Valentines

valentines_day.jpgThat’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 Day 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.

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ImageThe day after Christmas I went to the supermarket and the Valentine's candy was already out. I have already had a handful of wine orders asking what to pair the wine with for a special Valentine's Day dinner. I have to say I am impressed by the early excitement this holiday is already showing. Let's face it, we all love to celebrate, so why not embrace it.

There’s no denying it, a heartfelt dessert, is one of life’s sweetest ways to say I love you. Offering confectionery to your beloved on Valentine’s Day has been a tradition celebrated and expressed by lovers since the Middle Ages.

Sparkling hearts, winged Cupids and dreamy white doves have always reigned supreme as traditional symbols of Valentine’s Day commemorations, however, for me, chocolate is synonymous with the celebration of this love-filled holiday.

Of course the best Valentine’s Day treats aren’t the ones you buy; they’re the ones you make yourself. This Chocolate Lover’s Cake with Raspberry-Chambord Sauce will remind your sweetheart just how much they mean to you. The cake’s fudge-like center and rich chocolate taste are the perfect ending to a day basking in the glow of love.

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whitebox.jpgI’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. 

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heartcookiesLittle siblings of the traditional Austrian-Hungarian Linzertorte, Linzer cookies are very much a favorite in my family. These crumbly pastries are perfect for any holiday table. Make them round like wreaths for Christmas and for Valentine's Day make them heart shaped.

This recipe is rather simple. The dough can be made the day before and left in the refrigerator until it's time to roll the cookies. I used ground almonds in this recipe, but any ground nut, specifically walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts, work well. Make sure you refrigerate the dough in between batches. It will be easier to handle and the cookies will look neat and sharp once baked.

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LinzerCookiesLinzer 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.

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