Valentine’s Day. It is my Mom’s birthday, and the only reason that the day is important to me. I haven’t been very big on celebrating Valentine’s Day in the past several years because it has become more of a “buy this diamond necklace, buy these red roses” kind of a holiday rather than what it was probably meant to be-- a sweet, simple little day tucked in the middle of February for one to show appreciation to a loved one. Or to reveal your romantic feelings to one who is uncertain of them. It has, like every other major holiday, been blown into a huge commercial event.
Warning! Rant ahead!!! ;)
Speaking of commercials, the ones for jewelry (from the huge mega-jewelry stores) that have been airing for the past 4 weeks on television and radio drive me nuts. They are very good at doing what they were created to do—convince men that they must show their special one their love by buying her (preferably diamond) jewelry, and convince women that they’re not really loved unless their special guy lavishes them with expensive jewelry. Most men have no idea what to do in romantic gift-giving situations and if they’re told that women want diamonds then, by God, they’re gonna do it or face serious repercussions from the woman who has also been paying attention to these commercials. Let’s get something straight. I like pretty jewelry- heck I even have some, but I just can’t see spending lots of money on it. Diamonds are sparkly and nice to look at, but so are rubies. And glass.
Don't get me started on engagement rings. My nephew, who has several months' worth of accumulating credit card balances and is in a starting-level job in retail, bought his fiancee a $5000 engagement ring. Oy. This bodes well for their financial future!
Chocolate, though. Now that shows the perfect meaning of Valentine’s Day! Dark chocolate is heart-healthy, practically good for you--could there be a more perfect food?. Now giving the one you adore some chocolate is THE way to go. Nobody is slaving in diamond mines in
Obviously, Jack and I do not have a lavish, gifty Valentine’s Day. Since we met, I have baked Jack something sweet for this day (although he prefers other flavors to chocolate) and he has bought me a bag of conversation hearts (traditionally THE way to celebrate the day) and perhaps some chocolate as well. Simple, basic… us.
I had resigned myself to making him a card with an IOU for something delicious to be created after I regain control of the kitchen. Having a broken ankle seriously impedes my baking capabilities. But there was an opportunity which suddenly arrived.
The weather during the past 2 weeks has been very February-like. Snow, rain, ice, and some unusually high winds combined with highs in the low 60’s and, several days later, a high of 18. Jack decided that he wanted to drive to our lake house to check on it. He left in late morning and I figured that I had, minimally, 2½ hours bake something, totally clean up, hide the evidence, and be back in the living room with my foot up.
I heard the Jeep’s horn beeping as he left the driveway, waited five minutes in case he forgot something and came back, then made my way out to the kitchen. I turned on the oven, then the exhaust fan. First up was a curry-spiced nut mix which I had made while he was out last week but when he returned too soon and saw (and smelled!) them, there was no turning holding off until Valentine’s day
I mixed the spices and nuts, spread on a cookie sheet, and as they were baking I put together the ingredients for spicy peanut butter cookies. This recipe I had found on the Cuisine at Home website and used a kind of peanut butter called Some Like It Hot, which I just happened to have.
Despite the exhaust fan the scent of curry spices mixed with the peanut butter and it was glorious to just stand in the kitchen and breathe. The nuts were baked and cooled, mixed with dried fruit, and bagged. The cookies were finished, cooled, and bagged. The treats were stashed in the dryer in the laundry room until this evening.
But the delicious smells remained. In a flash of deceptive genius, I baked a batch of tortilla chips to eat with chili for our lunch. The scent of baking chips layered over the fragrant nuts and cookies and all Jack noticed, on arriving home, was the baking tortillas. Heehee!
The kitchen was exactly as he left it after breakfast this morning, the cookies and nuts were hidden, and I had sat in the living room and had barely read a chapter in my book when he returned.
Jack doesn’t like his baked goods to be very sweet, so I couldn’t decorate the cookies with colored sugar. Instead, these very plain cookies received a heart design cut in the center with a small aspic-cutter. But plain is appearance was the only ordinary thing about these cookies. They were crisp on the outside, moist and chewy in the middle, and had one heck of a kick from the cayenne-spiced peanut butter.
I am providing the recipe as I received it from Laura’s post on the Cuisine at Home website, with my alterations afterward in parenthesis.
Spicy Peanut Butter Cookies
1/2 cup shortening (1/3 cup Trans-fat free Crisco)
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar (1 cup)
3/4 cup spicy peanut butter (The Heat Is On)
3 tablespoons milk (lowfat half and half)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (190 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, cream together shortening, brown sugar, and peanut butter until smooth. Stir in egg, milk, and vanilla. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt then stir into the peanut butter mixture until well blended.
Use a scoop and drop onto ungreased cookie sheets. Press down criss-cross with a fork gently to flatten. Turn oven down to 375. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes (depending on size of cookie scoop you use. Mine holds about 2 Tablespoons and I cook for about 10 minutes) in the preheated oven. Space cookies about 2-3 inches apart, they spread out. Cookies are done when they are slightly browned across the top and spread out quite a ways. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
(I baked these for 6 minutes in the oven, and allowed them to stand for 4 minutes after taking them out of the oven. This recipe gave me 43 2” diameter cookies)
For dinner, we made one of our more simple favorite meals, salmon with an Asian-inspired orange sauce over basmati rice and steamed spinach.
After the rice was cooked, it took less than 20 minutes to pull the rest of the meal together.
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
½ teaspoon fresh orange zest
½ tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon grated gingerroot
½ teaspoon dark sesame oil
12 ounces wild salmon fillet
Mix marinade ingredients in a plastic container. Add salmon, turning to coat, and marinate (covered) in the refrigerator for at least one hour
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Lift fillets from marinade, reserving marinade, and cook for 4 minutes. Flip and cook for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to stand in pan for 1 minute. Serve with sauce drizzled over.
While fish cooks, pour marinade into a small saucepan and boil over high heat until reduced by about half.
The rice/ spinach side was prepared as follows:
Cook basmati rice (We used 2/3 cup uncooked measure)
In large nonstick skillet, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat over a medium-high flame. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic, stir for 15 seconds, add spinach (5 ounces? I didn’t weigh) and stir until spinach is mostly wilted. Add rice and stir for one minute. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
I wiped out the skillet to use for the fish, which was prepared immediately following.
Now, there's a bottle of champagne and a box of truffles waiting us.
Happy Valentine's Day to all
and Happy Birthday, Mummy!!! :)