Valentine’s Day 2018 poses some major problems for Catholics. Not since 1945 has Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fallen on the same day. For those of you not familiar with Catholic teachings, Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten Season; a somber day of fasting and abstinence. Simply put, by today’s rules, fasting means small meals and abstinence means “no meat”. Somber Days are not days for celebration, indulgence and chocolates. A real killer to all the romance of a fancy dinner, champagne and caviar, wouldn’t you say?
For those wondering about some sort of special dispensation (similar to a pass on the “no meat” rule for Saint Patrick’s Day during Lent, when Irish are celebrating their patron Saint), Ash Wednesday will not be receiving the same “pardon”. So what’s a Catholic to do? It’s been suggested that we pick another day to indulge our romantic desires – such as Fat Tuesday. For those planning a romantic night on the town, look on the bright side – restaurants will be less crowded.
I must confess, Hubby and I stopped celebrating the commercial aspects of Valentine’s Day years ago. We have gone out for a nice dinner in the past (the last time was 2004), but for the most part it’s a home-cooked meal and a special dessert. (I don’t care much for eating out on “special” days like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day – most restaurants are way overbooked and I feel pressured to eat and run rather than to linger over my food while engaging in quiet conversation). For us, all the hearts and flowers and expensive gifts that are supposed to scream “I love you” aren’t part of the deal. As Hubby once put it “Everyday with you is Valentine’s Day.” So when he shows up with flowers in the middle of the week, that’s romantic. When I’m busy with a project and my guys surprise me by cooking dinner, that says “I love you” loud and clear. Am I right?
All that said, Valentine’s Day should be acknowledged with a little something special – even if it’s observed on Fat Tuesday. “Special” doesn’t necessarily mean “fancy”. Simple, comfort foods can convey the message “I love you” just as easily as multi-course gourmet meals. After all, the language of love is such a personal language that it cannot be defined – not even by Madison Avenue ad campaigns, despite all their efforts.
In our house, we all adore Italian dishes. Cooking together, to me, is romantic. Again, a personal thing. For Valentine’s Day this year, I decided to make something we all like – Chicken Marsala. Normally I like to serve chicken Marsala with a side of Italian Roasted Potatoes (just the way it comes at Olive Garden). This year, I’m whipping up another couple of favorite sides, packed with color and flavor – asparagus and carrots. A few years back, Hubby, Kiddo and I spent a day playing “tourist” along the famous Pier 39 in San Francisco. We ended our day with sunset supper at Neptune’s Waterfront Grill overlooking the bay. Hubby and I both had the Dungeness Crab with drawn butter (whole for Hubby, half for me). While the crab was good; the sides knocked my socks off – so straightforward yet so tasty and colorful – Sautéed Asparagus and Baby Carrot Tips. I could not resist paring these two simple vegetables with my Marsala. Of course, no Valentine’s Day menu could be complete without chocolate in the mix. Since Valentine’s Day is a family affair, I went for something we all enjoy. Molten Lava Cake seemed the perfect dessert to end a lovely meal.
On the Menu
Smoky Pan-Seared Asparagus
Browned Butter and Brown-Sugar Glazed Baby Carrots
Molten Lava Cake with Fresh Berries
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut to create 8 breasts
3 Tablespoons Flour
1/2 Tablespoons Oregano
Salt to Taste
Pepper to Taste
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced Portobello or other assorted mushrooms
½ cup Marsala wine (more to taste)
¼ Cup Chicken Broth
1/2 Tablespoon Brown Gravy Mix (the powder stuff)
Place the breast flat on a cutting board with the fuller side closest to you, the thinner point away from you. Find the center spot to cut breast evenly (or as close to evenly as possible) in half, make a small slit in the breast. Turn breast so that the thicker part is facing your blade-wielding hand. (For me, that’s right). Insert blade into the slit, pressing down gently on the breast with your free hand and slice length-wise. You should end up with two thin breast halves. Set aside and repeat with remaining breasts.
In a shallow dish combine flour, salt, pepper and oregano. Coat chicken pieces in flour mixture.
In a large skillet, melt butter in olive oil over medium heat. Place chicken in pan and lightly brown on both sides.
Add mushrooms. Pour in wine and chicken broth, cover and simmer chicken 10 minutes, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.
Taste and adjust sauce as needed – if too sweet, add small amount of Chicken Broth, if not sweet enough, add small amount of Marsala Wine. Remove chicken from the pan and transfer to a rimmed serving platter. Tent and keep warm.
Add Brown Gravy Mix and continue to cook an additional 10 minutes to allow sauce to reduce and thicken. Return chicken to the pan, roll to coat with sauce.
Place chicken on serving platter, spoon sauce over and around chicken.
Smoky Pan Seared Asparagus
1 lb green asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon Basil olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
juice of 1/2 lemon, freshly squeezed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the asparagus and trim off the ends, leaving spears about 8 inches long.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter to sizzling. Turn down the heat to medium and add the asparagus.
Using a broad spatula, turn the spears over from time to time until they are browned more or less evenly, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. The spears will remain mainly green, with patches of crispy brown. Check for doneness by tasting a spear. It should be tender but slightly al dente.
Sprinkle the asparagus with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and transfer to a serving platter or individual plates.
Browned-Butter and Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots
1 Bunch Baby Carrots, tops intact
2 Tablespoons Water
Pinch of Salt
4 Tablespoons Butter
4 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Kahlua
Trim tops of carrots, leaving about 1 inch of the “green” intact.
Wash and peel carrots. Place in a microwave safe dish.
Add water and a pinch of salt. Microwave on HIGH for 3-5 minutes, until carrots are tender-crisp.
Heat empty skillet until almost smoking. Remove skillet from heat, add butter. Butter will begin to brown almost immediately. Add brown sugar, stir until sugar has dissolved to create a nice glaze.
Add Kahlua, swirl pan to blend.
Place carrots in pan with butter. Swirl to coat carrots with glaze.
Place pan on low heat. Continue to swirl until carrots are nicely glazed and everything is hot.
Transfer to serving platter. Serve immediately.
Molten Lava Cake with Fresh Berries
4 Squares Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate
½ Cup Butter
1 Cup Powdered Sugar, Sifted
2 Whole Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
6 Tablespoons Flour
Fresh Berries for Garnish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter 4 small custard cups or ramekins; place on a baking sheet and set aside.
Microwave chocolate squares and butter in a large microwaveable bowl on high for approximate 1 minute or until butter is melted. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted.
Sift powdered sugar into chocolate mixture. Add whole eggs and whisk until blended. Add egg yolks and mix well. Stir flour into batter. Spoon batter into prepared cups or ramekins.
Bake 13-14 minutes or until sides of cake are firm but centers are still soft. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes.
Carefully run thin knife around cake to loosen; invert onto dessert plates.
Dust with additional powdered sugar. Garnish each dish with fresh fruit such as raspberries, blackberries and/or strawberries. (Since only a small amount of fruit is used for the garnish, it’s the perfect time to think ahead – fresh fruit with breakfast in the morning!)