Details to Deck Your Table with Love

By Jacky Martin

Valentine's Day is just around the corner. What a wonderful time to plan a festive meal, whether it be a romantic candlelight dinner for you and your significant other, a fun family celebration or a party to liven up a cold winter night. Touches of red throughout the meal and headlining the table centerpiece will give a festive look without lots of expense or trouble.

Red, pink and white candles can be the focal point of your Valentine's dinner table. Or, how about a fruit-based centerpiece that will bring oohs and aahs to your guests? To begin, buy a Valentine balloon on a hard stick and a piece of styrofoam. Cut the styrofoam to fit the bottom of a compote bowl or any type of serving bowl, preferably plain white or red. Place the styrofoam into the bottom of the bowl and stick the balloon into the center. Cut the stick so that the balloon doesn't stand too far outside the bowl, but enough so that it remains the prominent part of the centerpiece. Take red paper napkins and line the rest of the bowl with them. Let some of the edges stick out around the rim of the bowl. Then fill the bowl with grapes, candied fruit pieces or nuts or a combination of any or all. Make sure that whatever you use is dry so that it won't soak the napkins and ruin the effect. Simple but very effective, no matter what type of meal you are serving! It's also a versatile idea that can be tailored for any holiday, takes little time and looks great!

Of course, a Valentine meal is meant to be a special affair, so a few fancy touches will add lots of holiday flavor. Since the rose is the flower that reminds us of love, how about some rose tomatoes to go along with your main course? Take the tomato and turn it upside down on a cutting board. Cut to within one-quarter inch of the bottom into quarters or sixths. Turn the tomato right side up and spread the "petals" to form a rose. If using for a main dish or for the center of a salad, use regular sized tomatoes. If using as a salad garnish, cherry tomatoes will look lovely placed strategically on the salad plate.

Is this a family or party-type meal? Then, heart-shaped gelatin jigglers will bring smiles to your family and guests. Prepare red Jello using recipe on box. Use three small boxes and three cups hot water. Set in baking pan and refrigerate until set. Cut into hearts with a heart cookie cutter, line onto a pretty white plate and enjoy! Another option for this is to intersperse sliced banana with the jello hearts. This makes a really attractive and nutritious dish!

Are you one of those people who like to celebrate a holiday the entire day and not just for one meal? Then don't put that cookie cutter away yet! Besides, the obvious idea of making heart-shaped cookies for Valentine's Day, you can make the kids' giggle with heart-shaped sandwiches to take to school! Just use large heart cutters to cut the bread. Spread with peanut butter and jelly and send them off with a little love in their lunch! You can even carry the theme to breakfast by frying eggs inside a metal heart-shaped pancake/egg ring placed on a grill. Just place the mold on the grill and crack the egg into it for a special morning surprise!

We all associate Valentine's Day with candy or some kind of scrumptious dessert. Chocolate cake is always a favorite and baked into a heart-shape will make it extra special. Don't have a heart-shaped pan? Never fear, a square and a round equals a heart with this little trick. Bake your cake the usual way, using one square pan and one round pan. When cooled, place the square layer on a plate, but turn it so that it forms a diamond shape. Cut the round layer in half and place on the top left and right sides of the diamond. Voila! You have a heart! To ice, mix some red paste color into white frosting. The more red you use, the darker the icing. A nice warm pink will make a pretty background for the next step. Decorate your cake using conversation hearts and red cinnamon hearts on the top and sides. A sure winner for any Valentine table!

Valentine's Day reminds us to celebrate our love for each other, which is something we should do every day.