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A Socially Distanced Valentine’s

A Socially Distanced Valentine’s

Y’all. I’m going to be honest. This last year has kinda sucked. While I know the reasons and believe that safety is of the utmost importance and will continue to follow protocols, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m pretty much over them. I’m over masks (but again will continue to wear mine, don’t come

Y’all. I’m going to be honest. This last year has kinda sucked.

While I know the reasons and believe that safety is of the utmost importance and will continue to follow protocols, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m pretty much over them.

I’m over masks (but again will continue to wear mine, don’t come for me). I’m over capacity limits. I’m over social distancing (but again, will continue to practice it, so don’t come for me.) I’m ready for easily accessible vaccinations and moving towards a sense of normalcy once again. But, in the meantime, we all need to work together to keep each other safe and healthy, and Valentine’s Day is no exception.

Social distancing guidelines affected various holidays throughout 2020, but such guidelines were issued after Valentine’s Day 2020. The upside is that Valentine’s Day may be the easiest holiday to celebrate while still adhering to social distancing restrictions. After all, Valentine’s Day is typically a day to spend time alone with the person you love. But if you still want some suggestions on how to have a Happy-but-Socially-Distanced Valentine’s Day, here are some suggestions!

Order a take-out dinner for two from a favorite local restaurant. It gives you the night off from cooking and helps support a small business. I’ve noticed several local places doing prix fixe menus to-go for Valentine’s Day.

If you want to have dinner out, there is still time to make a reservation at a local restaurant. Just please do yourself and the local eateries a favor and make a reservation. Capacity limits are tough enough right now. There will be no guaranteeing a table on Valentine’s Day during a pandemic.

Watch a romantic movie on your preferred streaming service.

Treat each other to a pair of cozy pajamas and spend the day under the covers catching up on cuddles.

Purchase the ingredients to a recipe you both enjoy and prepare the meal together. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert — which is really just me segueing into a whole Valentine’s Day feast for you to make with your special someone! You didn’t think I’d suggest that without giving you a recipe, did you?

The year has been weird, and hard, and sometimes downright terrible, so let’s start with dessert!

Chocolate Meringue Kisses

Yields about 3 dozen meringues

Ingredients:
• 2 large egg whites
• 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
• Pinch of salt
• 1/2 cup Baker’s Special Sugar
• 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, Dutch-process or natural, sifted
• 2 cups dark chocolate or other good-quality dark chocolate, tempered (see below), for dipping

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Whip until soft peaks form.

Gradually add the sugar, whipping until the mixture is stiff and glossy.

Gently fold the sifted cocoa powder into the meringue until evenly incorporated.

Fit a piping bag with a 1/2-inch or larger round tip and spoon the meringue into the bag.

Position the tip and bag directly over the prepared pan, and pipe the meringues onto the parchment, leaving 1 inch of space between the meringues.

Place the meringues into the preheated oven, then turn the oven off.

Let the meringues sit in the oven (keep the door closed) overnight, or until the oven is completely cool.

Remove the meringues from the oven.

To temper the chocolate, place 11/2 cups of chocolate in a temperer or in a double boiler and melt until completely smooth.

Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and gradually stir in the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate.

Keep stirring until the chocolate is fully melted and warm to the touch; it should be between 86 F and 88 F.

To ensure that the chocolate is in temper, you can dip the tip of a knife into the bowl, and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. The chocolate should harden and become shiny.

Dip half of each meringue into the chocolate, allowing the excess chocolate to drip, and return them to the parchment-lined baking sheet to set.
Tip: If you don’t have access to piping bags and tips, you can drop the meringues by large teaspoonfuls onto the prepared pan.

Now, you know I’m not going to leave you hanging on a main course!

Next up we have…

Three Cheese and Spinach Manicotti

Ingredients:
• 1 box (8 oz.) manicotti shells, cooked al dente
• 24 oz. marinara sauce

Filling:
• 10 oz. frozen/fresh spinach, cooked and drained
• 15 oz. ricotta cheese
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
• 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Cook manicotti shells and spinach according to package directions.

Combine spinach, ricotta cheese, egg, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste and mix well.

Stuff each cooked manicotti shell with filling mixture.

In a baking dish, spread 1 cup marinara sauce on the bottom evenly.

Arrange stuffed manicotti over sauce.

Top with remaining sauce and leftover 1/2 cup of mozzarella.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Valentine’s Day that is full of love — whether it’s romantic, platonic or familial.

Oh! And if you haven’t found your Valentine yet, I have just the way to secure that Valentine’s date! Just find the person you would like to spend the day with, and say the following, “You know what’s on the Valentine’s Day menu? Me-n-u.” Date level – Expert.

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