Cooking On A Budget: Ah...Valentines Day

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ah...Valentines Day

Valentines Day is one of romance, engagement anticipations or palpitation, depending on which side of the fence you are on.  It's one of those holidays that you either celebrate or you don't. For florists, it's one of their busiest days of the year and for restaurants it means a boost in reservations and chefs plan special menus for the evening.
I don't think I've ever spent Valentines Day evening in a restaurant - none that I can recall anyway.  If I did dine out it was obviously not a memorable experience, otherwise I would remember it, right? Throughout my 21 plus years of marriage to husband number two I don't think we ever went out. For the years when the children were very young we set out the fine china and made a more upscale dining experience right in our own home.
Frankly, the best Valentines Day for me was not one spent at home or in an upscale restaurant - it was in my own food to go restaurant - handing out packaged Valentines dinners to my patrons who chose to dine at home with friends. The packaged meal was hot and ready to eat - or could be warmed up easily when the guests arrived.  The dinner included Cornish game hens basted with a blackberry and Merlot reduction, long grain and wild rice and carrots with a brown butter sage sauce. For dessert, chocolate covered strawberries.

The feedback I got from that one dinner was amazing!  Some customers who purchased my dinner spoke to others who had either dined out in a restaurant or got their packaged meal elsewhere (for a much higher price I might add) and still had to cook it when they got home!  Needless to say the ones who missed the boat in not choosing me felt they had been ripped off by the place they did choose.
I have come up with a Valentine's menu idea you might enjoy with friends in your own home, or alone with the sweetheart of your life.  Valentine's Day falls on a Tuesday this year so you could actually make the appetizer and dessert item ahead on Sunday and have them ready to bake or eat on the actual day. Since most grocery stores have a good sized bakery nowadays you may want to weigh in whether it's less expensive and obviously no time involved and choose a special dessert for your dinner.
The menu below is also child friendly - teenage friendly and you could include your youngsters in on the celebration. Have them help you get out the fine china and silverware and glasses and set up a candlelight dinner for the whole family.

Valentine's Menu:
Stuffed Mushrooms
Apricot Glazed Chicken Breasts 
Fresh Green Beans
Twice Baked Potatoes

Stuffed Mushrooms are so versatile - they can be stuffed with anything! This recipe does not break the bank.
2 pkg. frozen chopped spinach
1 10 oz. package white button or crimini mushrooms
1//4 cup finely diced onion
1 tbsp. finely minced garlic
2/3 cup feta cheese
1/3 cup cracker crumbs or plain bread crumbs* (for the topping)
Salt and pepper to taste
 *Note: I like to put my own dried spices in the bread crumbs or cracker crumbs and use some olive oil to mix it all together.  For this recipe I would use granulated garlic, onion powder and paprika and some dried parsley flakes.
Purchase frozen chopped spinach, defrost it and squeeze out all of the liquid.  Over moderate heat in a skillet that has been drizzled with a touch of olive oil add the finely diced onion and minced garlic. Cook the onion until it becomes translucent.  Next add the defrosted spinach and some feta cheese. Add some salt and pepper to taste.  Stir and cook for 1 minute.  Take off the heat and cool down.  Stuffed your cleaned mushrooms (wiped with a damp towel to remove the dirt) with that mixture.
Transfer to a baking sheet and top with a sprinkling of bread crumbs or cracker crumbs. I prefer Panko breadcrumbs or Ritz cracker crumbs - but whatever you like is fine. Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through.

Apricot Glazed Chicken Breasts:
  • 1 pkg. bone in skin on chicken breasts
  • 1 18 oz. jar apricot* preserves (I purchased the store brand - less expensive)
  • 1 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
*Note: you could substitute peach preserves in this recipe.

  1. After you have washed and thoroughly dried your chicken breasts, coat them with some olive oil and salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside and begin making your glaze.
  2. In a sauce pot combine the apricot preserves and the light brown sugar.  Cook over low heat until the preserves have loosened and become more of a liquid for basting.
  3. In an oven proof skillet over moderately high heat, melt the butter. When the butter starts to bubble, add the chicken in skin side down. What you want to achieve is a crispy skin and this will take about 4 minutes. If you find the butter is burning, add in a touch of olive oil. When the skin is crispy, remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Turn the breasts over and baste the skin side with the apricot glaze.
  5. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven to finish baking. About 15 minutes into baking, baste again with the glaze and the final baste of glaze when the chicken comes out of the oven to rest.

Green Beans: simply put them in water in a sauce pot with some salt and cook to desired tenderness. After they come up to a boil it takes about 12-15 minutes.

Twice Baked Potatoes:
  • Russet Potatoes
  • Sour Cream
  • Butter
  • Milk or half and half
  • Chives
  • Paprika
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Purchase large baking (russets) potatoes. Figure on one half per person. Wash them and make a 1 inch long slit in each one so they don't burst during the baking process.
  2. Bake the potatoes in a 350 degree oven until a fork can easily be inserted.
  3. Split the potato in half length wise and scoop out the potato, leaving just a little of the potato on the skin. Place the scooped out potato in a bowl. While you are making the mixture, put the skins back in the oven for about 5-10 minutes more to firm up.
  4. To the potato add salt and pepper to taste, some sour cream (about 1/3 cup) along with 2-3 tbsp.of milk or half and half and some melted butter (approx. 2 tbsp.).
  5. Mash the potato and add in some fresh or dried chives (1 tbsp.). If the mixture is too thick, add a touch more sour cream or milk. You don't want creamy mashed potato like texture - you want the mixture to be more dry. Taste as you go along!
  6. Spoon the mixture into the potato skins and top with additional chives and a light sprinkle of paprika for color and flavor.
  7. Place the filled potatoes on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until the mixture is hot and the tops are a light golden color. 

Make your own cheesecake recipe or get help from the bakery department of your local grocery store.
Final Notes: You can make the twice baked potatoes in advance - and do the second bake the night of your dinner and you can make the stuffed mushrooms ahead as well. Be sure to cover them well and keep them refrigerated until use.

Happy Valentine's Day

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