Photo by Ruta Smith Life Raft Treats Ice Cream Sandwich "Lasagna"

 Great moments are born from great opportunities. That’s what we have this Valentine’s Day, Charleston. Sure, the pandemic has put a damper on all major holidays since last March, but Feb. 14 is a chance at redemption in the form of a perfectly executed at-home Valentine’s Day.

Luckily, the City Paper has you covered, with local experts’ tips for recreating classic cocktails and serving an affordable dinner with dessert, all in the comfort of your own kitchen. This might not have been the year you expected, but maybe that’s a good thing when it comes to Valentine’s Day. From happy hour to the main course and dessert, here’s the City Paper’s guide to crafting a pandemic-friendly Valentine’s Day date at home.

Happy Hour

Starting with happy hour allows for the chance to relax while preparing the main course, and Kwei Fei general manager Aneel James, who creates the restaurant’s eclectic beverage menu, has a drink suggestion based on two major cocktail trends he’s leaning into at the James Island eatery — infused booze and punches.

Photos by Ruta Smith
Negroni Sbagliato’s secret is strawberry-infused campari

James serves a punch called “Big City Nights” at Kwei Fei as an ode to the “scorpion bowls” found at Cantonese restaurants in Boston, but with ingredients like pacharan, orgeat and citrus baijiu, you probably won’t want to test out this drink on Valentine’s Day. Instead, check out his idea for an at-home punch that calls for infused Campari.

“I’m a negroni drinker, and there’s a great punch that you can make,” James said. “One really fun thing to do for Valentine’s Day is infusing Campari with strawberries and doing a ‘Negroni Sbagliato’ punch.”
To make this four-ingredient drink, James said, simply add 5-10 strawberries to a bottle of Campari and combine with sweet vermouth and prosecco.

A late afternoon cocktail goes best with a light appetizer, and Counter Cheese Caves owners Nora Granger and Eric Casella have cheese suggestions to pair with James’ bubbly negroni punch.

Let your cheese get to room temperature before serving

“The classic Valentine’s Day play is a soft ripened, bloomy rind cheese — buttery, decadent bries, triple creams, etc. These guys also demand some bubbles, so if you’re going with a single bloomy rind, make sure to have a nice effervescent beverage to lighten things on the palate.”
Looking for a wine to pair with your cheese? Just head to Edmund’s Oast Exchange, where Granger and Casella have partnered with general manager Sarah O’Kelley to offer a Valentine’s Day-specific wine and cheese combination.

Once at home, take your cheese out of the fridge one hour before use so it has time to get to room temperature. The couple suggests purchasing at least 8 ounces of each type of cheese and serving with accoutrements like crusty bread, dried fruit, nuts or olives. If you opt for multiple cheeses, try mixing up the textures or milk types — three cheeses means you can serve one of each of the major milk types: cow, sheep and goat.

Happy Hour Shopping List

Negroni Sbagliato
• Container of strawberries
• Campari
• Vermouth
• Prosecco

Cheese Appetizer
• Soft cheese like Counter Cheese Caves’ “Sequatchie Cove Creamery Walden”
• Hard cheese like Counter Cheese Caves’ “Forx Farm 12-Month Gouda”
• Local bread or crackers
• Dried fruit
• Nuts
• Olives
• Honey

The Main Course

When it comes to the main attraction for your Valentine’s Day dinner, you’re going to want something that’s simple but indulgent and impressive.

Private chef Lauren Furey specializes in cooking for parties and special occasions and thinks Feb. 14 is as good a time as any to try to make something special.

Private chef Lauren Furey | Photo by Paul Cheney

“When I think about Valentine’s Day, it just seems like a night for, like, a couple to slow down and spend some time together in the kitchen instead of rushing around to make a last-minute dinner,” she said.

Furey has spent time working with chef Bob Waggoner and apprenticing under Nathalie Dupree, renowned cooks who teach others how to build confidence in their own kitchens.
Furey and butcher Ted Dombrowski picked beef tenderloin as a fitting main dish.

“This dish is quite flirty and perfect for Valentine’s Day,” Furey said. “This recipe will yield leftovers, setting the scene for breakfast in bed … Steak and eggs, anyone?”

Furey’s roasted tenderloin, inspired by Dupree, calls for a 2-pound center cut tenderloin, trimmed and tied. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Combine 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and Dijon mustard and rub on the outside of the meat. Transfer to a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper. Reduce the oven to 400 degrees and roast 18-20 minutes, or until the meat reaches 130 degrees for rare, 140 degrees for medium-rare.

Furey calls for roasted cherry tomatoes with her tenderloin. With a pint of cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet, add olive oil and season with garlic, fresh basil, fresh thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until the tomato skins pop, 30-40 minutes.

Photo by Ruta Smith
Ted’s owner Ted Dombrowski suggests searing 8-ounce tenderloin filets in a pan or on the grill

Dombrowski, owner of Ted’s Butcherblock, said a couple 8-ounce tenderloin filets seared in a pan or on the grill can be a great Valentine’s Day dinner.

For sides, Dombrowski advises roasted or grilled asparagus. For a little extra, consider potatoes au gratin.

Don’t want to work too hard for your Valentine’s Day? Dombrowski puts in a shameless plug for the beef braciole — stuffed beef rolls filled with prosciutto, pine nuts, fresh herbs and grated parmesan — available for pre-order at Ted’s Butcherblock this weekend.
“It’s the perfect comfort for winter, yet elegant enough for a special dinner,” he said. “The only issue is it’s a pain in the ass to make.”

Main Dish Shopping List

Furey’s Beef Tenderloin
• 2-pound center-cut tenderloin
• Dijon mustard
• Olive Oil
• Salt, Pepper
Furey’s Roasted Tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
• 2-3 fresh basil leaves, torn
• 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• Zest of 1⁄2 a lemon

To pre-order Ted’s beef braciole, call the shop: (843) 577-0094.

Dessert

Life Raft Treats owner Cynthia Wong makes complex sweets on a daily basis, but she says whimsical desserts don’t always have to be complicated. Wong suggests using silicone molds, available at most local grocery or craft stores, to turn brownies, cookies or even cinnamon rolls into special Valentine’s Day-themed desserts.

Photo provided.
Photo by Ruta Smith
Ice cream sandwich “lasagna” is an easy-to-make dessert masterpiece

“Now, you can find a little cute heart-shaped silicone molds anywhere, and they’re super inexpensive,” Wong said. “People can also get the cinnamon rolls in a can — which I have to admit is a huge guilty pleasure of mine — and bake one of those in a silicone mold. I think the main thing is to just do something really thoughtful and heartfelt.”
With specialty items like her “Not Fried Chicken,” Wong has a knack for making dessert look like familiar savory dishes. If you’re in the mood to attempt recreating some Life Raft Treats magic at home, Wong has an idea for turning store-bought ice cream sandwiches into a homemade masterpiece.

“Make a little lasagna out of ice cream sandwiches,” Wong said. “If the sandwiches are kind of the noodles, then you can make the ‘ricotta’ a different flavor and then top with shaped sprinkles.”

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, then put down the first layer of ice cream sandwiches before topping with whipped cream, chocolate or caramel sauce and heart-shaped sprinkles. Add as many layers as you’d like, then pop the pan in the freezer.

Dessert Shopping List

Ice Cream Sandwich “Lasagna”
• Ice cream sandwiches
• Whipped cream
• Chocolate or caramel sauce
• Heart-shaped sprinkles