A Few of My Favorite Things with Katina Holland

Dinners for Two

St. Valentine’s Day is next Wednesday.  While I think it has become so commercialized it’s almost not worth mentioning, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries and has been around long before the card companies and flower shops.  This week, I want to tell you about St. Valentine and how this holiday started.  

First, let’s talk Saint Valentine.  Of course, like most history, his story is murky and hidden in myths and legends.  The most wide spread, popular story tells of Saint Valentine in Rome in the third century.  At the time, Emperor Claudius II decided unmarried, young men made the best soldiers.  He forbid any young men from marrying.  Valentine saw this as unfair and chose to defy the Emperor and continued marrying young people in secret.  Claudius eventually discovered Valentine was doing this and ordered he be put to death.  It is believed, while in prison, Valentine fell in love with one of his jailers’ daughter.  Legend states the last thing he wrote was a love letter to this young lady signing it ‘from your Valentine’ which is supposedly why that phrase is so widely used today.  Today, Saint Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers.  

Some believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated as the day Valentine died or perhaps was buried.  Others believe it was the church’s way of Christianizing a pagan festival called Lupercalia, which took place from February 13-15.  Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.  During this festival, priests would sacrifice a goat and cut the hide into long strips.  These strips would be dipped in sacrificial blood and the priests would go into town and bless the women and fields by slapping them with the bloody strips of goat hide.  Women gladly accepted this blessing believing it made them more fertile in the coming year.  According to History.com, later in the day, all eligible women would place their name in an urn.  The bachelors would then draw a name from the urn.  The name of the lady drawn was then his for the year.  These pairings were believed to be sent from the gods and the couple often ended up married.  

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

Once Chaucer and Shakespeare glamorized it in their works, it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe.  Handmade paper cards became all the rage during the Middle Ages.  The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans.  It is believed King Henry V, many years later, hired a writer to pen notes to Catherine of Valois, who became his wife although it is unknown if those notes had anything to do with the marriage.

By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes.  In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap” and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.  In 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentine cards. February has not been the same since and today the holiday is overly commercialized with lovers spending billions on flowers, cards and candy each year.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the gesture and it’s nice to receive flowers.  I just think it should be done throughout the year not just on February 14.

Did you know? There are enough candy hearts made each year to stretch from Valentine, Arizona to Rome, Italy, and back again. That’s approximately 8 billion candy hearts!  There are approximately 200 million roses and 36 million heart shaped boxes of candy given on Valentine’s Day around the world.   While we are speaking of chocolate, the first Valentine's Day box of chocolates was introduced by Richard Cadbury in 1868.  That means chocolates have been sold for the day even longer than cards have been available to purchase.  There are also an average of over a million wedding proposals on Valentine's Day each year.  C’mon guys let’s get a little more original-pick a different day.  

This week, I want to share some dinners for two you can prepare for a nice dinner with your significant other.  I am using different meats so you can pick depending on what your date likes best.  Personally, my favorites are steak and seafood.  Yum! They are more expensive, but they are a great date night food.  Leave the kids with the babysitter and make your grocery list.  Then, meet me in the kitchen for Valentine dinners for two.


Bacon Mushroom Chicken

Start this dinner with a simple salad.  Serve with noodles and honey glazed carrots and rolls for a delicious dinner for two.

2 Tbsps unsalted sweet cream butter, melted

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast 

1 tsp seasoning salt, I like to use Head Country Seasoning

1 clove garlic, crushed 

2 thick slices bacon, precooked if you want crisp bacon 

½ cup mushrooms, halved-more or less to taste

¼ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Pour melted butter into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Add chicken and sprinkle with seasoning salt and garlic. If you like more flavor, you can always use 1 tsp salt and one clove per chicken breast or other seasoning to your taste.  Turn chicken over, season, and lay bacon strips on top. Sprinkle with mushrooms.  Bake in preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.  Remove chicken, bacon and mushrooms to a platter and keep warm. Pour juices from baking dish into a small saucepan and whisk together with cream over low heat until thickened. If it’s not as thick as you like it, you can use a bit of cornstarch or flour to thicken it more.  You can also use more cream if you want more sauce.  Pour sauce over chicken and serve warm.

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com


Baked Lobster Tails

Pair this with parmesan biscuits, steamed broccoli and Caesar salad for a wonderful dinner to share with your sweetheart.

2 lobster tails, 8-ounce (230 g) per tail

3 Tbsps butter, melted

¼ tsp salt, more or less to taste

1 tsp pepper, more or less to taste

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tsp lemon juice

Lemon wedges for serving if desired

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Using a clean pair of scissors or kitchen shears, cut along the middle of the top of the shell toward the tail, making sure to cut in a straight line. Do not cut through the end of the tail.  Using a spoon, separate the meat from the two sides of the shell, then lift the meat up and out from inside the shell.  Press the two sides of the shell together, then lay the meat over the seam where the two sides meet.  If you are having difficulty opening the shell up to lift out the meat, flip the tail over and make cuts along the carapace where the legs meet the bottom part tail. This will help break the rigid structure of the shell and allow it to be more flexible.  Make a shallow cut through the middle of the lobster meat so that you can peel down the thin layer of meat over the sides. This gives the lobster tail its signature look.  You may not need to do this if you accidentally cut into the meat when you were cutting the shell.  In a small bowl, combine the butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, lemon juice, and parsley.  Brush the mixture evenly over the lobster meat.  Place the tails onto a baking sheet, then bake for approximately 12-15 minutes, until the lobster is fully cooked but not rubbery.

Recipe adapted from tasty.com.


Easy Shrimp Fettuccini

Add a 3 cheese garlic bread and steamed vegetables to finish off this meal.

2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette dressing, I provided a homemade recipe in last week’s column if you want to make your own.  

½ lb. uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed will make it easier to eat

¼ lb. fettuccine, uncooked

1 tomato, chopped

2 oz. (1/4 of 8-oz. pkg.) cream cheese, cubed

2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil, divided

2 Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese

Pour dressing over shrimp in small bowl and stir until shrimp are evenly coated. Refrigerate 20 min. to marinate.  Cook pasta as directed on package, omitting salt. Meanwhile, heat large skillet on medium heat. Add shrimp and cook 3 min. or until shrimp turn pink, stirring frequently. Remove shrimp from skillet and cover to keep warm.  Add tomatoes, cream cheese and 1 Tbsp. basil to skillet.  Cook and stir 3 min. or until cream cheese is completely melted and sauce is well blended. You can always add more cream cheese if you want more sauce and heavy cream if it needs to be thinned with the additional cream cheese.  Add shrimp and cook 2 minutes or just until heated through, stirring frequently.  Drain pasta; place on platter. Top with shrimp mixture, remaining basil and shredded cheese.

Recipe from kraftrecipes.com.



Lemon Parmesan Cod with Garlic Butter

Prepare rice or mashed potatoes and grilled squash as sides to make this dinner something your better half will love.

6 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, more or less to taste

½ lemon (zest, plus juice)

1 Tbsp fresh parsley, cut small or chopped

¼ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp paprika

1 ½ Tbsps butter, melted

1 pound fresh cod

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the grated Parmesan in a shallow dish and add the garlic powder and paprika.  Wash the lemon and pat it dry. Cut it in half and make zest from one of the halves by using a zester or grater to shave off the yellow part of the skin, adding it to the cheese mixture.  Rinse the parsley and pat it dry. Cut it with scissors or chop it before adding it to the cheese mixture. Toss the cheese mixture with a fork to blend it.  Rinse the fish in cold water and rub your thumbs along the surface to see if there are any bones to remove. Pat the fish dry with paper towels.  Melt the butter in a small pan on the stove. Set up an assembly line from left to right with the fish, the butter, the cheese mixture, and the sheet pan.  Use a fork to dip each piece of fish in the butter on both sides, then in the cheese mixture, coating both sides and patting the topping onto the cod with the fork. Place the coated fish onto the sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes. The cod is done when it can be easily flaked with a fork. Squeeze lemon juice over the fish if desired 

Recipe adapted from cookingwithmammac.com.


Pomegranate Duck

A simple citrus rice, Texas toast and steamed broccoli will complement this entree nicely.  

1 lb boneless duck breast, skin removed 

½ tsp salt 

2 tsps extra-virgin olive oil

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1 cup pomegranate juice

¼ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 tsp cornstarch

2 tsps chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Sprinkle duck with salt. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add duck and cook until browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the duck to a small baking dish and roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 150°F, about 8-12 minutes depending on the size of the breast. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. While the duck is roasting, return the pan to medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add pomegranate juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook until reduced by half, 1-2 minutes. Stir broth and cornstarch in a small bowl until the cornstarch dissolves. Add to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened, 1-2 minutes. When the duck has finished resting, pour any accumulated juices into the sauce and stir to combine. Thinly slice the duck and serve topped with the pomegranate sauce. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Recipe adapted from eatingwell.com.


Cheesecake Strawberries

All recipes above have been for dinner.  Wow your date with these simple, yet elegant stuffed strawberries to top off any meal.  

4 oz cream cheese, softened

¼ cup powdered sugar, sifted

¼ tsp vanilla bean paste

10 strawberries

Beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla extract together in a bowl until smooth.  Spoon into a piping bag or a resealable bag with a corner snipped.  Remove stems from strawberries and cut an X in the tip of each berry. Gently spread berries open.  Fill cavities of cored strawberries with the cream cheese mixture. If you want an additional touch, sprinkle crushed graham crackers over the top of the filled strawberries.  To make it even more decadent, don’t make the X and just core the strawberry and fill.  Then, dip the stuffed strawberry in melted chocolate and drizzle lightly with white chocolate to finish it off.


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