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Food is a delicious part of Valentine’s Day

Nothing says lovin’ like swiss chard and pasta. (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

“The world today is hungry not only for bread but hungry for love; hungry to be wanted, to be loved.” – Mother Teresa

Valentine’s Day — the romantic holiday for lovers — will be here soon. We show that love by sending cards, flowers and chocolates — and with romantic candlelit dinners. Most restaurants offer special Valentine’s Day menus, drinks, and desserts.

Throughout history, romance has been intertwined with food. Most romantic evenings include food, wine, candlelight and music.

About a third of Americans will dine out on Valentine’s Day. They will make reservations, wait in long lines, fight crowds and noise and pay for an expensive dinner with their special someone.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is no need to make reservations for a quiet, comfy, delicious romantic candlelight meal. By staying home, you will dine in peace, save money, and create a delicious meal.

Preparing Valentine’s Day dinner can seem daunting, especially for someone who isn’t very comfortable in the kitchen. But your meal doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be elegant and impressive, yet simple. Many delightful dishes are easy to prepare. If you can perform simple kitchen tasks, like chopping vegetables, boiling and mashing potatoes or stirring the sauce in a pot, you can pull off a deliciously simple Valentine’s Day dinner. Preparing that meal together can be a fun, interactive, intimate activity.

This Valentine’s Day, share intimacy in your own home with a candlelight dinner, your favorite music, flowers and sensuous food. Turn down the lights, snuggle with your honey and enjoy classic tales of romance on the silver screen.

Your special meal can be as fancy or as simple as you want to make it. What do the two of you like to eat? Do you prefer classic meat and potatoes, soup and salad, a seafood meal to conjure up an ocean beach in midwinter or a pasta dish? Plan your meal around your favorite foods.

What should you cook? How can you make dinner memorable without going to extremes? A tasty meal doesn’t have to be complicated. Try Easy Chicken Divan with salad or roasted vegetables. Or salmon, herb-roasted potatoes and garlic green beans. Or crab fettuccini in a basil cream sauce. Or trout with roasted potatoes and a salad. Or Mediterranean baked fish with dilled yogurt sauce, salad and couscous. Vegetarian? Serve a French tart with goat cheese and vegetables. Or your favorite quiche served with a salad. For a Mexican twist with rice, bean & guacamole burritos.

Pasta can be simple or fancy, depending on what you add to it. The choices are almost infinite. A pasta dish can come together quickly, leaving you more time to cuddle with your honey.

For dessert, seductive chocolate is everyone’s favorite Valentine’s Day treat. Go fancy with truffles, chocolate mousse or fondue, or simple with never-fail-to-please brownies or chocolate chip cookies.

For a romantic dinner for two, set the mood with lighting and table setting. Use a romantic tablecloth and napkins, flowers, candles and your best dinnerware. Don’t forget cheese and wine. Set the mood with a CD of romantic music. Clean as you cook, but don’t worry about the mess afterward; leave the dishes till morning and enjoy each other!

Heat up your oven. Dust off your stove. If all goes wrong, there’s always Champagne.

Swiss Chard Pasta

for Two

Ingredients:

4 ounces dried pasta (I used tri-color rotinii; ziti or bowties are good; whole-grain is good)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 bunch (about 10 ounces) fresh Swiss chard or spinach

1/3 cup cottage cheese

2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon frozen basil or dried basil, crushed

1 cup diced tomatoes with juice (1/2 of 14.5 oz. can)

1/4 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Bring pot of water with 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Add pasta, and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Cover and keep warm.

While pasta is cooking, peel and dice the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash chard and slice the stems about 1/2″ lengths.

Heat oil in skillet; add onion, garlic and chard stems. Sprinkle with seasonings (salt, pepper, turmeric). Cover and cook on low about 5 minutes.

Coarsely chop greens; add to skillet and cook over medium-low heat about 3 minutes or until greens are wilted and tender, stirring frequently. Stir in cottage cheese, reserved pasta water, diced tomatoes and basil, Cook and stir for 3 to 5 minutes more or until heated through.

Combine contents of skillet with cooked pasta. Fold in yogurt.

Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Option: substitute Swiss chard with spinach, broccoli, collards or kale.

Basil Veggie Chicken

Ingredients:

A little oil for the pan

1 chicken breast

Salt & pepper

1 onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 – 2 cups broccoli florets

1 – 2 cups cauliflower florets

1 – 2 cups n baby carrots

1/2 – 1 cup broth or water

2 cloves garlic

1 cup diced cooked chicken

1 – 2 Tablespoons frozen basil (or fresh, or dried)

1/2 cup shredded cheese, like Parmesan or Cheddar or combination, optional

Directions:

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breast; sprinkle with salt & pepper; cook 2 – 4 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, chop coarsely and check for doneness. (Or, use leftover diced cooked chicken or turkey and add at the end).

Peel and dice the onion; cook over low heat in same skillet 5 minutes or longer, to soften.

Add veggies and half a cup of broth. Cook, covered, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until tender. Add more broth if needed, and add reserved chicken towards the end to finish cooking.

Peel and mince the garlic. Stir into the skillet, along with basil.

When everything is cooked to desired tenderness, sprinkle with cheese and cook until cheese melts.

You can serve this over pasta, with a side of grain like quinoa or millet, or with potatoes; any one of these should be done in the same amount of time, or less. Or serve with crusty whole-grain bread or a French baguette fresh from the oven.

Serves 2.

Easy Chicken Divan

Ingredients:

2 cups stale bread or leftover stuffing

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1 cup gravy

2 cups diced cooked chicken (or 1 large chicken breast, cooked)

2 cups broccoli florets

1 cup milk

1 Tablespoon butter

1 1/2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup buttered bread crumbs, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Spray 2-quart casserole or 9 inch x 9 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread bread cubes on bottom of casserole. Top with thinly sliced onion and drizzle with gravy. Layer the chicken over this.

Steam broccoli florets (if fresh) or thaw (if using frozen broccoli). Layer the broccoli over the chicken.

In small saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, 2 -3 minutes until blended and golden in color. Pour in the milk while whisking with a fork; bring to a boil, stirring continuously, and simmer 1 – 2 minutes until thickened. Stir in the cheese. When cheese melts, pour sauce over broccoli in casserole. If desired, top with buttered bread crumbs. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve hot, with a side salad or roasted root vegetables. Serves 2, with leftovers.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrites@yahoo.com or on Facebook as words are my world.