Currently viewing the tag: "Supermarket Gourmet"

by Buck Reed

 a chart

Stories from a Culinary Student

by Ava Morlier, Culinary Arts Program at CTC

Well, my culinary arts class has officially moved on to breakfast. From quick breads to bacon, our class has been covering the most important meal of the day quite thoroughly. This has resulted in many a dinner becoming breakfast as well; and, of course, the eggs are still inescapable!

Today, I want to highlight an easy breakfast dish that I have learned about: Biscuits & Gravy.

Let me start with the gravy. Before you pop that can of gravy from the store (which makes my culinary teacher cry), keep in mind that making gravy is ridiculously easy. Even I thought that the perfect, non-lumpy gravy was unattainable (as I usually thickened soups with flour, resulting in less than appetizing lumps). But then our breakfast unit enlightened me. A gravy is relatively easy and made up of three parts: fat (usually butter), flour, and milk. All variables can be changed (and seasonings such as garlic salt and pepper are a fantastic way to flavor gravy), but it really boils down to three steps: melting the butter, adding in the flour, and adding the milk once the flour and butter have combined.

Biscuits are also easy to make. The secret? One is buttermilk: the reaction of baking soda and buttermilk (consisting of one cup of milk with one tablespoon of an acid such as lemon juice) cause the biscuits to rise dramatically. Another secret is rolling: don’t use a rolling pin. Kneading lightly by hand and lightly smooshing the dough down is the secret to the perfect flaky layers of a biscuit. Finally, shape: though it may sound controversial, do not use a round biscuit cutter. It flattens the biscuit so that flaky layers are unattainable and rolling leftover dough back into a ball wastes dough and time. Instead, shape your dough in a rectangle and—here comes the controversial part—cut into squares! It saves both time and dough. For extra sheen and flavor, brush with butter or honey butter for the perfect biscuit. No Pillsbury dough boy needed here.

Country Gravy

3 tbsp. butter (Other fat sources can be used for flavor; this could include turkey fat or beef fat)

3 tbsp. flour (preferably white) 2
c. whole or 2% milk
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic salt (add based on preference)
Note: Sausage can be added to this recipe.

Warm saucepan on medium heat. Add butter, and allow to melt (but not completely melted). Add flour and whisk together.

Allow mixture to cook 2-3 minutes (doing so allows for the flour to cook out). Add milk and whisk until smooth (mixture should be thick). Add salt and pepper and serve!

(With credit to The Butcher’s Wife at

Tools Needed

-Small saucepan


Buttermilk Biscuits

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. Baking powder

½ tsp. Baking soda

½ tsp. Salt

¼ c. shortening (usually butter) (make sure shortening is cold and kept cold)

¾ c. buttermilk (milk w/ ¾ tbsp. lemon juice)

2 tbsp. butter, melted (optional, for brushing on) (honey can be added for honey butter)

*For garlic herb biscuits:

Add in 1 c. shredded cheddar, 1 ¼ tsp. Garlic powder, 1 ¼ tsp. Dried parsley flakes, and 1 ½ tsp. Onion powder

Preheat oven 450 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Cut in shortening and mix until shortening is pea-sized (a food processor can be used to accomplish this). Drizzle in buttermilk and stir with a fork. Turn onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Form the dough into a rectangle. Cut into squares, and line biscuits on the pan shoulder to shoulder. Brush with butter (if desired).

Put into the oven and allow to bake until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Take the pan out and allow to cool. Serve.

(With credit to the Taste of Home Cookbook)

Tools Needed

-Sheet pan

-Parchment paper

-Knife or crumb scraper



-Liquid/solid measuring tools

Fall Into Cooking

by Buck Reed

With the changing of the seasons, we see many trends coming our way. The changing of the leaves from green to an endless variety of colors, as well as the cooler temperatures, is a sure sign that the change in season is coming. One recent trend that is gaining a foothold is pumpkin spice everything. We cannot do anything about the leaves or the weather, but I believe if we all band together, we can absolutely put an end to this whole pumpkin spice thing. Here is a start: Let’s agree not to buy anything with this seasoning, unless it is actually added to pumpkin.

Next, we see soups are making their way back to the table. Not just soups for lunch or a cup of soup as a start to a cool evening meal, but soup as a meal, by itself. We see beautiful soups made with wonderful fall vegetables, as well as seafood chowders, thick with shell fish and potatoes. I know many people who would wonder what else is for dinner after a weak soup, so you want to make sure your soup is worthy of being called a meal.

I saw my first pie or sugar pumpkin today and am looking forward to roasting a few for the chickens, as well as some for soup or bread. Other squashes include acorn squash as well as butternut, which can be found in abundance. If prepared properly, with enough flare, they can be a memorable part of any meal. Local corn and tomatoes may be set aside, but that just makes more room for root vegetables. Rutabagas and turnips make great side dishes for this time of year, and leftovers can be added to hash for breakfast or brunch.

If you want to try a variety of apples, you can look in your grocery store, but think about hitting a farmer’s market or going directly to the orchard. Cider is also gaining popularity, and hard cider is making a respectable comeback. Drinking cider is obvious, but consider cooking or baking with it as well. Baked apples cooked in cider makes a great side dish for poultry, pork, or game dishes, and are also great in soups as well as desserts.

And don’t overlook sweet potatoes. Although available all year, they seem to only shine in the cooler months. Try a Hispanic sweet potato soup, flavored with peppers and spices, to warm up your day. Or just roast them up for a delish side for just about anything you can put on a plate.

Fall foods are more than one-dish wonders. Most are easily incorporated into every course in your meal. Don’t be afraid of cooking extra and adding the leftovers to your next meal.

Going from summer to fall is all about change, so why not do a little changing of your own and try a new technique with fall ingredients.

Did you like this article? Please send any comments, questions or story ideas to me at

by Buck Reed

September brings us the Great Frederick Fair, and we all have our favorite memories. If you are younger, you might remember that fried funnel cake or some other ingenious food that shouldn’t be fried, but is. Or you might have a special fondness for that one ride that calls you like a siren call every year. Many remember the smell of the pens of animals from the local farms, and, if you are lucky, you might remember the first time you petted a baby cow or goat.

For me, I remember the beer and wine competitions held before the Great Fair, in the Home and Garden Building. It was a fantastic yearly event, filled with lots of good things to taste, friends you didn’t seem to be able keep up with during the year, and just enough agony and intrigue to make it all interesting. I always judged the wines, but when it comes to the beer judging, one name seems to come up as a favorite: Jim Sawitzke.

Dr. Sawitzke has a PhD in molecular biology, which he uses in his job now in Rome, Italy, at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory facility.

Jim began brewing beer in 1992 in Oregon, and he really enjoys introducing people new to homebrew to his beers. “I love how after a hard day’s work, in a few weeks you have something delicious to share with family and friends,” Jim said. He especially loves the look on a skeptic’s face when that person realizes that what Jim created is actually really good.

Later, he moved to Frederick, where he started getting interested in beer competitions. He began judging beer at the Great Frederick Fair in 2008, where he volunteered to be a steward, but was called up to judge, instead. This experience stirred his interest, and he considered the Beer Judges Certification Program (BJCP), a program where you collect points for judging and are moved up in rank by taking tests. After a year of study, he gained the rank of “recognized” judge, and eventually moved up to “certified” and then “national” rankings. He even went on to help found a club dedicated to teaching the BJCP and helping members pass the exam.

In 2015, Jim moved on to his new job in Italy and took his homebrew shop with him. He is still making beer and has even taught three people there how to create it. But fate would also work in his favor, in that the BJCP wanted to expand into Europe. He has helped organize two competitions in Italy, including the first one ever held in Italy. “Since I moved to Europe, the BJCP has been very interested in expanding around the world,” Jim explained. “I am currently the highest ranked BJCP judge that lives in all of Europe. Thus, when there is a new exam, they often offer me to proctor since it is cheaper to fly me there than somebody from the states. In the past year, I have proctored exams in Spain, Italy, Israel, and Poland.”

Jim has a passion for zymurgy, the art and science of producing beer and wine. Although he claims to have a deep interest in the science part of this hobby, I suspect he also has the heart of a poet/artist.

Jim Sawitzke, with the brewing rig he uses to make beer in Rome.

Buck Reed

A man can go his whole life believing there is nothing wrong with him, that he is perfect in every way. Then, he falls in love and gets married, and spends the rest of his life finding out from his wife all his faults and liabilities. One of the first things I found out after getting married was that you must wash ice cube trays. Not just rinse them out with fresh water, but actually put them in the dish washer and wash them. Who knew? It is the same with cooking for other people.

When we grow up, we get used to the way our parents put food on the table. If they are good cooks, then your parents put nice, well prepared food on your plate. But even if they were not, you got used to it and that’s what you become accustomed to. How we were brought up determines not only our etiquette and behaviors, but also our sense of taste.

Another problem is where we were brought up. I can make a good argument that the United States is a bean-eating nation. But, although we eat a lot of beans, we seem to have a different way of preparing them from region to region. Barbeque beans from Texas may have some resemblance to Boston baked beans, but not enough to convert a cowboy to a city boy. And red beans and rice from New Orleans are a far cry from the way they eat them in those California bean cakes. It is like dividing people up into dog, cat, or horse people—nobody is really wrong on this point.

Then there is the “allergic” crowd. The latest trend is the “gluten-free” horde. Now I will go on record as saying Celiac Disease is an awful thing and, of course, accommodations must be made for them. And if you think you are allergic to gluten then you should be taken care of as well. As I have said to many professional food service workers: if you do not have one or two gluten-free options on your menu, then you are only bringing grief on yourself.

Then there is the offended crowd. There is no telling what you can put on their plate that isn’t going to pull the trigger in their mind that will make them spout off on how that slice of pork is oppressing them. The scary part is they not only want to regulate what they are going to eat, but they want to control what you eat as well. I guess you will be seeing me at the “Sean Penn Ban the Bacon Reeducation Camp” opening soon in your home town.

Cooking for yourself is easy. You can make what you want and make it taste the way you want. You can even save a plate and eat over the sink, right out of the pan. But as you add others into the mix, you must start planning and acting like you are sincere and considerate. And maybe if you act like you’re sincere and considerate, maybe you will actually become those things.

It’s An Ingredient, Not a Snack

Unless you are lactose intolerant, I think we can all agree butter is a pretty great thing. Not only can it be argued that it is better for you than margarine, but it enhances most anything you add it to. Mashed potatoes need butter. Hot biscuits need butter. But as great as butter is, most people do not get a bowl of it and eat it like ice cream when watching a movie. There are so many ingredients that are misunderstood, because so many people believe they are just too gross to eat as a stand-alone food.

Take capers for instance. Capers are the unopened buds of a bush found in the Mediterranean that are picked and pickled. My wife made the mistake of introducing herself to them by eating a small handful of them by themselves. Now, convinced that she hates them, she will not even try them in any dish I make them in. These little buds are not a snack food, but are desperately seeking a dish or sauce they can enhance.

Anchovies seem to have the reputation as the food everyone loves to hate. Anchovies are tiny salt water fish that are gutted, salted, and aged, then packed in oil jars or tins. They have a strong flavor that almost no one would munch by the handful, but as an ingredient, when used correctly, can enhance many dishes loved all over the world. Anchovies are used to create Worcestershire sauce, and if you do not use them to make Caesar dressing, it just doesn’t cut it (I am talking to you, Texas Roadhouse).

How about Bleu cheese? This is a fromage in which a mold is introduced, in a very controlled environment, to create an extremely pungent flavor. For full disclosure, I am one of those people who can actually cut off a hunk of this cheese and eat it on a cracker (on purpose). But most people would rather have it toned down in a dressing. If you want something amazing, try pairing it with pears—raw, poached, or even canned.

Fish sauce is the darling of every chef looking for the ever-elusive umami. Fish sauce is a brown Asian liquid extracted from various ingredients, including fermented fish. Rest assured, it will not be taking the place of root beer or ginger ale as the drink of choice, but it should be in the kitchen of anyone who wants to be a better cook. Use it to develop the flavors in soups, stews, and sauces.

No one would argue that liverwurst makes a great addition to a charcuterie tray, if for no other reason that, with so many choices on the tray, it would be easy to avoid. No doubt there are those who would eat a liverwurst sandwich every day, and served with French mustard and little pickles, it makes for a great no-fuss meal. But try adding a bit to the stuffing you make for your next roast chicken. It also makes a great addition for hash, meat loaf, Salisbury steak, or meatballs.

Opening your mind to a few misunderstood ingredients, and learning how to use them, could open your dining room table to some amazing meals. Just a little time and some experimentation might be needed to expand your repertoire.

Want to tell me about your secret ingredient? Or you have a question about this article or any of the ones from the past? Maybe you have an idea about a future article. If so, I would love to hear from you at

Buck Reed, The Supermarket Gourmet

“Season to taste.” In the world of culinary arts, this might seem like a small sentence, but in the kitchen this can be a big concept. Say “season to taste” to the wrong student and the fear in his or her eyes grows faster than the line at a Vegas buffet. Immediately, they want to know how much salt they should use. Why can’t they measure it out? You would think I was asking them to design and build a nuclear power plant.

For a few, “season to taste” was a concept easily absorbed, but for many, you had to drag them kicking and screaming—they just were not going to get it. Trying to explain it in an article may seem impossible, but you can’t really write an abstract piece every month and not try to tackle the big ideas. (Just writing a sentence like that proves I have the ego to try.)

On the cruise ships, we called it the blessing. Every soup or sauce got seasoned with salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Naturally, we did this as a last step, and it is probably more important than any other step. Seasoning your dish properly will not save a bad dish, but if done properly, it can turn a good dish into something memorable.

The trick is moderation. Just as we do not want to over-salt a dish, we do not want to overdo it with any of the ingredients in the blessing. Clearly, a certain finesse is called for in this situation. You want to add enough lemon juice or vinegar to make you wonder what that was, yet not so much as it over-powers the dish. In this case, practice makes perfect.

Many professional chefs employ a salt and pepper blend, enhancing the mixture with different spices or herbs. Kosher or sea salt is preferred because of its size; being a bigger grain, it makes it easier for us to measure how much we have when we use our fingers as we add it. Pepper and Tabasco add a piquant flavor to the dish. Worcestershire sauce adds an umami flavor to your dish. Umami is a fairly recent term used to describe a savory flavor in food. Lemon juice adds an acidic flavor to food that when used correctly literally adds a lip-smacking quality to your dish.

Another great finishing ingredient used in a savory dish might be sugar. I like adding brown sugar to bean soups and salad dressings, and it even works well to enhance egg and tuna salad. The same rules apply as to not overwhelming the dish. Prepared mustard can add a unique flavor as well. Today, a lot of professional chefs are swearing by fish sauce as the miracle flavoring. They are adding it to everything from peanut butter sandwiches to ice cream.

Care must be taken to properly season your food in the end. It does you no good to make a beautiful broccoli soup, adjusting the consistency, chopping the vegetables, and getting just the right color, if you cannot season it correctly before you serve it.

If you have any questions or ideas on a future article, please feel free to stop me on the street (seriously, I am not that busy) or write to me at

Buck Reed, The Supermarket Gourmet

Gift giving, decorated trees, flying reindeer, white stuff on the ground, a jolly fat man in a red suit, wreaths on doors, and the holiday songs that started the day after Halloween, all being navigated around a sea of political correctness. Let’s just put it out there, it is Christmas. I hope no one bursts into flames reading that last line.

Now, if we can get past that, let’s move on to the real problem of this holiday: what to bring to the holiday party? Most of us are invited to at least one of these parties this time of year, and if you are cursed with likability (like me), you are expected at more than one. Whether it is for family, friends, or the dreaded office party, you might be expected to bring something in the “delicious” category with you.

It is common knowledge that everyone loves a Crock-Pot. They are portable, easy to clean, and almost always have something good to eat in them. Also, they keep your food offering hot, which keeps you out of your host’s kitchen when they’re in the ‘heat’ of meal preparation. Just set it on the serving table, plug it in, and enjoy the festivities. Let others deal with chaffing dishes and cold food that is supposed to be hot. A Crock-Pot is your own self-contained holiday wonder, leaving you making one trip from the car. Which begs the question: What are we going to put in ours?

First thing to think about is logistics. You may need a serving spoon, ladle, or something to transfer your dish to a plate. And what if it is something requiring a special plate or bowl? You may be overthinking this a bit, but better prepared than not.

One idea is to bring a soup, which at first thought may seem to be some sort of holiday madness, but if there are other dishes that require a plate and a fork then this might not be such a bad idea. Like with any potentially messy food, you may need to secure the lid to the Crock-Pot with plastic wrap before transporting.

A special hot dip might be called for. Again, you may need to bring crackers, corn chips, or even pita or bread crisps to complete your dish. Other appetizer ideas can include meatballs, sliced sausages, or pepper steak—these can make great impressions as well. Serve these as a complete dish or add a sliced roll and you can make a pretty good hot sandwich that is actually hot.

A good hot dessert is also welcomed as well. I know a case can be made that this holiday is becoming more about the dessert table and less about spreading joy and peace. But imagine a beautiful fruit cobbler or crisp nestled next to those boring cookies and the usual bowl of broken candy canes.

The trick to a great Crock-Pot recipe is to bring something memorable. Don’t think of it as crushing the others at the buffet table, but more of bringing something that will exemplify the spirit of giving that should be what this holiday is about.

Buck Reed

The Supermarket Gourmet

November brings us Thanksgiving—either our most favorite or most feared holiday for cooking. I guess I shouldn’t be allowed to say that, as those who like to cook love this holiday, and those who do not make sure they are in a relationship with someone who does.

I could talk about roasting a turkey, but that’s been done to death, much like most turkeys are cooked in many homes. Seriously, Butterball has a hot line for those who feel that ruining a turkey every year is a tradition. This month, I would like to talk about adding a new dish to your holiday table, roasted vegetables. I know, I know, adding a new dish to your list of chores may seem like madness, but just hear me out. Roasting a vegetable can bring not only an innovative dish to your family (imagine Martha Stewart smiling down on you as you serve it), but it also might solve a couple of problems you might traditionally be dealing with. Just what are you going to serve those vegetarians or gluten free members of your brood? Imagine Cousin Moonbeam finally not lecturing you about the murdered feathered spirit on your plate, as they marvel over a delightful dish of roasted acorn squash with apple stuffing.

One of the first things you lose as you roast is the water in the vegetable, which intensifies the flavor of your dish. This technique also adds a deep caramelized flavor to your plate as well. Also, there is a variety of vegetables that easily lend themselves to this method.

Roasting winter squashes is easy. My favorites are acorn and butternut squash. Most people will tell you to cut the hard peel off the squash, cut it up, and roast away. But, of course, we all know these people would be wrong. Just cut the whole squash in half, remove the seeds (roasting these is good, too) and “guts,” brush the cut side with a bit of oil, and place skin side up on a sheet pan. Poke a few holes in the skin to allow the steam to vent and roast in a hot oven until tender. The best part is that this can be done a couple of days ahead, setup and ready to reheat after the turkey is roasted and resting.

Another idea is pumpkin. I know, we already have pumpkin spice lattes, beer, candles, bread, cookies, even pumpkin spice shampoo and conditioner—you name it and we can add pumpkin spice to it. So I am sure we can make room for a nice roasted pumpkin spice soup. Make sure you get a pie pumpkin, as any old Jack-o-lantern will not do. Roast the same way you would a squash, and make a soup you can serve as a first course. Imagine how fancy everyone will think you are.

Finally, my all-time favorite is roasted Brussel sprouts. You should be able to find them fresh this time of year, and they are easy to prepare. Just slice in half, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until tender. This also works with broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus.

Keeping up with old traditions is all well and good, but starting a new tradition can be an exciting way to spice up the holiday. And with so many different vegetables available this time of year, maybe your tradition can be to try a different one every year.

Need a recipe or an idea for this Thanksgiving? Email me at

Buck Reed, The Supermarket Gourmet

I was thinking about this month’s article when my three-year-old niece mentioned that July was her birthday; she informed me that she would be four this year. I like Gabrielle. I guess at that age it’s hard not to: she plays a good game of Uno, laughs at my magic tricks, and she is a pretty good eater. When I say pretty good eater, I mean she eats what is put in front of her. She keeps the fussing down to a minimum, and she can actually hold a conversation.

Teaching your kids how to cook is important. Why teach your kids how to cook? The easy answer is: So they can eat. A better answer would be that it is something that you can both take an interest in and even share with one another throughout your life.

The first place where a young person might get a good understanding of “results follow procedure” is in the kitchen. A practical application of math can be found there. For instance, it is one thing to go over multiplication problems in a classroom, yet it is quite different when you are doubling a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

The kitchen is also home to a whole new vocabulary for your little sprout. You would be surprised how quickly they can pick up terms like roll, pat, and vent, as well as the difference between macerate and marinate or bake and roast. Most likely, if they can relate to learning how to measure ingredients, follow steps in a recipe, and so on, they might find it easier to relate to other subjects.

Also, there are rules in cooking. Not only are there set rules for cooking and baking procedures, but there are safety rules as well. Learning and obeying these rules might give your child an edge in becoming a disciplined, well organized adult.

After you have spent some time preparing a meal with your youngster, take some time to sit down and eat with them. I know this sounds like a widespread idea, but The Supermarket Gourmet is sad to report that it is not. There are people out there who do not think sharing a meal with your loved one is a big deal.

In my last job of teaching, my boss actually made a rule that I was not allowed to sit down with my students and enjoy the meal we made together. I say there is a big difference between eating and dining. Eating can be done out of a can, standing over a sink; dining is a shared meal with good conversation and proper table manners. Thus, even if you don’t get to cook with your kids as much as you would like, at least take the time to eat with them.

When I say eat with them, that means turn off the television and put the cell phones down and relate to each other the old fashioned way: face to face.

How did I find out that Gabrielle’s birthday was in July? She told me over dinner.

Buck Reed, The Supermarket Gourmet

Just like every other month, June is filled with national and international food recognitions. Some make sense and others were clearly conceived by some advertising agent hoping to make a fast buck. Here are a few.

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month. This makes sense because this is the first month in which really good, fresh local produce can easily be purchased. It is also National Iced Tea Month, because we need to be told to drink iced tea when it gets hot out. It should also be noted that Iced Tea Day is also celebrated on June 10. National Steakhouse Month and National Candy Month also fall in June, but don’t we really keep these in our hearts all through the year?

Most perplexing of all, though, is that National Turkey Month is celebrated in June as well. I guess it is just a bit too easy to appreciate turkey in November. Put Ginger Bread Day on June 5 in the same category, and it’s practically Thanksgiving in summer.

Doughnuts and ice cream get their due in June. National Doughnut Day on the June 5 and National Jelly Doughnut Day is June 8. Rocky Road Ice Cream Day is on June 2 and Chocolate Ice Cream Day is June 7. And then we have Frozen Yogurt Day on June 4, to keep something a bit healthier in mind. Don’t forget Root Beer Float Day, officially called Black Cow Day, on June 10, and Vanilla Milkshake Day on June 20. The Baskin Robbins/Dunkin’ Donuts® merger doesn’t seem so crazy now, does it?

And for those who bake, we have Strawberry Shortcake Day, German Chocolate Cake Day, and Applesauce Cake Day. Round it out with Apple Strudel Day, Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie Day, as well as Peanut Butter Cookie Day, and June becomes one sweet month. Maybe we should just celebrate the baker as well. 

So, why do we really have all these seemingly silly holidays celebrating what we eat? It is easy to be cynical and believe some Wall Street mogul, who is somehow leveraging these “holidays” into the cornerstone of their mighty empire, invented all these. At the very least, we can be grateful that the greeting card companies have not wedged their way in yet.

Yet I look on it with a tribe-like mentality. The tribe not only celebrated everything, but also treated it as sacred. At one point in history, our ancestors thought about what they ate and drank. They took the time to appreciate their meals and even celebrated them with others. The idea was that everything had its place in their world. That made everything sacred. And if everything wasn’t sacred, then nothing was.

So maybe taking an extra moment out of our lives to enjoy a glass of cognac with our fellow comrades on National Cognac Day this June 4th is a good start to making our society just a little more reasonable.

Have a question or an idea for an article, please contact me at

Buck Reed

The Supermarket Gourmet

Valentine’s Day: flowers, candy, romance, and hearts all spring to mind on this holiday. But, few people remember that it was named for a Roman priest around 269 AD. He believed that one man wedding one woman for life was more in keeping with Christianity than the polygamy that was so popular in that day. Because of his belief, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death by beating, stoning, and, finally, beheading. To say the least, there are more than a few men who may believe St. Valentine got off easy.

The commercialization of Valentine’s Day is just the tip of the iceberg for this romantic holiday. The price of roses at this time of year is higher than any other time of the year. Restaurants enjoy preparing a special menu for lovebirds, but getting a reservation is sometimes difficult. Granted, many establishments will try to extend the holiday by offering their special menu through the weekend. Valentine’s Day for a restaurant can sometimes be a hardship, with up to ten percent of reservations turning into “no shows.”  To prevent this, restaurants may either overbook their dining room, or worse, take your credit card number and run it for a fee if you do not honor your reservation.

There are many solutions to this problem, but since this is a cooking article, let’s talk about preparing a meal at home for your loved one. Imagine the shock you might summon if you surprised your loved one with a special meal prepared lovingly with your own hands. You can grab an even greater reaction if you’ve never cooked before!  Here are some tips:

• Keep it simple. Don’t get too extravagant or try to prepare something too far above your skill set. Start with some sliced cheese and crackers, and then sit down with a plated salad. Follow with your main course and finish with a dessert.

• Pick a menu that shows you know your partner’s tastes, desires, and most of all, allergies. Cooking for someone is the most intimate thing you can do for that someone special (okay…second most intimate), so put some thought into it.

• Try to pick menu items you can set up a day or two before the event. Having things that are ready to be popped in the oven or vegetables that are cut and ready for the pan will make the day’s workload considerably easier. Safety Tip: Make sure you keep things covered and refrigerated once you prep them. 

• Once you have figured out your menu, practice it. Try actually making it for yourself and a friend before you bring it out to your loved one. The effort will show.

• Pick a wine that works. If you know their favorite wine, great! If not, talk to the guy behind the counter. If they cannot help you, find another shop. Or maybe your loved one’s favorite wine is beer. That works, too.

• Set the table. Put a little effort into the table and the room. Carefully pick your music. Clean up a bit, adjust the lighting, add a nice centerpiece; these are the details that can make for a memorable night.

Some easy menu ideas are: Rock Cornish Game—roasted with herbs or a glaze; Lobster—expensive but easy and always impressive; or a pasta dish—easy to set up ahead of time and can be a baked dish as well.

Need some tips on menu ideas? Send me an email at, and I will try to help you in any way I can.