This Valentine's Day why not say, "I love you so much that you not only make me blush, you make my popcorn blush, too!"
That can be one of the bold statements in your greeting card if you follow easy strategies to make the day for love not only more romantic, but more delicious. And, no, it doesn't take hours of slaving over the stove to come up with creative culinary ways to show you care. Innovative quick fixes abound.
Pink strawberry popcorn, for instance, is as easy as adding strawberry-flavored drink mix powder, a few drops of red gel or paste food coloring and melted white chocolate chips to popcorn that's been microwaved.
Pink peppercorns are another delight that are as easy as sprinkling, grinding or crushing to add a festive touch to almost any Valentine's Day dish from beef tenderloin that's been rolled in the peppercorns, thyme and star anise, to a tropical fruit and avocado salad that's been dusted with them, vinaigrette that's had a crushed tablespoon or two mixed in or vanilla ice cream that gets a quick and colorful grind.
BEEF TENDERLOIN ROLLED IN PINK PEPPERCORNS
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon ground star anise
1 1/2 teaspoons pink peppercorns
8 (2.8-ounce) pieces beef fillet, cut from the thinner tail end
8 pancetta slices, sliced thinly
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing grill pan
Yields 4 servings?
Using mortar and pestle, grind together thyme, star anise and pink peppercorns. Transfer to plate and roll each piece of beef in mixture. Encircle each piece with slice of pancetta, using toothpick to secure.
Slightly generously, brush grill pan with olive oil. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Carefully sear beef in pan until browned and cooked as desired, usually about 3 minutes per side for medium. Make sure the meat is completely cooked through and let rest 4 minutes before serving. The USDA recommends heating meat while cooking to a minimum internal temperature of 160 F.
- From "In Great Taste: Fresh, Simple Recipes for Eating and Living Well" by Evelyn H. Lauder (Rodale, $29.95).
PINK STRAWBERRY POPCORN
1 tablespoon shortening
1 (14-ounce) package strawberry-flavored drink mix (e.g., Kool-Aid)
1 (12-ounce) bag white chocolate chips
2 drops red gel or paste food coloring (see note) (optional)
2 (3-ounces) bags microwave popcorn, popped
3 tablespoons pink sanding sugar
Yields 14 cups popcorn?
In microwavable bowl, combine shortening and drink mix. Melt in microwave on high heat for 1 minute. Remove and stir.
Add white chocolate chips. Return to microwave and melt chips on low heat for 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. (If using food coloring, stir into melted chocolate at this point.)
In large bowl, slowly pour melted white chocolate mixture over popped popcorn, tossing with wooden spoon. Sprinkle sanding sugar over top and toss to coat.
*Note: Gel or paste food coloring is usually available at cake decorating stores. Do not use liquid food coloring, as it will cause chocolate to seize.
- From "Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade 20-Minute Meals 2" by Sandra Lee (Meredith, $19.95).
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook."