Kisses for the Cook
Serve up Valentine’s Day love at home.
It can be a dilemma deciding how to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a feel-good moment in time when the world’s troubles seem to hit pause and romance is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, cards and dinner out are all predictable ways that many of us will choose to show affection to the one we love.
An evening at home creating a special dinner for two is another option, especially when you consider that snagging a reservation could be next to impossible unless you booked way ahead of time. Besides, preparing a dinner for your valentine is a great way to say “I love you,” and it gives you an opportunity to impress by putting all your culinary skills on display.
My suggestion is to plan an easy menu,
nothing too complicated, because you don’t want to spend all your time at the stove. Think about your valentine’s favorite foods and build the dinner around them. Have fun with designing the menu. Maybe go with a red theme or include foods that may have sentimental value, like pasta with vodka sauce or chocolate cake with raspberry coulis. Think about a course or two that can be prepared ahead of time.
My menu includes a red salad of pomegranate seeds, raspberries and red grapes mixed with curly red leaf lettuce, radicchio and dried cranberries. For the main course, chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and Fontina cheese will do nicely, and for dessert, velvety and dense chocolate amaretti pudding.
For do-ahead, the salad minus the dressing can be combined in a bowl and refrigerated until serving. Make the dressing several days in advance, refrigerate and bring to room temperature several hours before tossing with the salad. The chicken can be prepared several hours ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to cook. The dessert can be made two days ahead of time and refrigerated. All this advance preparation will allow you and your valentine to enjoy a leisurely glass of wine or your favorite beverage while dinner cooks.
Consider creating a romantic table-scape a day or two ahead of time as well. Candles and soft background music set just the right mood to convey just how much your valentine means to you.
Perfect for Valentine’s Day, this red salad—as pretty to look at as it is good to eat—is full of texture, crunch and sweet-and-sour taste.
½ cup radicchio leaves torn into small pieces
1 cup red leaf lettuce torn into pieces
½ cup pomegranate seeds
½ cup red seedless grapes
½ cup raspberries
¼ cup dried cranberries
4½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
Chicken Cutlet Filling
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup diced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
1 cup diced Fontina cheese
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
4 thin chicken cutlets, seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
⅔ cup chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt to taste
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan and add the shallots and garlic. Cook until the shallots are lightly browned. Add the spinach and cook, stirring until the spinach is just wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let cool slightly. Wipe out the pan and set aside.
2. Stir the cheese, nutmeg and salt into the spinach. Divide mixture into 4 equal amounts and spread it evenly over the cutlets, patting well. Roll each cutlet up like a jelly roll and tie with kitchen string or fasten with toothpicks.
3. Return the pan to the stovetop, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and cook the chicken roulades over medium heat until nicely browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan, place them in a dish and cover with foil to keep warm.
4. Wipe out the pan and melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until the mixture forms a paste, about 1 minute. Slowly add the broth and wine, whisking until the sauce is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and salt. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.
NOTE: The dish can be prepared a few hours in advance, covered with foil, and refrigerated. To serve, heat covered for about 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350ºF oven.
Chocolate is forever identified with Valentine’s Day and this easy-to-make chocolate pot de crème is just right as the finale to a dinner for two.
1½ cups heavy cream
2 large egg yolks, whisked with a fork
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (plus extra for garnish)
¼ cup finely chopped amaretti cookies (optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 cup of the cream, egg yolks, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and a pinch of salt over medium heat. Don’t let the mixture boil. Stir the mixture until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Add the chopped chocolate and set aside for about 4 minutes.
3. Use a small whisk to blend the mixture until smooth. Stir in the amaretti cookies, if using. Pour the mixture into 2 ramekins or dessert dishes and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
4. Whip the remaining ½ cup heavy cream with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar until stiff.
5. Garnish each ramekin with whipped cream and top with chocolate shavings or a whiff of sifted cocoa.
Penne Pasta with Vodka Sauce
This pasta dish with a creamy rose-colored sauce has a subtle kick of hot red pepper.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or more to taste) or ½ teaspoon hot red pepper paste
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons capers in brine, drained and minced
1 cup pureed fresh or canned plum tomatoes
½ cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
8 ounces penne or farfalle (bowtie pasta)
Fine sea salt to taste
1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water
1. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Stir in the red pepper flakes (or hot red pepper paste) and cook about 1 minute over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft. Stir in the capers and cook 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes and vodka and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Slowly pour in the cream and cook over low heat for an additional 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in half the cheese. Keep the sauce warm while the pasta is cooking.
3. Cook the pasta in 4 to 6 quarts of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the sauté pan with the reserved water and stir the ingredients well over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat, sprinkle on the remaining cheese and stir to blend.
4. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter. Serve hot.