v-day help: chow.com’s valentine’s day menu game

Hey there, fellow citizens of Procrastination Nation! With Valentine’s Day looming large it’s time for the yearly scramble to make that last-minute dinner reservation. (Table for two at 4:30 pm?) But if you haven’t already, don’t: Consumerist confirms what we’ve known all along about this commercial love fest – that it makes statistical sense to stay home and eat in on V-day. Not sure what to make? Let the stars decide with Chow.com’s Zodiac Valentine’s Menu Game . Simply enter your astrological sign and that of your sweetie to generate a menu catered to your specific tastes complete with recipes for the recommended appetizer, main dish and dessert. But if a dinner out is a must, you’re in luck: White Castle is still taking reservations .

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what i’ve been cooking over the holidays

one of my favorite special treats. They’re great for breakfast, served warm with butter, honey and your favorite jams. On Christmas, I gave them the “Yorkshire” pudding treatment, plating them up alongside the main course of beef and gravy.


2. Beef Tenderloin with Port Reduction Sauce.
I found this recipe on Epicurious and thought it would be the perfect thing for our holiday dinner. Beef tenderloin sounds fancy, but it’s actually crazy easy. As this recipe instructs, the key is to “dry brine” the meat for about 24 hours before cooking. To do this, simply cover the beef in course salt, and let it sit, uncovered, on a racked pan in your fridge for at least 24 hours. It will look a little dry when you take it out, but trust me the results will be tender and juicy. Before cooking, rub olive oil all over, and then cover in a cracked pepper crust. I also made the gravy the night before, cooking down a sauce of Cognac and port until it was nice and thick.

3. Sausage and Swiss Chard Strata. We had guests sleep over on Christmas Eve and I wanted something easy and satisfying to serve on the big morning after opening presents. The night before, I prepared a sausage and Swiss chard strata from Martha Stewart Living. It’s basically an egg and bread lasagna. First you cook the sausage, then the chard, and then you layer in a baking dish with slices of day-old baguette. Pour a mixture of egg and milk over top so it is soaked thoroughly. The next morning, before baking, I added a layer of grated Gruyere on top and baked it about 45 minutes. It was so delicious. I will definitely do this again — perhaps even for dinner one night!

4. Perfect Pot Roast. We had a lot of leftover mashed potatoes after the holiday dinner, so I decided to make a pot roast to go with them. Really, I was wanted an excuse to finally try Pioneer Woman’s perfect pot roast. It was so easy to cook it was almost criminal! I took out my trusty Le Creuset French oven, and set to work. First, sear a couple of onions followed by a whole bunch of carrots on the stove. Then, brown the chuck roast. Afterwards, everything comes out of the pan and add a little red wine, stirring up with whisk to loosen all the bits on the bottom. Put everything back in the pan, add some beef broth with fresh rosemary and thyme, put the lid on it, and stick it the oven for four hours or so. Let me tell you, those leftover mashed potatoes never tasted so good!

What have you been cooking the past few days? I’d love to hear about it. — Angela M.

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any over-the-top holiday lights in your neighborhood?

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Here’s a sure sign that I have moved to the ‘burbs: There are some crazy Jerseylicious holiday lights nearby! The other night, we joined our wonderful neighbors for a new tradition — drive-by gawking at all the yard bling in Union, NJ. However, after spotting this insane display we actually had to get out of the car for a closer look. Every inch of the property was covered — from the life-sized Mr and Mrs Claus waving from the front steps to the blinking spiral candies around the border. We were in awe. Though I admit to having a couple of retro-style snowmen lights on our front porch, it literally pales in comparison. Best of all, they weren’t the only ones on the block partaking in the festive adornments. It was refreshing to see others were inspired — not intimidated — by the display.

Do you have a neighborhood you like to visit to see over-the-top lights? — Angela M.

More holiday decorations posts:
Christmas is over but we’re leaving the lights

Store your holiday lights in paper tubes

Oh no! A pre-lit tree that doesn’t light!

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our no fail hostess gifts: part 2

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Megan Barone: Yummy smelling body butter or candle
My favorite hostess gift of late? Something from Pacifica; either a body butter or soy candle, depending on the host/hostess. I discovered their yummy smelling and nourishing body butters on a trip to Hawaii, and have been obsessed with all of their scents ever since. There really is something for most everyone in their line, as the scents run from guava (perfect for my 10year old niece) to Coconut (my favorite) and earthier, unisex scents like Sandalwood and Juniper. And they just happen to be all natural, cruelty & GMO free, and made in the USA. Best thing, however, is being able to conveniently pick up those hostess gifts while running around town. You can find Pacifica products across the US and Canada at Whole Foods and Sephora locations.

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Katie Donbavand: Mermaid bottle opener
My favorite part of any party is always the last few hours. Your shoes are kicked off, the dawn is peeking over the horizon, and everyone (and everything) is mellow. It’s the perfect time (if your host is game) for a hand of cards and one last beer. My standard hostess gift has you covered for the last, dwindling moments of the party. Combine these dazzling, silver playing cards from Kikkerland ($11) with this fantastic, cast iron mermaid bottle opener from Fishs Eddy’s ($19) and your hostess will always be ready to entertain those last few stragglers.

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Becki Singer: Feather tray
If you’re planning ahead, these gold-plated feather trays from Vanillawood (a favorite local shop of mine) are my latest obsession. The tiniest size is just $32, and is one of those little luxuries she’ll treasure. It’s perfect for catching her jewelry next to the sink or on her nightstand. For the last minute, I read recently that Ina Garten frequently gifts her hostess a pound of coffee from a favorite micro-roaster and a bag of homemade (or bakery-bought) granola. I love the idea of not interfering with their serving plans for the evening, but instead making sure they have a delicious breakfast the morning after. Happy Holidays! –Becki S.

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Ginny Figlar: Monogrammed mug
My go-to gift right now is Anthropologie’s Homegrown Monogram Mug for $8. I bought one for myself this Spring, and have since bought others as thank-yous and gifts for my daughter’s preschool teachers (filled with fleur de sel caramels … yum!). You can go with first name initial, last name initial or both, or spell out a word like “joy.”

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a fuzzy wuzzy holiday: felt takes over

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Front door wreaths aren’t the only thing popping up in felt this holiday season. We spotted this lovely felt menorah over at Etsy (via iVillage). This clever design allows kids of all sizes to partake in the lighting of the flames — or rather, the buttoning of the flames! The wool felt is from upcycled sweaters, and is a great new homey tradition. ($60)

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Another great seasonal tradition is the mistletoe. We love this one from branchhome.com. Each one is unique and comes ready to hang. Though kisses are not included it does come with thanks: Sales of this product help provide an income stream for sheepherders and artisans in the Rajasthan State of India, where it is made. ($26)

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