Be my (savory) Valentine: Move over chocolate -- there's more than one way to celebrate

February 12, 2014 9:52:11 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Cupid's holiday is all about sweethearts, but that doesn't mean the whole focus has to be exclusively "sweet." Luscious Valentine chocolates have their place, but we can show we care by taking a walk on the savory side, too. OK, so maybe hard-boiled eggs aren't necessarily "savory," but you get the idea.  


Usually at this time of year, we're scouting for decadent dessert ideas to wow the family or significant other with. This February, we veered off in search of other ways to say, "Yes, I know it's Valentine's Day and look what I did for you." 


Among the top picks are a sophisticated little shrimp salad, some "heartfelt" roasted potatoes, heart-shaped tortilla chips and yep, hard-boiled eggs. Who knew? None of these is difficult; it's all really just a matter of prep or presentation. (And a cook armed with two or three sizes of heart-shaped cookie cutters can go wild.) 


Any Valentine meal would be off on the right note with the twin hearts apricot glazed shrimp salad that uses peppadews for a burst of color and taste. Peppadews are a sweet, slightly spicy pepper from South Africa. They can usually be found in jars in the pickle and olive section of the supermarket. (In a pinch, small cherry tomatoes might be substituted.) Feta cheese and a hint of brandy help imbue this starter with flavor.  


When it comes to side dishes, a few minutes with one of those cookie cutters can turn everyday roasted potatoes into a bowl full of compliments. It's recommended you par-cook the potatoes by boiling them in water for a couple of minutes: While the peeled, sliced, cut up potatoes simmer in the water, starch and sugar is drawn to the surface of the potatoes. In the oven, the starch and sugar will create a nice crisp shell, says 


You can omit caraway seed from the potatoes recipe and use rosemary or other herbs you may prefer. You can also add garlic; just be sure to add it no more than one minute before you plan to take the potatoes out of the oven. Otherwise, garlic can burn and become bitter. 




Hard-boiled love 


I think this is one of the more fun ideas out there. It comes from Let's all try it and see if it works. It's a technique for molding hard-boiled eggs into heart-shapes. We need just-boiled eggs, a (paper type) milk or juice carton, chopsticks and rubber bands.  


Cut the carton into approximately 3-by-8-inch lengths and fold in half. Boil the eggs. While an egg is still warm, peel it and put it on the folded milk carton. (If cooled, the egg is more likely to break from the pressure.) Place a chopstick down the center of the egg and apply rubber bands on both ends of the carton, securing the chopstick. Leave everything in place for about 10 minutes. When the chopstick comes off and the egg is sliced in half, we should have a romantic "heart" to show for our effort.  




'Be mine' tortilla chips 


Turn a package of soft yellow tortillas into "homemade" chips. It's so simple, says All you need are tortillas, salt and olive (or canola) oil. Take one of those heart-shaped cookie cutters to the tortillas. Then, brush the hearts lightly with olive oil and salt. Bake them at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, checking them frequently. Serve them with your favorite salsa or dip. 


Armed with your cookies cutters, you could also whip up Valentine bruschetta with tomato, basil and goat cheese. Or create heart-shaped beets for salads, or pepperonis for pizza, or toasted grilled cheese sandwiches. The list goes on. 


A survey by the National Retail Federation in early January revealed the exorbitant truth -- that Americans are expected to spend close to $17.3 billion dollars celebrating Valentine's Day. Why not spend a little imagination instead? 






Prep Time: 25 minutes 


Cook Time: 10 minutes 


Makes two servings 




3 tablespoons brandy 


1 tablespoons water 


6 dried apricot halves 


2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (or mild blue cheese) 


1/2 teaspoon cream or milk (plus additional as needed) 


1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon 


4 medium peppadews 


8 peeled and cooked jumbo shrimp (see Note) 


4 thin wood or metal skewers 


1 tablespoon apricot (or peach) preserves 


2 teaspoon white wine vinegar 


1 tablespoon light olive oil 


Pinch of cayenne pepper 


Salt and pepper to taste 




  • In a small saucepan, heat the brandy, water and apricots until just simmering, then cover and turn off the heat. Let sit for 15 minutes. 


    Mash the feta, milk and tarragon together until almost smooth, adding a few more drops of milk if needed. Fill the peppadews with the feta mixture. 


  • Dry the shrimp thoroughly between plain paper towels. On a flat surface, arrange four of the shrimp into two heart shapes. Push a skewer across the tops of the shrimp, maintaining the natural curve. 


  • Place a peppadew inside each "heart" and push another skewer across the middle, through the shrimp and the peppadews. Repeat with remaining shrimp and peppadews. 


  • Preheat broiler on high heat. Place the shrimp skewers on a broiling pan. Brush with the apricot preserves. Broil briefly (just a few seconds) very close to the heat until lightly colored. Set aside. 


  • Remove the apricots from the brandy and cut into strips. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of the brandy with the remaining ingredients. 


  • Divide the greens between two plates and drizzle some of the dressing over the greens. Top with the apricot strips and the shrimp skewers. 


    Note: Pair up shrimp that are approximately equal in size. If they don't have enough of a natural curve to form a proper heart shape, adjust the curve as they are skewered. 








    Makes about 4 servings 




    6 large potatoes(about 2 pounds) 


    1/4 cup olive oil 


    1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt 


    Freshly ground pepper 


    2 teaspoons caraway seeds 


    1/2 teaspoon paprika (optional) 




  • Preheat oven to 400 F. 


  • Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray with non-stick spray or brush with oil. 


  • Fill a pot with about 1 to 2 quarts of water, add 1 tablespoon salt, bring to boil, then reduce heat to gentle simmer. 


  • In the meantime peel potatoes, slice them, and using a small metal cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as you can. Reserve scraps in water, you can also par-cook scraps or make mashed potatoes. 


  • Cook potatoes in simmering water for 3 minutes, drain potatoes and let cool slightly. 


  • Combine all the ingredients for the marinade: olive oil, salt, caraway seed, pepper, paprika. 


  • Pour marinade over potatoes, stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Spread marinated potatoes evenly onto the baking sheet. 


  • Roast for 20-25 minutes, in half that time, using an offset silicone spatula, carefully turn the potatoes. 


  • Under the broiler, broil potatoes for additional 5 minutes or until they are golden brown. 








    Makes 4 servings 




    8 slices of whole wheat bread 


    2 ounces goat cheese, softened 


    2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, finely chopped 


    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 


    1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 


    1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped 


    Salt and pepper to taste 




  • Cut the slices of bread using a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Arrange the bread hearts and toast them in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until light brown and crispy.  


  • Spread each toast heart with a thin layer of goat cheese. Next, in a small mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, basil leaves, and salt and pepper. Distribute tomato mixture evenly over each toast heart, spreading it to emphasize the heart shape. Serve immediately. 



    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.