Being an all-around food enthusiast, it’s always been easy to get caught up in the frenzy of Valentine’s Day and other special occasions. And don’t get me wrong, I am obviously a huge advocate of celebrating with food, particularly at one of the restaurants of my friend Chef Miles James (James at the Mill and 28 Springs), yes – I’m a giant fan girl.
With that said, we huddle up on Valentine’s Day and have done so for years. These are the times we count ourselves lucky to have a two story house with a cavernous (and distant) upstairs playroom where we banish the kids. While there’s a time and place for dressing up and eating out, we prefer to skip the insanity of competing for reservations, babysitters and parking spots to cook at home instead, making the meal our date night activity.
While this may not be particularly useful for now since Valentine’s Day has already passed, perhaps it will inspire your next date night or celebration of a birthday or anniversary. One tip is to shake things up a bit rather than sitting at your normal dining table – we’ve been known to bring our two chair & table bistro set in from the front porch and set it in front of our living room fireplace, or to set up a temporary spot by the couch with a stack of wine crates. I’ve incorporated candlesticks, layers of linens or unique place settings: this is a perfect time to pick up a pair of red napkins and gorgeous plates from the antique store. None of these are novel tips: it just takes the effort to actually shake things up a bit. Dig out the glassware from your wedding or find some interesting vintage silverware. For inspiration: Make a $20 Vintage Food Prop Basket.
We have had the best conversations and “stay in dates” when we’ve gone this route. I can remember just as many Valentine’s Day outings when the environment, pressure or annoying people next to us took all the enjoyment out of the evening. Here’s our interesting but simple and delicious menu from this year:
Appetizer: Crab cakes from Bentonville Butcher & Deli with Boar’s Head remoulade + champagne
Second course: Simple salads with carrots, mushrooms, pine nuts, chopped black olives with Girard’s champagne dressing + champagne
Main course: Our version of Coquilles St. Jacques (see below) & a rib-eye for Fred + a bottle of Apothic Red (a great value for a basic wine)
Recommended soundtrack: Buena Vista Social Club. Trust me.
Coquilles St. Jacques is basically a scallop gratinée, (here’s a recipe from Emeril Lagasse), but we had more of a seafood mélange version of it on our honeymoon in Martinique. About once a year, we get out some vintage seashells for baking/serving that my Mom passed along to us and make our own rendition, which is absolutely delicious but probably fails a million legitimate recipe tests:
- Combine butter and extra virgin olive oil in a large stovetop skillet
- Add minced garlic and chopped white onion (we used red this year because it was on hand)
- Chop up and add the most fantastic mushrooms (shitake, portabella) you can get your hands on
- Season the mixture with fresh ground salt, pepper and herbes de Provence
- Chop and add green onions
- Follow Emeril’s directions on poaching the scallops or go renegade like me – I dice scallops and shrimp and quickly cook them with the rest of the mixture, adding a little white wine and lemon juice (this year, I used red wine).
- Add the skillet ingredients to a mixing bowl along with a generous supply (to taste) of panko and parmesan cheese (personally, I love Mama Francesca Aromatico and – pro tip – I decant the whole thing into a mason jar and the shaker top that comes on the package fits it perfectly and looks nice for serving).
- Mix everything up and scoop the goodness onto your (olive oil sprayed) baking shells or ramekins and top with shredded parmesan cheese.
- Bake at 400 degrees until it seems tasty, then take it up to broil for a few minutes to make the cheese nice and brown. Enjoy!