Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine Fun

Maybe it's because my mom always made Valentine's Day fun, or maybe because it is my birthday month, or maybe because it is something pretty and fun in the middle of winter, but I love Valentine's Day.  And it's not because I am a romantic.  Because I'm not.  In fact, the cheesiness of Valentine's grosses me out.  In honor of this, Dave started this fun tradition many years ago.  It all started one Valentine's day when he stopped by Walgreens drug store to pick up some chocolate and a card for me and was taken aback by the aisle full of men desperately searching for the "perfect valentine treat" in the racks.  He said it was intense and comical to step back and watch.  He saw all of these ridiculous things- giant key-shaped chocolate bars (the key to my heart, you know) and snow globe/photo frames with hearts and sparkles that float down over the photo of your true love.  He couldn't resist and set out to find the very cheesiest treats that he could find!

He came home and presented his spoils.  We were laughing our heads off and he declared this was his new tradition.  I agreed that this was a very fun tradition but asked that he might consider doing his shopping on the day after Valentine's, when this junk is 50% off.  I am too thrifty to stomach him spending full price, when we could spend the same amount on Ghiradelli Carmel Treasures, or a pound of really great coffee. He started taking our son a few years ago, to teach him how to "treat a lady special"...hilarious!

Another tradition we have is to have a special meal on Valentine's.  For a couple of Valentine’s past, we, as a family, have hosted groups of friends in our home for a Valentine’s Dinner.  We have served this Tomato Penne Pasta Dish, bread with olive oil for dipping and dessert.  This pasta is simple, can feed a crowd and is so tasty.  It is garlicky, so the rule is that EVERYONE has to eat it so that everyone has stinky breath together! I sometimes serve roasted chicken to go with it, if you need the meat to satisfy some of your carnivorous customers, but I like it just the way it is. 

This recipe is my adaptation of the Everyday Food magazine recipe.  It originally included kalamata olives, which we omit and substitute with artichokes- since my eaters are more artichokey than olivey.  The olive oil and tomatoes ARE the sauce, so you may want to add more stuff to it or lower the ratio of pasta.  Make it your own.  It's just a simple and really tasty go-to pasta that is a crowd pleaser.

1 lb penne pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups grape tomatoes
1 jar/can artichoke hearts
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
kosher salt & black pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook penne according to package instructions until al dente, about 13 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring, until just golden, about 1 minute. Add cherry tomatoes, oregano, crushed red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring, until tomato juices run, about 3 minutes.  Add artichokes and cook an additional 3 minutes.

Add penne,  and 1/4 cup Parmesan to the skillet and toss to combine. Serve with more cheese on top.

mmm, do you smell it?

We love to do what Carrabba’s Italian Restaurant does with bread and dipping oil.  Just slice up some crusty artisan bread, sprinkle fresh and/or dried herbs (fresh garlic, basil, kosher salt, ground pepper, Italian seasoning, a little parmesan cheese) in little dishes.

then pour olive oil over it. Swirl with a fork and you are ready for dipping.

[You might need to invest in some Greased Lightning if you don’t already have this cleaning supply, as you might incur some oil stains on shirts and linens.  And oil stains are some of the most maddening and tricky to remove, being so greasy.  This solvent does the trick.  (Thanks to my mom, the Stain Queen for this great tip). ]

And for goodness sake, end with Dessert.  Chocolate is my favorite with a garlicky meal like this.  I love chocolate and raspberry together- it is valentiney to me.  

Everyday Food Magazine did these Heart Shaped Chocolate Brownies years ago that are adorable.  So creative!  You could make some Just Right Brownies and - cut them into the shape of a heart with a cookie cutter, then use the extra pieces from the cut-outs, to roll into balls and coat in sugar, powdered sugar or cocoa to make little brownie truffles.

Conversation Heart BINGO - Sometimes we play BINGO with conversation hearts as the chips. It's fun, spans all ages and you can eat as you play! I found this clever website where you can download bingo games for free. They have various holidays and themes, and you can even customize them.

Happy Valentine's Day- Have some fun. Tell someone you love them!


  1. I love you too, Mom! Thank you for a lifetime of love.

  2. Um, I'm inviting myself over for next year:) Surely we'll be real life friends by then!

  3. Leigh, Come on over-no need to wait for a valentine's celebration!

  4. Our family LOVES this pasta recipe! I must have made it on a weekly (or bi-weekly!) basis this summer when our garden cherry tomatoes were plentiful. And, actually, we were served this dish the very first time we had dinner with you guys. It's a favorite for many reasons!

  5. Is it okay to comment on something a year and a half after you post it?? :) Sharon fed me this pasta last week, and I loved it. I was so excited to have a simple recipe that used up all the cherry and grape tomatoes in my garden! I added spinach instead of artichokes. Delicious! :)

  6. Yes, it's perfectly okay. So glad Sharon shared it with you. It's a keeper. It's one of our favorites.