Option 1: A Romantic Dinner for Two
It’s Valentine’s Day and you want to show your sweetie how much you care by serving a delicious meal. For those in the wooing stages, tempt your loved one with a special dinner of rack-of-lamb. It’s impressive, requires a small amount of prep time and cooks quickly. All that’s required is garlic, bread crumbs, fresh herbs and a little mustard. How easy is that?
Valentine’s Day lands on Thursday this year, so you’ll probably be cooking after a day of work. The side dishes need to be easy to prepare or made ahead of time. Potatoes are a natural and a gratin of tangy mashed potatoes, assembled earlier in the day or even the night before, can be cooked along side the lamb. The richness of the cream cheese and the tanginess of sour cream turn mashed potatoes into a side dish with depth that's sure to satisfy your Valentine.
Grab some wax paper and fold a sheet in half. Remember second grade when you learned to make a cut-out heart? Use that same skill to make a heart stencil. Lay the stencil on top of the potatoes, lightly dust with paprika and gently lift the paper. Do this right before placing in the oven. You’re bound to score points.
The vegetable of choice to serve your honey is asparagus. Boil or steam pencil thin asparagus for three minutes (if asparagus is more of a medium thickness steam for 5 minutes; plump for 7 minutes). Drain the asparagus and place in a serving dish. When ready to serve, melt butter in a small dish for dipping. Asparagus is meant to be eaten by hand, so get in the spirit of the day and feed it to your loved one.
For dessert, serve simple chocolate covered strawberries. You can make these ahead or do it together. Place a half cup of chocolate chips in a glass bowl and microwave for 90 seconds. Stir with a spatula and heat further, if needed, until totally melted. Dip the strawberries in the chocolate and place on a plate covered with wax or parchment paper to cool. Strawberries and chocolate, the perfect ending to a romantic dinner certain to earn a kiss for the cook.
Valentine’s Day Rack-of Lamb
Lamb should always be served rare to medium rare. The best method to determine when the lamb is done is with an instant read meat thermometer. Most supermarkets and kitchen stores carry thermometers starting at around $15.
1 Rack-of-Lamb 6 to 8 chops, about 1 pound, Frenched
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt (freshly ground sea salt if possible) and freshly ground pepper
Bread crumb coating ingredients:
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup panko crumbs
1 spring fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 spring parsley, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon salt, freshly ground sea salt if possible
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Place the olive oil in large heavy oven-proof sauté pan and heat over high heat. Season the lamb liberally with salt and pepper. Starting with the meaty side down, brown the lamb in the oil for 3 minutes. If the pan starts to smoke, turn down the heat, slightly. Lift the rack to a standing position and brown the end portion of the meat. If you pan is hot enough, the lamb will stand on its own, if not use tongs to hold the lamb in an upright position for 3 minutes. Lower the lamb back onto the surface of the pan and brown the underside of the ribs for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool while assembling the bread crumb mixture.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the mustard and garlic. In another bowl mix together the panko, herbs, salt and pepper. Using a spatula cover the meaty surface of the lamb with the mustard. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the mustard.
- Place the sauté pan on the center rack of the oven. Roast the lamb for 15-20 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 130 for rare or 135 for med rare. Let stand for 10 minutes and cut into individual chops. Serves 2.
Tangy Mashed Potatoes
When baking the potatoes separately from the lamb, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake uncovered for 30 minutes. This recipe can be doubled.
3 medium red potatoes peeled and quartered
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup light sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Place potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with at least one inch of water. Heat the water and potatoes over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil potatoes about 20 minutes or until fork tender.
- Drain potatoes and place in a large bowl. While the potatoes are still warm add the cream cheese, sour cream, salt and pepper. Using a hand mixer, whip the potatoes until creamy.
- Transfer the potatoes to a greased 1-quart casserole dish. If desired use a heart stencil to create paprika heart. (See article for instructions)
- Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Serves 2-4.
Option 2: “We’ve Got Kids” Meal
If your Valentine’s vignette includes children hanging off your apron, an elaborate meal may not be in the cards. However an expeditious entrée of lemon-pepper salmon can still give your sweetheart a romantic respite from the routine.
This dish can be assembled ahead of time and popped in the oven 30 minutes before serving (see recipe). Dress up two packaged sides and your other half will be flirting across the table, wondering how in the world you found the time to whip up such a special meal.
Rice pilaf is a natural accompaniment to fish, and toasted pine nuts make a nice addition to boxed pilaf. While the salmon is cooking, place a quarter cup of pine nuts in a shallow baking dish (aluminum pie pan is perfect) and roast for no more than three minutes. Top the pilaf with the pine nuts before serving.
Who doesn’t love the bag of salad? By adding just three ingredients — orange sections, thinly sliced sweet onion and bacon bits — you’ll spoil your Valentine with a little something extra in their salad bowl. Olive oil vinaigrette or Italian dressing will complement the tartness of the orange and the smokiness of the bacon.
For a final flourish, turn strawberries into adult food. Set some aside for the kids, but slice a dozen or so into a bowl for your and your squeeze. Sprinkle those berries with sugar and pour on a little Grand Marnier. Mix together, cover and refrigerate. After the kids are in bed, scoop up some vanilla ice cream and top with the macerated strawberries. Grab your dessert, cuddle on the couch and enjoy! Hopefully you won’t hear the patter of little feet until morning.
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup drained capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dillweed
1 pound skinless center-cut salmon fillet
1 tablespoon lemon-pepper seasoning
1 tablespoon butter
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Place large sheet of foil on rimmed baking sheet. Spray foil with vegetable oil spray. Mix shallots, capers and dill in small bowl. Place salmon on foil; sprinkle with lemon-pepper seasoning. Spread shallot mixture over salmon. Dot with butter. Fold up foil edges to enclose salmon; seal
- Bake salmon just until opaque in center, about 28 minutes. Open foil; transfer salmon to platter. Spoon any juices over fish and serve with lemon wedges. Serves 2.
Chocolate Mice are Nice
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to dabble in chocolate. For a fun family treat make chocolate mice – or for Chinese New Year, celebrate the Year of the Rat.
The recipe is simple, use a maraschino cherry for the body and tail, a chocolate kiss for the face, mini chocolate chips for ears and sprinkles for the eyes and nose. The only problem is they are almost too cute to eat.
4 ounces mini chocolate chips, reserve some for ears
Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped
- Drain the maraschino cherries and gently dry with a paper towel.
- Melt the chocolate chips in a small bowl. Microwave on high for 90 seconds, stir and continue micro-waving and stirring at 30 second intervals until the chocolate is melted.
- Dip the maraschino cherry (mouse’s body) into the chocolate until coated and attach a Hershey’s kiss (mouse’s head) and place on waxed paper.
- Dip a toothpick into the melted chocolate and place a small amount of chocolate at the top of the kiss and attach 2 mini chocolate chips as ears.
- Using the toothpick dipped in chocolate, place a small amount of chocolate on the kiss and attach 3 sprinkles to represent the eyes and nose.
- Let the chocolate harden, eat and enjoy.