On Valentine's Day, my heart beats for a fridge freshly filled with the perfect provisions with which to prepare a sumptuous feast for my one true love.
Even after 11 years of wedded bliss, I still swoon over Valentine’s Day. For my husband and me, it’s not about cards, gifts, flowers or anything else that can be purchased, it’s really about having an excuse to hang out together and remind each other how much the other is loved.
That, and having an awesome dinner.
We used to go out to restaurants, but as our tastes evolved, we realized that Valentine's Day menus are limited in choice and rushed in tempo. Prix-fixe dinners aren't really specially designed with the diner in mind, they're a way for the kitchen to get away with cooking only seven dishes the whole night: like slopping the hogs.
So, I began cooking Valentine's dinner at home.
I've done the whole steak-and-lobster thing enough. Yes, it’s nice, but it gets a little staid, especially in a food Mecca like Napa. This year, with a new toy like my sous vide machine, I get to really stretch myself.
I’m going to make five courses, but serve only one course per hour so we can truly relax, watch a movie and take hot tub breaks. I'll begin at 5:30 p.m., with dessert ending up somewhere around 9:30 or 10.
Amuse Bouche: Lobster Mushroom in Pate Choux with Rosemary Lemon Cream Gastrique (Recipe below)
Fish: Vanilla Butter Poached Halibut with Ancho-Orange Drizzle (My prize-winning dish)
Salad: Roasted Rosemary Endives Stuffed with Garlic Eggplant (Recipe below)
Meat: Sous Vide Pork Belly with Truffle Oil and Smoked Sea Salt (Recipe below)
Dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding (I can’t bake, so I use this recipe from CHOW.com every time I make this dish, to rave reviews)
Lobster Mushroom in Pate Choux with Rosemary Lemon Cream Gastrique
1/2 cup water
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 sprig rosemary, stemmed and chopped finely
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup lobster mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring water and flour to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the flour and reduce heat to low. Stir until well incorporated. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add half of the rosemary, half of the lemon juice and the salt. Fill a plastic bag with the dough, then pipe half of it into six small circles on a baking sheet.
Place equal amounts of mushrooms and in the center of each circle. Pipe the rest of the dough onto each, then seal with fingers dipped in water. Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden brown.
Meanwhile, bring the remaining lemon juice, a teaspoon of zest, rice wine vinegar and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until golden in color, with the consistency of a light syrup. Add the remaining rosemary and cream, whisking to incorporate. Remove from heat and let cool. Drizzle over the filled pate choux and serve. Makes six.
Roasted Rosemary Endives Stuffed with Garlic Eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
12 endives, halved
2 sprigs rosemary de-stemmed and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet and add the eggplant, salt and pepper. Cook on high heat, stirring frequently, until edges are golden brown. Remove to a paper towel and cool slightly. Reserve pan.
While eggplant cools, place endives in a large bowl and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Add rosemary and toss to coat. Cut endives in half and place cut-side-up on a baking sheet and broil for 3 minutes or until edges are browned. Set aside.
Place cooled eggplant into the food processor with the garlic and cream cheese. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely pureed.
In reserved pan, saute the shallots until light brown and crispy, on medium high heat for 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, toss together the tomato ribbons, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Spread the eggplant puree into each endive and sprinkle each with equal amounts of the shallots and top with a few ribbons of tomato. Arrange on a serving platter and serve.
Yield: serves 6 as an appetizer or side dish.
Sous Vide Pork Belly with Truffle Oil and Smoked Sea Salt
1 pound pork belly, skin removed
1 tablespoon smoked sea salt
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat Sous Vide machine to 180 degrees. Rub pork belly with smoked sea salt and place in a sous vide bag. Add the truffle oil and seal the bag. Place in sous vide machine and cook for 10 hours.
Remove pork belly from bag, reserving liquid in a small bowl. Place pork belly on a barbecue grill and use a butane torch to sear the outer layer to a dark golden brown. Portion onto plates and drizzle with reserved liquid, topping with the black pepper. Serve. Serves four.
Originally published Feb. 11, 2011 on Napa Patch.