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!

A Delicious Late Summer Surprise

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Where did summer go? I don’t know about you, but didn’t this one seem especially fast? The highlight for me was my birthday weekend when Jeff surprised me with a wonderful birthday dinner celebration in a spectacular wine cellar. I knew he was up to something, but would never let on and spoil his surprise, of course.  We spent the night before at the wonderfully chic Perry Lane Hotel in Savannah, Georgia enjoying the day in the city and the rooftop terrace at the hotel.

Then, when I arrived at the venue for dinner, I was be greeted by 20 of our closest friends…surprise right! But that wasn’t even close to being the real surprise. As I was seated at the table and read the beautifully crafted menu for the evening, I noticed something super special, the menu was comprised entirely of dishes from my new book! In honor of the launch this month, Jeff had arranged with the chef to prepare the evening’s event with an appetizer, a choice of 3 entrée’s and dessert all from Fun & Simple Gourmet. Needless to say, I was more than surprised, speechless in fact (which is not easy for me…ha!) and so touched that Jeff arranged such a special evening with our dearest friends.  Chef Nick at the South Carolina Yacht Club was so gracious and prepared the dishes perfectly, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food, incredible wines and beautiful evening in this magical setting.

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I thought it would be fun to share the menu Jeff and Chef Nick selected as well as the recipes, all from Fun & Simple Gourmet. Now available here on the website, Amazon and select independent book stores and kitchen shops. (Click on the photos for these recipes!)    

It’s hard to believe we are already into our normal back to school routines, shorter days and fall flavors. I love cooking in the fall and now ready for the temperatures to become a little cooler, it sure still feels like summer! Enjoy your last days of summer weather and in the meantime…

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With Chef Nick in the Wine Cellar at the beautiful South Carolina Yacht Club. Chef and his staff were amazing with every detail for our very special evening. I was so honored to have Chef Nick prepare my dishes from Fun & Simple Gourmet. Everything was superb! Many thanks Chef!

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Gone Nuts...for Peanuts!

One of the biggest food trends this year has been non-dairy milk alternatives, mostly plant based nut milks. Replacing dairy is a great way to enhance your healthy lifestyle! This week's blog includes several fantastic and delicious recipes using peanut milk, both plain and chocolate, from protein packed breakfast muffins, to light and healthy pasta, warm soothing fish curry and decadent desserts, like these gorgeous Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cupcakes!

One of the biggest food trends this year has been non-dairy milk alternatives, mostly plant based nut milks. Replacing dairy is a great way to enhance your healthy lifestyle! This week's blog includes several fantastic and delicious recipes using peanut milk, both plain and chocolate, from protein packed breakfast muffins, to light and healthy pasta, warm soothing fish curry and decadent desserts, like these gorgeous Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cupcakes!

In addition to being high in protein, other incredible health benefits associated with peanuts include biotin, an enzyme healthy B vitamin, heart healthy monounsaturated fats which lower stroke and heart attack risk, antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and reduce cancer risk and consuming peanuts may even protect you from gallstones!

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You've seen them all, almond milk, cashew, walnut, even hazelnut milk, but this is the first Peanut Milk, introduced by Elmhurst 1925. (@elmhurst1925) Peanut milk is dairy-free, non-GMO, vegan, lactose free and Kosher. With today's trends in food, turning to a more plant based protein diet, as a replacement for dairy products, nut milks have become a viable and popular alternative. In addition to their already produced almond, hazelnut, cashew, walnut and grain milks (oatmeal & brown rice), Elmhurst (@elmhurst1925) has developed the first peanut milk (regular and chocolate!) and it is delicious! 

They use a patented process called cold milking, producing a nut milk that is super creamy, flavorful and maintains the nutritional integrity of whole, raw Georgia peanuts (@gapeanuts) free of stabilizers, emulsifiers, gums or other chemicals typically used in nut milking and 6 grams of protein in every 8 ounces! (8 grams in the Chocolate variety)

I was honored to be asked, in conjunction with @Foodiechats and the Georgia Peanut Commission (@gapeanuts) to test the product in my kitchen where I had so much fun creating new dishes and improvising with some of my old ones. Check out these amazing recipes using peanut milk! From smoothies and protein packed muffins to start your day, to light and delicious pasta, warm and soothing fish curry and decadent peanut milk desserts! Simple to prepare and oh so tasty! (Simply click on the photos for the recipes!)

With all of these beautiful and delicious options, you can see why I went Nuts for Peanuts and had so much fun cooking with Elmhurst 1925 Milked Peanuts! Not to mention the many health benefits of peanuts!  Can't wait for you to try the recipes and please, send me your photos after you've prepared one of mine, or created one of your own! Hope you are enjoying the start of your summer...

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My Favorite Day of the Year - Valentine's Day!

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My favorite part of Valentine’s Day…hundreds of renditions of "My Funny Valentine" (Rodgers & Hart 1937 from the musical Babes in Arms) playing throughout the day...  From Frank Sinatra to Chaka Khan, Ella Fitzgerald to Big Muff, every genre of music imaginable!   

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!

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.

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Needless to say, we make it a day of culinary traditions, starting with Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Valentine’s Brunch featuring Chocolate Waffles and Champagne. Gentlemen, don't forget the roses and the little blue box!

My Lobster Cocktail starter is the perfect beginning to a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at home. So simple and can be prepared a day ahead of time and just put together at the last minute. Add a glass of your favorite champagne, what a way to kick off the evening!

Then, may I recommend a lovely Chateaubriand for Two! Slow roasted tenderloin with a rich and flavorful mushroom sauce and roasted vegetables, so tender, it will melt in your mouth! This dish is so simple to prepare, but don’t tell your Valentine, he (or she) will think you slaved all day!

I usually do Chocolate Soufflé for Valentine’s dessert, but this year, I am changing it up with my Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes with a Pink Champagne Glaze. The cupcakes can be made the day before, so all you have to do for dessert, is enjoy!!!

So, that’s it! My idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day. Of course it’s all about the food, delicious but simple to prepare and 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!

Holiday Entertaining Tips ~ Fun & Simple Style!

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1.  Casual Elegance is always my motif.  It’s easy, comfortable but still lovely and beautiful.  I want my guests to feel relaxed and content but also special.  I like an eclectic combination of casual and formal, all on the same table, makes it fun and festive without being over stuffy.

2.  Select a theme or color.  Choosing a theme and/or color helps make everything else come together with ease.  Of course, the holidays make it super easy because the main theme is already set. Then it’s down to selecting a color combination. Make it simple and use table top accessories you already have, just make them a little festive. Red, green, silver, gold, all fantastic holiday colors, and there is nothing wrong with simple white napkins, rolled and tied with a pretty gold holiday ribbon.  

3.  Welcome Guests with a Special Greeting. Set the tone with a simple glass of champagne with a rosemary stalk or my festive Holiday Bellini, blood orange, Prosecco and Grand Marnier, that will get your guests in a celebration mood!

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4.  Celebrate the Season.  Focus on flowers or greenery for the table that exude the holidays. Fresh herbs like rosemary stalks and fresh cranberries are a great way to decorate the table. I like using all white candles in hurricanes with fresh cranberries and rosemary around the candles. 

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5.  Fun Place Cards.  Wine corks make great place card holders.  Using a serrated knife, simply cut a ¼ inch slit into the top of the cork and slide the place card into the slit. I sometimes even use the wine corks as the place card by writing the names on the cork with a Sharpie!  Champagne corks are fun place card holders, especially for holiday entertaining!  Another fun and festive place card is a simple candy cane.  Punch a hole in your place card, and tie around a candy cane with holiday ribbon. 

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6.  Fun Water Service. How simple is just adding festive fruit or herbs to your water pitcher or water glasses, it doesn’t take a lot of effort, to make it extra special.  For the holidays I like serving water with apple slices and cinnamon sticks or orange slices with cranberries and sage leaves, even lemon slices with rosemary sprigs, all add flavor and festive décor.

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7.  Little Gifts.  I like to send a little gift home with everyone, even if it is just a simple chocolate holiday candy, a little bag of your Christmas cookies, even a candy cane with a pretty ribbon tied around it or a mini-bottle of their favorite cordial or liqueur.  A little something makes a lovely lasting impression. 

8.  Lastly and Most Importantly! Do as much as you can in advance! This simple task makes holiday entertaining so much easier! Entertaining is supposed to be fun for everyone, especially the host! You can do things like setting the table a few days in advance and a little prep every day really adds up to saving time and stress! Also, it is really not necessary to have several side dishes or desserts. One of my favorite lines, that I use a lot is, "more isn't always better, it's just more!"

Pear-Pomegranate Salad, Creamy Mashed Potatoes & Haricot Verts Roasted Shallots & Fennel

Pear-Pomegranate Salad, Creamy Mashed Potatoes & Haricot Verts Roasted Shallots & Fennel

Pick your favorite salad, potato or starch, and one vegetable that compliment your main dish, and stick with those. And don’t be afraid to let your guests help! It’s fun to cook together, and if they offer to bring something, let them! An appetizer, bottle of wine, even a side dish or dessert, it just makes the main event even easier on you! These are my sides this holiday to be served with my Porc Aux Figues for Christmas Dinner! 

Stay tuned for more holiday menu ideas and recipes! Feel free to reach out with any questions or recipe requests and in the meantime...

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Enjoy this holiday season and have fun entertaining your family and friends! Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a most wonderful year ahead!  Cheers!

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Merry Christmas from 21 Club NYC!

Merry Christmas from 21 Club NYC!