valentine’s day picnic supper

We had been planning an oxtail dinner for Valentine’s Day all week- bought the ingredients days before, had the meat marinating in a whole bottle of wine- so why are you looking at a photo of a sandwich?  This is an object lesson for all you other cooks out there to READ YOUR RECIPE ahead of time!


Saturday I got home a little later than expected from a baby shower and dropping off some of my Valentine goodie bags and was feeling a tiny bit stressed about the time, but we were planning to eat late anyway because Marvin had a quick job to do at 8pm, so I wasn’t too concerned about the fact that I wasn’t getting started until 5pm. After all, the meat was already marinating, and all I really had to do was chop some carrots and celery, right? Until I looked at the recipe and panic set in because I failed to notice the 4 hour cooking time required for this dish. Mind you, that’s not even counting the pre-braise browning time, or the time required to reduce the braising liquid before the dish goes in the oven.   Factor into the equation that I am one of the world’s pokiest cooks, and you can understand my anxiety levels rising.  A second wave of panic set in when I went into my cupboards and realized I had no tomato paste or canned tomatoes (I could have SWORN I did).  I had just been at the grocery store picking up a few last-minute items, but I decided to head back out and just quickly grab the tomatoes.  I was in the automatic checkout lane at Kroger and the machine asked me to scan my shopper card, so I started fishing around for my keys, when I came to the horrible realization that they were in the ignition of my car. I had been in such a hurry and so distracted that I had just rushed into the store, locking them in. At this point I was completely distraught. I called Marvin and had to tell him that the oxtails were not happening- we would have been eating at 11pm or later at that point. To add to the overall mood, the Hazel Park police officer who unlocked my car for me made a point of saying “Eww, gross!” multiple times when I answered his question about our supposed menu. (Like I care if he likes what we have for dinner, but I thought it was pretty insensitive!)

Fortunately, I was able to cobble together a respectable supper for us in spite of adversity. It involved a THIRD trip to the store, but at that point I didn’t care. I had already bought a good loaf of bread and a couple of nice cheeses at Holiday Market (a Zingerman’s fresh cow’s milk cheese with Tellicherry pepper, and a Point Reyes farmstead blue) and had happened to pick up a couple of red bell peppers since they were on sale for an unheard-of $1.67/lb. So I formed a plan: go retro-’90s and roast the peppers along with a couple heads of garlic, and serve that with the bread, cheeses, and a salad. The final trip to the store was to pick up some prosciutto and another bottle of wine (the bottle I had bought had been chosen specifically to go with the oxtails, and I wanted to save it for that).

Once I got over beating myself up over being so ill-organized, I was able to relax and enjoy the evening. It definitely made me question the wisdom of planning such an involved, lengthy dish on a special occasion (at least not when you have other obligations the same day). Of course, I could have been better prepared, but I also think that sometimes I sacrifice my own enjoyment for the sake of trying too hard to do something complicated for a dinner party, holiday or other occasion. My other problem is that I always use a special occasion as an excuse to try something I’ve never made before, which can lead to complications.  We enjoyed our “picnic supper” every bit as much as a meal that would have taken hours longer, and it gave us more time to sit across the table enjoying each other’s company. An added bonus was that we ate the oxtails the next day, so it was almost like having a whole Valentine weekend rather than just the one day. Not bad.  And I will be posting the oxtail recipe soon.

(Incidentally, the photo is of a sandwich I made the next day with the leftovers. I wasn’t about to try to take photos that night after all the hassles; I just wanted to eat and relax!)

9 responses to “valentine’s day picnic supper

  1. I had some tasty Chinese style (I could definitely taste star anise) braised oxtails for a friend’s birthday dinner last night. I have no idea how long they cooked for, but the meat was super tender and falling off of the bone.

    Btw, I’ve been using your Chinese style kale recipe to cook all sorts of greens lately–it’s such a great flavor combo!

  2. Next year for Valentines day, I suggest going over to Monahan’s. He always makes a “special” papillote, this year Salmon with a Lobster sauce. I cooked up Al Dente Egg Linguine tossed with spinach and Zingerman’s cheese. A Ding Dong from Big City Bakery. It was great. our blog address is You will see from some of my posts that my daughter was an exchange student in Toulouse and is now going to high school at the French Lycee in Chicago.

  3. Ohhhhh, I don’t think oxtails are icky. I mean, they were when my mother made them when I was a child… but she’s actually NOT a good cook.

    Paula Deen’s bio&recipe book suggests that oxtails, braised and barbecued, are a very romantic feast for two lovers.

    I mentioned something about them to my exfiancee and he said he “thought not.”

    Did I say “ex” fiancee? 😉 Send me an email when you post that so I can see those oxtails! Are they done braising yet???

  4. Ohhhh no, the oxtail!!! You still need to tell us how it all went once you managed to find the time to cook it… It’s true that it really needs the long time on the stove. Your valentine’s picnic still sounds pretty delish 🙂

  5. You have no idea how many times I have thought I was all prepared, read the recipe ahead of time, etc, and when I start to cook I get to a line that says “marinate overnight.” Oh oh. Nice to see I’m not the only one.

  6. I hate when planning falls through like that, it can really throw off your game. But, it sounds like the meal was wonderful despite all the trouble. What fresh cow’s milk cheese from Zingerman’s has peppercorns? I’m addicted to their Detroit Street Brick.

  7. Maggie- I can’t recall the exact name of the cheese. When I went on their website I didn’t see it there, so maybe it’s new? I got it at Holiday Market in Royal Oak.

  8. Noelle! This story made me almost weep for you! I can just imagine your anxiety and then panic and then more anxiety and then finally the resignation and bitter disappointment. Every cook who has attempted something somewhat complicated has run into this. The one line miss that makes the whole thing fall apart. Did I tell you about what happened when I braised those short ribs? It was like one disappointment after another and by the time I served dinner to my friends (a full hour late and we would have been eating even an hour later if I had let those suckers braise as long as I would have liked!) I couldn’t even enjoy it as I was still dwelling on all the failures of the day. And in all, I spent a good SIX hours making that dinner. I really should have been able to to relax with my friends and enjoy their company and some good wine and really – it was really good food. Maybe not “superb” but you know how we are all such perfectionists! Anyway, I really do hear you on the whole excitement of dinner parties/special occasions and wanting to go all out and make something really special and how in your effort to do that, you can really ruin it for yourself after all the planning, preparing, and nail biting. I’m trying to find a balance for that myself!

  9. Kathy-
    Luckily I was cooking for a very sweet and understanding boyfriend rather than a dinner party… I really would have lost it if that had been the case!! It probably didn’t hurt that he figured he would get 2 nice meals out of it instead of just one 🙂

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