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Some people hate Valentine’s Day.

I’m not one of them. For someone like me, whose idea of religion consists of food and love, it’s the perfect kind of holiday. In fact, Valentine’s Day is my second favorite holiday — right after Thanksgiving. And yes, I understand it’s corporate derived to get you to buy loads of chocolate, wine, flowers and jewelry — but like anything, I think Valentine’s Day is what you make of it.

I like to make it about cooking and love — MeatLove.

Valentine’s Day Traditions

In our house, we have a tradition of starting Valentine’s Day off with a bang at breakfast. My son looks forward to Red Velvet pancakes, topped with orange maple syrup, Mascarpone and a jelly filled gummy heart from Trader Joes. I make a huge amount of batter because the leftovers from the recipe I use, lends itself to being transformed into cupcakes for us to enjoy later with cream cheese or mascarpone frosting and more of those delectable little juicy gummy hearts.

We pass around hand-drawn cards (more sentiment) and we dole out plenty of snuggles, hugs and smooches to each one another. We also eat great food and watch some lovey-dovey V Day movies and at some point, chocolate,  flowers or balloons may or may not arrive on the scene but either way we have a great time with one another.

Valentine’s Day has become so much more than a “romantic” holiday for our little family. For us, it’s about loving each other wholly, expressing it every way in which we can. This may mean we’re treated to a song or interpretative dance number by our little one, maybe some guitar by my troubadour hubby, Todd, and all capped off by a sumptuous dinner created by one of us adults to please the whole brood.

Todd has been known to make a mean steak (it’s actually marinated in garlic and thyme post-cooking- YUM!) and it is truly out this world good. He serves it with steak frites, creamy bleu cheese sauce, and veg (I’ll have to post that recipe one day too, if he’ll let me!) I’ve made everything from scampi to Hot Mess burgers (think jalapeño, cheese and hot sauce stuffed and topped) to steamed mussels in white wine with bacon and greens. All of which has been great but it’s all been done before.

So this year, we left it up to our son and he called for MeatLove this Valentine’s Day.

A Valentine’s Day meal or what is MeatLove?

MeatLove is my son’s favorite version of meatloaf, christened in name by him when he was 2 years old and did not understand that the word was instead, meatloaf. Back then, I made them in little individual sized mini loafs — faster cooking and super fun for kiddos — today, they’re still individual portions but shaped like hearts instead of loaves to live up to their fancy moniker.

What makes them so special is the bit of sweet caramelized flavor this version of meatloaf takes on to its decidedly savory dimensions, especially when juxtaposed with the heat of my mother’s recipe for one-of-a-kind homemade volcano gravy. I like this combo because, to me, it mirrors life in a long-term relationship. Showcasing the soft sweetness of love (maple syrup, red peppers and caramelized onions) and the fiery passion (tomato, beef drippings and spicy black pepper) required to keep things hot and fresh, all wrapped up in the simplicity of the every day routine of life (meatloaf.)

When you’re doing family-friendly Valentine’s Day recipes — it doesn’t get much better — or easier than this.

A Valentine’s Day movie . . . or two

While the little one is still up, we’ll put on Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (forget the lackluster 2002, A Valentine for Charlie Brown) and watch what antics ol’ Chuck and the gang get up to for their sweetheart’s day. But once the kiddo is nestled in bed, we go straight for a Rom-Com. I’m not much of a Dr.-Zhivago-or-Gone-with-the-Wind-sweeping-romance kind of girl. Neither do I have a taste for the saccharine schmaltz of the likes of The Notebook. I like Rom-Coms because no matter how unbelievable people say they are, they are more true-to-life for me than the other kinds of overwrought, dramatic depictions of love available. Love is messy and funny and full of misunderstandings and awkward situations and sometimes, it does take a while before you wake up and realize you’re madly in love with your Tomboyish best friend and not the super cool Miss Amanda Jones . . . (Ok, so I just dated myself, but John Hughes really was the King of all things for my generation, ya know.)

Ashton Kutcher is Pretty in Pink in Valentine’s Day

Anyway, our movie of choice for Valentine’s Day has rotated for years, through Hughes’ catalog and other, more modern favorites like Serendipity (if you haven’t seen it, you really should — great frozen hot chocolate scenes!) But then, the gods smiled upon us all and we finally got an official V-Day movie, starring just about everyone, including — for you Grey’s Anatomy fans, both McDreamy and McSteamy and though it’s no work of Shakespeare, we find it pretty hilariously charming and a whole lot of fun to watch on le jour de l’amour. 

So, without further adieu, let me present, “A Perfect Valentine’s Day pairing” featuring MeatLove and Volcano Gravy, eaten while watching Valentine’s Day, starring Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner and paired with a juicy Barbera d’Alba in homage to one Ms. Jessica Alba, who also happens to star in this movie. *BONUS — as a bit of surprise, Taylor Swift is a complete Mo in this movie, stealing just about every scene she is in with her goofball antics.

Nessie’s MeatLove and Volcano Gravy

  • 1 lb lean ground beef (I use organic, grass fed)
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced and sautéed
  • 1/2 small yellow or Walla Walla sweet onion, diced and caramelized
  • 1 red pepper diced and sautéed
  • 4 oz sliced crimini mushrooms, browned with caramelized onions
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/8 cup cooking sherry to deglaze the pan
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce

Sauté the onion in olive oil until caramelized, then add the mushrooms until lightly browned and then the red pepper for just a few seconds before deglazing the pan, taking care to remove the veggies from the pan while the pepper is still somewhat crisp. Set the veg and its resulting sauce aside to cool a bit, as you mix the remaining ingredients together, once the veggies have cooled add them and any of their pan drippings to your meatload and mix to incorporate. Shape into individual loaves or hearts (depending on how adventurous you are) and pop into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes mounded to look like a volcano (if you need help with this, please see this clip of Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and top with spicy volcano gravy and veggie of your choice (we like asparagus for Valentine’s Day!)

Volcano Gravy

  • Meatloaf pan drippings
  • 1/2 can tomato paste
  • 1 to 3 cups water or beef broth (depending on drippings yield, fatty ground beef means more drippings)
  • 1 Tbsp flour (or cornstarch for thickening)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1tsp to 3 tsp black pepper to taste  (we like ours with a peppery bite!)

This is a fly-by-the-seat of your pants gravy that my mom always made when we had meatloaf. Over the years, I’ve added more pepper for a spicier kick that my hubby loves. It starts, as all gravies do, with either a good roux made from flour and meatloaf drippings (or you can cornstarch it up after all the ingredients are in the pan.) As always, taste it as you go, to get the right spice and flavor for your fam. Once you’ve got your roux going, add the beef broth and then the tomato paste, sauces and seasonings to your taste. Don’t forget your pepper!