After Tara was born, we started the tradition of Friday night family dinners. It’s a great way to ensure that Steve and I get to see our granddaughter at least once a week, as well as, of course, our two sons and daughter-in-law.
This dinner is just an everyday family meal – often featuring a recipe we’ve posted on Special Fork, or one from the Special Fork database of recipes.
If Friday night dinner falls close to an occasion, such as Halloween or Valentine’s Day, I like to set a themed table to create a festive mood. This Friday, it’s hearts and flowers.
Whether you’re planning a romantic dinner for two, or feeding the whole family, here are some easy ways to turn a simple dinner into a celebratory event.
- Red napkins – I invested years ago in red no-iron napkins. The color is more practical than you might think. It does double duty at Christmas and for the Fourth of July. (I save linens that need ironing for fancy occasions when I have time to expend the energy.)
- Dishwasher-safe table setting – instead of using fine china and my good crystal, I use white dishwasher-safe plates and inexpensive stemware for easy cleanup. With plain white plates, I can change the look of the table easily from one holiday to the next.
- Flowers – long-stemmed roses are a fortune, especially at this time of year, but tulips or other red or pink flowers, such as hydrangeas or peonies, are more reasonable, and just as nice for the table.
- Little presents – I try to get a modest gift for each person – a board book for Tara, one or two truffles in a box or iTunes gift cards for adults – and wrap the gifts in red paper; I use them to surround the flowers as part of my centerpiece.
- Candlelight – even for a family gathering, candles make an ordinary dinner seem like a party.
- Valentines – last year, I made one for each family member; I used an app to render photos into sketches, and made a card for each person featuring their photo. Set on the dinner plates, the valentines also served as place cards.
- Candy hearts – sometimes I scatter a boxful of them on the table as a candy table runner.
My secret weapon to creating a themed Valentine’s dessert in a hurry is marzipan. I just buy the supermarket kind found in the baking section, Odense marzipan almond candy dough, and color it with Wilton gel food coloring. By cutting out pink and red hearts from the marzipan, I can decorate any plain baked goods – baked from scratch, a mix, or purchased from a bakery. At Christmas, I use this almond candy dough to make holly berries and leaves to dress up my Buche de Noel.
How to make marzipan hearts:
- Start by slicing off an inch or two of the marzipan almond candy dough.
- Use a toothpick to transfer a few dabs of pink or red gel color to the marzipan.
- Fold marzipan dough in half to encase the color and knead between your fingers until the color has dispersed throughout the dough. Add more color, as needed, until the desired shade is reached. While the dough will seem hard at the start, as you continue to knead in the color, it will become more pliable, like chewing gum.
- Roll the marzipan dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper (so you don’t stain your rolling pin).
- Cut with heart-shaped cookie cutters. Use the hearts to top frosted bar cookies, cupcakes or a cake – you could even use it to top a dish of ice cream, pudding or chocolate mousse, if you serve it immediately.
If you’re up for a more involved Valentine’s Day dessert, try one of these ideas from the Special Fork database:
- Crepes in Blood Orange Sauce, a recipe by Ben Mims will wow your Valentine. If you’ve never made crepes before, you’ll find that they’re easy to make – with just a little practice.
- No-Bake Ribbon Cake starts with purchased pound cake; you make the filling and frosting.
- Nutella Fondue with Strawberries and Dried Pineapple, a recipe by Andrew Hunter, is easy, fun and gets dinner guests engaged.
- Dark Chocolate Truffles are delicious morsels that you can serve as dessert, to accompany dessert, or package them as a gift for your favorite Valentine.
Happy Valentine’s Day from Special Fork!
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