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Last-minute Valentine's Day ideas for entertaining at home

Valentine's Day is Thursday. This Thursday?

Yes, and dear one, you are not prepared. Complain all you want about this corporate greeting-card "holiday" and how no one dare orchestrate when and how you profess your love. Protest if you must, but I am here to tell you that excuses are futile. An empty-handed partner on Valentine's Day can plan on the cold shoulder long after the grocery-store carnations wilt.

There's still time to recover and pull off a romantic fete pour deux. Sure, you can go out to eat, but you're a little late for reservations. At this late hour, a DIY date is in order, and it doesn't have to reek of desperation. Think of the points you'll win for effort.

Get your motor running with the following last-minute Valentine's Day suggestions. Do the right thing and you'll rev up your sweetie's, too.

Spread a blanket on the living room floor and break out the Italian Ferrari brut for an indoor picnic. At the grocery store, you will have purchased a wedge of brie cheese, sliced Black Forest ham at the deli counter plus a baguette, along with strawberries to be dipped in sour cream mixed with brown sugar. A ring of cold, cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce would be lovely, too. Cupcakes — chocolate, of course — for dessert. Load up the iPod with some sexy music (for me: Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Barry White).

One of the best ways to kill a romantic evening is to overeat. A belly full of heavy food is not conducive to love. So, rather than a big square of lasagna or a brontosaurus-sized steak, go small. Turn your dining room into Petite Cafe du Amor, grilling flavorful, wee filet mignons. Split a baked potato and share a Caesar salad. Don't forget the wine — Layer Cake malbec from Argentina's Mendoza region is a good choice. And the candles. And Sinatra. Strawberry sorbet with a few Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies for after dinner.

Not so keen on cooking? Call for takeout from a favorite place before you leave the office and pick it up on the way home. Skip lunch and use the 60 minutes to go home and set the table; don't forget flowers and a box of chocolates. That way, if she gets home before you, she'll know there's something in the works. Romance is all about anticipation. When you're picking up dinner, make a stop at a gelateria to purchase a couple varieties of the dense Italian ice cream. Or get a container of Talenti Sicilian pistachio gelato or another flavor at the store. (Many groceries in the Tampa Bay area carry this upscale brand, including Publix, Target, Albertsons, Sweetbay and Whole Foods.) Whatever you buy, share one bowl.

Watch a movie your significant other wants to see for an at-home movie date night. Now is not the time for a four-hour war epic or that shoot-'em-up that leaves more actors dead than alive as the credits roll. Think light and fun, you know, romantic. How about The Notebook, Hope Springs, Moonstruck or An Affair to Remember? Lost in Translation isn't your traditional romance but it's real, funny and touching and stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Plus it takes place in Tokyo and director Sofia Coppola makes the high-rise city look gorgeous. Serve popcorn and Twizzlers.

Sometimes it's the little things that count. Buy sparkling wine — Mumm blanc de noirs from Napa or Gloria Ferrer brut — and a basket of strawberries. When your special someone gets home, toast the arrival with a glass of bubbly adorned with floating berries. Or plan a lovely dessert of angel food cake sprinkled with Grand Marnier and served with whipped cream and fresh berries. Or maybe fill a basket with his favorite chocolates — even if they are peanut butter M&Ms.

This list is heavy on chocolate, but hey, it's Valentine's Day. For one more cocoa blast, try your hand at my favorite French cake recipe, guaranteed to win hearts, minds and eternal devotion. Gateau Mousse au Chocolat (chocolate mousse cake) only has four ingredients: semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, unsalted butter, eggs and cream of tartar. At its essence, it is a cooled baked chocolate mousse that's topped with unbaked chocolate mousse. Make it this evening and it'll be ready to serve Thursday night.

That's Valentine's Day, remember?

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

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Gateau Mousse au Chocolat (Chocolate Mousse Cake)

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

8 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Unsweetened cocoa powder and whipped cream for decoration (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the chocolate and butter over low heat. Stir occasionally until smooth.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks until blended. Immediately pour the mixture into a large bowl. (The melted chocolate and butter will be hot enough to poach the egg yolks, which will lightly thicken the mixture.)

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

With a whisk, fold in one-third of the stiffly beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Using a rubber spatula, fold the remaining whites into the chocolate mixture until smooth.

Pour three-fourths of the chocolate mousse into the pan. (Refrigerate the remainder until ready to use.)

Bake on the middle rack 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise quite high at first; when it begins to fall back in the center, it's done.

Unmold onto a cake rack, right side up, and cool. When cooled, the cake will have a concave center. Transfer the cake, with the aid of a long metal spatula, to a serving platter and fill the center with the remaining mousse mixture. Refrigerate until the mousse sets, about 1 hour.

Note: A refreshing variation can be made by adding the finely grated zest of an orange to the mousse before cooking. If you want to flavor the mousse with coffee, rum, Grand Marnier or another liqueur, add 1 tablespoon just before incorporating the egg whites. If you add more, you may lose the light consistency that makes this recipe so good.

Serves 8.

Source: At Home With the French Classics by Richard Grausman (Workman Publishing, 1988; updated 2011)

Last-minute Valentine's Day ideas for entertaining at home 02/12/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 1:28pm]

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