The custom of celebrating one’s loved ones on Valentine’s Day has been a social custom for hundreds of years. However, the origin of this holiday is a bit sketchy.

Some sources indicate It started when the Roman emperor banned marriage to help his soldiers focus. One priest continued to marry couples in secret and was executed for his “crimes." Before his execution, Saint Valentine wrote the jailer's daughter a letter and signed it, "Your Valentine," as a farewell.

Definitely not the Valentine’s Day of today and a rather gruesome thought.

Brittanica.com has a different version and states this day of celebrating affection began with the Roman festival of Lupercalia. This Roman festival was held in mid-February and celebrated the coming of spring and used a lottery to pair women and men.

In the 5th century, the Lupercalia was replaced with the title of St. Valentine’s Day. In the 14th century, it came to be celebrated as a day of romance.

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After a week of subzero temperatures, some of us are all for going back to the origin of this holiday as celebrating the coming of spring.

Traditional ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day include giving flowers, gifts, chocolate or going out for a nice meal. But if you opt to stay in and cook a meal, there are simple - yet elegant - dishes to whip up to celebrate either your affection for your loved ones or the coming of spring.

A Caprese Salad with its fresh tomatoes and basil brings to mind warm summer days with fresh produce. Although fresh garden vegetables are still a few months away, you can enjoy a Caprese Chicken Dish that is easy to make and will become the highlight of your Valentine’s Day meal.

Is chicken not quite classy enough for your Valentine’s Day meal? Steak is always a good choice for an elegant dinner. To make your steak classier, top it off with a flavored butter or a velvety mushroom sauce.

Let your loved ones know how much you care by preparing an elegant feast to celebrate Valentine’s Day. And in the immortal words of Charles Schulz: “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Happy Eating.

Pan-fried langet of chicken breast with tomato and mozzarella, a-la caprese.
Pan-fried langet of chicken breast with tomato and mozzarella, a-la caprese.Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Caprese Chicken

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 4 slices of ripe tomato or sundried tomatoes
  • 4 thick slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze or balsamic reduction
  • 2 tablespoons basil

Note: If your store does not carry balsamic glaze, heat 1 cup of balsamic vinegar in a saucepan over medium heat. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook until the vinegar is thick and bubbly, approximately 8 to 12 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. (In the summer you can grill the chicken.)

Place a large frying pan on the stove and put the olive oil in the pan. Heat to medium heat. Generously season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Place the chicken in the pan and cook for 4 to 7 minutes on each side, just until each side is lightly browned.

Spray a baking pan with nonstick cooking oil. Remove the chicken from the frying pan and place in the baking pan. Place in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. You want the chicken to have an internal temperature of about 160 degrees. Remove from the oven and place a slice of cheese on each piece of chicken. Return to the oven and cook an additional 4 to 6 minutes, just until the cheese is slightly melted.

Remove from the oven and place each piece of chicken on a serving plate. Top with either a slice of tomato or a spoonful of sundried tomatoes. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the top and sprinkle basil over the glaze.

Grilled steak in a cast iron skillet surrounded by fried onions, mushrooms, asparagus, and topped with blue cheese steak butter.
Grilled steak in a cast iron skillet surrounded by fried onions, mushrooms, asparagus, and topped with blue cheese steak butter.Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Steak with Blue Cheese Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon jarred garlic
  • 2 steaks (T-bone, porterhouse or ribeye)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

In a small bowl, combine the butter, blue cheese, parsley, basil and garlic. Mix well.

Season steaks with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the steak to desired doneness. Place on a serving dish and let set for a couple of minutes. Then top each steak with a generous spoonful of the butter mixture.

Leftover butter can be placed in a resealable container and kept for two to three weeks.

Grill or broil ribeye steaks and cover them with mushroom sauce for a classy Valentine's Day meal. Donna Evans / Echo Journal Correspondent
Grill or broil ribeye steaks and cover them with mushroom sauce for a classy Valentine's Day meal. Donna Evans / Echo Journal CorrespondentDonna Evans / Echo Journal Correspondent

Ribeye Steaks with Mushroom Sauce

  • 2 ribeye steaks (you can also use T-bone, porterhouse or New York strip steaks)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon jarred garlic
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ¾ cup beef broth
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon pan drippings
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Parsley

Season steaks with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the steaks to desired doneness.

While the steaks are cooking, prepare the sauce. In a medium sized frying pan, melt the butter. Add the mushrooms. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Cook 5 to 7 minutes, just until the mushrooms have softened. Add the garlic and cook for 60 seconds. Stir in the flour, making sure to mix well. Slowly mix in the beef broth, Worcestershire sauce and pan drippings. Bring to a simmer and cook just until thickened. Taste, and if desired season with additional salt and pepper. Spoon over the prepared steaks and sprinkle parsley over the top of the sauce.

Mushroom sauce variations

  • Spicy: Add ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or ½ teaspoon Frank’s Hot Sauce.
  • Creamy: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream at the end of the cooking process.
  • Zesty cheese: Add ¼ cup blue cheese crumbles while the sauce is thickening, stirring until the cheese is melted. Or add ¼ cup grated pepper jack cheese to the sauce.
  • Onion flavor: Add ¼ cup diced onions to the pan while browning the mushrooms.