of the desserts, however, are classics and while not necessarily always simple to make, they rely on basic ingredients and clear techniques that aren’t out of the wheelhouse of most home cooks.
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.
I’m sorry to say that my husband is much more romantic and sentimental than I am. He’s a better gift giver and a better surprise planner. That’s why I was completely unsuspecting when our family went to one of my favorite restaurants for Valentine’s Day several years ago. I loved Prego, in Beverly Hills, and to use a quote from Jerry McGuire “they had me at the breadsticks”.
Another thing I should mention is I’m not much of a jewelry gal. I appreciate the beauty of it, but I can’t navigate decorative rings, necklaces and earrings. I work too much with my hands and everything else is just a nuisance.
So, there we were, the four of us, actually dressed up nicely for a civilized evening out. The girls seemed agitated and I just chalked it up to the usual fussiness that stopped us from taking them out in the first place. When they were much younger they used to love The Daily Grille in Brentwood.
That’s the question of the moment. Ads on TV, in newspapers, on line, in magazines, on billboards, buses, subways, just about everywhere you look, make suggestions about what to give your lover to show how much you treasure her: romantic dinners, cruises, hot air balloon rides, diamonds, earrings, pearl necklaces, chocolates, spa treatments, cakes, pies, tarts, sweaters, and of course, flowers.
Years ago when I lived in Rhode Island I had a friend who refused to buy any of her gifts. For Christmas or a birthday, she’d knit a gift, create a handmade card, or construct a collage. Risa was an enthusiastic practitioner of the hand-made movement because she felt that making a gift was a more emotional way of connecting to someone you cared about. To her, going into a store and plunking down a fist full of cash wasn’t as intimate and personal as making something.
I took Risa’s lesson to heart. Many Valentine’s Days I baked. Apple pies with crystallized ginger crusts. Flourless chocolate cakes with roasted almonds. And banana cakes with chocolate chips and roasted walnuts, one of my wife’s favorite desserts.
For this Valentine’s Day I was presented with a problem. I couldn’t bake Michelle a cake because she had sworn off dairy products and sugar. No matter how much she used to like my desserts, a beautiful cake wouldn’t tell her “I love you” the way it used to. So what could I make or do for her that would show her I love her?
Looking back fifteen to twenty years ago, I am amazed at the weighted significance I placed on Valentine’s Day gift giving. It was forever the holiday filled with potential of making or breaking a relationship. Those feelings all seem so ridiculous and childish now, but then, with very little relationship maturity under my belt, it all made logical sense.
When it came to giving the “right Valentine’s gift” I placed a lot of energy and time concocting my gift giving plan of attack. I completely lost sight of what the celebration was about. Love. Right?
I distinctly recall dating a “certain guy” at the young and clueless age of twenty. We had only been going out for a short time and Valentine’s Day was quickly approaching. I know…the pressure. There is nothing worse than an impending holiday like Valentine’s to put a young relationship to the ultimate test of failure or success. At least that’s what I thought.
I was of course ecstatic. I made this “certain guy” a very clever card, had a picture of us framed, made him my, “Yes, you will fall in love with me Chocolate Chip Cookies” and bought him a shirt. I know the shirt sounds lame, unimaginative and pathetic, but believe me when I tell you it was a very cool shirt. It. Really. Was.
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.”
Rather than a chocolate dessert for Valentine's, I prefer one that's creamy, light, and airy, just like this parfait. Not the layered yogurt concoction in a glass topped with granola and fruit, a parfait is a frozen treat of whipped egg whites and whipped cream flavored with fruit purée. French in origin, the dessert's name, parfait, translates to 'perfect.' Its texture resembles that of mousse, but since it is frozen, it eats much like an ice cream. For this dessert a citrus sponge cake provides the base on which the parfait sits. The blood orange syrup, which is the flavoring and coloring for the parfait, also serves as a drizzle over or alongside the dessert.
A few years ago I tried a parfait for the first time at Pigalle restaurant in New York. In fact it was a blood orange parfait. I was pleasantly surprised that the dessert menu offered this seasonal option as well as a good selection of French classics. I clearly remember it was the dead of winter, so a frozen dessert might not have been most diners' first choice, but for me it was. The parfait was made in a ring mold with a sponge cake bottom and served with syrup. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ever since then, a blood orange parfait has been on my list of recipes to create. Here I make it for Valentine's Day in heart-shaped form using the most beautiful blood oranges.