If you woke up this morning, glanced at the calendar (or iPhone) and realized today is Valentine’s Day - you know, the Day of Love, a 24-hour period in which we're supposed to shower those we care about with special treats - don’t despair. It may be too late to have roses delivered and the candy aisle may be wiped out, but if you’re within driving distance of a supermarket, you can find amazing Valentine’s gifts, or, at least, the makings of one within the food aisles.
To borrow a line from Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop, a new Jackson business whose delicious homemade pies and thumbprint cookies I’m dying to sample, “Think outside the chocolate box.” I agree, there are plenty of great V-Day gifts that don’t involve chocolate or flowers. Here are just a few to bail you out if you need to make the day special for someone else or just want to treat yourself.
1. Head to the Italian or ethnic section and pick up a bag of shaped pasta and a jar of gourmet sauce (skip the generic pasta and store brand sauce on this special day), a bottle of high-end olive oil, and a loaf of garlic bread. If your significant other likes meat sauce, grab a pound of ground sirloin. It's Valentine’s, after all, so splurge a little. Right there in the cart, you have the makings of a special meal that can be made in 30 minutes.
2. Nothing says Valentine’s like chocolate-covered strawberries. But you don’t have to pay sky-high prices to someone else. Instead, make them yourself. Pick up a carton of large strawberries and a couple of packages of dipping chocolate (most come with microwavable dipping cups) in the baking aisle. Once the berries are dipped in dark melted chocolate, they can be drizzled with white chocolate (and vice versa) or sprinkled with colored sugar or sprinkles. It’s simple, inexpensive, and guaranteed to receive rave reviews.
3. Dining out at a restaurant is a popular Valentine’s tradition, but if you waited too late to make reservations at your favorite steakhouse, recreate it at home. Select your favorite cut of meat, bottle of marinade to speed up the seasoning process, and ingredients, including a bottle of gourmet dressing, for a mixed green salad. For the perfect side dish, pick up the ingredients for twice-baked stuffed potatoes. It’s sort of like a mini potato casserole in a skin.
To make them, scrub two large baking potatoes well and rub them with a light coat of olive oil. Place in a 400-degrees F oven and bake for about an hour. While potatoes are cooking, slice a stick of butter and mix pieces with 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1/4 cup of milk, 1/2 cup shredded cheese, teaspoon of seasoning salt, and a dash of ground black pepper. When potatoes are done, cool slightly, then cut in half and scoop out most of the insides, leaving a rim of potato. Add scooped potatoes to butter mixture and mash together. If desired, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of bacon bits and one chopped green onion. Spoon mixture back into potato skins, top with more cheddar cheese and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes until hot and lightly browned.
4. Valentine’s wouldn’t be Valentine’s without a delicious strawberry and chocolate-infused dessert. Once again, the supermarket baking aisle is your destination of choice. Select a box of "super-moist" brownie mix, then grab a carton of strawberry or cherry vanilla ice cream from the freezer case. Bake the brownie according to package directions in a 9-inch pan. When they’re cool, cut crosswise into three pieces. Line a 9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, making sure long edges hang over the sides. Place one of the brownie pieces along the bottom, then top with a layer of softened ice cream. Repeat layers of brownies and ice cream, ending with a brownie piece. Fold wrap over top and freeze for at least two hours, preferably four. Lift from pan, dust top lightly with powdered sugar, and top with sliced strawberries.
5. Nothing’s better with a special Valentine’s dessert than a steaming cup of flavored coffee. Some of my favorite flavors are found in Community Coffee’s signature red bag, including Mardi Gras King Cake, Golden Caramel, and French Vanilla. And, there are other brands that offer a gourmet coffee experience for pennies a cup. Paired with a festive Valentine’s mug, a bag of gourmet coffee also makes the perfect last-minute gift.
6. If you’re on a budget or looking for a low-key night at home, make your own Valentine’s Movie Night. Dig through the electronics department's bargain bin for a copy of the DVD “Valentine’s Day” (yes, there is one) or your favorite movie. Then, gather the makings of a gourmet picnic in front of the TV. A bunch of plump grapes, block of good cheese, gourmet crackers, jar of olives, your favorite sliced meat, loaf of French bread, bag of almonds or pistachios, and a bottle of white grape fruit juice should be available in your local food store. Your loved one will be so impressed with your thoughtfulness and creativity, they'll actually prefer celebrating at home instead of going out.
Lastly, on Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped treats are found everywhere we look. However, we need to make sure our loved ones' hearts are actually healthy. One way to accomplish this is to create a heart-healthy Valentine’s dessert. After all, we want them to be around for next year’s even-more-creative Valentine’s Movie Night.
Heart-Healthy Valentine’s Berry Crumble
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen mixed berries, thawed
1 (14-ounce) bag frozen sliced strawberries, thawed
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar, combined with
2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot
1/2 cup Bisquik
1 cup granola cereal without raisins
4 or 5 almond Biscotti cookies, crushed (can substitute graham crackers if Biscotti isn’t available)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
In a lightly-greased 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish, combine all of the berries, then add remaining ingredients and stir together to make filling. Bake in a 350-degrees F oven for about 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
To make crumble topping, while filling is cooking, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet. Remove cooked filling from oven when done and replace with the baking sheet. Bake 12 to 18 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle topping over warm berry filling and serve. Top with vanilla ice cream if desired.