A Homemade Recipe for Romance
I love to dress up and enjoy a delicious restaurant meal just as much as almost anyone I know and a decadent date night out is a treat my husband and I enjoy whenever we can. But, over the years, I’ve come to really value the intimacy and sincerity that a thoughtful, homemade meal at home by candlelight alone with your sweetheart can offer, especially on Valentine’s Day! Fewer distractions, no one is watching, time for actual conversation, and you can even eat in your PJs if you want! Cooking and entertaining is definitely a love language of mine as well as a way to unwind at the end of a long day. But even if you aren’t ready for your debut on “Top Chef,” a date night in doesn’t have to be daunting and can actually be a lot of fun! Our dining room table is my favorite restaurant in town, and yours can be too! All it takes is a little planning and creativity, so get your aprons ready and let’s get cooking!
When thinking about what makes a great romantic dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, a few things come to mind:
1. The company you are keeping (duh!),
2. A meal filled with a variety of tastes and flavors to tickle your taste buds
3. Nice ambiance
4. A pretty presentation for the food
For me, an appealing and satisfying meal is just as much about what is not on the plate as it is about what is. Somehow, if the “feel” of the night is on par, the food tastes better to me. A meal can be so much more than a quick nutrition fill up and if you are going to take the time to make it, take the time to savor each bite! Use this date night in as an excuse to slow down the rapid pace and live a little. For extra touches, I’m adding a nice linen table cloth, flowers, candles and some Valentine’s Day decorations to make my table extra festive! You don’t need to spend a lot of money to do this—grocery store flowers, a vase from home and some arts and crafts décor that even your kiddos can make provides some ambiance and a family activity for your kids. Cut out paper hearts on origami or wrapping paper that can be spread around the table with love notes on the back to brighten your day! If you want to go all out, whip out your best china, silver and crystal that all good Southern girls registered for but are often hesitant to use because it’s work to clean and heaven forbid anything breaks! Fine china was made to be used for special occasions just like this! Don’t have fancy china? Skip it and just use your everyday tableware. (Just no Chinet and Solo cups, please!).
Now let’s talk menu! When I think Valentine’s Day, I think of a steak dinner with a few courses finished with a decadent chocolate dessert served with some good wine or your favorite cocktail and that’s amore, folks!
Multiple courses might seem overwhelming to the average cook, especially when you are talking about just cooking for two. So, what I want to do is give you a few “jump starters” to mix in with your main recipes to create maximum flair without a lot of effort. The rest is just a little prep work that can be done ahead of time to make sure everything runs smoothly—called mise en place–a French word phrase that means “everything in its place. This means having all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, and grated before you start cooking. Pots and pans are out and ready. Mixing bowls and tools you need are at arms’ length and the oven is pre-heated. It is a technique top restaurant chefs use to assemble meals quickly and effortlessly in the restaurant, and it works! Most of the meals I make, even the ones my husband thinks are really “fancy,” only take 20-30 minutes to cook—max. If the longest part of the meal prep is pre-heating the oven, it’s on my go-to list. Have your honey help you set everything out to lighten the load. Pre-heat your oven to the desired temp to get it ready before you prep the first course and you’ll be ready to go!
On the Menu Tonight
Amuse-Bouche, this French word literally means “mouth amuser” and is meant to be just a bite or sip of something to tease your taste buds for the rest of the meal without filling you up too much …it’s really a fancy word for a one-bite appetizer, but way more fun to say!
Carrot Ginger Soup Shot and Mini Grapefruit Mint Salad served with Champagne
Lots of flavors with hints of spice, citrus and a little sweetness—and time to pop the bubbly, of course.
Here comes my first “jump starter”—
Carrot Ginger Soup
Ingredients and Tools:
Small container of Carrot Ginger Soup from Hubbell and Hudson Kitchen
Two shot glasses
Microwave or a small pot to warm it on the stove
Find a store-bought/restaurant soup you love and get a small container to go the night before. Right before you serve the course, Heat it in a small pan on the stove or heat up the soup in the microwave. Watch it to make sure it doesn’t bubble over. Pour a shot of soup into a shot glass and serve.
Mini Grapefruit Mint Salad
Tools and Supplies:
A small ramekin or bowls for salad
A sharp knife for grapefruit and mint chiffonade
Spoon for honey
A few fresh sprigs of mint, chiffonade
Half of a juicy ruby red grapefruit
A spoonful of honey
Cut grapefruit in half. Wrap up and save one half for breakfast the next morning and then peel the second half with a knife, cutting off most of the white pith so that you have the juicy part exposed. Cutting in between the skin on each segment, cut out about 4-5 segments for each person and then squeeze the remaining shell to get about a ¼ cup of juice in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of honey and stir to combine. Take two sprigs of mint and pull off the leaves. Stack the leaves on top of each other and roll together tightly like a little cigar. Using a sharp knife, cut along the length of the mint roll to make tiny ribbons of mint—this is called “chiffonade”. Mise en place time–The grapefruit sections and grapefruit honey dressing can be made ahead of time and kept in fridge over night to cut down on prep time but cut the mint fresh within an hour of the meal and keep it in a small container in the fridge so that it stays a nice bright green for sprinkling on top.
Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli with a Sage Walnut Brown Butter Sauce
Delicious purply pink pillow of cheese filled pasta served with a fast, but elegant sage walnut brown butter sauce—Heaven on a plate! Don’t like beets or goat cheese? No problem. Find another pre-made ravioli flavor you like. The sauce will taste just as good, I promise!
Tools and Supplies:
Small/medium pot for ravioli
Jump starter #2: Roasted beet and goat cheese ravioli (find them at Whole Foods in the refrigerated cheese case—they have lots of options and there are even some gluten free versions)
Fresh sage—5-6 leaves
Handful of walnut halves
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (don’t think about it, just do it)
Freshly grated parmesan Instructions:
Place walnuts in a small dry skillet. Turn heat to medium low and roast, moving around about 5-7 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Once 7 minutes is up, remove walnuts to a paper towel. Make sure your pot of water for raviolis is filled and on the stove—you just need a small pot and about 2 cups of water—just enough to cover the raviolis. Bring water to a bowl. Turn skillet up to medium heat and add butter. Butter may start to bubble after a few minutes. Once it does, turn the heat down just a bit so it won’t burn, but just turns a little brown—“brown butter”. Toss the walnuts back in and then pluck a few leaves of sage off the stems and toss them whole into the melted butter—they will sizzle like they are frying. Turn heat off and remove from stove immediately. When water starts to boil, prepare the raviolis according to instructions making sure not to leave them in too long. They are done when they start to puff up and float to the top—usually about 4-5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or strainer to drain off excess water. Transfer them to individual plates for serving—it’s ok if a little of the pasta water gets in there; it will just add to the sauce. When sauce is finished, divide brown butter sauce between the two plates, making sure to get some of the toasted walnuts and fried sage on each serving. Top with a light sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan, add salt and pepper to taste and voila!
Filet Mignon and Roasted Balsamic Asparagus topped with Truffle Butter
This is your splurge and will likely be where the bulk of your grocery bill will come from. You may think it sounds like a lot at the store, but just remember that it would be at least twice as much at a restaurant and this tastes just as good—if not better!
Tips for buying meat—I always look for organic grass-fed beef whenever possible. The price tag is higher, but you will taste the difference and it’s better for you. Meat should be red—if it looks a little brown, skip it—that means it’s been sitting out a while.
Tools and Supplies:
Heavy cast-iron skillet or a heavy bottom oven safe skillet with sides.
Mini-steak buttons from Sur La Table (in store at Market Street or available online; $19.95 for a set of 4); these will be your new best friends for beef
Knife for trimming asparagus
Cutting board (you can use the same one you used for mint chiffonade)
Small cookie sheet with foil for asparagus
Tongs to flip and serve filets
2 filets (I usually get an 8-12 oz. for hubby depending on how hungry he is and a 6-8 oz. for me)
Truffle Butter—I get mine from HEB but you can find it online
Kosher Salt and Freshly cracked black pepper
Bundle of asparagus, trimmed
Good Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar—about 1 Tbsp of each
While your pasta course is cooking, place your cast-iron skillet on the stove and turn on to medium high heat. The purpose of starting the filets on the stove is to sear each side to give it a crust and then they are finished off in the pre-heated oven. (425degrees) Take your filets out of the fridge and season both sides with salt and pepper and place on a plate before you start your first course. It’s not long enough to hurt it, but it’s best to cook meat when it is not straight out of the fridge. You can actually also trim your asparagus ahead of time when you are prepping your herbs.
Once skillet is hot, gently place filets in with tongs and then let them sizzle. Resist the urge to try to move them around. In order to get that crust, they need to stay in one place. They are ready when you can easily lift it with the tongs without it sticking—usually about 4-5 minutes. Flip and sear the other side. While steaks are cooking, place asparagus spears on a small lined cookie sheet. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (don’t go too crazy—you just need a little) and add salt and pepper. Use your tongs to toss asparagus so they are coated. Place them in pre-heated oven on middle rack. When other side of filets is ready (about another 5 minutes), remove from heat and insert steak buttons in each filet. They need to go through to the middle—bottom middle of the steak to accurately read the temp, but not all the way through. Transfer the steaks to the oven and set the timer for 7 minutes on top rack. Now, how long the steaks cook after the 7 minutes is up to you—the steak buttons will tell you when they are medium rare, medium, medium well, so just watch carefully until the desired temp is achieved. Want yours medium rare and your sweetie wants medium well—just remove the rare steak when the button reads medium rare (in the middle of the temp range) and then place it on a plate wrapped in foil until the other is almost ready. Watch asparagus while steaks are cooking. When spears start to wither a little, they are ready to come out. Using the foil, wrap around the spears to keep them warm until steaks are ready. When steaks are at desired temp, remove them from the oven. Use tongs to help you remove the steak buttons from steaks. Have your truffle butter ready and top each filet with a small pat. Transfer steaks and asparagus to your dinner plates and serve.
Dessert – Hope you saved some room!
Some Like it Hot Carmel Brownies served a la mode with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
This is another jump starter—I’m a big fan of taking good pre-made items and “zhushing it up” to make it a little more special.
Now, if you can stand to make these the day before and NOT eat them or have anyone else in your house eat them, that is your best bet here!
Tools and Supplies:
Glass baker 8×8 or disposable aluminum brownie baker with lid
Non-stick cooking spray (baking kind or coconut oil is best)
Knife to cut brownies into squares or a large heart shaped cookie cutter to stay in theme
Pre-packaged brownie mix–My favorite is the Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie mix
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. kosher salt
Chocolate covered caramel candies—I use Ghiradelli Chocolate covered caramels.
Prepare brownie mix according to instructions. Before pouring into baking container, add in zhushers (minus caramel candies) and mix well. Pour batter into a non-stick sprayed container reserving a little to pour on top. Add in caramels spacing them throughout container pushing them down into batter as much as you can. Pour remaining batter on top and spread evenly. Place brownies in pre-heated oven and bake for designated time (according to mix). Remove and let cool slightly before cutting. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you make these the day before, leave them covered with foil on your kitchen countertop so that they stay at room temperature. You can pop them in the oven (turn oven off) after you remove the steaks to warm them back up a little before serving.
I hope you enjoyed these recipes and test them out with your sweetheart soon! Remember, it’s not about everything being perfect. It’s about enjoying a night with someone you love and making memories!
Stay tuned for more entertaining and cooking tips coming soon!