021121_Champagne

Ahhh … Valentine’s Day … when a young man’s fancy suddenly faces the harsh reality of exorbitantly priced roses and a lack of dinner reservations. Still, it’s a nice day to celebrate your own Hallmark moment with that special someone. Perhaps, during the past year of quarantine, you’ve spent more than the usual amount of time with your sweet baboo (as Sally always calls Linus, in the unrequited love story chronicled in Peanuts). All the more reason, then, to come up with something special.

First, we need a romantic setting. If your plan is to stay in (again) for dinner, consider setting up a table in front of a the fireplace. Not too close; you want the heat to enhance the mood – not ignite the tablecloth. A dim room, a few candles, and of course, a stellar cocktail.

I’m thinking of splurging and investing in a bottle of Chambord. Last year, I spent an insane amount on a bottle of actual French Champagne, one I had read about as being “highly recommended.” It was lost on me. I’d much prefer a mid-range product like Moet White Star or a good California sparkling wine, and thus retain a measure of financial prudence. But, the Chambord is a known quantity – I know it’s good. It is pricey, but a little goes a long way.

This French delicacy from the Loire Valley is a liqueur crafted from raspberries and blackberries in a cognac base. There are notes of Madagascar vanilla and a bit of citrus peel and honey as well. It is sweet, but also rich and lush. There are other somewhat similar liqueurs but really no true substitute.

Since Chambord is a deep ruby red in color it is a perfect ingredient to add to Champagne for a luscious pink presentation. This one is a riff on the more famous, but to me not as delicious, Kir royale.

Chambord Champagne Royale

1 bottle good Champagne or sparkling wine, well-chilled

Chambord

Champagne flutes

Into each flute measure in 1 teaspoon of Chambord.

Slowly fill the flute with Champagne.

Garnish with a raspberry.

To be even more decadent, consider rimming the edge of the glasses with a little sugar. Just slightly moisten the rims and press into sugar on a small plate.

You may be gathering with a small group of friends, an ideal activity if some of your friends aren’t coupled up. This second recipe makes a pitcherful and is delightful. Feel free to make ahead and chill until serving.

Aperol Gin Punch

2 cups gin (I’ll use Beefeater)

2 cups Aperol

2 cups Lillet Blanc

2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice

Add everything to a large pitcher. Stir well with plenty of ice (unless not serving immediately – then omit the ice until later).

To serve, pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with a basil sprig.

The aroma of the drink with a whiff of basil as you drink it is, in itself, intoxicating.

This is a great excuse to add a bottle of Lillet Blanc (there’s also a Rouge) to your home bar. Also hailing from France, this aperitif is a wine blended with macerated fruit and honey. The aroma will bring to mind flowers, golden raisins, and baking spices, like cinnamon.

Once you and your honey (or group of friends) have settled in by the fire, the next step is a snack. To my taste, nothing is better with a good cocktail than a good cheese. Brie is a fine choice, but it has been done to death. I’m leaning toward a bit more assertive cheese called Saint Albray. This soft cows’ milk cheese, similar to Camembert, is from the Aquitaine region of France. Remember to let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour before consuming. The heady aroma will soon blossom and scent the air. As a bread fanatic I’d serve mine with toasted slices of thinly-sliced baguette, though you may opt for crackers.

Interestingly, the name of this cheese, a relative newcomer invented in 1976, has no basis. That is, there is no Saint called Albray nor is there a place or town by that name. Hmmm … that sounds like a potential stumper on Jeopardy!

Next up in the evening is dinner. I can’t help you there. If you’re reading this and don’t have a reservation you are most likely out of luck for dining out. If you planned to eat in all along, I’ll leave your meal selections to your own tastes. My wife loves a good steak, and both of us are always up for just about any pasta dish.

After dinner, however, there should be an exquisite dessert and an aprés dinner drink. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for chocolate dipped strawberries – often prepared on site at grocery stores for this occasion. And with them I’m serving a creamy and delicious cocktail that could in itself be considered dessert.

For a couple of years, the folks at Bailey’s Irish Cream have released a limited edition version called Red Velvet Cupcake. For Valentine’s it is perfect.

Red Velvet Cupcake Martini

4 oz. Bailey’s Red Velvet Cupcake liqueur

2 oz. vodka

Melted white chocolate

Dip the rims of two martini glasses in melted white chocolate and set aside to dry.

Add the Bailey’s and vodka to a pitcher (or large shaker) with ice and stir (or shake) until very cold.

Pour equal parts into each glass. A split strawberry can be carefully cut to look quite a bit like a heart – and would be a great garnish.

I hope your Valentine’s Day celebration, be it with one special someone or an intimate group of friends, is a success.