Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone out there. There’s nothing more romantic than a quiet dinner with your sweetie, whether it’s out at a restaurant or at home.This dinner menu, which I got from Williams-Sonoma, is French-themed and requires a little more work than what we have cooked lately, but not much, and the rewards will be worth it. I have also included a dessert today, which I don’t normally do, but heck, it’s a special day, so why not?
The first course is a Riesling onion Soup with Herbed Croutons. It’s a variation on the classic French Onion Soup. It takes a little bit (about an hour in total) to prepare and cook, but it’s a nice touch to start off the meal and you could always make the soup a day ahead of time and re-heat it when you are ready to serve it for your meal.
Riesling Onion Soup with Herbed Croutons
3 tablespoons butter
4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 leeks, including pale green tops, sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups Riesling (use a dry Riesling, not “late harvest”) 6 cups chicken stock (I am using homemade, find my recipe here)
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the Herbed Croutons:
1/2 baguette, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs, such as tarragon, parsley, thyme or rosemary, in any combination 1/2 pound of Italian fontina cheese, cut into small cubes
In a large, wide saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, leeks, garlic and tarragon and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes more. Pour in the wine, bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Pour in the stock and return to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, until reduced slightly, about 45 minutes.
To make the herbed croutons, preheat an oven to 300 degrees. Arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, butter and herbs. Lightly coat each bread slice on both sides with the oil mixture. Toast the bread in the oven, turning occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. (The croutons can be made up to 24 hours in advance and stored, tightly covered, at room temperature.)
Preheat a broiler. Arrange individual ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet and ladle soup into the bowls. Top each serving with 2 or 3 croutons and an equal amount of the cheese. Place the baking sheet under the broiler 7 inches from the heat source and broil until the cheese melts, about 1 minute. Remove from the broiler and serve immediately.
This recipe is for a service of 6, so you may want to cut it 2/3 if you are only making it for 2.
For the entrée, I am making Steaks with Shallot-Red Wine Sauce. I have made this before and posted the recipe in an earlier blog, so if you want to check it out, just click here and you can see the recipe for it. It’s very tasty and the only difference this time is that I am using bone-in ribeyes instead of boneless, but you can whatever cut of steak you like best.
I am making two sides with tonight’s meal. The first is Sautéed Spinach with Pine Nuts. I am making a slight variation of this, as pine nuts are quite expensive and I won’t use them very often. A good, cheaper alternative is slivered almonds, so I am going with those instead.
Spinach Sautéed with Pine Nuts
1/4 cup pine nuts (I am using slivered almonds instead)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 pounds spinach leaves, tough stems removed and leaves well rinsed (this sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Spinach cooks down significantly when you saute it)
Salt and pepper to taste
If desired, toast the pine nuts (or almonds) by heating them gently in a dry, small, heavy fry pan over medium heat, tossing them every so often as they become golden and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Watch the nuts closely as they can burn very easily. When toasted, immediately pour them onto a plate.
In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and saute lightly until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Put the spinach with just the rinsing water clinging to the leaves in a saucepan over medium-high heat, cover, and cook until the spinach is bright green and wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well in a colander, pressing the spinach with the back of a spoon to remove excess moisture. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, chop it coarsely.
Add the spinach and nuts to the onion and garlic in the fry pan and return to medium heat. Stir until the spinach and onion are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.
To go with the steak and spinach, I opted for Twice-Baked Potatoes tonight. You could easily go with roasted potatoes or mashed potatoes, but the twice-baked sounded like something different to try and you can use a variety of toppings, if you like.
2 russet potatoes (7 to 8 ounces each), scrubbed, dried, and rubbed lightly with vegetable oil
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoons butter , room temperature
2 medium scallions , white and green parts sliced thin
1/4 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
Put an oven rack to upper middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the potatoes on foil-lined baking sheet until skin is crisp and deep brown and skewer easily pierces the flesh, about 1 hour. Setting the baking sheet aside, transfer the potatoes to a wire rack and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Using an oven mitt or folded kitchen towel to handle the hot potatoes, cut each potato in half so that the blunt sides will rest on work surface. Using a small dinner spoon, scoop the flesh from each half into medium bowl, leaving a 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thickness of flesh in each shell. Arrange the shells on a lined sheet and return to the oven until dry and slightly crisped, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the potato flesh with fork until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients, including pepper to taste, until well combined.
Remove the shells from the oven and increase the oven setting to broil. Holding the shells steady on a pan with an oven mitt or towel-protected hand, spoon the mixture into crisped shells, mounding slightly at the center, and return to the oven. Broil until spotty brown and crisp on top, 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm.
You can always use a different cheese instead of cheddar to change things up for yourself and the shells should come nice and crispy, not soggy, in this recipe.
Finally, on to dessert. I am not a dessert person and very rarely make them myself, but tonight I will give it a shot and this recipe is pretty easy to use and great for the chocolate lovers. You need to use a double boiler for this recipe, but if you don’t have one(and I don’t) you can use a makeshift one. Choose a saucepan and a heatproof bowl(preferably glass) that rests securely in the top. Fill the saucepan with water to a depth of about 1 to 2 inches. Once the bowl is placed atop the pan, the water must not touch it. Remember that boiling water bubbles up, so check the water level before setting the bowl in place. Bring the water to a boil, set the bowl in place, and reduce the heat so the water simmers gently. If the water bubbles up and is hitting the bowl, you’ll get condensation in the bowl, your chocolate will end up seizing, and you’ll end up having to start over.
Warm Molten Chocolate Cakes
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (optional)
3 egg whites, at room temperature
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Lightly butter six 3/4-cup ramekins and dust with cocoa powder. Set the ramekins on a small baking sheet.
In the top pan of a double boiler, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the pan over, but not touching, barely simmering water in the bottom pan and melt the chocolate and butter, then whisk until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the cocoa powder and the orange zest on medium-high speed until thick. Spoon the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture and beat until well blended. The mixture will be very thick.
In a bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they are very foamy and thick. Sprinkle in the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and increase the speed to high. Continue beating until firm, glossy peaks form. Spoon half of the beaten whites onto the chocolate mixture and whisk in until just blended. Add the remaining whites and stir gently until just blended. Spoon into the prepared ramekins, dividing evenly.
Bake the cakes until they are puffed and the tops are cracked, about 13 minutes. The inside of the cracks will look very wet. Remove from the oven and serve immediately in the ramekins. Or run the tip of a small knife around the inside of each ramekin to loosen the cake, then invert the cakes onto individual plates.
You could serve these with a little dusting of powdered sugar and some raspberries or strawberries and maybe a dollop of whipped cream or creme anglaise (which I’m not adventurous enough to make, but some might be), or even a little vanilla ice cream with some shaved chocolate.
Okay, that’s it, my Valentine’s Day meal. It’s not as hard as it may seem, trust me. It’s just a matter of organizing your time and space so everything is done on time. You could even have everything set up to make the dessert and make it after you finish eating the dinner if you want. Enjoy your meal and your time with your special someone, have a nice glass of wine and snuggle by the fireplace. Tomorrow’s meal is back to simplicity with Cream of Cauliflower Soup. It’s our meat-free meal of the week so feel free to check it out. If you have any questions, comments, would like to let us know what you are making or eating tonight, please do! Have a great day everyone!