For an "I love you" gesture, all you really need is a heart-shaped cookie cutter and some stale bread.
Diane Kern, party planner/owner of Exclusive Designs & Events in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., has crafted Valentine's celebrations for couples that have included such luxe touches as candy specially flown in from Paris and transforming a dining room with a blanket of gold leaf-tipped rose petals. Yet, she says, with a few creative touches — including cutting foods into heart shapes with that aforementioned cookie cutter — love can be just as nicely proclaimed on a budget.
Because Valentine's is on a Sunday this year, it's all the more easy to be your own personal chef and devote a little time on Saturday preparing a romantic menu, Kern said. Be it breakfast in bed, a beach picnic or intimate dinner at home, the trick is to do as much ahead of time so you are free to enjoy time with your loved one.
"The big thing to think about when cooking at home is to not be a slave to the kitchen," Kern said. "Unless both of you like to spend time cooking together, you want to choose easy dishes or things that are not so hands-on — or better still, dishes that can be prepared the day before and reheated."
Kern offers the following menu suggestions and tips for a D.I.Y. Valentine's Day that will warm your loved one's heart like a blowtorch and not scorch your wallet.
Breakfast (or brunch) in bed
— Raspberry yogurt and granola parfaits served in champagne flutes
— Grand Marnier French toast
— Canadian bacon
— Scrambled eggs with black truffles
— Fresh orange juice or mimosas
— Antipasti plate
— Chilled Bloody-Mary Soup with Crabmeat
— Chocolate scones
— Pink lemonade
Dinner a deux:
— Salad sprinkled with edible flowers from a gourmet grocer
— Oysters or shrimp cocktail
— Coq au Champagne
Cocktails: Try a Cham Cham (champagne with a splash of Chambord).
— Chocolate fondue with strawberries, bananas and orange-scented Madelines for dipping
— Champagne chocolate sauce over fruit or ice cream
— Brownies baked in mini heart-shaped pans
— Limoncello frozen yogurt
Setting the stage:
Your menu planned, take a few minutes to set the tone for your special day with your beloved.
— Married men, this one's for you. Take a picture of your wife's wedding bouquet or wedding centerpieces to a florist and have them create a centerpiece for the table using the same flowers. "This is sure to impress," Kern said.
— If you have a fireplace, use it. Scatter throw pillows in front of the fire, light lots of candles and serve finger foods, picnic style.
— For any Valentine's meal, use your fine linens, china and glassware.
— Use lots of candles.
— Tuck a red rose in a napkin or scatter rose petals on the table. Ditto the rose petals on a tray if you are doing the breakfast-in-bed route.
— If you have kids, see if they can have a sleepover with a family member or friend.
— Create a playlist on your iPod that contains music from when you first met, had your first dance, etc.
— For you outdoorsy types, take a sunrise hike. Again, you can put a heart-shaped cookie cutter to good use and cut granola bars into hearts.
Caroline Dipping writes about food for The San Diego Union-Tribune.