Notes From Swan's Nest

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Sharing The Love

February is a busy month in our home - Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and our wedding anniversary – all celebrated in twenty-eight short days (well…twenty-nine this year!). It seems appropriate that someone with an almost-Valentine birthday should be so focused on sharing the love, not just in February, but throughout the year. Perhaps, that’s why I’ve always loved spending time entertaining and in the kitchen, whipping up memorable occasions and decadent treats for family and friends.

My husband Randy and I got a jump-start on Valentine’s Day over the weekend by hosting a dinner party for ten. The front doorway was festooned in greenery, tiny white lights, red ribbon, and shiny hearts – with a large, shimmering, sequined heart above the door. Even our giant plush snowman – a permanent fixture on the porch during the winter – is sporting a large Valentine at this time of year.

I draped the table in a red cloth, topped with a white cutwork tablecloth purchased years ago at my favorite shop in St. Thomas. Red chargers, white-on-white china edged in silver, sparkling crystal, my grandmother’s silver flatware, and tall, silver candlesticks ensured our guests felt pampered by the festive atmosphere of this Valentine table. The centerpiece was simple, but effortlessly pleasing to the eye. I created airy clusters of white chrysanthemums with lush, red roses into four square glass vessels, and interspersed them among the candles. While many of our guests exclaimed over my table decor, it was in all honesty incredibly quick and simple to do.

For dinner, I served a glazed ham with Southern baking powder biscuits, scalloped potatoes layered with mozzarella cheese and applewood smoked bacon, roasted asparagus, a composed salad drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, and for dessert, a choice of birthday cake for a dear friend who was totally surprised I remembered, and a warm-from-the-oven rustic apple tart with vanilla ice cream. Sharing the love can be so easy…and delicious!

-Christy

Valentine's Day

I've loved baking cookies ever since I can remember. Throughout middle and high school, and whenever I was home from college, baking cookies was a relaxing, creative outlet – one that continues today. The ritual of measuring and combining ingredients, watching the cookie dough come together, inhaling the aroma of the dough and sensing exactly how it will taste once baked, forming the cookies and placing tray after tray into the oven, and then the tantalizing reward of just-baked cookies cooling on a wire rack. These are the things that make me smile and give me joy in the kitchen.

Nothing compares however to the smiles on the faces of family and friends when cookies are presented as a gift. For Valentine’s Day, a gift of homemade cookies is sure to delight, and when they’re heart-shaped, it’s an extra special treat. My recipe for Valentine Linzer Tarts is adapted from one I developed for my first cookbook, The Family Table. These gorgeous, two-layer gems, shaped like hearts with a center of raspberry preserves, and enhanced by a dusting of snowy confectioners' sugar, make heartfelt gifts or a simple, but romantic Valentine's Day dessert.

Happy Valentine's Day!

-Christy

Valentine Linzer Tarts

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup seedless raspberry preserves

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until they are well combined.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking powder. With a large spoon, gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture to form a soft dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill 2 hours or overnight until it is cold.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out half the cookie dough on a floured pastry cloth or counter to ¼ -inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter dipped in flour and place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Cut the centers out of half the cookies using a 1-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Bake 6 to 8 minutes until the edges are barely brown. Remove the cookies from the cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack.

When the cookies are completely cool, spread the solid ones with raspberry preserves, mounding it slightly in the center of each cookie. Top with the remaining cookies. Sift with confectioners’ sugar, which will melt over the preserves, leaving a glossy center.

Yield: 22 to 25 cookies.