Valentine's Day elicits a lot of boos and bad attitudes. People wear black and grumble about how it's a "Hallmark" holiday. Our annual Valentine's Day round-up of suggestions from our staff has some brooding and calling it just another day, but there are also some good suggestions for gifts, places to go, and things to do that might soften your cynical heart.
We're putting the kids to bed early and I'll be sharing a bottle of 2005 Ridge Geyserville (Zinfandel Blend) with my wife that we been saving for no particular reason. We bought it on a trip to California right before we had our first child. It's very drinkable now, and we don't want to miss it's prime. Then, more likely than not—we'll be talking about said kids for the remainder of the night. – David Mawhinney, culinary director
I'm hoping to get these in gold — the midi size — let's see if Daniel reads our blog posts.
– Shell Hatke, operations manager
I hope my husband remembers to get me a card this year. That's our rule, cards only, and last year he forgot. My favorite thing I've ever gotten on Valentine's Day was a box full of paper hearts. On each one, my niece and nephew wrote all the things they love about me. – Suzanne Birnbaum, events manager
Pointy Snout caviar on hand-carved spoons. Photo courtesy of Pointy Snout Caviar.
Usually Eric and I make an annual pilgrimage to King Spa in New Jersey followed by a dinner in Flushing or somewhere normally out of our way. But now that we have a baby, I'll opt for a night in with potato chips, caviar and bubbles. The alcoholic variety for me, and the non-alcoholic for him. – Sonjia Hyon, special projects director
A few lady friends and I are headed to Le French Diner for a not-overly-romantic but great evening of food and drinks. – Alison Cayne, founder
I am in a long distance relationship, so I am going to see my partner and we are getting to spend some time in Napa together a little early, and visit friends who work at Trinchero and Freemark Abbey. On Valentine's Day, I'm going to spend the evening writing letters to friends. Romance isn't dead, it's alive and well in the courtship of new and old friends. – Laurie Ellen Pelicano, Haven's Kitchen friend & maker of delicious baked things
I will be in school all day on Valentine's Day. However, I might grab a quick lunch and exchange sweets with my girlfriends between classes! – Hyewon Lee, barista
I am actually one of those people that would love to get a stuffed animal on Valentine's Day — I grew up believing all stuffed animals had souls (thanks, mom). My Valentines Day planning usually happens last minute, but by far one of the most memorable Valentine's Day I had was spending it with my two best friends from home, sharing pizza and lamenting over the struggles of dating. – Kathryn Tam, operations assistant
I'm not going to lie: I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day, so my husband and I don't really celebrate and usually I end up working. (This year, I'll be teaching at Haven's Kitchen.) But the years where I'm not working, I do like to take advantage of those Valentine's Day grocery specials and make up a dinner of steak or lobster or oysters on the cheap.
– Sarah Bode-Clark, teacher and photographer
I'm headed to the East Village to see my bestie read some poetry. – Zoe Maya Jones, kitchen manager
Locanda Vini e Olii, a charming Italian restaurant in Clinton Hill. Photo courtesy of Locanda Vini e Olii.
My husband and I have been sitting on a gift certificate we received for our wedding to our favorite date restaurant, Locanda Vini e Olii, so we'll be cashing that in for a four-course Italian dinner. And, I am hoping to get myself some discount candy on the 15th. – Dianne de la Veaux, cafe production
Before this kid pops, my husband and I are going travel the via Amtrak up the Hudson for the weekend to visit some of our best pals in the Berkshires. We will likely eat Moroccan food and try our best not to talk too much about current affairs, while disco music plays in the background. – Halle Heyman, events director
I refuse to become overwhelmed by Valentine's Day "pressure." I'd rather do something romantic and thoughtful 2 or 3 days before the actual day. – Greg Green, cafe production
Stop by Haven's Kitchen on Valentine's Day to pick up some flowers and heart-shaped cookies for your sweetheart.
It is not a secret that our founder, Alison Cayne, loves her caviar and potato chips. Her favorite is Pointy Snout Caviar because it is a delicious and sustainable caviar option. This year, we asked the people from Pointy Snout to give us pointers when purchasing and serving caviar. Receive 10 percent off when you use the code HAVEN when you order the Ossetra caviar on their website, now until Valentine's Day.
Choosing caviar for two
What type of caviar? A few factors: does your sweetheart prefer mature, complex flavors (like drinking a great Bordeaux) or a fresh, uncomplicated taste (think Beaujolais Nouveau)? Would you rather enjoy your caviar unadorned — straight from the tin, by the spoonful – or paired with caviar accompaniments? Keep these questions in mind as you peruse our caviar styles:
Our most robust offering: Caviar Avant-Garde (aged for at least 90 days)
Our Caviar Avant-Garde, from Russian sturgeon, is a genuine Ossetra with grand, robust flavor best described as rich and nutty. Its medium size beads present colors ranging from light brown to pure amber.
Rich yet delicate: Caviar Avancé (aged at least 90 days)
Avancé is produced from the roe of White Sturgeon, a species native to the Pacific Northwest. Aged at least 90 days, it has a sweet and fresh fragrance, and a taste that is rich and lasting, yolky and delicate.
Fresh and simple: Caviar de Table
Produced from the same White Sturgeon as Avancé, De Table is a more price-accessible caviar — an excellent “everyday” caviar — offering informal opportunities to play with different pairings.
What size tin?
50 grams is a perfectly sweet portion for two to share on a romantic evening. 100 grams is a bit more of a special occasion indulgence. We always love splurging on a larger tin so there are leftovers to enjoy the next morning (preferably on scrambled eggs, served to us in bed on a tray).
Serving suggestions for Valentine’s evening:
Make bite-size blinis from buckwheat pancake mix. Place a bit of crème fraîche on each blini, then top with caviar.
Buy the very best sweet butter you can get your hands on, place it in the freezer for 30 minutes, then shave on the large round slots of a cheese grater. Place a mound of shaved butter atop a slice of fabulous crunchy baguette (or sourdough), then top with a spoonful of caviar. (Sweet butter and caviar are a customary pairing, and make quite a delicious couple.)
Make a champagne gelée in an ice cube tray. Place each lovely-looking cube on a thin cracker and dollop with caviar. For the purists: Embed your tin in crushed ice, and eat it straight up, by the spoonful.
Or, skip the spoons and try the most traditional and perhaps most Valentine’s Day-appropriate method: place a mound of caviar on the back of your hand and lick it off.
In April, Haven's Kitchen founder, Alison Cayne, will publish her first cookbook, The Haven's Kitchen Cooking School, with Artisan / Workman. The book is written and designed to be a manual for home cooks using the Haven's Kitchen philosophy of cooking: anyone can cook, they just need to build confidence through practice. The cookbook is written for cooks of all levels, but refuses to use words like "easy" and "simple." The assumption is that everyone has the capacity to find their genius in cooking, and finding your genius sometimes means mastering "difficult dishes" like a 12-step recipe like beef bourguignon or frying up arancini.
Ali with Art Director Michelle Ishay and Photographer Con Poulos.
How did this project start? Did you envision there would be a cookbook when you opened Haven’s Kitchen?
Writing a cookbook to teach and inspire more people to cook was always in the back of my mind, but I had no idea that it would actually happen. Many of my favorite cookbooks are art directed by one of our regular guests, Michelle Ishay, who is the creative director at Artisan. She set up a meeting with the publisher, Lia Ronnen. Lia and I met a few more times to discuss what our goals were for the book, and what would set this one apart in the “how to cook” genre.
Excerpts from Ali's inspiration board for the cookbook. The design and the concept of the cookbook as integral as the recipes.
What inspired the recipes in the cookbook?
Every recipe is meant to be a starting point for endless varieties and meals. They’re written to teach readers the skills, techniques, and fundamentals so that they can feel confident in the kitchen and start making the meals they want to eat. Of course, I've included some of my favorite go-to dishes like Pan-Roasted Chicken and Poached Pears, along with some favorites from our Haven's Kitchen team and our guests, but they all teach the confidence of cooking.
How is this cookbook an extension of the cooking school?
My goal building Haven's Kitchen was to create a cooking school for recreation: for home cooks and people who just wanted to make enjoyable food. Every decision we make comes back to the idea that the kitchen should be a safe, happy, creative place—a haven – not threatening or intimidating, not some far removed, sterile space of Instagrammable perfection. I think the cookbook takes our approach and philosophy and translates it into book form as best as we could.
Props for the photo shoot.
Who did you write this book for?
I think there are a lot of people out there who want to connect with cooking but have no idea where to start and need two basic things: clear, supportive instruction and attainable inspiration. They are willing to invest the time and energy into building up their skills because they know the reward is so amazing: nurturing meals, confidence, shared time with family and friends and a renewed connection with the environment and responsible agriculture.
What kinds of cooking techniques does the book focus on?
We included a vast array of flavor profiles from around the globe: There’s a nod to almost every regional cuisine you can think of. But no matter whether you’re cooking southern Indian or Argentinian food there are techniques that will help you make the process more efficient and delicious. Fundamentals like knife skills, composition, balance, building flavor and organization translate across cultures and cuisines and every good cook has internalized them.
Do you have a favorite recipe from the book?
That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. Even if I had one I wouldn’t say.
In the book, you often talk about “cooking with confidence," what do you mean by that? How does someone "cook with confidence"?
I’ll give an example: Tonight I’m having ten people for dinner. I have two vegetarians and a few big meat eaters. It’s January so my vegetable choices are mostly root vegetables and winter greens. I’ve had a four of the guests before so I need to cook something new for them. That puzzle might sound overwhelming to some, but I am confident that I can prepare a few hearty vegetable and grain dishes, roast chickens, toss a gorgeous salad and prepare a sauce or two for drizzling that will work on any or all of it. That confidence, knowing that I have the skills and know-how to make those components of the meal without relying on recipes, and that I can get it done in two-three hours is what I hope our readers will eventually accomplish. That way, instead of being stressed about hosting a dinner, I am actually looking forward to the time I get to spend with my friends.
What are some things you learned while writing the cookbook?
I learned how much work goes into making one. There were a lot of people who put a lot of energy into making this book and it was amazing to be a part of such a collaborative, intense process.
Ali will be traveling throughout the U.S. starting in April. We hope to see you at one of our tour stops. Pre-order The Haven's Kitchen Cooking School.
Kate and Michael became Mr. and Mrs. Branning on June 21, 2015 surrounded by their closest family, friends, harpist and poetry. The couple made sure that each aspects of their wedding—from the perfect pink peonies to the hand written notes—represented the “essential components” that they live by and stayed close to their roots.
What were the most important things for you in the wedding planning process and why?
The venue, the food and the drink — core essentials for any event — were important components to us when planning our wedding. We wanted to be sure the essentials complemented and explained who we are as a couple and how we live our life daily.
In discovering Haven's Kitchen, we found a special place that resembled us. A local, sustainable coffee and eatery — a little home-away-from-home, tucked upstairs to host a gathering of our closest friends. Michael and I live our lives eating organically, and frequent and support local businesses as often as we can.
Haven's Kitchen supplied every one of our essential components perfectly. We were given an open space with enough room to design and create our own artistic vision, but not void of character so that we would have to pay a premium in order to create the basic canvas we were searching for. We found our desired vintage furniture and tableware, and decor were supplied at no extra cost to us. The ability to shop for our own fresh, seasonal flowers was super special, as was seeing them come to life in unique, vintage vases supplied by Haven's Kitchen.
How did you plan the menu?
We wanted the menu to stay true to our American roots, and wantedt include something for everyone. Between selections for vegetarian, gluten-free and carnivore lovers, all food was clean and healthy.
Working one-on-one with the Culinary Director David Mawhinney's recommendations for local, seasonal food allowed us to tweak suggestions and preparations based on our vision as a couple. The end result was a true representation of who we are as a couple and what we would want to serve at our home, but even yummier than we could have ever imagined!
What are some of the highlights and memories of your wedding planning process?
We had several walkthroughs with Halle, alone and with our family, which was very helpful in our choice of layout, flower arrangements, and the overall aesthetic. In addition, we loved meeting with Halle at the flower market to source seasonal flowers, as this was important to us, to complete the vision.
Please describe some of the details you were more excited to execute and see come to life as part of your wedding?
In the dream of our wedding, we wanted to share our love and life with all who know us best. Haven's Kitchen made that possible. Since we wanted live music, great food, special drinks and an intimate welcoming environment, the ability to have our choice of musical performers made the evening that much more special. We were able to have our welcoming, grand entrance and cocktail party music presented by a beautiful harpist playing a six-foot harp, as well as having a three piece combo band to finish out the celebration and play all our favorites to make the evening complete.
Event Management and Menu: Haven's Kitchen
Kate's Dress: Houghton
Kate's Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti
Kate's Clutch: Alexander McQueen
Michael's Tux: JCrew - The Suit Shop
Michael's Shoes: John Varvatos
Wedding Cake: Balthazar Bakery baked by head pastry chef and personal friend Mark Tasker
Calligraphy: Amanda Krovic
Photographer: Andrea Fischman
Harpist: Kristi Shade
Band: Joe Kris Music
Hair: Gloria Espinosa
Makeup: Sharon Becker