How are you spending Valentine’s Day this year? We usually go out AND stay in which basically extends the holiday beyond one day. I love to milk a holiday for all it’s worth. Why take a day when you can make it into a weekend or a week? That just gives you more “special” meals to enjoy together. The best meal for us is always the one we cook together at home though (no disrespect to the top-notch restaurants of New York City).

If you’re looking for an alternative to crowded restaurants and overpriced menus, we have a great idea for you. Now stick with me on this because you’re probably wondering how I’m going to make this romantic enough for Valentine’s Day. I won’t steer you wrong. Consider making polenta together. Polenta is a delicious but low-cost dish similar to southern grits, that restaurants tend to mark up with reckless abandon because the name sounds fancy. It’s really just cornmeal, but a fancy meal is more a state of mind than it is expensive food. It’s all in how you approach it. Put this meal on a pretty plate or use cloth napkins and it goes from eh to exotic in seconds. Light a few candles and dim the lights and you’ve just created a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner without making a reservation or standing around waiting for your table to be ready.

To be honest, Mike and I cook at home most nights, with or without a Hallmark holiday. It’s only special or romantic or fancy because we decide it is. That’s the magic of food. It turns Tuesday into something exciting to look forward to. And anyone can do it! Food is democratic that way. Not in a couple? Call a friend. Do you have kids joining your meal? Let them make cut out hearts to adorn each place setting. There is more than one way to do romance. In fact, for me the origins of this “romantic” meal go back to cooking with my parents.

The thing about polenta is that although it’s relatively easy to make, it requires a lot of stirring. This is where having a partner to help out comes in handy. I remember that my dad always helped my mom with the stirring. It gets tiresome otherwise. This is precisely why I think of polenta as romantic. My mom has never liked help in the kitchen, but making polenta was definitely an exception. I loved watching my dad help her. They would take turns stirring. It was so sweet. Eventually, I stepped in for my mom. My dad and I would make the polenta together every year, taking turns stirring while my mom made the sauce. I always looked forward to it and it’s one of my favorite memories.

We didn’t make it for Valentine’s day though. We made polenta for Carnevale, better known as Mardi Gras. It turns out that this year Mardi Gras falls on February 13th so you get two special events for the price of one OR you can take two days to celebrate. Actually, these two very different celebrations have something in common with one another. They are both a bit indulgent and for that they come at the perfect time of year. Chocolate hearts and extravagant dinners after all are the antidote to New Year’s resolutions and fitness goals. Similarly, Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday is the decadent meal before the season of Lent, a time of fasting and sacrifice. You might be wondering what makes cornmeal so decadent. It’s all in the sauce. You can buy it or make it yourself with this recipe, but the tradition is to use a sauce made with pork and to top it with a liberal amount of grated parmigiano cheese. The combination is incredible. The flavors are perfect together and they add up to a rich and satisfying meal that is just the thing to save for a special occasion.

Mike and I have made polenta every year together on Fat Tuesday. Last year we made it for my mom. Her arms are just not up to the stirring anymore so we made the whole meal for her in her kitchen. That was a treat and believe it or not also pretty romantic. It’s important to take time to do things out of the ordinary like making a meal that takes a little longer than usual. It’s the thing you’re going to look back on with fondness. It’s the really great memory that will make you smile when you’re having a bad day. Food is great for memory making.

Make a date to whip up a batch of polenta with your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day. It’s pretty straightforward with only four ingredients (water being one of them). Hearts and flowers are lovely but you can eat polenta! And the time spent together might just be all the romance you need! Happy Valentine’s Day! Check out the recipe here and don’t forget to let us know how it goes. You’ve gotta try this one.

For even more delicious food ideas check out Love: We Met At A Bar And What To Have For Dinner AND Fall: For Food, In Love…
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