Valentine’s Day is hard on a lot of our friends. For some reason, we have friends who feel it’s an appropriate evening for a first date. Talk about pressure! Some also insist on dining out, even though they know the restaurants will be packed and the fare not at its best. Then there are the families. It’s not exactly the best holiday for them. It seems a night just for couples — even in the best of times.
To solve some of those dilemmas, we’ve started having whole families over on Valentine’s Day. After all, a family with kids is one of the best expressions of love you can find! But kids can add culinary challenges. They’re not always the adventurous eaters that many adults are. Children don’t necessarily go for sautéed collards or Beef Wellington.
We’ve worked out a menu that’s both kid- and adult-friendly. We start with a sweet-and-sour chicken casserole that’s got loads of flavour but isn’t too challenging. Paired with brown rice or a well-stocked pilaf on the side, it’s a winner. We like a salad after a big meal, not before. There’s something about the vinegar at the end that lightens everything up. Most kids don’t go for vinaigrettes, so here’s a creamy but loaded chopped salad that’ll offer a nice coda to the meal. Finally, what could be better than some chocolate bark for dessert? Especially when it’s drizzled with white chocolate. It’s both fun and delicious, and a perfect way to end the evening.
Don't feel like you can only make this meal on the holiday. Each dish offers 12 servings, so you can make a family get-together meal anytime, a great way to get everyone at the table at once.
If that’s not love, we don’t know what is.
Baked Chicken Casserole with Olives, Dates and Honey
This sweet-and-sour casserole will sure keep a crowd happy at the table. Start the dish the night before so the chicken can absorb the flavors of the piquant marinade. Serve with brown rice or your favorite pilaf on the side.
- 2 1/4 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (12 thighs)
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 Tbsp jarred capers (do not drain)
- 2 Tbsp minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- Two 9-oz boxes frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
- 12 large pitted green olives, halved
- 12 large pitted dates, halved
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar (not packed)
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- The night before, toss thighs, vinegar, capers and their brine, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and bay leaves in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Add chicken thighs and all their marinade into a large roasting pan.
- Sprinkle artichoke hearts, olives, dates and brown sugar over and around thighs. Drizzle with wine.
- Bake uncovered 1 hour, basting often with pan juices. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Serving size: 1 chicken thigh plus 1/3 cup vegetables and sauce
Chopped Spanish Salad
A chopped salad is best when all the ingredients are chopped to the same size, about 1/4 inch, so you can get lots of flavours and textures in each forkful. This version’s made with the quintessential Spanish spice: smoked paprika. Although you can make the dressing ahead and store it in the fridge, serve the salad right after the vegetables hit the bowl. Otherwise, the salt and acidic elements in the dressing will cause them to weep and the salad to turn watery.
- 3/4 cup lowfat plain Greek yogurt
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp mild smoked paprika
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 8 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
- 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and chopped
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 3/4 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 jarred roasted red peppers, drained, rinsed and chopped
- Whisk yogurt, vinegar, smoked paprika, garlic and salt in a large serving bowl.
- Add lettuce, cucumbers, red onion, chickpeas and chopped roasted red peppers. Toss well to serve.
Serving size: 1 1/2 cups
Black and White Bark with Cranberries
For sophisticated bittersweet chocolate, search out bars in the baking aisle that are at least 50-percent cocoa solids, or preferably about 66 percent. These will give a rich, dark-chocolate taste to this easy bark without putting off the kids (who probably prefer milk chocolate). If you don’t like dried cranberries, use an equivalent amount of chopped dried apricots.
- 5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 2 oz white chocolate, chopped
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or use a silicone baking mat. Melt half the bittersweet chocolate in the top half of a double boiler set over an inch or so of slowly simmering water. If you don’t have a double boiler, use a heat-safe bowl that fits securely over a medium saucepan with the same amount of slowly simmering water.
- Remove top half of double boiler or remove bowl from heat and stir in remaining bittersweet chocolate. Stir off heat until melted.
- Stir in cranberries — then immediately (before chocolate has a chance to harden) spread thinly onto prepared baking sheet or silicone mat.
- Clean and thoroughly dry top half of double boiler or heat-safe bowl. Set it again over slowly simmering water, add white chocolate, and stir until melted. Drizzle this white chocolate over the dark in thin drips and streaks, like a Jackson Pollock painting. Cool at least 1 hour. Break into small pieces. Once cooled and broken into small bits, bark can be stored in a sealed container at room temperature for several days.
Serving size: 1 oz bark