GUEST POST: Valentine Family Dinner by Denise Schwemmer

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll know I'm no fan of prix fixe holiday restaurant meals. My sister feels the same way. Despite having the typical crazy schedule of any modern family, Denise makes family meals a priority and she, her husband Ray, and their two daughters, Kelly & Kaitlin, eat a home-cooked meal together pretty much every night. For holidays and birthdays she adds some easy yet lovely touches to make the evening extra special. Her kids love it.  (They created the image above to illustrate the best things about this sweet family tradition.)
Valentine Family Dinner at Home
We started staying home for special events due to the cost of going out to eat and getting a babysitter. It is now something the whole family looks forward to. I feel it's very important to establish traditions and family bonding time.
First, you have to make sure this is truly a family event and not just Mom in the kitchen doing all the work. Include your children in the menu planning. Encourage the kids to help cook by giving them simple tasks, for example make dessert or peel the potatoes. Dad helps cook, too.

Then create a nice mood before dinner. Put some music on the stereo. Have everyone dress up a bit--no PJ's or sweats. No TV, talking on home phone or cell phone, no texting.

Gather everyone together for appetizers (cut up fruit is a great option). Serve special kid drinks such as sparkling cider or virgin daiquiris. Open presents (nothing too expensive, just some little goodies).

Have the kids help set a nice table in the dining room. Use the good china, silver and crystal. For toddlers have a child-friendly china set and special plastic glass. Use cloth napkins. Light candles and keep music playing.

Do not serve the kids chicken nuggets and French fries; everyone eats the same.

Parents drink a great bottle of wine.

Everyone helps clean up.


  • Mustard Coated Grilled Lamb Chops
  • Sautéed Fingerling Potatoes
  • Roasted Zucchini
This menu is so easy and my family loves it. The lamb chops have a simple mustard marinade that you can put on right before or hours earlier. For the fingerling potatoes, first microwave them, then sauté in olive oil. Slice the zucchini in rounds, wrap in aluminum foil and cook with the chops. (lamb chop recipe after the jump)

Mustard Coated Grilled Lamb Chops
Serves 4
8 thick loin lamp chops
Marinade (see below)
Coat lamb chops with mustard marinade. Let sit for at least 15 minutes at room temperature or up to all day in the fridge.  Grill over medium-high fire (375 degrees) until the internal temperature reaches125 for rare, 130 medium rare (about 15 to 20 minutes).

Mustard Marinade
Whisk together in a small bowl:

2 large cloves of crushed garlic
½ tsp salt
2 TBL Dijon mustard
1 TBL soy sauce
1 tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
2 TBL fresh squeezed lemon
¼ cup olive oil
From The Way to Cook by Julia Child, page 213. I love this cookbook. Has many color pictures and is easier to follow than Mastering the Art of French Cooking. --Denise

"Use the good china for breakfast."