Valentine’s Day is that time of the year when you dress up, go out to eat and maybe do a little dancing and romancing to cap the night off in special spot shared between you and your significant other. It’s a tried and true formula to commemorate a couple’s love that’s been replicated since the holiday became a consumerist calendar date in the early 19th century.
But what if you want to flip the holiday script and put together a dinner for you and your lover they’ll remember until, well, next Valentine’s Day? That idea’s sure to put a unique spin on anyone’s Valentine’s Day celebration. And while the News-Press has a dearth of culinary experts in-house, luckily Patrick Fleming, owner of The Local Market grocery store on W. Broad St., was able to provide some input on dishes for all levels of cooking skill with all the ingredients easily found at the store. Even if making the meal becomes a tandem effort, the process is sure to add to the evening’s ambiance.
“Cooking together is very romantic!” Fleming told the News-Press over e-mail. “Plus, it just completes the experience — selecting the meal, shopping for the food, preparing, cooking, setting the table, and finally enjoying the meal. As much of that should be done together as possible.”
Pasta with Sausage (Easy)
As a friend once told me, “If you can’t cook, just make pasta.” And the saying holds true since good pasta is hard to screw up if you follow the label’s directions and nail the meat (no offense, Italy). Fleming provided a Local Market favorite with the store’s Pasta with Sausage recipe that can impress a new boy/girlfriend or be made for the whole family if you couldn’t find a babysitter in time.
- 1 container of any Cavanna Pasta noodles or ravioli
- 1 package of any sausages from Stachowski or Meat Crafters
- 1 pint jar of McCutcheons Marinara Sauce
- 2 tablespoons Spartan Olive Oil
Cooking Instructions: Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet. After thawing, place the sausages in the skillet and cook at medium temperature for 5-7 minutes, or until center of sausage is no longer cool to the touch. “Do not add seasoning!” Fleming said. “Trust us, you cannot improve on the taste.”
Pour the marinara sauce into a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. For the noodles, just follow Gianni Cavanna’s instructions that he prints on the label. Lay the pasta into bowls, cover with the marinara, and add the sausages on top.
Simple, straightforward and oh so yummy.
For those new chefs who’re wrought with performance anxiety and don’t think they’ll be able to distinguish between delicious and disposable, fear not. Fleming believes the dish’s ingredients will hold their ground despite your attempts to botch the dinner.
“Quality ingredients speak for themselves. If you are starting with great food, then the less you do to it, the better,” Fleming continued. “The best way to compensate for lack of cooking skill is to focus on simple components that are high quality. For example, if the meat is excellent, then complex flavoring is completely unnecessary.”
Roasted Chicken with Vegetables (Intermediate)
A favorite of the Local Market’s own Tammy Powell, this dish is sure to impress someone you’ve been with for a while and to let them know you can hold your own in the kitchen. It may be hard to balance between cooking both an entree and a side – even if your partner is helping out – but according to Fleming, stressing about perfecting the dish will only exacerbate any problems and take away from the goodness of the meal.
“Just relax and have fun,” Fleming added. “And if you’re cooking together, then you both will have plenty of tolerance if mistiming means the entree is a tad cold or a side is a tad overcooked.”
- 1 whole chicken (Whiffletree Farm, Warrenton)
- 2 oz fresh parsley
- 2 oz fresh rosemary
- 2 bulbs garlic
- 2 lemons
- 1 carrot
- 1 red onion
- 1 celery stalk
- 1 pound brussel sprouts
- 2 medium red potatoes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons butter (Trickling Springs Creamery)
- Salt and pepper (try Himalayan Pink from Maine Sea Salt)
Cooking Instructions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Let the butter soften to room temperature. Rub the inside of the chicken cavity generously with salt and pepper. Then stuff the cavity with a mix of 1 oz. each of parsley and rosemary (or other herbs you like), 1 whole head of garlic chopped in half, and 2 lemons halved or quartered.
Chop the carrot, onion, and celery and lay as a bed in a roasting pan or cast iron skillet. Pour 1/2 cup white wine over the veggies.
Place the chicken onto the bed of veggies. Chop 1 oz. each of fresh herbs and 2 cloves of garlic. Blend the butter with the chopped herbs and garlic. Rub the butter mixture over and especially under the skin of the chicken. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken.
Roast in the oven at 425 degrees for 45 minutes (until internal meat temperature is 165 degrees).
Halve the brussel sprouts and cut the red potatoes into wedges. Coat the sprouts and potatoes with olive oil and salt and pepper. Put these into the oven for the last 15-20 minutes of roasting the chicken as your side.
When you take out the chicken make sure to tent it with foil and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes in order to let the juices settle into the meat. When this is done your sides should be ready to come out as well.
Short Ribs In Tomato Sauce (Skilled)
This meal, pulled from thepioneerwoman.com, is for those couples that are in it for the long haul. You’re both at the point where you can tell what each other is about to say by the way they inhale before talking. That’s why assembling this intricate meal is the best way to show your partner that you still have some tricks up your sleeve, even if they have your idiosyncrasies down to a science.
- 8 whole Beef Short Ribs (Milcreek Farm, Lovettsville)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (Spartan Olive Oil, Vienna)
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 cloves Garlic, Crushed
- 1 whole Medium Onion, Diced
- 1 cup Red Or White Wine
- 1 can (28 Oz.) Whole Tomatoes
- 1 can (14 Oz. Size) Tomato Sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon Ground Thyme
- 1 pound Fettuccine (Cavanna Pasta, Richmond)
- Grated Parmesan Cheese
- Minced Fresh Parsley
Cooking Instructions: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Heat olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high to high heat. Sprinkle short ribs with salt and pepper. Brown short ribs in oil, about 1 1/2 or 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
Pour off excess oil (be careful!) Throw garlic and onions into pot. Stir to cook for a minute or two, then add tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine, salt, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Stir to combine.
With tongs, set short ribs back into the pot, submerging as much as possible in the sauce. Cover pot and place into the oven. Cook for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Short ribs should be tender and falling off the bone.
Remove ribs from pot. Allow to cool, then wrap tightly and refrigerate. Allow pot of sauce to cool a bit, then place pot into the fridge for several hours or overnight.
Remove hardened fat/grease from the top. Discard fat. Return ribs to pot, then return pot either to stovetop or oven and warm it up.
Boil pasta according to package directions. Turn pasta onto a large platter, then top with tomato sauce and short ribs.
Sprinkle plenty of Parmesan over the top, as well as some chopped parsley.
If you’re worried about what to pair with this dish in terms of sides, Fleming recommends avoiding that line of thought.
“Do whatever you want! Up until recently, there was a lot of snobbery about pairing specific wines with specific dishes,” Fleming added. “Same goes for pairing sides with entrees. All the business about something complementing something or something masking something else is unnecessary. Tastes are so individual that only you can decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t. And there’s only one way to find out what works for you.”