THIS IS A TEST. Think of great romantic moments of days gone by, and then name the common denominators: Good food. Picnic baskets. Good drink. Fireplaces.
Chances are if Cupid has winged you this month, then you are planning a Valentine's Day meal that focuses on one of the above. If, however, Cupid has not struck your would-be meal mate as deeply as you would like, think about a meal with all of the above: a fireside picnic.
The fantasy can only work if you pack the basket in advance in the kitchen and then relax. Once you start your fireside meal, there should be no jumping up and running back to the kitchen. And don't forget to take the phone off the hook.
For starters, float some raspberries in tall, fluted champagne glasses or go to the kitchen store for heart- shaped ice cube molds and then pur,ee the raspberries to form the heart shapes and at the last minute drop them in the champagne. The meal itself can be packed in layers: baskets within baskets that can be brought out in any combination.
An easy dish that works well as an hors d'oeuvres are small red potatoes topped with salmon caviar. First, rub the potatoes with oil and then roast them until they are soft and the shells are crisp. Cut them in half, scoop out the pulp and mash it with sour cream, seasoning with salt and pepper. Then restuff the shells, top with red caviar and chill well.
Instead of a complicated salad, cut up strips of red bell pepper and serve them with your favorite light dip.
Plan the rest of the menu so that the flavors of the food excite the taste buds. This is a time for vibrant flavors.
Marinate some chicken wings in wine with herbs and olive oil and, assuming no blizzard is approaching, grill them ahead of time and then serve them at room temperature. You can also place skewers of cubed beef, pork or chicken or whole shelled shrimp on the grill and serve them with an Indonesian satay sauce of spicy peanut butter blended with soy sauce, hot oil and freshly grated ginger.
If your favorite picnic food is sandwiches, elevate them to elegance. There are miniature pita breads on the market for pocket sandwiches. Or you can hollow out loaves of crusty french bread and then stuff them with your favorite salad; cut the stuffed loaves into thick slices before packing them in the picnic hamper.
End the meal with true extravagance: strawberries dipped in melted white chocolate, perhaps complemented with petits fours.
If Cupid has not struck your fellow picnicker by now, don't choose another menu -- just choose another mate.