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Entertaining Bits & Bites: Valentine’s Day

Laura Boulton

I am a romantic. I love a special occasion or no occasion for flowers, a sentimental Hallmark card, an indulgent dinner out, and Valentine’s Day. So, as we approach the most romantic of holidays that we celebrate, I want to share with you some thoughts on making your Valentine’s Day one to remember.

Contrary to popular opinion, I suggest you avoid a restaurant and dine with your sweetie at home. Who needs the crowds, the undesirable dinner seating, and the possibility of cranky wait staff that are forced to be around all that romance, when you can have an intimate dinner a deux that you create at home?

Start your evening off with a holiday inspired cocktail. Perhaps it is a lovely rose colored bubbly or get creative and serve up a pomegranate martini. Pair that with an easy to make ahead appetizer.

It could be as simple as oysters on the half shell, kale and white bean crostini, or a delightful little American Paddlefish Caviar on buckwheat blini (and you won’t break the bank with the American version).

Set the mood with your table. Start with the napkin and skip the basic white. Try a beautiful splash of red for a festive touch. Layer the linens to add a decorative flair to your table setting. I also like to use glasses that work double duty for both formal and casual settings. It need not be crystal, but great, etched glassware does the trick. And break out the china for your dinnerware. After all, how often do you really use it?

Decorate. Go ahead and have fun creating your own floral design for the tablescape. It can be as simple as a row of silver julep glasses filled with red roses or go for a monochromatic arrangement which can be achieved with a lush collection of pretty tulips, ranunculuses and garden roses. Always add lots of candlelight and be sure to mix the heights and sizes. Line your table incorporating tapers and votive candles because everyone looks better by candlelight.

Create a “play list” for the evening. Music and food go hand in hand in setting the ambiance and for expressing yourself. Love ballads from Frank Sinatra to the sultry jazz sounds of Diana Krall fit the bill.

For dinner, be sure to plan ahead and start early in the day so you are less stressed. Try to have everything prepared or at least in the oven before the guest of the hour arrives. This will give you a chance to freshen up and primp. Feast on lobster for two, rib eye steaks with cabernet sauce, or the most romantic of all, fondue. Open and pour a favorite bottle of wine. And who can resist ending it all with a decadent chocolate dessert? I asked one of my favorite restaurants, The Schoolhouse at Cannondale to provide an easy, do at home recipe (see below). This riff on the standard chocolate mousse is a perfect ending to a meal. Don’t be scared off by the tofu. Not only is it healthy it also makes for one smooth and delicious dessert.

Chocolate Mousse (Serves 4):

• 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

• 1 cup silken tofu (about half of one block)

• 2 teaspoons extract, such
as vanilla, mint, or almond

• 4 egg whites

• cup sugar

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl placed over a pot with barely simmering water.  Set aside and allow the chocolate to cool until the bottom of the bowl is slightly warm to the touch.  In a food processor, blend the tofu and extract until smooth and creamy.  Add the chocolate and blend again until smooth.  Pour the tofu-chocolate mixture back into the chocolate bowl.  The mixture may start to set and firm, so place the bowl back onto the simmering water and stir to keep the chocolate melted.

In the meantime, beat the egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until almost stiff.  Slowly add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the whites are at a stiff peak and are shiny.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the pot of water if using again and gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold the rest of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just blended, taking care not to lose too much volume.  Portion into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours.

Serve with whipped cream and raspberries or strawberries, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try adding nut brittle or caramel popcorn for a nice, sweet crunch.

Laura Boulton has lived in Darien for 19 years. Before starting her event planning business in 2010, Boulton was in the catering business for 5 years.  For more information, visit her website at lauraboultonevents.com or follow her on twitter @LBoultonevents

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