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Keep it simple on Valentine's Day: Host a fun dinner with friends or family
February 1 2012
(ARA) - Valentine's Day is no longer just a romantic day that is reserved only for lovers - it has grown to include friends and family with widespread celebrations. Try a role reversal with either friends or family members and give the usual cook a well-deserved break. Small and thoughtful acts can have a large impact this holiday.

People's lives are crazier than ever with having to juggle work, children and personal relationships. 'I feel that the most valuable thing we can do for those we love is to do something a little out of the ordinary such as a Valentine's Day family dinner,' says Andrea Alexander, academic director for The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Austin. 'It does not have to be an expensive or time-consuming event but rather, a moment to share thoughts, feelings, smiles and laughter.'

According to Alexander, the Valentine's Day dinner does not have to be any more difficult than any other meal; just add creativity and a lively atmosphere. A fun menu idea is to purchase individual pizza crusts and an array of fresh toppings such as red, yellow or green bell peppers; halved cherry tomatoes and olives; diced sweet onions, pepperoni or shredded chicken breast; and don't forget the pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. 'Let each friend or family member assemble their own pizza and then have a tasting party to experience each of the pizzas,' says Alexander.

If you are looking to 'wow' the crowd and prepare a more formal dinner, then you might want to incorporate beef. Filets are always a palate pleaser, but if you are looking for more cost-effective and just as tasty cuts, then rib-eyes or New York strips can be your staples. Instead of beef, pork tenderloins are also a healthy and tasty cut of meat and easy to prepare. Simply cook in the oven on a roasting rack or sheet pan for 15 minutes at 500 degrees and then let rest for 15 minutes. The tenderloin will come out perfect every time. As a side dish, halve a few pounds of red new potatoes, boil until fork tender and coat them in a mixture of horseradish and basil pesto for a zesty taste.

Chocolate is a nice finish to any meal and is always a welcome Valentine's Day treat. 'Interactive desserts are great because they are always fun and can bring a smile to the faces of everyone involved,' says Alexander. 'Try an ice cream sundae bar with lots of fun Valentine's Day-inspired toppings such as heart-shaped chocolates, Red Hots candy and red and pink sprinkles, all on top of scoops of red raspberry ice cream.' For a more romantic touch, try the iconic strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.

Whatever you choose to do this Valentine's Day, keep your plans simple and heartfelt with a special dinner for friends and family as a terrific option to celebrate this day of love.

To learn more about The Art Institutes schools, visit www.artinstitutes.edu/nz.

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