There are a million ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Some people keep it classic with a romantic date night, and some make it all about the kids. This year, we love the idea of a casual and festive dinner party with friends. Invite couples and single friends too – this heartfelt holiday doesn’t have to be all about romance. Plan a simple menu, play a fun game featuring your favorite cheesy love songs, and celebrate LOVE.
Get Things Rolling
A simple game is one way to get the ball rolling while dinner’s cooking and you’re all enjoying a glass of something social. “Guess That Love Song” is an appropriate option for Valentine’s Day. Divide into teams, choose one person to pick ’em and one person to guess ’em. Take a few minutes to queue up a playlist and you’re ready to start.
Play the first few bars of each song in turn or just keep going until someone gets it. Whoever guesses the right song gets a marker — cinnamon hearts or other Valentine candies would be perfect — and then you move on to the next song. Whoever has the most markers when the game is over wins a Valentine treat jar, filled with candies or baked treats.
A Valentine’s “Toast”
Bruschetta’s a fast and colorful appetizer, but it’s not especially Valentine-y. Don’t sweat it, though — you can change that in a hurry. You’ll still need to toast or broil some long, diagonal slices of baguette or Italian bread for the base of your treats, but skip the garlic and tomato. Instead, Valentine things up with lush, ripe strawberries.
While the bread is toasting, hull the strawberries and chop them coarsely or quarter them lengthwise. Toss them in a bowl with a healthy splash of good balsamic vinegar and torn or shredded leaves of fresh mint or basil. Sweeten some ricotta with honey — stirred in or drizzled, your choice — and spread it over the toasted bread. Serve them on your favorite tray. Your fingers will probably get a bit sticky, but wait until you’re done to lick them (or let your hubby help you out… it IS Valentine’s Day, after all).
That’s a Wrap
It wouldn’t be Valentine’s without a few pretty little gift-wrapped packages here and there. If you want this V-Day to be memorable, how about gift-wrapping the entree? They won’t see that one coming. Thin, flaky phyllo pastry is the perfect wrapping paper, always ready in the fridge for when you want it. Standard-size phyllo sheets are just the right size to turn an ordinary chicken breast into a special meal.
Start by cutting into each breast horizontally, so it opens up like a book. Stuff them with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and fresh basil, then fold them shut again. Brush two sheets of phyllo with melted butter or spray them with olive oil and stack them. Place a chicken breast across the narrow end, then fold in the long edges to seal the sides. Fold the chicken over until you reach the end of the pastry, then place it seam-side down in a baking pan.
Tie each breast neatly, using a long chive or the green part of a scallion as your ribbon. Those two sheets of phyllo add up to a lot of layers after you’ve rolled up the chicken, so bake ’em at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, until they’re golden and crisp. Keep the sides simple, so the focus stays on your creative entree. Something like grilled asparagus would be nicely light and seasonal.
Fast and Easy Sweets
It’s hard to feel sleek and romantic in the evening if you’ve been slaving over dessert all day. That kind of defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it? Instead, whip up a batch of dainty, no-bake cheesecake bites. They only take a few minutes to put together, so you can spend the rest of the day getting your glamour on.
Seriously, this couldn’t be any easier. First, fill up a dozen muffin cups with your favorite graham cracker crust and bake them for just a few minutes so the crusts will hold together. Then beat a softened package of cream cheese until it’s light and fluffy and add a small box of your favorite instant pudding mix. Keep mixing until it’s well combined, then add a cup or so of milk … about half the usual amount.
Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and put the cheesecake bites into your refrigerator. That’s it! The instant pudding flavors and sets the filling, so there’s nothing left for you to do except decorate the tops with fresh raspberries or raspberry preserves before you serve them. If you really want to pretty them up, layer two different colors of paper cups into your muffin pan.
What’s your perfect Valentine’s day offering? Step up, and let the rest of us admire your creativity.