This weekend, that near-universally dreaded holiday rolls around yet again. Derided as cheesy, cliché, and / or a mass-marketed corporate scam, Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap for its Hallmark Holiday status. Can everyone afford to shower their significant other in rose petals and take him or her to the fanciest three-plus-course meal in town? Probably not. Can you ditch the formula so prominently ingrained in pop culture for something more personal, heartfelt, and affordable than a box of Russell Stover chocolates? Most definitely.
Sometimes, time and effort count more than anything — and not in the sense of making your lover a papier maché penguin. And hey — if you’re single, think of the holiday the way they do in Mexico: El día del amor y la amistad (day of love and friendship).
What follows are six ideas, both savory and sweet, for deliciously sensual edible offerings that you probably don’t have time to make on a daily basis.
1. Caramel / Cinnamon Rolls
The tantalizing scent of Cinnabon stops many a traveler or mall-walker in his or her tracks. Those cinnamon rolls smell so good… yet, upon boarding the plane or resting your legs, the taste never seems to compare to the expectation set by that smell of hot melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Enter fresh, scratch-made caramel or cinnamon rolls: lighter in texture, free of preservatives, and dripping with thick, gooey caramel and pecans. If you prepare the bread dough the night before and wake up bright and early, you can roll out and bake plenty of cinnamon-raisin-swirled buns in time for a morning treat.
In our diet-obsessed world, croissants scream indulgence: They’re flaky, loaded with saturated fat-laden butter, and most of all, they’re delicious. The process of making croissants, though it appears daunting, can be quite relaxing if you approach it with the right state of mind. Just know that you’ll have to attend to your dough about as frequently as one might tend to a cell phone at the start of a new and promising relationship with a needy partner. The result will be well-worth it: a flaky pastry which melts on the tongue and looks like it’s fresh from the bakery.
3. Brioche French Toast with Strawberries and Powdered Sugar
This one’s easy if you don’t mind a bit of baking. This simple James Beard recipe is a quick and easy version of the traditional egg-and-butter-based bread, and can be made a day or two in advance. The richness of the bread is a luxurious step up from standard wheat bread, and a simple French toast batter of an egg, a splash of milk, and a dash each of cinnamon, salt, and sugar can be whipped up in a minute flat. Fry in a pan and top with sliced strawberries (if you’re pretty enamored with the V-Day theme, cut deep when you remove the stem and then slice to reveal heart-shaped slices) and a light dusting of powdered sugar. Served in bed, this breakfast doesn’t require excessive prep time but provides a tasty result.
Coastal Seafoods, which offers about the freshest fish available in the Twin Cities, has a great selection of sashimi offerings. The variety of flavors you can combine is sure to please your palate, while the differing textures of short-grain sushi rice, crispy nori, velvety fish, crunchy vegetables, and burst of fiery wasabi make for an ever-changing and engaging mouthfeel. Involve your significant other or friends in the sushi-making process, as it’s sure to be an engaging experience.
5. Homemade Pasta or Gnocchi
There’s something about the texture of fresh pasta or gnocchi that beats the dried version, hands down, every time. The fresh version, as increasingly popularized at such hotspots as Bar La Grassa and Broders’, yields more to the bite than the chewier, dried version. Meanwhile, the inevitable time commitment and potential frustration incurred will not only impress your dinner guest, but give you a feeling of accomplishment. Another plus? It seems that each person is incredibly particular about the way their gnocchi is served: Some people prefer it pan-fried and slightly crispy, while others prefer it drowned in cheese. By making it at home, you can make it just how you like it — and save yourself the disappointment of an “imperfect” order at a restaurant.
6. Grilled Venison Steak with Juniper Berry Cream
This one’s reserved for the daring. If venison is available (either from a hunt this fall, or from a grocery store), this hearty dish will sate your hunger, while perfect execution of the gin flambé will impress the pyromaniac in your life. Be careful, as this trick also carries greater risk of failure if you’re not confident wielding a flaming skillet… and, let’s face it, burning the house down and being sprayed with a high-power fire hose will definitely put a damper on your otherwise romantic evening.
Grilled Venison Steak with Juniper Berry Cream
Adapted from the original recipe from The Gunflint Lodge Cookbook by Ron Berg and Sue Kerfoot
¼ oz juniper berries
2 tbsp gin
1 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
½ c homemade chicken or beef stock, lightly thickened with cornstarch
1 c heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ tsp butter (optional)
4 (6 oz) venison steaks
- Crush juniper berries.Place in bottom of medium skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add gin and shallots; flambé.
- Add stock and cream; reduce until thickened.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Whisk in optional butter. Keep warm.
- Brush venison steaks with melted butter and sprinkle with seasoned salt.
- Grill or bake to desired doneness.
- Place on warmed plate and top with sauce.
- Serve immediately.
If you’re willing to trade some time and effort for the potentially huge bill you’d incur for a restaurant-cooked meal (or you just didn’t make a reservation in time), try your hand at an infinitely more personal meal. Hey — if it doesn’t work out, there’s always take-out!