Cooking Up a Special Valentine's Day: What to Skip, Do Instead, and "While You're There"

“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
  - Harriet Van Horne

I’ve always said that Valentine’s Day isn’t for the faint of heart. Between the overpriced roses, over-pinked shopping, and overly dramatic search for restaurant reservations, it’s enough to give any girl – or guy –  indigestion. And more than ever, I’m really thinking about the true value of gift giving, because, frankly, I just don’t need any more stuff.

What I truly want to give – and receive – for Valentine’s Day is a great experience to share with the one I adore. So, how about cooking at home this year?

With this in mind, I set out to find some great gift ideas for you, your honey and your home that just might lead to a romantic evening in. Let’s get started!

Valentine Produce Bags from Olive+MyrtleValentine Produce Bags from Olive+MyrtleSkip: Yet another generic, reusable shopping tote.

Instead: Order these sassy reusable produce bags from Olive + Myrtle’s online shop. They’re made from organic, unbleached cotton, printed with water-based inks, and made entirely by hand. Yes, there’s still time; the Twin Cities –  well as many other Midwestern cities – qualifies for one-day shipping.

While you’re there: I love this little Vessel Beak pitcher from Perch for gathering up my bamboo spoons by the stove top.

Skip: Expensive, pesticide-laden, soon-to-wilt flowers that require the immediate attention of a vase and trimmed ends. (I’m too busy drinking wine.)

Instead: How about a sturdy, fragrant rosemary plant? I love the idea of a windowsill herb garden that is both useful and lovely. I found several options at Whole Foods and a couple of local floral shops, too.

While you’re there: Ask the Whole Foods’ “Gift Basket Team” to customize a basket for you. If your sweetie likes to bake, include flour, sugar, Fair-Trade chocolate chips, organic pecans and measuring spoons. Or gather all the fixings for a Mexican fiesta for your special señor or señorita.

Le Creuset (in Red for Valentine's Day) at Cooks of Crocus HillLe Creuset (in red for Valentine's Day) at Cooks of Crocus HillSkip: Frantically, randomly chosen gift certificates.

Instead: Don’t panic. Last-minute gift buying doesn’t have to be so desperate. Sign yourselves up for a cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Here are two that sound fun to me:
•    “Not Afraid of Flavor” – March 23 (50th & France) – Described as bringing you flavors that will “kick you in the teeth and just keep coming!” Ah, sounds like love to me!
•    “Soups from Scratch” – March 27 (Grand Ave) – A participation class that seems just cozy enough for the season.

While you’re there: Any cook who loves soups and stews would thank you profusely for a beautiful Le Creuset pot. And while the little heart-shaped ones are quite cute, they’re very small. For my money I’d jump ahead to something two quarts or larger.

Skip: A “thing.”

Instead: Pick up a “nosh.” Swing over to your local cheesemonger (I’m a big fan of the France 44 & Saint Paul Cheese Shops) and put together a fantastic antipasti to kick off your meal at home. Include a bottle of wine – I've had quite a fond relationship with this one – and you’ve got a great evening cooking.

While you’re there: Add something sweet: Ames Farm Comb Honey, to be specific. Oozing out of those tiny, little hexagons like nectar from the gods – you can spread it on, well, anything. (Hey, it's Valentine's Day. Use your imagination.)

Skip: Anything brand new.

Instead: How about a makeover? Get those dull knives out of the kitchen and run them over to the masters at Eversharp for a proper fix. It’s a while-you-wait service that shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. Don’t forget to warn the chef; these bad boys come back lethal.

While you’re there: Better learn how to handle that newly sharpened cutlery. Sign up the both of you for a Knife Skills Class. The one for February is full, but spaces are still available for March 10.

If all of this is sounding not quite romantic enough for your taste, you can always add something sweet, something sexy, and something soulful to the mix.

Lovebird salt and pepper shakers from Patina StoresLovebird salt and pepper shakers from Patina StoresSweet:
•    Cupcakes! If you’re feeling ambitious, I can absolutely swear to the emotional impact of this recipe. If not, trust the experts from our local Salty Tart (available at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis and sometimes on weekends at The Golden Fig on Grand in St. Paul).
•    How about these smooch lovebird salt and pepper shakers from Patina Stores? Useful and super cute without being overly saccharine.

•    Soldier of Love from Sade (new) or the soundtrack from Sideways – both albums contain fantastic cooking music. Warning: May inspire kitchen dancing.
•    Find a sassy vintage apron, or try this one on for size. It adds flair points to aforementioned kitchen dancing.

•    Make a gift donation in your honey’s name to Second Harvest Heartland to help others get their fill this Valentine’s Day.

•    Jot down your heart’s desire on a slip of Flying Wish Paper from the Bibelot Shops. Then use a match to light it and watch as it floats skyward.

Wishing you luck, love, and fullness this Valentine’s Day!

Tracy Morgan is a Twin Cities foodie, cookbook hoarder and owner of all the right kitchen gadgets. Living in downtown St. Paul, she loves to take her green trolley shopping at the Farmer’s Market and see how much weight it can handle. When not spotlighting local goodies for Simple Good and Tasty, Tracy runs Segnavia Creative, a business development and marketing company that helps small businesses create big-picture strategies, understand branding, and navigate social media. She also serves on the board of directors for the Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op.