Those of you who know me, know that my favorite thing to do is create menus. Look for pairing, find ways to present foods together that compliment one another and create a “feast” for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
That said, this year for Valentine’s Day, it was a struggle. Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood. I wanted to go out, have someone else do the cooking. But that’s just not possible. We have our “speak easies” that are serving inside, but none of them are “five star”. While I love where we live, there aren’t many top notch restaurants to choose from under normal circumstances. This is an Ag town, with simple pleasures. Great Irish Pubs, Authentic Mexican Restaurants and All-American Diners. The Italian establishments, for the most part, are casual. And I have yet to find a French Restaurant. I want Filet Mignon in a Truffle Demi-glaze with Garlic Potatoes and tender baby vegetables. I want a Foie Gras so creamy and golden caviar that pops in my mouth.
Give me a Valentine experience that begins with an Aperitif and Amuse Brouche. A fluttering of courses, each more exquisite than the last. Oh my! Yeah, right. Not here. Maybe in a big city somewhere, but not in my Cowpoke Ag Town. And with dining restrictions what they are, a meal such as this isn’t fit for curbside takeout or outdoor dining in a tent. Besides, until the insanity ends, big cities aren’t safe. No Five-Star dining experience is worth the risk.
At first I though that’s okay, I can make this work. I’ll just spend Valentine’s Day in the kitchen. After all, the kitchen is my favorite room in the house – that and the dining room. Then there was the challenge of a menu. What I like and what Hubby enjoys are vastly different. Fish eggs, snails and fattened fowl liver – he’ll pass. Besides, I don’t think there’s a market here that carries Foie Gras. For several years California banned Foie Gras completely. So Foie Gras is out.
As for caviar – on New Year’s Eve, I did put together a lovely Caviar Platter that was a big hit with most party goers. I also made a Cognac Chicken Liver Pate. While it was nice, it’s a matter of been there done.
Hubby and Kiddo “sampled” the caviar, but weren’t exactly huge fans. The pate was a firm pass. Escargot is another no-no. So round and round I went, feeling frustrated and sad and at times even angry.
Then I realized it’s not about the food or the atmosphere or any of the trappings. It’s about being together, loving one another and just being happy in the moment, whatever that moment might be.
Rather than make a bunch of new dishes and stress over the details, I decided to serve things that are tried and true. My favorite shrimp appetizer, Kiddo’s favorite Piccata, asparagus with a Hollandaise Sauce just the way Hubby likes it. And a molten cake for dessert. Gosh, I haven’t make these cakes in forever. Yeah, I’m happy.
Piccata Romance at Home
Creamy Shrimp Appetizer
Angel Hair Pasta in Garlic Sauce
Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
Molten Chocolate Cakes
Creamy Shrimp Appetizer
1 lb Large Shrimp (16 count)
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 tablespoon Olive Oil
Kosher Salt to taste
White Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Butter
1/4 cup White Wine
3/4 cup Heavy Cream
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
Baguette Slices, for serving
Peel and devein shrimp . These shrimp can be served with or without their tails, it’s all a matter of personal style. Pat dry and set aside.
Peel and finely mince garlic cloves. Set aside until ready to use.
Heat oil a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and sauté for about 2 minutes on each side, until just cooked through and pink. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.
Melt the butter in the now empty skillet. Sauté garlic until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add the white wine; allow to reduce to half while scraping any bits off of the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to low-medium heat, add the cream and bring to a gentle simmer. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
Add the Parmesan cheese and allow sauce to simmer just long enough for the cheese to melt and the sauce to thicken. Stir to blend smoothly.
Once the sauce is ready, add the shrimp back into the skillet. Taste test sauce and adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Simmer until the shrimp are warmed through.
To serve, ladle sauce on a rimmed serving plate or shallow bowl. Arrange shrimp on top of the sauce. Place warmed baguettes around the edge of the platter and serve.
6 thin Chicken Breast, thin cut
6 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
2-1/2 cups Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
1/2 cup White Wine
2-1/2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon White Pepper
3 tablespoons Capers
1 large Red Onion
1 large Lemon
1/4 cup Butter
Tip: It’s best to use THIN sliced chicken breasts; that way you are good to go and there won’t be the need to take your frustrations out on the chicken. However; if using plump boneless breasts, you’ll need to get them thin – no more than 1/4-inch thick. This can be accomplished one of three ways – get your butcher to do it. Take the chicken home; freeze it until firm, then slice it yourself (much like a butterfly cut only all the way through. Three breast cut in half will give you the six you need). OR you can beat the heck out of the poor breasts. To do this, place the breasts; one at a time; between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with the flat end of a meat mallet. Just be careful that the flesh doesn’t tear.
Whisk Dijon mustard and eggs in a glass pie pan. Place bread crumbs in another pie pan. Set pans aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. While pan heats, dip chicken into mustard mixture. Allow any excess to drip back into the pie pan. Then roll breast into bread crumbs. Add chicken to skillet and cook for 3 minutes per side or until browned and cooked through. You will want to cook the chicken in two batches to avoid over-crowding of the pan.
Remove the chicken to a baking dish large enough to hold all the chicken and Piccata sauce. Keep warm in a 300-degree oven. Add remaining olive oil to skillet. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts – dip; bread and brown. Place in oven to keep warm.
To the now empty skillet; add chicken broth, wine, lemon juice, capers, butter, salt, pepper and red onions to skillet. Bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until onions are tender.
Remove chicken from oven and pour sauce over the breasts. Arrange lemon slices on top of chicken. Cover chicken with foil, return to the oven until ready to serve. It’s best to allow chicken to sit in liquid for at least 15 minutes to soak in flavors before serving.
Angel Hair Pasta in Garlic Sauce
8 oz Angel Hair Pasta
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/2 cup Parsley
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
Fresh Black Pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package direction.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Chop parsley and garlic while oil is heating.
Sauté 1/4 cup parsley and the garlic in oil.
Drain pasta well, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water.
Toss pasta with the garlic mixture. Moisten with a little pasta water at a time until a light sauce is created. Top with cheese and pull strands through to coat and help melt the cheese just a little. Give a few turns of the pepper mill, top with remaining 1/4 cup parsley and serve.
Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
1 bunch Asparagus, trimmed
10 tablespoons Butter, melted
4 Egg Yolks
1/2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
Pinch or 2 Cayenne Pepper
Fill a wide-mouth thermos with boiling water. Place lid in place and set aside.
To Prepare the Asparagus: Break off the tough ends with your fingers. Bend the asparagus spears near the end and they will break naturally where the spear is no longer tough. For an elegant presentation of the spears, use a vegetable peeler to peel off a very thin layer of the outer skin of the lower two to three inches of the asparagus spears. Set aside until ready to steam.
Prepare a large, shallow pan (with a cover) with a half-inch of water and a steamer rack. (Or Asparagus Steamer). Bring the water to a boil, maintaining steam. Place the asparagus on the steaming rack. Cover. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender, but still a little crisp, definitely not mushy. The timing depends on how thick the asparagus spears are. Keep warm until ready to serve.
To Prepare the Hollandaise Sauce: Melt the butter in a small pot. Separate eggs, place the yolks in a blender. Add lemon juice, and cayenne into a blender. Blend the yolks for 20-30 seconds at medium to medium high-speed until lighter in color. Turn blender down to lowest setting and slowly drizzle in the hot melted butter while the blender is running. Continue to blend for a few seconds after all of the butter is incorporated. Sauce with thicken and become silky. Taste the sauce and add more salt or lemon juice if needed.
Empty water from the thermoses. Fill with Hollandaise Sauce. Seal with lid and set aside until ready to use. The sauce will hold for about an hour.
When ready to serve plate the asparagus on a small serving platter. Pour Hollandaise sauce over the asparagus. Serve immediately.
Simple Caesar Salad
1 head Romaine Lettuce
Favorite Creamy Caesar Salad Dressing
Parmesan Cheese as desired
Caesar Garlic Croutons as needed
Fresh Pepper as desired
Tear lettuce leaves into large bite-size pieces. Place in a bowl and add a small amount of Caesar Dressing on lettuce leaves, just enough to lightly coat leaves, toss to blend.
Plate the salad on chilled salad plates, top with Parmesan Cheese and croutons. Add fresh black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.
Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes
4 squares (4 oz) Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup Butter
1 cup Powdered Sugar, sifted
2 large Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
6 tablespoons Flour
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Butter 4 small custard cups or ramekin; 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 a sprig of fresh mint leaves and fresh fruit such as raspberries, blackberries and/or blueberries.
Serve with a dessert spoon and enjoy!