Q. What could I make for Valentine's Day instead of buy?
A. What could be better than a home-cooked meal? Find out what your special someone's favorite dish is and make it. You can do it! When I was dating my husband, his favorite cake was a carrot cake. So pre-food processor days, I grated those darned carrots on one of the box-like graters, cutting my knuckles over and over again. Now that was true young love.
If there is no time for you to prepare a meal, or maybe you don't like your current Valentine all thatmuch, I have one word: Chocolate. Anything with chocolate in it, especially for men, hits the target. Chocolate chip cookies, while they may cause some highbrow cooks to yawn, is one of my most requested cookies to make. Everyone loves them! The best recipe I have found, and I have tried loads, is the Toll House cookie on the back of the package. The other one I make a lot is the chunky chocolate chip cookie from Cook's Illustrated. As a side note, I love everything about Cook's Illustrated. If you have not bought one of their magazines or cookbooks, you will be happy when you do. The cooks go through all the steps of a recipe and ferret out what makes it perfect so the recipe they post is pretty foolproof. They explain the reasons why some processes work better than others. I have yet to try a recipe that I did not like. While the publications do not have the colorful photography others do, they have adorable drawings, reminiscent of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of their cookbooks or a magazine given with a cake would be a great Valentine present!
If you want to up the wow factor, go for a beautiful chocolate tart in a heart-shaped tart pan. You can get these at Target, Michael's and Williams Sonoma. You can get heart-shaped everything really. You could make a heart-shaped cake as well, as those pans are all over the place.
Think about a chocolate mousse. While people think mousse is difficult, it is not. There are so many recipes. Some do not even use eggs, for you vegans out there. These mousses are frozen. Some use eggs and cream.
And then there is crème brulee. Enough said.
Q. How can I help dinner time to be less stressful?
A. A wonderful thing to do for your loved one or your family is to cook a meal and serve it with candlelight. When our boys were small, we often had dinner with candlelight. I felt that it calmed them down (OK, maybe only a little), and added a nice touch to the true family meal of the day. Take advantage of those younger years when the evenings are not yet given over to sports or rehearsals. Make the meals special. It is a very important time in the day when we transfer from our active hours to our quiet hours of study, reading and relaxing. It is a shame that many families neglect this meal, serving everyone something different, letting the kids text and/or watch TV. I always made one meal and that is what everyone ate. If someone really hated it, he could make his own turkey sandwich, but I was not going to make it. After all, I had already cooked! Some people have said to me, well then, little Susie won't eat unless it's pizza or chicken fingers. Really? Is this what you want going into your tiny child's body? Trust me, after a few nights of being hungry, she will eat what wonderful things you serve.
It is the perfect time to talk about your day. Everyone, even the parents should share and take turns listening to each other. It is a time to use a few manners as well. Teach them to put their napkins on their lap, which fork to use with what, and how to cut their own meat. This is not only important for you so dinner can be consumed with some grace, but important for them when they later go to other children's homes or are out on their own. Some interviews are conducted over lunch or dinner and you don't want your child's manners to be the thing that costs him his job. Seeing the big picture makes your effort worthwhile.
It is also a good time how to teach your kids how to set a proper table. Start young and lavish lots of praise. You cannot believe how many adults I have interviewed who cannot set a table. That is often one thing I have them do during an interview. It is an important part of my business and I think it is an important part of homemaking. Let them make a centerpiece, fold the napkins in unique ways, anything to make them aware that home keeping is not drudgery, but labors of love. Tables can be fun with cute napkins, placemats the kids design on and other things you crafty people dream up. I am not crafty, but the kids had their own placemats, a special glass or things like that. You can have different topics of conversation. When the boys were very argumentative that day (every day?) we might play a game saying three nice things about every one or about the person beside us.
Doing chores together is about “loving a house up,” much like taking care of their dolls or repainting their trucks. Yes and try to get your spouse to see this too! I may have had just a little trouble with this part!
Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She answers questions in The N-S every other Tuesday. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 461-8284. We'll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.