Pandemic Valentine’s Day No. 2… are we having fun yet?
Some folks will be heading to restaurants for romantic, socially distanced dinners (oh, life these days is filled with oxymorons). But many of us will be hunkering down at home, celebrating our partnerships (or friends or roommates) as best we can.
One way to make the day feel special is to think about your favorite foods and then take things up a notch. Splurge on a higher-end ingredient than usual; treat yourself to something you might not normally cook at home.
If a high-end steak dinner is your dream Valentine’s Day meal, bring it on home. Porter Road Meats in Nashville, Tennessee, for instance, offers humanely sourced, dry aged and hand-cut meats. Maybe get a couple of perfect rib-eyes, or try something new like the teres major cut; the chefs who founded the company pride themselves on using the whole animal, with as little as possible going to waste.
Or, lobster! McLoons Lobster Shack in Maine has a Valentine’s Day package for two that includes clam chowder, two lobster rolls and a heart-shaped blueberry bread pudding. That’s a lobster lover’s dream meal, and it takes about 10 minutes to assemble.
Perhaps a splashy sushi meal is what you crave? Blue Ribbon Sushi, based in NYC, will ship you a DIY dinner kit with fresh fish, expertly prepared sushi rice, and seaweed and a bamboo bat for rolling (you can add other items, like caviar, lobster, crispy rice cakes and more).
Speaking of caviar…. there are many kinds, from the extravagant to the affordable. You can serve it simply on some blini or little toasts with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream. Or dollop it on top of a simple pasta dish, or perhaps some scrambled eggs. Fulton Fish Market in New York City will ship directly to you; choices range from wild salmon roe at $20 a jar to Osetra (a lot more).
The way to some people’s hearts is cheese. Stinky, creamy, crumbly, delicate, funky cheese. Some of have a major crush on the cheeses from Cowgirl Creamy in the North Bay area of California. Warning: Their organic triple crème Mt. Tam may become a habit.
A splashy Valentine’s Day breakfast is another way to go. Elevate your eggs with a few strips of crispy, upscale bacon, like that from Peter Luger’s Steakhouse in Brooklyn (they serve strips of their caramelized bacon as an appetizer — talk about an indulgence). Bill-E’s Bacon from Fairhope, Alabama, makes thick-cut slices that may spoil you forever from mass-market brands.
Top-of-the-line cooking ingredients might include a fancier bottle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar.
But let’s talk about butter, because, well, butter. Supermarket butters are A-OK for everyday cooking and baking, but once you dip a toe into the world of cultured or European-style butters, you can really note the difference.
Banner Butter from Atlanta comes salted and unsalted, both delicious, but also Smoked Sea Salt, Roasted Garlic, Basil and Parsley and, for Valentine’s Day, note the Dark Chocolate (on a homemade scone, perhaps?). Minerva Dairy, a family-owned creamery for more than 120 years, offers flavors like Lemon Poppy Seed and Everything Bagel. Tell me these butters don’t sound like a whole lot of fun.
If you have a thing for Asian food and condiments, you know chili crunch has been the darling of the seasoning world for a while. It’s an amazing addition to stir fries and other recipes, but also has been a cult favorite when used in unusual ways (on top of ice cream? Yes!). Treat yourself or your Valentine to a new jar: Much-loved brands include Momofuku,Fly by Jing,Su Chili Crisp and Boon Sauce.
Forget the basic supermarket soy sauce for a moment — shoyu sauces (Japanese-style soy) are having a renaissance. Mikuni Wild Harvest Shoyu sauce comes in gorgeous bottles and interesting flavors (note the smoked and cherry blossom varieties).
Even “humble” ingredients can be upgraded. For instance, bean lovers know that California-based Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans are creamier and more flavorful than most dried beans you can get in a supermarket.
Excellent pasta is another reasonable luxury – those extra few dollars can make a huge difference. Filotea egg pasta is made in the traditional manner in the Marche region of Italy. Tagliatelle, fettucine, spaghetti with cuttlefish ink — whatever recipe you choose, you’re already on your way to something special.
If this Valentine’s Day finds you and yours curled up in front of the TV watching a rom-com, then raise your popcorn experience. Stone Hollow Popcorn is available by the jar or in gift boxes, and you can choose from heirloom varieties like Red, Blue and Lady Finger.
And we cannot discuss Valentine’s Day without talking chocolate. There are several ways to go: You might treat your special people to some fancy chocolates like the whimsical, classic, handmade mice with toasted almond ears from L.A. Burdick, or check out the Colorful Love box from andSons chocolatiers, a dazzling array that’s ALMOST too pretty to eat (you’ll get over it).
Midunu Chocolates are made in Ghana, and the gem-like confections are designed to honor African chocolate-making traditions. Try their chocolate tasting kit for four with a flavor wheel, tasting mats and more.
Or, roll up your sleeves and get baking! Choose a chocolate that will raise your brownies/cakes/cookies/tarts up a level: brands like Ghirardelli, Guittard,Valrhona, and Endangered Species.
If you are a regular cook, your indulgence might come in the form of a new pan. Smithey makes cast-iron and carbon-steel pans so beautiful you might want to leave them out on the stove. Their round roaster is like a little sculpture, and their new and highly adorable mini skillets are perfect for warm dips or brownies for two.
Staying home for Valentine’s Day is sounding better and better!
Katie Workman writes frequently about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at [email protected]