Fun & Simple Delicious Ideas to Celebrate Your Valentine at Home & Away

Call me a hopeless romantic but my absolute favorite day of the year is Valentines Day. Champagne, chocolate, roses, and hundreds of renditions of my very favorite song playing all day…what could be better than that! Needless to say, we make it a day of culinary traditions. I like to set a fun, whimsical and romantic table to set the mood, then we start the day with strawberries and champagne and our traditional Valentine’s Breakfast, Chocolate Waffles! Super chocolatey, crispy on the outside, surprisingly light and spongy on the inside, with whipped mascarpone cream & pure maple syrup, a decadently delicious way to start the day! My favorite part of Valentine’s Day, besides the food of course…hundreds of renditions of "My Funny Valentine" (Rodgers & Hart circa 1937 from the musical Babes in Arms) playing throughout the day.  From Frank Sinatra to Chaka Khan, Ella Fitzgerald to Big Muff, Paul Brown jazz guitar, every genre of music imaginable!  I know, silly right? I’m sure it makes Jeff crazy hearing the same song all day long, but believe it or not, each rendition sounds so incredibly different that it really doesn’t seem like the same song.  Regardless, Jeff has put up with my Valentine’s Day shenanigans for 25+ years now, so he must not mind so much!

Valentine’s Day is synonymous with Chocolate, so I thought I would share some of my favorite Fun & Simple Chocolate Delights! Decadent Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes, a Flourless Chocolate Torte with Cabernet Glaze, a lusciously light and airy Chocolate Mousse and my rich Chocolate Souffle. (simply click on the photos for the recipes)

Don’t forget to read to the end for recommendations of my favorite romantic places to celebrate with your Valentine. From New York City to Napa Valley, Charleston and the islands of the Bahamas, these destinations are the perfect getaways for two!

About drinking champagne…the glass actually does matter! I love the Coupe, classic, nostalgic, elegant and romantic, but not good for bubbles if you are a big fan of keeping your bubbly, bubbly. The Flute is perfect for young Champagne and great for keeping the bubbles. The Tulip is my second fav…perfect for mature Champagne (aged to the point where it will not gain further complexity by continuing to store) and believe it or not a regular Wine Glass is ideal for high end more complex Champagne varieties. In addition to being festive and delicious, champagne also has some major health benefits, in moderation of course.  Scientists say that drinking 3-4 glasses of champagne per week may actually help us live longer! Not only is it heart healthy, just as good as red wine, it improves circulation and may reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.  Champagne is low in calories compared to other wine varieties and according to a study at the University of Reading (and others) champagne can boost brain health and help prevent dementia and memory loss.  Full of antioxidants, bubbles are great for your skin and skin tone.  As if I needed another reason to love champagne! 

Lily Bollinger said it best, “I only drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.”

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A perfect compliment to champagne on Valentine’s Day is my Lobster Cocktail, also delicious with fresh shrimp, and a wonderful beginning to a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at home. So simple and can be prepared a day ahead of time, just put it together when you are ready to serve. This simple, yet sophisticated and decadent appetizer could just as well be an elegant meal, served in a martini glass alongside a nice chilled glass of bubbly, I can’t think of a more beautiful way to start...or finish!  You can boil the lobsters yourself, or have your fish monger steam them for you, making it even more simple to prepare.

If you are looking for romantic getaway ideas with great culinary, I have a few favs! Click on the links for their websites and more information:

Dune Restaurant Terrace - Four Seasons Ocean Club Bahamas

Dune Restaurant Terrace - Four Seasons Ocean Club Bahamas

Four Seasons Ocean Club Bahamas - One of my favorite places in the world and definitely my favorite beach! With Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s French-Asian cuisine with a hint of the islands, a delicious menu and what could be more romantic than oceanfront dining on the beautiful turquoise waters of the Bahamas?

Meadowood Napa Valley - Nestled among the tall pines of the Napa Valley, this casually elegant gem is the ultimate of wine country romance. From the beautiful spa, croquet, golf, tennis and modern American cuisine at The Restaurant which sources from local artisans, growers and of course wineries, the Meadowood experience is like no other in Napa Valley. Chef Kostow calls his cuisine “evocative and playful,” what could be more romantic than that?

The Surrey New York City - There isn’t a more romantic city than New York, and no more romantic spot than this favorite upper east side gem. Small and quaint, the bar is reminiscent of a lovers rendezvous next to the incomparable Cafe Boulud, cozy, intimate french cuisine by Chef Daniel Boulud, exquisite! Then, walk across the street after dinner for drinks and jazz at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle.

Planters Inn Charleston, South Carolina - Located in the heart of historic downtown Charleston, the #1 tourist destination in America according to Conde’ Nast and Travel & Leisure, this Relais & Chateaux property exudes southern charm and romance. Have drinks in the candlelit Champagne Bar before dining in the velvet lined Peninsula Grill Dining Room and you must finish with the 12-layer Coconut Cake…simply divine to share with your Valentine!

And, while you’re in Charleston, New York and Nassau, check out my Jeff’s historic walking tour app on your smartphone for a fabulous GPS guided self-walking tour of the city, complete with audio histories, local activities directory and directions. It’s beautifully done and so simple to use on your time, just the two of you. Check it out at historicwalkingtour.com.

So, that’s it! My idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day either at home or away! Of course, it’s all about the food, lots of champagne and chocolate, all while enjoying Your Funny Valentine

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Me and My Funny Valentine!

Me and My Funny Valentine!

Simple Tips to Organize Your Kitchen from Soup to Nuts

January is always a great month to reset and get a little organized with a fresh new start to a fresh new year.  One of the best things you can do to enjoy cooking and being in your kitchen more is being organized. I am an organizational freak by nature, which comes in pretty handy, especially in the kitchen. People ask me all the time how I make entertaining look so easy and the answer is simply, by being organized. It doesn’t take that much extra time to plan in advance, in fact, in the end, planning and organizing saves time. January is also National Soup Month!  What’s better than soothing, healthy soups to warm your soul.  After the holidays, I’m always ready to hunker down at home, especially when the weather isn’t quite stellar. My Healthy Kale Minestrone is a hearty meal on its own. Packed full of fresh healthy veges, and finished with avocado and extra virgin olive oil, you will live on this one all winter long. I like to make a big pot on a Sunday, and then we have it to enjoy whenever we want, all week long. Just click on the photo for the recipe! Keep scrolling for more healthy and delicious soups to keep you warm this month! Now back to organizing!

Recently I did a little kitchen re-organization. My kitchen was in pretty good shape, but there’s always room for improvement. A few little changes can save a ton of time.One thing in particular was adding drawers to the inside of my base cabinets. Now rather than sitting on the floor to try to dig in the back of a cabinet to find something, I simply pull out the drawer and I can see everything that’s there and easily retrieve what I am looking for. This is especially helpful with heavy items, like my kitchen aide stand mixer.  I also added drawers to my pantry shelves, making it super easy to find things, especially on the lower shelves.

Which brings me to my next kitchen organizational peeve…expired foods.  How many canned items are in your pantry that expired 2 years ago, 5…even more? It’s crazy to think about, but the time goes faster than you think. Take a few minutes even once a month before doing your grocery shopping to go through your pantry and refrigerator to remove expired items. It’s also a great way to make a good grocery list.  If you stay on top of it, it only takes a minute or two. 

A few other helpful hints to keeping your kitchen organized and functional: 

1.    Buy dried spices and herbs in small quantities and discard after 3 months.

2.    Store garlic, shallots and onions in a bamboo steamer basket. It’s the perfect environment to optimum freshness and it helps keep the veggie bin in the refrigerator a little less cluttered.

3.    Use drawer inserts for flatware, cooking tools and knife drawers to keep everything organized, easy to find and uncluttered.

4.    Hanging pots and pans on a ceiling rack not only saves room in your cabinets, it makes them super easy to retrieve and put away.

5.    Using an over the sink cutting board saves counter space and makes clean up so easy, just push the waste right into the sink.

6.    I recently purchased an over the sink, roll up drying rack. So cool! Dishes, glasses and pots and pans drip dry right in the sink and when you are finished, it just rolls up and stores easily and without taking up much room under the sink.

7.     Finally, labeling is a fun and simple way to keep everything organized.

Some of my favorite organizational tools to help you get started!

A few more of my fun and simple soup recipes! They are warm, soothing, healthy and delicious! Simply click on the photos for the recipes!

Now, get in the kitchen, get organized, and make these wonderful healthy soups!  I hope you enjoy these healthy recipes as much as I enjoy sharing with you! You’ll find these and many more of my favorites in my latest lifestyle cookbook, “Fun & Simple Gourmet” at Amazon or iTunes for your devices!

In the meantime…

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Festive Fun & Simple Ideas for Holiday Entertaining

Festive Holiday Pumpkin-Cranberry Cake

Festive Holiday Pumpkin-Cranberry Cake

Tis’ the season for holiday entertaining, and there’s nothing like being prepared! Holiday entertaining can be stressful, but don’t let the idea of it interfere with your holiday joy! This week I’ve included a few fun & simple holiday dishes that can be prepared in advance, taking all the stress out of last minute entertaining and holiday gatherings. They are all super great appetizers and desserts to take to the party as well!

It’s all about the prep, and by doing things in advance and keeping a few simple things on hand for the holidays, entertaining can be fun…and simple!

Now, let’s get to that cake! This beautifully delicious Festive Pumpkin Cranberry Cake can easily be made in advance and kept in the freezer up to one month. Then, when it’s time to serve just dust with a little powdered sugar and a dollop of mascarpone whipped cream! Fun & Simple holiday entertaining at its best! Pumpkin is my favorite holiday ingredient and combined with fresh cranberries, a dynamic duo.  Add the soothing aroma of warm spices, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, and you have a holiday cake that soothes the soul, not to mention makes the kitchen smell amazing while its baking! Here’s the recipe:

Start with these ingredients:

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease pan with non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.  Mix dry ingredients well, with paddle attachment of electric stand mixer or whisk together in a large bowl, then add:

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Stir until combined on low speed of electric or stand mixer, then mix no longer than one minute on medium speed.  Remove from mixer and gently fold in cranberries. Pour batter into pumpkin baking pan until ¾ full. Smooth with spatula and allow to rest for 10 minutes before placing in the oven. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool slightly on wire rack, 3-5 minutes, then carefully remove from the pan.  Using a smooth bladed knife, carefully loosen the edges and place the wire rack on top of the baking pan.  Invert and carefully lift the baking pan up and away from the cake.  Serve warm or room temperature.

The cake freezes beautifully for up to a month.  Cool completely and store in sealed freezer bags.  When ready to serve, the cake can be heated directly from the freezer to the microwave.  It will taste as if it came fresh from the oven! Then just dust with a little powdered sugar, giving it a fresh fallen snow affect!

I like to serve each slice with a dollop of mascarpone whipped cream! Super simple…In a cold bowl, add

Whip with the whisk attachment of your stand mixer (or regular mixer) until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Whip with the whisk attachment of your stand mixer (or regular mixer) until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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If you like nuts, ½ cup of toasted chopped walnuts is an excellent addition to the cake and can be added with the cranberries. You will want to toss them in a little flour also before adding to the batter.

That’s it! Fun & Simple, Gigi Style. I hope you enjoy these hassle free dishes during your holiday seasoning! If you still need a little something for the Foodie on your holiday gift list, there’s still time to have a signed copy of Fun & Simple Gourmet shipped in time for Christmas! You can also download on your devices (iPhone & iPad) at iTunes! In the meantime, enjoy this most wonderful time of year! Wishing you and your family a most fabulous holiday, and remember…

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RELATED PRODUCTS

Leave it to Amazon to have everything you need for holiday entertaining preparation! My favorite organic pumpkin and this great little pumpkin loaf pan, perfect for this Festive Cake. This Kitchen Aide Stand Mixer is a great starter and on sale now at over 40% off. Tell Santa to add it to your Christmas List! I’ve had mine over 20 years and can’t live without it