By Barbara Beltrami

Nothing says “I love you” more than a home-cooked dinner on Valentine’s Day. Well, of course, there are certain tokens of love that come in tiny boxes, I suppose. Let’s not underestimate them! There are also dinners out in fancy restaurants with champagne, candlelight and bills the size of your mortgage payment, gargantuan heart-shaped boxes of chocolate that blow away your New Year’s diet resolutions, and sexy lingerie that may be anything but after you’ve eviscerated the box of chocolates.

Except for those tiny-boxed things, forget the other stuff. Get out the vacuum, throw all the usual clutter under the bed or in the hall closet, make yourself a shopping list, tie on an apron and whip up your own elegant candlelight dinner.

Chill the champagne and whip up an elegant and delicious dinner that won’t break the bank or your back. Leave time for a nice long bubble bath or shower and squeeze into that dress or suit you bought for that occasion last year and haven’t worn since.

Start with a dozen oysters (you know what they say about oysters!) and some champagne. Move on to citrus-flavored chicken with a nice dry white or red wine, and finish up with a chocolate-raspberry cake. And don’t forget to light the candles.

Oysters Rockefeller

They say these oysters are so named because they’re “as rich as Rockefeller.” Time to update the name maybe?

YIELD: Makes 2 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons butter

One garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 rounded tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

One shallot, peeled and minced

½ cup frozen chopped spinach, cooked

1 tablespoon anise liqueur

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Dash hot pepper sauce

One dozen fresh oysters, opened on the half shell

2 cups kosher salt

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 F. Melt one tablespoon butter in small skillet. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and mix with bread crumbs, oil and Parmesan cheese. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in same skillet. Add shallot and spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until shallot becomes translucent, one to two minutes. Remove shallot and spinach.

Add liqueur to pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Stir in salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce, stirring constantly over low heat for 30 seconds. Add to bread crumb mixture. (There will probably be only a little bit); mix thoroughly.

Generously spread kosher salt around bottom of small shallow baking pan. Set oysters in salt and surround each one with enough salt to keep it from tilting. Distribute the spinach mixture evenly over oysters, then top with bread crumb mixture. Bake until tops are golden, about 10 minutes, but check often. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.

Citrus Roasted Chicken

I wrote about this chicken almost two decades ago and when I run into people from way back then, they still mention how much they love this recipe. It’s also great re-heated the next day.

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 2-3 pound chicken, cut up

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup sugar 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

One egg, beaten

¾ cup orange juice

¾ cup grapefruit juice

¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

One orange, sliced

Fresh parsley

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in a shallow baking pan.

In a small or medium saucepan mix sugar and flower. Add egg, orange juice, grapefruit juice and wine. Stir thoroughly. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is slightly thickened. Pour over chicken. Bake, uncovered for one hour or under tender and done.

Sprinkle with almonds. Garnish with fresh orange slices and parsley. Serve with rice, and a crisp green salad or cooked green vegetable such as broccoli or green beans.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberries

Chocolate and strawberries are so Valentine-y. If there are any leftovers, you can cut the cake into squares and pass it off to the kids as brownies.

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate

One stick unsalted butter

2 eggs

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup chocolate chips

One pint fresh strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and halved top to bottom

¼ cup currant jelly, melted

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease an 8-inch springform pan. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate squares and butter over low heat. Cool. In mixer bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar, then the melted chocolate and butter; continue beating till blended. Stir in the flour and the vanilla extract. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with spatula.

On outer rim of batter, sprinkle a one-inch-wide circle of the chocolate chips; then make a small circle of them in the middle. Bake 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Arrange halved strawberries, cut side down, around remaining surface of cake, overlapping if necessary. Brush tops of strawberries with melted currant jelly.

Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and a nice cup of espresso.

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