Apparently Valentine's Day originally memorialized several Christian martyrs and was not connected to romance at all. Although anyone who's ever fallen in love can identify with the martyr theme, it also speaks to not getting too hung up on Cupid - just go for the spoils, and they are many.
Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery will again feature aphrodisiac cupcakes for Valentine's Day, although it's hard to imagine how the bakers could top February's "Inspired by Breakfast" flavors like pain au chocolat (croissant cake with creamy chocolate filling and chocolate ganache), potato latke (with applesauce and sour cream frosting) or the "Wakey-Bakey," a tower of chocolate cake with strips of real bacon, plus maple frosting.
You must order ahead of time to get a King Cake from Lane's Bakery (608-256-6645). This Mardi Gras standard ($16.50, available through Feb. 21) is a braided breakfast-type pastry, flavored with cinnamon and topped with icing colored purple, green and yellow. A small plastic baby doll is usually hidden inside, and tradition dictates that the person who ends up with the trinket buys the next cake or throws the next party. Wisely, Lane's gives customers the baby on the side, so nobody loses any dental work.
Take note of a raft of special dinners before, on and after Valentine's Day. A special contemporary Scandinavian menu at 43 North on Feb. 12 will showcase chef Nicholas Johnson's culinary passion and what is probably the world's hottest cuisine right now ($45; 608-255-4343). Harvest restaurant will host a special lobster dinner on Feb. 12 (six courses and paired wines, $75), followed by a special Valentine's menu (available Feb. 10, 11, 13 and 14), followed by the Small Batch Bourbon dinner on Feb. 17 (five courses paired with small-batch Kentucky bourbons, $55). Call 608-255-6075 for reservations.
Chef Series Dinner Classes at the new Flambé Gourmet catering and cooking school combine a class with a multi-course dinner and wine flights. Chef Shawn McManus will prepare a three-course Southern California dinner on Feb. 11 and 17 featuring honey chipotle swordfish. Chef Angelo Cattaneo will host a Tamale Party on Feb. 18, in which students will learn to make four different tamales and sauces ($55, drinks included). Call 608-320-2556; flambegourmet.net.
Valentine's Day or any day, order a home-cooked meal from a personal chef...so you get the pampering that comes with eating out, without the having-to-go-out part. Lay in some logs for the fireplace and have Jeanne Benink of Simply Served Personal Chef (simplyservedpersonalchef.com, 608-334-0221) cook dinner for you. Book prior to Feb. 10, receive 15% off the total cost of the meal.
For more food-related Valentine's week ideas, see the latest Madison Eats Agenda.