Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Dinner

Often, my girl's eyes widen as they watch me prepare for a party. They finger the silverware and seat themselves for awhile where they can drink the ambiance. Always they ask, "Is this for us?" Sadly, usually, the answer is no. Well, no more!!! The most special people in my life deserve to use the good china once in awhile. They deserve something fun to look at while they dine and a little extra effort just for them. So here came a good opportunity. Valentines' Day is one of the easiest dinners to spruce up because the elements are so clearly defined. Pink, Red, Hearts, Love... Simple, using things we already have.

Breakfast was celebrated with a fun morning table, pink and red balloons hanging from the ceiling and valentine's paper goods, that I purchased the previous year after the holiday for 75% off. We feasted on omelets and heart shaped scones with honey, cut out of Rhodes Bread dough. As I am normally a stickler for fat content and fried foods, it was a special treat.

I would love to go out to dinner with my husband and do something special, but for us, getting a babysitter is very difficult and very expensive. Plus, we don't love crowds. So, we decided for the present, to make Valentine's Day a family affair, a celebration of all our love.
For the table, I pulled out the gold chargers and gold tablecloth. Ribbons are wonderful table dressers. Two different ribbons in pinks run the length of the table. I purchased a small amount of gold sheer fabric on sale and hemmed the edges and sewed a jewel on each corner. This was crumpled up on the table and fake flowers were stuck in and out of the folds along the length of the table. For the centerpiece I filled my glass trifle bowl with water and pink floating candles, recycled from old taper candles that were too short to use. I differed from the instructions and used silicone muffin cups, but I'm sure cookie cutters work great and will try them next time for some fun shapes.

During dinner, we passed around a box full of questions, drew a slip, and answered the question listed. This was a HUGE HIT. Everyone wanted to answer all the questions, not just their own. This was a great opportunity to let everyone have their say and feel appreciated. Some of the answers were humorous and others informative. There are many versions of this floating around... you can probably download the questions somewhere.
Some examples of questions in our box are:

What is your favorite food?

What do you like to do in your spare time?
If you could ask your Mom any question what would it be?
What is your favorite restaurant?
What do you like most about Christmas?
What is your favorite thing to do?
If you could have any animal in the world-what would you choose?
What is your favorite indoor game?
Tell us something you are proud of.
What do you want to accomplish next year?
What is your most embarrassing moment?
What are Grandmas good for?
Who is not a friend of yours - but you would like to be?
What is the worst thing about being a kid?
What is your favorite way to help Mom?
What makes Dad mad?
Who helps around the house?
Grandma makes me happy when...
What do you like to do on warm sunny days?
What do you like about growing up?
What do you like best about your brothers and sisters?
What is your least favorite room in the house?
What time of day do you like best?
What do you feel when you look at a sunset?
If you could ask Grandpa just one question, what would it be?

I wanted dinner to be quick and easy so I could spend the day with the family, but look fabulous so everyone would feel fancy.

Bacon-Cider Pork is delicious and looks fancier than run of the meal dinners, but it is also fairly simple, with only 5 ingredients. This recipe makes 8 steaks. I halved it to serve 5.

Trim, Cut, and Season
1 pork tenderloin (1 1/2-2 pounds)
Wrap; Saute in 1 T olive oil:
8 strips thin-sliced bacon
Saute; Deglaze;Season:
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1/2 cup apple cider or juice
2 T unsalted cold butter, sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Trim tenderloin of fat and cut into steaks about 1 1/2 " thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Wrap each steak with a strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Heat oil in a large ovenproof saute pan over medium-high and saute pork 5 minutes per side, or until browned. Tip the steaks on their edges to brown the bacon, rolling them as they brown, about 3 minutes total. Cover and finish cooking to an internal temperature to 145 degrees, about 5 minutes. Remove pork and keep warm; pour off all but 1 T. drippings.

Saute shallots for 2 minutes in the same pan, stirring constantly. Deglaze with cider, scraping up the brown bits and simmer 2 minutes. Then add butter, swirling until melted. Return pork to pan along with any accumulated juices and season sauce with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over pork and serve.

Miniature Chocolate Mouse Cakes are darling tea party food. They are small enough for each person to have their own, or share with one other person. Everything looks cuter when it's small. My friend Carrie shared the secret of using prepared shortcakes for a shortcut and I went nuts with the idea. The original recipe is to die for with raspberries, lemon curd and cream cheese. But to my husband, it is not Valentine's Day without Chocolate, so I improvised. The result was YUMMY. This recipe makes 6 cakes.

12 miniature shortcakes
3/4 cup milk
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
1 box chocolate instant pudding mix
1 cup frozen whipped topping
1. Combine milk and extracts. Beat in pudding mix on medium-low for 2 minutes. fold in topping. Refrigerate 3-5 minutes.

2. Place two cakes, well sides up on two dessert plates. Plop a generous dollop of mouse in the center of the cake and top with the other cake. Finish with remaining cakes.
3. Frost with the remaining mouse.
I just love doing things like this for my family. It says I love you... I guess it is one of my love languages.


  1. Holly- I love your ideas and recipes!! I am excited to try some of them. You are such a great Mom...and good example. Thank you for taking the time to do this. More people enjoy it then you think.

  2. What an incredible person you are, Holly! Your sweet daughters will have an arsenal of happy, interesting events to cherish all their lives. That you would use your creativity to bring springtime inside, complete with DIRT and sunglasses and sunhats - and that the two of you have chosen to make V-Day a special celebration of the love each of you has for the others as well as using your best china for those you adore most and setting a lovely table for all to enjoy - are unusual (in today's hectic world), tender, and loving expressions of your obvious joy and gratitude for the four twinkling stars in your life.