Roadmap to Romance… A FoolProof Valentine’s Dinner For Two

You’ve heard the saying, the key to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I’d like to think this is true today for all genders. We are in the 21st century, I mean a woman is running for President for crying out loud.  Women love food just as much as the hungry man.  I don’t know how many times I have heard my girlfriends say how attractive it is when their guy cooks for them.  It can be a serious turn on.  So where do we begin?

Cooking a romantic dinner for two sounds great in theory, but sometimes can end in total ruin with a visit from your local fire department. That’s where I come in, a chef instructor who has taught the most novice of cooks who struggle to even identify a spatula. Allow me to ease your fears and assure that you are in good hands. Menu planning and preparation is key!  If you are going to do this right you must have your mise en order.  (Mise en place is a culinary term used in the kitchen and is literally translated “a place for everything and everything in its place”) this ensures success because you have all of your ingredients, tools, timing, and fluff (flowers, candles, and music) in place for an amorous event.

Not to sound sexist, but it’s another popularly known statement that “men won’t ask for directions,”  well I have taken the guess work out of your dinner for two and provided a roadmap to one enchanted evening.  After all, where love sets the table…the food tastes the best.

Your roadmap to romance is divided into five sections: Menu with cocktail/wine pairings, Shopping List, Equipment Needs, Recipes, and table decor/staging.

 Menu:

Pre-Dinner Cocktail: My Fair Lady

Maryland Style Crab Cakes with Creamy Dill & Caper Remoulade

Spinach & Strawberry Salad with Toasted Pecans & Poppyseed Dressing

Wine Pairing Suggestion for First & Second Course:   Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc – Viognier 2014

Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin served with Dauphinoise Potatoes & Roasted Asparagus Bundles

Wine Pairing Suggestion for Main Course: Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Chocolate Pots De Crème with Champagne

 

Plated Steak.JPG

Shopping List:

  •  1 lb lump crab meat
  • 1/2 dozen eggs
  • 1 jar of dijon mustard
  • 2 bunch of fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 clamshell of each ( fresh chives, dill, thyme, and rosemary)
  • 1 spice jar of old bay seasoning
  • 1 loaf of white bread
  • 1 bunch of trimmed celery
  • 1 jar of capers
  • 1 container of mayonnaise
  • 1 small container of ketchup
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 pint of organic strawberries (the only way to buy strawberries)
  • 1 container of baby spinach
  • 1 cup of pecan halves
  • 1 small package of full-fat feta cheese
  • 1 yellow bell pepper  (or 1 jar of roasted bell peppers)
  • white wine vinegar
  • 1 small spice container of poppy seeds
  • 1 jar of honey
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 5 slices of thinly sliced prosciutto ham
  • 1  garlic bulb
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 1/2 lbs of baking potatoes (Idaho)
  • 1 quart of heavy cream
  • 5 ounces of gruyere cheese (or smoked gouda)
  • ground nutmeg – (you only need 1 tsp)
  • cayenne pepper- (you only need 2 tsp)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 bottle of Grape Seed Oil
  • 8 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Sugar (you only need 2 TBSP)
  • Vanilla extract
  • 2 lbs of center cut beef tenderloin
  • 1 bottle of Worcestershire sauce
  •  kosher salt and black pepper

Beverage List for cocktails and wine pairing:

  • Strawberry liqueur
  • Gin or Vodka (Tanqueray or Kettle One)
  • 1 pint of orange juice,
  • 1 pint of organic lemon juice
  • 1 bottle of white wine (see suggested wine pairing)
  • 1 bottle of red wine (see suggested wine pairing)
  • 1 bottle of champagne

Equipment Needs include cocktail shaker, jigger, martini glasses, wine glasses, matching plates for appetizers, salad, and entrees, two coffee cups or cordial glasses for dessert, forks, knives, spoons. In addition, you will need two baking/cookie sheets, a whisk, chef’s knife, pairing knife, cutting board, saute pans, high-heat rubber spatulas or wooden spoons, a set of tongs, potato peeler, cheese grater, a  3-quart casserole dishes, two 2-quart saucepans, several various sized mixing bowls, 1 medium to large cast iron skillet (or oven-proof skillet)  and a medium glass bowl.

Recipes:

My Fair Lady Cocktail:  Serves 1

Simple, classic, and subtle.

Pink.JPG

Put 4-6 cracked ice cubes into a cocktail shaker.  Add a dash of strawberry liqueur over the ice, pour in 2 measures of gin or vodka (personal preference), 1 measure of orange juice, 1 measure of lemon juice and add 1 egg white. Shake vigorously until a frost forms. Strain into a chilled cocktail/martini glass and serve. Garnish with a slice of fresh strawberry or orange peel.

 

Maryland Style Crab cakes

Crab Cakes.JPG

Classy, simple ingredients, and these beauties can be made a day ahead of time! 

  • 2 slices white bread, crusts removed and crumbled
  • 2 TBSP mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp old bay seasoning
  • 1 TBSP Fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 TBSP fresh chopped chives
  • 1/2 tsp prepared dijon mustard
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 TBSP small diced celery (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat

Turn the broiler on in your oven to high. Mix bread, mayonnaise, old bay, parsley, chives, celery (optional), mustard and egg in large bowl until well blended. Gently stir in crabmeat. Shape into 4 patties.

Bowl Crab Cakes

Broil 5-10 minutes on a baking sheet that has either been lined with parchment paper or sprayed with a non-stick cooking spray  until golden brown.

To make a simple version of a remoulade add 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 2 TBSP of freshly chopped dill, 1 TBSP of capers, 1 tsp ketchup, 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp of cayenne pepper, 1/2 lemon juiced, and mix well with a whisk until thoroughly blended.  Add chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper.

 

Spinach & Strawberry Salad with Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing

 Light, classic, and delicious and again most items can be prepped ahead!

Serving Size 2

  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 yellow bell pepper – roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced  (or 1 jar of roasted peppers)
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries tops removed and sliced
  • 1/4 cup red onion diced or in slivers
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves toasted
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375*F. Place bell pepper on sheet pan and roast until the skin has darkened and starts to peel away, rotating several times. Place pecan pieces in a saucepan and toast them until; slightly brown. Arrange spinach, strawberries, onions, feta pepper diced, and pecans on two plates and drizzle with the poppy seed dressing

Dress the Salad 2.JPG

 

Poppy Seed Dressing: 

Makes 1 cup.  (Can be made a week in advance!)
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1 small shallot  (you can substitute with 1 TBSP of finely chopped red onion)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp mayonnaise, optional for a creamier dressing or substitute with a coconut cream for a healthier alternative
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, grapeseed oil, or a mix is best

Whisk the white wine vinegar and sweetener in a medium bowl. Peel the shallot and grate it on a micro plane or the smallest holes on a box grater directly into the bowl. Add the poppy seeds, salt, mustard and mayonnaise and whisk to combine.

While whisking the dressing, pour the olive oil into the dressing in a slow stream. Continue whisking until completely combined.

Dressing.JPG

Transfer to a covered container and store in the fridge for several weeks. The dressing will separate as it sits; shake to recombine before using.

Optional Topping: Crisp Bacon Crumbles, Sesame Seeds, or Rice Noodles

Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin 

The combination of meat and taters holds a special place in every heart. 

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds center cut beef tenderloin, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or grapeseed oil
  • 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Tie the beef with butcher’s string and rub with the olive oil and yellow mustard. Combine the rosemary, parsley, thyme, and garlic and pat the mixture on the beef. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Drizzle with Worcestershire sauce.

Marinate Beef.JPG

Over high heat sear the beef in an ovenproof skillet, turning to brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Place the skillet directly into the oven and roast the beef for 20 to 25 minutes. Let the beef rest for 10 minutes before removing the string and slicing.

Sear Steak.JPG

Dauphinois Potatoes 

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove halved
  • 1 tbsp butter softened
  • 2 1/2 lbs of baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese  (or substitute with smoked gouda)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Rub a 3-quart casserole dish with garlic, and softened butter.  Bring sliced potatoes, heavy cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly; cook 5 minutes or until liquid thickens slightly.  Pour into the prepared dish.

 

Pots in Pan.JPG

Press the potato slices down to submerge in liquid, sprinkle with cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes or until potato slices are tender and top is golden brown.

Pots Out of Oven.JPG

Roasted Asparagus Bundles

Ingredients

  • 1 lb asparagus spears, washed and dried
  • 5 slices prosciutto, di parma sliced paper thin1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. In a dish, coat asparagus with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Cut each slice of prosciutto in half lengthwise. Gather bunches of 5 asparagus (if they are the small ones, otherwise use 3 at a time) spears and wrap them in the prosciutto and place on the baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes.

Asparagus.JPG

Chocolate Pots De Crème

Nothing says I love you like chocolate and champagne.”   These rich and decadent chocolate cups can be made a day ahead and kept in the cooler until you are ready to serve with your favorite beverage. 

Dessert.JPG

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • shaved chocolate or peppermint

Directions

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Whisk in the sugar. Gradually add the cream, whisking constantly until smooth; remove from heat. In a medium bowl, vigorously beat the egg yolks.  Gradually whisk about 1/4 of the chocolate mixture into the yolks. Add the egg-chocolate mixture back into the pot with the warm chocolate mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk in the vanilla. Spoon into small pots de crème cups or cordial glasses or coffee cups and chill for at least 1 hour. Top each serving with fresh whipped cream, shaved chocolate, or crushed peppermint.

 

“Nothing worthwhile is easy…..there will be a fresh hot mess after this one.  Psst…shove it in the oven, closet, pantry, or back room until the night is over….the mess can wait!”

Dirty Dishes.JPG

Final Touches

Here’s the thing, women pay attention to DETAILS so when their main squeeze pays attention to details it’s a win-win. Clean up the house, buy a pleasant air freshener (cotton or something clean) and if you have a fireplace make sure it’s going. Nothing says romance then a cozy fireplace, chocolate, and some wine.  Buy some flowers (if you don’t know her favorite you can’t go wrong with roses unless she hates roses and then just go with daisies)  make sure you have candles..tea light candles are just fine…you can get a ton of them for cheap and place them throughout the house and around the dinner table. Set your pandora station to James Brown, Marvin Gaye, or some cool jazz music. Just something that is easy and won’t distract from your one-on-one time. Try not to wear too much cologne, and lastly try to relax, if she is worth all of this trouble she will simply be happy just being with you.

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