Blog of an aspiring foodie

Valentines Day Menu

Posted by beer_chris on 13-February-2005

Valentines Day has always been something of a personal issue for me. Before I met and started dating Jaime, I viewed it as one of those silly Hallmark-manufactured days, just concocted to sell cards and flowers to poor saps with girlfriends that didn't do anything nice or romantic any other time of year.

Once I got serious with Jaime, I learned the truth.

Everyone, even the women, know that it is a farce – a made up day that celebrates something that should be done every day as if it is the only day of the year where that kind of behavior matters. However, it's something like buying diamonds. No matter how silly (or overpriced) the ultimate conclusion is, if you don't put time and effort into getting the issue down right, your're in serious trouble – and if you do nothing – well, buddy, count yourself out, because you've just lost the game.

In any case, I used to complain that Valentines Day, although nominally the day for lovers, is really the day for females in a relationships, because dudes get pretty much nothing out of the deal. The guy has to plan the day, buy the flowers, get the card, etc. If he's lucky (which I am) he gets a card and a gift, but in general Valentines is a day where men do something nice for the women they love – and the women expect it.

Whether or not you happen to live with a S.O. that actually reciprocates on Valentines (which I do – Jaime I love you!) is kind of left to chance – our cultural mores say that the lady gets the honor on this day, and that's just the way it is.

That kind of sucks, but I've turned it into something good (at least I think so)

One of the things that typically happens in Valentines Day is some sort of romantic dinner out. In general, this is because the woman does most of the cooking, and so it really doesn't make sense that she would be working to make dinner on a holiday that essentially (as I've explained) honors her.

In my case, since I do all the cooking in our house, I get to choose whether we go out or not. I *hate* going out to dinner on Valentines Day. It's super busy, hard to get a reservation, you usually have to wait, and the restaurants are extremely busy, making it hard to have a nice relaxing dinner. For the last few years, I've instead chosen to make a nice meal at home on Valentines, and I let Jaime help pick what we'll be having. This year, my menu is as follows:

Baby spinach with gorgonzola, bacon and toasted sesame oil and balsamic vinegar
We love the spinach salad at Maggiano's. I've successfully cloned their salad, which has apples, gorgonzola, red onions and walnuts. It's FANTASTIC. I've also done all kinds of derivatives, and this is one I tried a few weeks ago with the steak dinner I posted about. I've modified the dressing somewhat – it's base is champagne vinegar and vegetable oil, with a splash (1 tsp each) of balsamic vinegar and toasted sesame oil.
MAKE AHEAD: I made the bacon bits from scratch and mixed up the dressing in my 7 seas dressing mixer thing I bought at the grocery store a few years ago (it has markings on the glass jar for vinegar and oil to make sure you get the proportions correct). I think mine is about 3-1 oil-vinegar. Prep on the day will be to toss the salad, bacon and dressing. I did make sure to get as much of the oil out of the bacon as possible by pressing it in paper towels while it was warm. I also sprinkled it on parchment in one layer and packaged it up that way, putting the folded parchment into a ziploc before putting it into the fridge. I don't want slimy bacon bits on my salad..
Thick cut boneless chops of pork loin with a port wine sauce
This is the centerpiece of my dinner. I'd been trying all week to figure out what I wanted to do, and finally settled on restaurant style thick boneless pork chops. I had to get the butcher to cut these special for me, and they are about 3 inches thick. I plan on cooking these about medium rare. I'll pan roast them in a little butter (I might also brine them, haven't decided yet) to get a nice crust, and then roast them in the oven for about 35 minutes, to an internal temp of about 150 or so. Let them rest for a few and then sauce it up.
The sauce is a port wine sauce I found in my Essentials of Fine Cooking book, a little 60 page Time-Life style book I got at Half Price books for about 2.50 a couple years ago. It's really been indispensable, as it has lots of just plain basics that taste great (unlike the basics in my Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook, which often cut corners and just taste OK) Anyway, the port sauce called for a brown sauce base, which uses beef stock at it's core. Since I had just made a veal roast (from Hazan's cookbook, realy good, another posting maybe) and had some leftover bones, ribs and short ribs of veal, I decided to make a veal stock. It's cooking now, and should be done by 11:00.
MAKE AHEAD: Stock and the brown sauce base. The chops and the actual sauce are made day of.
Potato puree with gruyere
I needed a starch, and paged through my Essentials book (see above) for the kind of mashed potatoes you pipe onto plates. This looked good, and I LOVE Gruyere cheese.
MAKE AHEAD: The Essentials book said you could make the whole thing ahead and reheat it. I may follow some alternate instructions and bake this to make a quasi-gratin, but I probably will need to add a little cream at reheat time to get the potatoes back moving again.
Steamed broccoli
This is for me – nothing special, just some steamed broccoli.
MAKE AHEAD: I trimmed up the broccoli florets to get them ready for the pot, and made sure to drain them throughly.
Buttermilk cream tart with apple roses
I asked Jaime to pick out a dessert, and she picked this from her latest Martha Stewart Living magazine. It is a puff pastry shell with a pastry cream base and apples soaked in a simple syrup and wrapped into quasi-roses. Red skinned apples are used to make the 'roses' look real. Golden delicious are skinned and used as the majority of the apple base. The apples are sliced very thin, soaked in the syrup, those slices are halved and then curled up together to look like rose buds. The pastry shell is made into a square container onto which the pastry cream (made with buttermilk) is spread onto it. The apple roses are then placed into tyhe cream. The recipe said not to use 'supermarket' pastry puff dough, so I looked into making it myself. Ha. That's a huge laugh. You need a chilled ROOM to do it right. It advised to use a specific brand that uses all butter in the pastry, Darfour, which is carried by Spec's, but they are closed on Sunday's. Rather then drive into Central Market, I went with Pepperidge Farm, which uses shortening. I also would have done better to cut the apples with a mandoline, but I went ahead and used my dull chef's knife, which did OK. I'm a little concerned that the Braeburn apples I used as the red ones are too starchy, as some of the slices were starting to break apart.
MAKE AHEAD: I prepared the pastry shell and apples ahead, but the buttermilk cream and roses have to be assembled at meal time. Jaime and I will do this together on Valentines.

All in all, I'm hoping for a dinner that takes no more then an hour of prep time. We'll crack open the Nickel and Nickel for this dinner as well.


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