Watch out for Cupid’s arrow, or better yet, avoid the greeting card aisle. Valentine’s Day is approaching and love is in the air. For many hopeless romantics out there, February 14th is a wonderful, starry-eyed opportunity to give and receive special tokens of affection like flowers, chocolates, and of course, store-bought or homemade valentines. If your significant other is not so romantic the rest of the year, it’s practically mandated on Valentine’s Day. On the other hand, singles can enjoy being exempt from all this romantic (and financial!) pressure and focus completely on spoiling themselves. And besides, there are always plenty of ridiculously fun Anti-Valentine’s Day parties going on in most cities. In that spirit, I’ll start with a special chocolate spa day designed just for single women. Chocolate IS a girl’s best friend. Moving on to the mushy stuff, I’ll tell you how to spoil the loved ones in your life, whether it’s your kids or your hubby. In the true spirit of Recipe4Living, the way to anyone’s heart is the stomach. Enjoy!
History? I got your history
Okay okay, if you must know WHY we celebrate this silly holiday called Valentine’s Day, let me explain briefly. Valentine’s Day began with a priest, St. Valentine. Rumor has it that during the third century in Rome, Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than married men and thus outlawed marriage for young men. Recognizing the injustice of this, St. Valentine continued to marry young people in secret and was imprisoned and eventually killed. Other rumors say that St. Valentine helped Christians escape harsh Roman prisons and that he may have even sent a love letter from prison to an admired woman, signed “From Your Valentine.” As St. Valentine was later a favorite saint in France and England, Valentine’s Day became popularly celebrated in the seventeenth century. In 1840, the first mass-produced “valentines” appeared in America. Today, 85% of Valentine’s Day cards are purchased by women. Is this because men are buying flowers?
Boycott this Silly Holiday and Spoil Yourself!
Chocolate Foot Spa
Here is a list of “needed” supplies for an indulgent foot spa experience.
A foot basin
Put a handful of marbles in the foot basin or any large container to soak your feet in. Fill halfway with cold water. Warm enough whole milk to fill the basin and whisk until frothy. Add 1 Tbs. each of vanilla extract and chocolate extract. Soak feet for 5 minutes while you are rolling them over the marbles. The lactic acid in the milk naturally sloughs off dead skin and softens them. Next, mix a handful of each brown sugar and white sugar with enough olive oil to form a paste. Massage this paste into the feet, ankles, knees and calves. Rinse with warm water and pat dry. Finish with lotion that has been warmed in the microwave. You can add a few drops of vanilla extract in your lotion to keep the vanilla scent on your skin.
Chocolate Bubble Bath
So sweet and indulgent, it’s the perfect bath for chocoholics – but please, don’t drink the bath water.
1 C. unscented bubble bath
1/3 C. unsweetened Soya Brand Milk
3 oz. dark chocolate
Heat the Soya milk and add in the chopped chocolate, stir well until melted. Do not boil. Allow cooling down. Mix with the bubble bath and pour into your bath and enjoy.
Homemade Chocolate Truffles
This is a really easy way to make a normally complicated dessert. Enjoy these while you are lounging in the tub.
1 12 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 C. orange-flavored liqueur or 1 tsp. orange extract
1 can chocolate or fudge frosting
Toppings: Coconut, chocolate sprinkles, ground nuts and cocoa
Melt chocolate chips in medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Stir in orange liqueur and frosting; blend well. Refrigerate 1-2 hours or until firm. Place coconut or other toppings in pie pan. Scoop mixture into 1″ balls; drop onto topping. Mixture will be sticky. Roll to coat. Place in foil candy cups, if desired. Store in refrigerator.
Yield: 6 dozen
1 shot vodka
Splash of peach schnapps
Equal parts cranberry and grapefruit juice.
Lime for garnish
Mix together all ingredients and pour over ice. Garnish top of glass with a lime wedge.
Some Essentials for Spoiling Loved Ones
Flower Meanings- Every flower has a meaning, many of which have endured for centuries. So unless you want to give a woman the symbol for mourning this Valentine’s Day, make sure you look into these meanings before picking a bouquet. Not only will you have the perfect gesture with the flowers, but you’ll impress that special someone with your knowledge. He or she will think you are quite thoughtful (just don’t let on I told you).
Amaryllis or Iris– Both of these flowers are perfect for the artists or actors you know. Amaryllis is dramatic and the iris is inspiring.
Carnation– To be blunt, many women view carnations as a “filler flower,” but if you know this person likes carnations go with yellow or pink. These express cheerfulness and gratitude respectively.
Gardenia or Day Lily– Symbolizing joy and enthusiasm respectively, these are great universal flowers to brighten anyone’s Valentine’s Day.
Lilac– Have a serious case of puppy love? Lilacs are the symbol for first love. Your spouse or fiancé will giggle.
Orange Blossoms– Do you have a friend or significant other trying to get pregnant? Or one that has recently become pregnant? Orange blossoms are the symbol for fertility.
Orchid or Hibiscus– As would be expected, orchids and hibiscus symbolize delicate beauty. Depending on the person, this can either be touching or somewhat offensive.
Pansy, Yellow or Red Tulip– While all these flowers are gestures of love, the pansy is the least strong, and the red tulip is a great first declaration. Yellow denotes a hopeless romantic devotion.
Rose- Red roses are the ultimate gesture of passionate love. If you have only been dating a short time, this is too strong a gesture. White roses are a symbol of purity (making them particularly popular at weddings). Pink roses symbolize friendship. A mixture of red and white denote unity, making them perfect for a married couple of many years.
Sunflower– These unique flowers show adoration. You can’t help but smile when you see a sunflower.
Melting Chocolate– Because chocolate is very delicate to heat, you have to melt chocolate slowly, well-removed from heat. Always heat chocolate over low heat or it will quickly become an unappetizing mass. Use a double boiler, or place the saucepan with chocolate on top another saucepan with boiling water on the stovetop. Keep in mind that chocolate will continue to melt even after removing it from a heat source, so be careful not to overcook.
- Unsweetened chocolate will easily liquefy when melted, but sweetened chocolate must be continually stirred.
- Chocolate flavored coating contains cocoa and vegetable oil, rather than cocoa butter. Coatings are popular because they are easier to use for things like dipping, but the taste and quality are nowhere near real chocolate.
For the Kids
Sweeten bath-time for the kids or for yourself with this delicious recipe.
1/2 C. unscented shampoo
12 drops cherry fragrance oil
2 drops red food coloring
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 C. water
Mix together the shampoo and water in a jar. Add the salt and stir again until the mixture thickens up. Add the cherry oil and the red food coloring and stir the mixture thoroughly once more. Bottle the mixture until ready to use in your bath. To use; add 1 Tbs. to running bath water. Soak as desired.
Crafts for Kids (Compliments of our RSVP writer Sarah Potts)
Valentines- Go out and buy a bunch of colored construction paper and have a “card making” station. Have scissors, heart patterns, stickers and markers supplied so the kids can make their family and friends Valentine’s Day cards.
Candy Lollipop Flowers– This is a great and non-messy activity for children. All you will need is wrapped heart-shaped lollipops that you should be able to find any where in the seasonal section, green chenille stems and scissors. First have the children start at the top of the lollipop stick (just before the end of the sucker) and tightly wrap the chenille stem in a coil around the lollipop stick. Once this is done, cut off the extra chenille. You can use the extra piece or another piece of chenille and wrap this around the stem as well to make the “leaf,” just make sure the leaf is secure. There you go- your child can now have a fun bouquet of little hear shaped flowers to give to anyone.
Foam Love Letters– Give your child the gift of love this Valentines Day. These easy to make foam letters spell out the word “love” and would be adorable in any little girl’s room. Click here for how to make!
Rose Valentine Coffee or Tea Mug– Here’s an inexpensive Valentine’s Day gift that you can make yourself for your special valentine. It is easy and it is fun, any child could make this for his or her mom. The Web site provides the free, full-sized rose stencil pattern (at right) – or you could use your own romantic theme. Click here for how to make!
Spoil Your Sweetie– In my mind, there is no greater gift for a loved one than a fancy meal. Here are a couple fancy menus perfect for Valentine’s Day, and a few more ideas to inspire you.
Shrimp in Champagne Sauce With Pasta
This dish takes some effort to prepare, but is the perfect touch for a romantic dinner for your special Valentine.
1 C. sliced mushrooms
1 Tbs. olive oil
3/4 lb. medium shrimp, shelled
1 1/2 C. champagne
1/2 Tbs. garlic pepper seasoning
2 Tbs. minced shallots or scallions
1 large tomato, diced
1 C. heavy cream
1/2 lb. dried thin spaghetti
3 Tbs. chopped parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese
Sauté mushrooms in medium saucepan in hot olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook just long enough to release mushroom juices and let them evaporate. Remove mushrooms and set aside. In same saucepan, combine shrimp, champagne and garlic pepper seasoning. Over high heat, heat to simmer. When liquid just boils, shrimp are done. Remove shrimp from cooking liquid with a slotted spoon immediately. Set shrimp aside.
Add chopped shallots and tomatoes to cooking liquid. Boil over high heat until liquid is reduced to about 1/2 C., approximately 8 minutes. When liquid is reduced, add 3/4 C. heavy cream and boil 1-2 minutes, until slightly thickened and reduced. Add shrimp and mushrooms to sauce; heat through. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. Meanwhile cook pasta according to directions on package. Drain thoroughly and return to cooking pot. Toss with remaining 1/4 C. cream and parsley. To serve, divide pasta between two plates. Spoon shrimp and sauce over pasta. Garnish with parmesan to taste.
Strawberry Spinach Salad
If you have never tried mixing spinach and strawberries together then you must try this recipe. It is very easy and simple and so good.
2 Tbs. sesame seeds
1 1/2 lb. fresh spinach
1/3 C. vegetable oil
1/3 C. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. minced green onion
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 C. fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
In a 7 inch skillet over medium heat, stir sesame seeds until golden; set aside. Wash spinach thoroughly; dry on paper towels and tear into bite size pieces. Wrap and chill. Blend oil, vinegar, sugar, onion, paprika and Worcestershire sauce. In large glass bowl, mix together spinach, strawberries, dressing and seeds.
One Bowl Spicy Chocolate Cake
Don’t be scared of the cayenne pepper and spice up your boring chocolate cake.
1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1 C. sugar
1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. hot red pepper (cayenne)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C. water
1/2 C. vegetable oil
1 Tbs. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease 8″-square baking pan. In medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, hot red pepper and salt. Add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Beat with a fork just until all dry ingredients have been moistened. Bake cake 35 to 40 minutes or until center springs back when gently pressed. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes. Remove to serving platter. Cover and set aside until ready to serve. Just before serving, sift confectioners’ sugar over top. Cut into 4 squares; cut each square diagonally in half to make 8 triangular pieces.
Yield: 8 servings
Crab-Stuffed Fillet Mignon with Whiskey-Peppercorn Sauce
Incredibly elegant and flavorful, this is the perfect meal to impress that special someone. Excellent for anniversaries, Valentine’s Day or any day!
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. minced onion
1 tsp. minced green onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. minced celery
1 tsp. minced green bell pepper
2 Tbs. shrimp stock or water
1 6 oz. can crab meat, drained
2 Tbs. bread crumbs
1 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1 1/4 C. beef broth
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 oz. whiskey
1 C. heavy cream
4 6 oz. filet mignon steaks
4 slices bacon, cooked lightly
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced shallot
1 C. crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 oz. whiskey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
To make crab stuffing, heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion, green onion, garlic, celery, and green pepper until tender. Stir in shrimp stock, crab meat, bread crumbs, and Cajun seasoning. Remove from heat, and set aside. To prepare peppercorn sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine beef broth and cracked black pepper. Simmer until reduced to 1 C., stirring frequently. Add 1 oz. whiskey and 1 C. cream. Continue simmering until reduced to 1 C. Remove from heat, and set aside. To prepare steaks, slice a pocket into the side of each steak, and stuff generously with crab stuffing. Wrap bacon around side, and secure with toothpicks. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside. Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Sauté garlic and shallot for 1 minute. Stir in mushrooms, and sauté until tender. Remove mushroom mixture, and set aside. Place steaks in skillet, and cook to desired doneness. Remove from skillet, and keep warm. Deglaze skillet with 1 oz. whiskey. Reduce heat, and stir in peppercorn sauce and Dijon mustard. Add mushroom mixture, and reduce sauce until thickened. Remove toothpicks and bacon from steaks, and arrange steaks on a plate. Top with sauce.
Note: Partially cook the filets in the pan, and finish them on the grill. This recipe works well with roasted red potatoes and a nice glass of wine.
Yield: 4 servings
Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Fresh Herbs
The perfect side dish to just about anything.
4 quarts water
1 tsp. salt
3 – 4 lb. golden potatoes
2/3 C. cream
1/4 C. butter
1 Tbs. fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring water to a boil, add salt. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and slice in quarters. Place potatoes in boiling water and cook until tender. Drain water and mash. Add cream, butter, salt, pepper, and parsley. Serve at once. You may vary the herbs by substituting dill or chives for the parsley.
Carrots in Sherry
A sophisticated way to serve up this common orange vegetable.
2 lb. carrots, scraped and quartered
1/4 C. butter or margarine
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/2 C. sherry
1-2 tsp. minced parsley
Sauté carrots in melted butter, turning until well coated. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar. Add sherry and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add water just to cover; simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Remove cover and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
Yield 6-8 servings
Strawberry Fudge Truffles
These little goodies are perfect for a Valentine’s Day gift or a romantic occasion.
6 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/2 C. almonds, toasted and finely chopped
8 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)
3/4 C. vanilla wafer crumbs (approximately 20 wafers)
1/4 C. SMUCKER’S® Strawberry Preserves
In a small saucepan, melt chocolate over low heat. Put almonds in a small bowl. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add melted chocolate, beating until smooth. Stir in vanilla wafer crumbs and preserves, mixing well. Cover and chill mixture for 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator and shape mixture into 1- inch balls or “truffles.” Roll each truffle in the almonds; chill truffles until serving time.
Yield: 48 truffles
Sweeten Your Sweetie– It really is all about the sweets on Valentine’s Day. Here are a few ideas for homemade gifts.
Hershey Kiss Roses
This Valentine’s Day, give your sweetheart a bouquet she’ll really love: chocolate!
10 wooden skewers or 18-gauge florist wire
Red and silver Hershey Kiss candies
Green florist tape
Silk green leaves with wired stems
Pull tiny labels from each Hershey Kiss. Stick two foil- wrapped Kisses together, bottom to bottom. Insert the skewer into the tip of one Kiss and at this point begin winding florist tape down the skewer. Add several leaves along the way.
Cherry and Chocolate Pastry Hearts
1/2 of a 17-1/4-oz. package frozen puff pastry (1 sheet), thawed
3/4 C. cherry pie filling
8 tsp. fudge ice-cream topping
2 Tbs. chopped nuts
On a lightly floured surface, unfold thawed pastry. Using a 3-1/2- to 4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut pastry into shapes, discarding pastry scraps or reserving for another use. Place pastry hearts on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool on racks. Split hearts horizontally; fill each with some of the pie filling. Place hearts on dessert plates. Drizzle with fudge topping and sprinkle with nuts. Serve immediately.
Yield: 8 servings
Tip: Prepare pastry hearts; cool. Place in airtight freezer container; place crumbled paper towels around hearts to prevent breaking. Seal, label, and freeze up to 2 weeks. Thaw at room temperature before serving.
Find more Valentine’s Day Ideas at Recipe4Living.com.