Home Cooking: Valentine’s dinner for two (column)
The last time I went out for a romantic Valentine’s dinner was at a restaurant in Gramercy Park and ended in tears. Since I left New York nearly 25 years ago, you’ll note my luck with Valentine’s dinners has not improved. Therefore, my first bit of advice is stay home.
Yes, stay home and cook a romantic dinner for two served in front of a cozy fire with a dreamy playlist of classical or jazz playing softly. Turn the lights down low and light a few non-scented candles (unless you’re positive there is no chance your choice of candle scent will irritate your date’s delicate olfactory senses, sending them home with a migraine before the evening’s begun).
Now that the scene is set, the menu must be discussed. There is something to be said for food that has aphrodisiac qualities: If you can find very fresh raw oysters, by all means start your dinner with a dozen accompanied by a light red wine vinaigrette with minced shallots. One of my happiest memories involves raw oysters and Paris.
However, be extremely careful when opening the oysters so the knife doesn’t slip, and you find yourself wrapping a kitchen towel around your bloody palm as your date drives you to the ER, once again ending the evening prematurely. As to garlic’s romantic potential? That last Valentine’s dinner was at a restaurant called the Garlic Rose.
So, forget aphrodisiacs and take a practical approach to creating a dinner (and evening) that will be pleasurable for all concerned.
First, you want your date to feel special, yet you don’t want to create a meal so complex that you come out of the kitchen exhausted while your date cools their ardor at a not-so-romantic table for one.
Second, you want a dinner that is delicious but not so heavy that when you and your date curl up in front of the fire afterwards, the sound of your snores compete with your musical stylings.
This Valentine’s dinner for two solves both concerns. It’s easy to prepare, ready in 35-45 minutes, yet so elegant your date will know they’re the Valentine who’d share your candy hearts. And it is light enough to inspire a handholding stroll after dinner, or at least a step out onto the deck to gaze at the stars.
Your Valentine’s menu:
Starter — a dozen raw oysters if you’re sure of your knife skills, or shrimp cocktail, which also enjoys the “food eaten with fingers” appeal
Dinner — Steak au poivre, parsnip puree, balsamic glazed roasted brussels sprouts
Sweet — Pears poached in red wine with crème fraiche. Beautiful, easy and delicious
Here’s the order in which I recommend you make the menu so that everything is ready at the same time:
Pears Poached in Red Wine
1-2 ripe pears, peeled, cut in half and cored
1 cup of red wine
½ orange, juiced, 2 inch of strip of orange peel
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
¼ cup sugar
Sprig of thyme (optional)
A couple dollops of crème fraiche or whipped cream
Add all ingredients to a small saucepan. Bring the red wine to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Allow the pears to simmer in the spiced red wine for 25-30 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife tip. Remove the pears to serving dishes, bring the remaining wine to a boil and reduce by half, to form a delicious syrup. Drizzle this over the pears and top with a dollop of crème fraiche.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
¾ – 1 lb brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed and cut in half
Drizzle of olive oil
Drizzle of balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 420F. Trim and cut the brussels sprouts, spread on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes. When you take the roasted sprouts out of the oven, drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.
¾ – 1 parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
¾ cup half-and-half or cream
1-2 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprig of thyme (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring the half-and-half to a simmer and allow the parsnips to cook until tender. Puree using an immersion blender.
Steak au Poivre
2 steaks (your choice of cut)
1 tablespoon roughly crushed peppercorns
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
1-2 tablespoons of brandy, red wine or red wine vinegar (used to deglaze the pan and add flavor to the sauce, the alcohol is burned off in the cooking process)
¼ cup half and half or cream
Press the peppercorns into both sides of each steak. Heat a small frying pan over a high heat, add oil and butter and just before the oil smokes or butter burns, add the steaks. Sear both sides of the steaks and cook until you reached the desired doneness. Remove steaks to a plate to rest. Take pan off the heat and add the alcohol, return to heat, scrape the pan to begin the creation of the sauce. Add the cream, swirl to combine, the sauce will come together in less than a minute. Pour the sauce over the steaks. Plate the other dishes and serve.
May your Valentine’s dinner be all you hope for and more!
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