St. Valentine’s Day

Celebrating your first Valentine’s Day as a married couple carries with it a bit of pressure. I mean, you only get one – and as a newlywed, there’s this sort of expectation that you’d better be madly in love, shower each other with a roomful of googly-eyed stuffed creatures in absurd colors, write sappy love poems, spend your monthly salary on fresh flowers and – by all means – there had better be something sparkly in a little box.

Not in my household. Well – I  mean, we are madly in love. Just not the other stuff! We’re on a budget, one stuffed creature is one too many, there aren’t any surprise romantic trips to Fiji, and our first anniversary is just around the corner. Can’t blow all the celebration money in just one place!

That doesn’t mean we weren’t romancing each other at all. I put my culinary gifts to use, and thought I’d share the results. So here is my recipe for the perfect Valentine’s Day in (p.s., leave your diets at the door).

Here’s the menu:

  • Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce
  • Sauteed Chicken Breast
  • Oven Roasted Asparagus
  • Artisan Bread
  • A crisp white Riesling
  • Sweetheart’s Coconut Pie

The Vodka Cream Pasta Sauce came from one of my previously favorite cookbooks – Rachel Ray’s Thirty Minute Meals. I say previously because her things aren’t exactly whole-foods-friendly. She calls it her “You-Won’t-Be-Single-Long Vodka Cream Sauce.” The sauce is rich with heavy cream and crushed tomatoes, fragrant with shallots and garlic, and has that special je ne sais quoi of vodka. The final  touch is shredded fresh basil.

Sauteed chicken breast was a simple and easy companion. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter of medium high heat until it is brown and smells delicious. Add in a couple tablespoons of olive oil and heat thoroughly. When your fats are quite hot, toss in your boneless, skinless chicken breast. It should sear quickly and turn a lovely caramel color. Cook 4 minutes and flip. According to Joy of Cooking, it should only take another 5-6 minutes to cook through, but I’ve found that most chicken breasts are so large that they take longer. Mine probably took an extra 5 minutes or so.

Roasted asparagus is a favorite of mine. I don’t roast often because the high heat breaks down the healthy fats in the olive oil and damages nutrients in the vegetables, but it is oh so tasty! Heat your oven to 500 degrees, clean your asparagus, pop them on a baking sheeting and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Roast for about 6 minutes, and whatever you do, don’t overcook! Serve either straight from the oven, or at room temperature.

The bread and riesling I picked up at the store. I love a crisp, fresh riesling, and was delighted to find a really lovely one at Aldi’s, our discount grocery store, for under $5. Its not really sweet, just refreshing and light. A perfect compliment to the meal.

For dessert was a literal tour de force. Originally known in my family as White Christmas Pie, it is a favorite of my husband’s, and a perfect dessert for a special day. The recipe comes from my Aunt – the supreme cook in our family – although if it is her creation or an older family recipe, I really don’t know. I’m not going to give away the secrets, but I’ll tell you this. It involves whole milk and sugar, plain gelatin, beaten egg whites, whipped heavy cream, and moist winter coconut. I decked it out with food coloring to make it holiday appropriate, and thus changing its name to Sweethearts’ Coconut Pie. 

By the way, this pie fulfilled part of my 2011 vision of mastering the art of pie baking. While not yet a master, if I can accomplish this complex filling, the only skill I really have left to master is the crust. I was close, and while I had a nice flaky crust, its appearance left something to be desired.

We finished up the evening with some childish movie watching: How to Train Your Dragon and a tear-inspiring Toy Story 3.

So there you have it, a romantic celebration for anyone! Happy Valentine’s Day to you, dear reader. Here’s wishing you great romantic reads and lovely romantic dinners!

Look for my review of Tess of the D’Ubervilles in the next couple of days!

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