February 1, 2012

Brooke & James Set the Romantic Valentine’s Mood {Tales from the Trenches}

Just Married

Today I invited my friend’s Brooke Parkhurst and James Briscione, the charming duo behind Just Married & Cooking, to share some of their tips for setting the Valentine’s mood while a toddler roams the house. I first met James when we were both recipe winners on Food52, and then met them again last year at the debut of the OXO Tot line. Since then their awesome cookbook, Just Married and Cooking: 200 Recipes for Living, Eating and Entertaining Together, was published and they’ve been popping up all around town. I urge everyone to join the fun on their Facebook fanpage too! I am so thrilled they are here today to share some fabulous tips and positively delicious recipes. With this post they can easily restore all the faith of all parents that a romantic home cooked Valentine’s Day meal IS indeed possible!

Nothing spells romance quite like a busy toddler banging on your pots and pans while kiddy music wails from the iPod. How do you recommend parents find their inner zen in the kitchen when trying to create a special meal just for them?

We’re not opposed to asking for a little help—especially when it comes to special nights like Valentine’s or anniversaries. Even though you’re cooking and eating in and won’t need a babysitter for six hours, it wouldn’t hurt to have one for crunch time (what we call “crazy time”), 4-7pm.

Also, trying to make the kids feel as if they’re included in this special new ritual—instead of pushing them out of the kitchen—will almost guarantee better behavior.  Our daughter, Parker Lee, loves when we give her a ball of pizza dough (about the size of her tiny fist) and our wooden rolling pin. To her, the dough is ten times cooler than Playdo because she’s able to eat her art project! We top it with a four-cheese mixture and roasted butternut squash or chorizo bits.

She happily toddles off with her pizza and we *finally* open a bottle of wine or shake up a house cocktail.

What are your secrets for setting a romantic scene that won’t be wrecked before it is actually time for dinner?

“Chef’s tables” are big in restaurants, so why not at home? We don’t spend our best moments at the dining room table but, instead, standing at the stove and at the kitchen counter, actually creating the meal and sampling the flavors. (I’m a little embarrassed to admit, we also fight over who gets to lick the beaters!) So I love setting the scene and making this space delicious and pretty. (Even better that our 2 ½ year-old budding chef can’t reach that high!)

While we’re doing our biggest prep work, I set out a charcuterie plate and our best wine glasses. When dinner’s almost ready, and Jamie’s putting the finishing touches on our plates, I quickly change the scene by laying down a pretty, patterned table runner (easier than a tablecloth), our French pottery, a hodge podge of candles (never scented- you don’t want to distract from the food) and cloth napkins. I’m really into using the beautiful , sturdy, French kitchen towels by Les Etoiles de Soleil (www.lesetoilesdesoleil.com) as my dinner napkins for special occasions.

Layer cake, Brooke & Jamie

Once the kids are asleep it is show time! How can parents get a romantic dinner on the table lickety split the minute the little ones are snoozing?

You have to start thinking like a restaurant chef—which isn’t that hard! It’s all about organization and prepping for the meal one even two days in advance. I see the dinners that Jamie turns out for 100 and I’m totally amazed. The thing is, it’s not just because he’s a super-talented chef (which he is) but it’s because he breaks down every meal—every recipe—into manageable elements.

Once the kids are down, it should be more “dump & stir” than anything.  You have your bowls of chopped veggies, your sauces pre-made, your meat already browned and dessert’s sitting pretty in the fridge. All you do is warm the filet or the fish and give your veggies a quick stir. Romance is served!

What are your favorite dishes for a romantic Valentine’s meal that are naptime cooking-friendly?

To begin a night like this, I want something beautiful— and something that could have been lifted off one of my favorite downtown bistro menus. Stand-out starters should get my appetite going but not be too heavy. Tartares and seafood salads are perfect because they showcase super-fresh proteins (be it steak tartare or lump crab or tuna) that have been gussied up with just a few herbs, spices and a touch of olive oil or homemade mayo.

We just began working with Godiva and Godiva Spirits, creating amazing make-at-home, romantic dinners. To kick off our ideal Valentine’s, we’d serve our Mango & Fennel Crab Salad. So easy and so delicious. Filet mignon would follow the seafood starter and, of course, something very chocolately would finish off the meal.

mango crab salad

Mango and Fennel Crab Salad

(created by James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst for Godiva Spirits)

serves 2

Lemon Mayonnaise

zest of ½ lemon

2 teaspoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

pinch cayenne pepper

¼ cup mayonnaise

Crab Salad

6 to 8 ounces lump or jumbo lump crab meat

¼ cup mango, cut into small dice, slices reserved for garnish

¼ cup fennel, minced

1 tablespoon chives, thinly sliced

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

cherry tomatoes, cut in half, for garnish

small greens or picked herbs for garnish (such as arugula, frisee, parsley or chervil

extra virgin olive, for garnish


In a small bowl combine the lemon zest, juice, sugar, salt and cayenne. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the mayo and whisk until smooth.

Pick through the crabmeat to insure there are no shell pieces or cartilage in the meat. In a separate bowl combine the crab, mango, fennel, chives and salt. Mix to combine and add the prepared mayonnaise to taste- using anywhere from half to all of it- depending on your preference.

To plate, pack half the crab salad into a ring mold in the center of each plate. Arrange the mango slices on top of the crab salad. Scatter the herbs and cherry tomatoes around the plate and drizzle with olive oil.

5. Don’t forget the cocktails! Can you recommend some easy, romantic beverages that can be whipped up at a moments notice and are budget-friendly?

We can’t get enough of Godiva’s new Chocolate Vodka! It’s different and luxe enough to make your evening cocktails feel really special. At the same time, it’s the perfect, last-minute touch for desserts. If you don’t have time to create a chocolate tart this Valentine’s, just marinate mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries) in the Godiva Chocolate-Raspberry Vodka and serve with whipped cream and bakery-made butter cookies or shortbread.

Back to the cocktail… Here’s our favorite so far, featuring the classic flavor pairing of chocolate and orange (like classic, Parisian chocolate mousse!)

For More of Brooke & Jamie’s awesome recipes:

Visit their website!

Check out their Facebook fanpage

Follow them on Twitter!


The Lovebirds

by Jonathan Pogash for Godiva


1 ½ ounces Godiva Chocolate Vodka
½ ounce orange-flavored liqueur
1 bottle Champagne or sparkling wine for top
¾ ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1 handful of mint leaves
1 lemon peel for garnish
1 orange peel for garnish


1.     Combine Godiva Chocolate Vodka, orange-flavored liqueur, freshly squeezed orange juice, and mint leaves into a cocktail shaker with ice.

2.     Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

3.     Top with champagne or sparkling wine.

4.     Garnish with orange and lemon peel wrapped around each other.

Naptime Notes

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2 Responses to “Brooke & James Set the Romantic Valentine’s Mood {Tales from the Trenches}”

  1. […] Romance in the kitchen w a little help from our Mango Fennel Crab Salad […]

  2. […] will be spending the night in and celebrating with something more formal over the weekend must like Brooke and James told us about last week. If you are scrambling to pull together a romantic meal tonight here are a few naptime cooking tips […]