Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: Valentine's Day

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee and Carrie Vasios]

Planning to attend a pity party this Valentine's Day? How about throwing a little feel-good bash for your friends instead. With this party plan, you'll still get to enjoy the best parts of Valentine's Day (other than, well, you know) namely the indulgent food (this menu is inspired by historic love letters), cocktails for both chocoholics and the bitter folks, and kitschy decorations.

Cocktails

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You've spent the day ignoring gushing coworkers and their deliveries of flowers; it's time for a drink. If you're into chocolate, serve the Averna Buena: tequila, chocolate liquor, and Averna, garnished with chocolate shavings. If you're feeling a little anti-Valentine's Day, serve Eeyore's Requiem: this Campari and Vermouth drink might be almost as bitter as you are.

While your friends are sipping on cocktails, hand out these homemade fortune cookies. Who doesn't want to hear "you will meet a tall, dark, stout"?

Love Letter-Inspired Menu

No oysters or figs. No dishes that are best spooned lovingly into someone else's mouth. What you do want is good food and a conversation piece that will steer everyone away from mopey, sad singles talk. This menu does both.

The three courses are tasty and a snap to prepare. But the best part? Each dish is inspired by a famous writer of love letters. Print out the following menu for your guests; it includes excerpts from the letters.

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Appetizer: Start off with smoked salmon napoleons that are elegant but, thanks to store bought puff pastry, insanely easy to construct.

Get the recipe for Napoleon Bonaparte's Smoked Salmon Napoleons »

December, 1795: Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine de Beauharnais.

I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! You are leaving at noon; I shall see you in three hours. Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.

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Main Course: For the main course, bring a little heat with curry dusted scallops.

Get the recipe for Pierre Currie's Curried Scallops with Tomatoes »

August, 1894: Pierre to Marie Currie

Nothing could have given me greater pleasure than to get news of you. The prospect of remaining two months without hearing about you had been extremely disagreeable to me: that is to say, your little note was more than welcome. It would be a fine thing, just the same, in which I hardly dare believe, to pass our lives near each other, hypnotized by our dreams: your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream. Believe me your very devoted, Pierre Curie.

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Dessert: Because no Valentine's Day is complete without chocolate: serve some gooey, cherry studded brownies for dessert.

Get the recipe for Robert Browning's Brownies »

January, 1846: Robert Browning to Elizabeth Moulton Barrett

Do you know, when you have told me to think of you, I have been feeling ashamed of thinking of you so much, of thinking of only you--which is too much, perhaps. Shall I tell you? It seems to me, to myself, that no man was ever before to any woman what you are to me--the fullness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy...and only I know what was behind--the long wilderness without the blossoming rose...and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding. Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve--not you--but my own fate?

Kinda Kitschy Decor

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If you're a romantic at heart, this is the perfect excuse to indulge your inner Martha Stewart. You certainly don't have to carve your own heart-shaped soaps or construct a heart-shaped wreath made out of red pistachios. Decorative candy bowls might be more your style—cute, festive, and, most importantly, full of all that Valentine's Day candy you stole from the office.

Or try these personalized place-mats: they'll make your guests feel special and they require the same amount of arts and crafts skills as making paper valentines. Besides, if your friends think you're sappy, it won't risk your chances of a second date.

How to Make Candy Bowls

You will need:

  • Assorted red, pink, silver or white candy. Mix and match with Hershey Kisses, Good & Plentys, Valentine's day M&Ms, and Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
  • Glass cups or bowls.

Sort out the candy by color then layer them accordingly in a large glass. In another large glass bowl, make a heart (I used Kisses) surrounded first by a layer of regular Kisses then a layer of Good & Plentys. I outlined the heart in Sweethearts.

How to Make Personalized Place-mats

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It's Dumpling's placemat!

You will need:

  • Cork board or heavy cardboard
  • Wrapping paper, preferably red, pink, or white (recycle the Christmas paper!)
  • White paper
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Red marker

For each placemat: Cut your cork board into 15 by 10 inch rectangle. Cut the wrapping paper into 15 by 10 inch rectangle. Glue the wrapping paper onto the corkboard.

Cut a heart shape out of the white paper. Write your friend's name on it. Now have fun. I cut out a few small red hearts and pasted them on. I also cut out another white heart and wrote a love quotation on it.

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