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Valentine's Day is for food lovers, too

February 08, 2000

Mixed SaladBy KAROL STONGER / Associated Press Writer

photo: Associated Press




NEW YORK - Valentine's Day falls on a Monday this year, so if you have to work late or the kids needs help with their homework, it probably will be celebrated at home.

With that in mind, plan a dinner with foods that soothe: favorite dishes that you love to prepare and share or those from your childhood that make you feel snug - even if you're alone.

cont. from lifestyle

Yes, there will be dining out aplenty across America, though many true food lovers prefer to stay at home to avoid the masses.

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"The thing about going out on Valentine's Day is that it's crowded and the amateurs are out," says Denise Marcil, a literary agent. "But I'm out because it's also my birthday."

She and her husband, Turhan Tirana, a bank examiner, have been celebrating her Feb. 14 birthday since they met in 1992. One year they wined and dined in Paris. For a couple of years, they went to the Rainbow Room for dinner and ballroom dancing.

And this year?

"We're going to a show at Symphony Space called 'Romance and Rhythm,' a Valentine's tribute to Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Sondheim and the big dance bands."

Dinner will be at Kings' Carriage House, a 19th-century townhouse that serves continental food in an English setting. "I had been there for tea and have been wanting to go back," Marcil said. "It's cozy and romantic."

But if you don't opt for an evening out, you still can celebrate with a special dinner by doing some of the prep work Sunday afternoon. Concentrate on a scrumptious dessert and make the main course a comfort food such as homemade macaroni and cheese or meatloaf, two favorites in my house, or the rice and beans and fried pork favored by Sammy Hernandez Jr.

"I like all that greasy stuff," says Hernandez, a Gumby-slim handyman in an apartment building on the Upper West Side. But for special occasions, he says his wife probably would make lasagna and an octopus and shrimp salad.

My baked macaroni and cheese is similar to my mother's recipe: al dente elbow pasta and a basic white sauce with plenty of sharp cheddar and a few shakes of Worcestershire Sauce stirred in.

The nice thing about macaroni and cheese is that it can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, until baking time. But make sure there's plenty of cheese sauce. The pasta absorbs it as it stands.

Laura Fisher Kaiser, an author and magazine editor, has a no-fail mac 'n' cheese recipe from her father.

"This is the easiest recipe, because it doesn't involve making a bechamel sauce," she says. "You're essentially making a pasta-and-cheese parfait."

She says you also can use leftover pasta, either already in the refrigerator or the odds and ends of packages in the cabinet.

"My husband and I eat a lot of pasta, and he always cooks too much," she says of Michael Kaiser.

"So I like to save up the leftovers of different shapes and mix them up, everything from gemelli to farfalle.

"If you use cold leftover pasta, you might want to zap the assembled casserole for 5 minutes in the microwave to speed the baking. If you cook up a fresh batch and it's hot, just put the casserole in the oven."

Meatloaf requires a bit more effort. Mine has been through many evolutions over the years, but I think I have settled on one loosely based on a recipe in "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1989).

The authors don't say you can prepare this ahead, but I often put the meatloaf mixture in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator and bake it the next day.

Both the mac 'n' cheese and meatloaf are easy main courses. Add a salad such as Mixed Green Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Tomato-Herb Vinaigrette, plenty of crusty bread and a delectable dessert. The salad recipe is among those in the recently published "Seduction and Spice, 130 Recipes for Romance" by Rudolf Sodamin (Rizzoli, $40).

The book, bound in red velvet, is full of full-page color illustrations. Along with the recipes, Sodamin uses his culinary knowledge to deconstruct many so-called aphrodisiacs - from anise to wine.

"Although some people maintain that aphrodisiac foods are usually exotic and expensive," he writes, "I find that many foods thought to arouse desire are readily available and affordable."

He lists the nourishment in nuts for body and soul and offers one recipe for romance from the Arab writer Nefzawi that includes honey, almonds and pine nuts. "... but nuts cracked open and shared on a crisp night are perhaps the most arousing."

Mixed Green Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Tomato-Herb Vinaigrette

  • 2 ripe medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or lemon juice or a mixture of the two
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons walnut halves
  • 4 cups assorted salad greens, such as endive, arugula, Bib or Boston lettuce and radicchio


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