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The Recorder - Tea for Valentine’s Day



Hollywood abounds with Valentine’s Day movies in which single people (usually women) descend into a deep depression as the February holiday approaches. The day is generally perceived as devoted to romantic love.

While I like romance as much as the next person and I’ll welcome it if it comes into my life again, I don’t currently have a romantic love. Nevertheless, to me, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love in all forms — and I certainly have a lot of love in my life.

My approach to Valentine’s Day dates back to elementary school. It was customary then (as I presume it is today) to give a valentine to everyone in one’s class, either a homemade card or a cute store-bought one.

I took to the kitchen early in life, so it wasn’t long before I was baking cupcakes or cookies to share with classmates in February. This trend lasted well beyond elementary school; I presented homemade Valentine’s Day treats to colleagues when I was in graduate school.

My fellow students were even more appreciative than my elementary-school classmates. Little children generally see a lot of cookies and cupcakes. Graduate students receive fewer sweets. And, they have to deal with such depressing topics as literary theory.

Chocolate helps.

These days, I celebrate Valentine’s Day with cards or treats for a variety of people in my life. My family members receive edible Valentines.

This category includes the four-footed members of the family, although I don’t bake for the animals. (Clearly, I shall have to learn to do so.) I give store-bought goodies to them, particularly to baby Harley, the six-month-old kitten I am fostering.

Harley is a typical kitten. She can transform herself from a sleeping beauty into a manic hunter in seconds. She is a fiend for cat treats, routinely fending off the larger animals in the house to make sure she receives her share.

I like to pay tribute to neighbors and friends of all ages on Valentine’s Day as well. I relish baking with children. They happily help out in the kitchen and either consume the results of our labors on the spot or take them away so I’m not left with a lot of sweets.

I will spend Feb. 14 this year with my brother’s family in Virginia. There, the women in the immediate neighborhood are planning a special tea for an elderly neighbor down the street.

This woman has lost two family members in the last couple of years. We know that a Valentine’s Day tea won’t cure her heartache, but it will remind her that people care about her. It will also ensure that she has tasty leftovers in the house for a few days after.

My sister-in-law and I are planning two items for the tea menu. One is open-face, heart-shaped tea sandwiches. We’ll start with that classic tea-sandwich offering, cucumber, made the English way (with butter rather than mayonnaise).

We recently hosted a party with a large ham so dainty ham sandwiches will be served as well. To flesh out the sandwich tray, we plan to make little smoked-salmon sandwiches.

The salmon isn’t actually smoked but rather cured, thanks to a wonderful gravlax recipe Belden Merims, of Colrain, recently shared with me.

Finally, because Valentine’s Day always calls for chocolate, we will bake heart-shaped chocolate sugar cookies with festive icing and sprinkles.

Here are the recipes in case readers would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their own tea or luncheon or supper. I wish you love of all sorts, and of course delicious food, on Feb. 14 and all year round.

Elinor Mitchell’s Gravlax Courtesy of Belden Merims

I thought I’d start with the gravlax recipe since it takes three days. Feel free to use purchased smoked salmon instead if you don’t have three days before your party. If you DO have the time, however, this recipe is tasty and impressive.

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

lots of ground black pepper

a handful of chopped fresh dill

1 pound salmon fillet

for the mustard-dill sauce:

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard (such as Gulden’s)

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons white vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon cognac

Begin the salmon a few days before you want to serve it. You may, of course, use more than one pound of salmon; just multiply the other ingredients accordingly.

In a bowl combine the salt, the brown sugar, the pepper and the dill. Press them into the salmon, especially on the side that has flesh rather than skin. Divide the salmon in two, and press the two pieces together. Wrap the fish in gauze or a tea towel (I used cheesecloth), and place it in a dish with sides; it will exude liquid.

Cover the whole dish with plastic so that you don’t get a fishy smell in your refrigerator. Then weigh down the fish with a heavy object; an iron skillet or a cutting board covered with soup cans works well.

Refrigerate for three days. Every six to eight hours during this period, remove the top and turn the fish over.

When the three days have passed, rinse the fish well to remove the residual salt, and carefully slice off the skin. You may serve the gravlax immediately, slicing it paper-thin on the diagonal. Or, you may cut it into four-inch strips, wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze it until the day before you need it. Serve with mustard-dill sauce.

When you are ready to serve the fish, make the sauce by combining the mustards, vinegar, and sugar in a bowl. Whisk in the oil in a slow stream; then stir in the dill and the cognac.

You will have enough fish to serve a party if there are other appetizers. The sauce recipe makes about three-fourths of a cup.

Valentine Tea Sandwiches

Feel free to use your own favorite topping for your sandwiches: some kind of salad (egg, tuna, ham, chicken), pimiento cheese, flavored cream cheese, etc. If you find it easier to have closed instead of open-face sandwiches, that’s fine, too. I find the open ones prettier.

Note that the bread should be store-bought; I used Pepperidge Farm thin-sliced bread and cut it into heart shapes. Homemade bread isn’t quite solid enough for this recipe.

Sliced bread, cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter

Softened butter, either plain or flavored with fresh herbs (especially dill for cucumber and salmon!)

Gravlax with sauce (see above)

And/or thinly sliced cucumbers with dill

And/or ham with a small amount of high-quality mustard

Butter the bread on one side. Arrange your toppings on top. Serve as soon as possible. I like to allow for 3 small sandwiches per guest, but you may make more.

Heart-Shaped Chocolate Sugar Cookies

If you don’t have Dutch-process cocoa, you may use regular cocoa; just substitute baking soda for the baking powder. The Dutch-process cocoa has a milder flavor, however, which I prefer in this recipe.

For the cookies:

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature

1-3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups flour

For decoration:

1 recipe (2 if you are cooking with children who love sweets) butter icing (see below)

Lots of festive sprinkles

Cream together the butter and the sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the baking powder, the salt, and the cocoa, followed by the vanilla. Stir in the flour.

Chill the resulting dough, covered, for one hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

On a nonstick (or lightly floured) surface pat the dough out to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut it into hearts with a cookie cutter.

Bake the cookies on parchment- or silicone-lined cookie sheets for 10 to 12 minutes. They should be solid but not rock hard.

Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a couple of minutes before removing them to a rack to cool. Let them cool completely before frosting them with butter icing (see below) and sprinkling the heck out of them.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

Butter Icing

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature

Confectioner’s sugar to taste (probably between 1 and 2 cups)

2 teaspoons vanilla

Milk if necessary to stir

A couple of drops of food coloring (optional — I used my sister-in-law’s Wilton food coloring, which was excellent; I’ll have to get some)

Beat the butter until it is fluffy; then add the confectioner’s sugar. Beat in the vanilla. Add milk and/or more confectioner’s sugar as needed until the icing is spreadable. Color as desired.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, tinkycooks.com.



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