Epic Valentine’s Day Dinner

Restaurants are crowded on Valentine’s Day. They have to crank out a lot of food over several hours. Probably not the best time to visit if you truly want a handcrafted meal made with love. Also, good luck trying to get a reservation at the place you really want to go. So last year, on our first VDay together, K and I decided to make an epic dinner with recipes from amazing chefs. We enjoyed an amuse bouche, poached lobster, a rib eye steak, dessert and way too much wine. This year we decided to keep the tradition alive, but pare down the food a little.

Starter
To begin, we chose Romaine on Romaine by Michel Richard from his book “Happy in the Kitchen.” It was simple, elegant and light. Because VDay fell on a Monday this year, we tried to do as much ahead as we could. K made the shallot dressing the day before by blending mayo, mustard, shallots, red wine vinegar, Tabasco, chives and basil in the food processor. The resulting dressing was pungent and very, very sharp and oniony. We hoped it would mellow out overnight in the refrigerator.

The dressing was toned down with the addition of dark green romaine leaves blended into the dressing with a bit of rice vinegar and honey. Before dinner, K took the more delicate inner romaine leaves and wrapped them in a rice paper wrapper. The “salad” was a light, crisp and fresh bundle dipped in gorgeous green, deeply flavorful dressing. An easy winner and we’ll be enjoying it again to finish off the remaining dressing, lettuce and rice paper wrappers.

Romaine on Romaine

Main Course
In the make-ahead spirit, we chose Silky Syrah Short Ribs, also from Michel Richard’s “Happy in the Kitchen” book. The ingredients are lovely, but the directions in the recipe are over-the-top time intensive — saute, deglaze, tie with twine and leek leaves, oven braise, skim fat and scum, refrigerate overnight, simmer, strain, blah, blah, blah. Evidently, Richard does not own a crock pot as beloved as ours is.

We decided 4-5 hours was enough time to crock the short ribs (BEAUTIFUL pieces of meat we got for an incredibly reasonable price from the Linden Hills Co-op). I ran home over lunch and browned the short ribs in a little olive oil.  I cut up some bacon and fried up the pieces then sautéed cut up leeks, carrots, onions and garlic in the rendered fat. I dumped in a bunch of syrah (red wine) and let it bubble with the veggies for a few minutes. Then I put the whole thing into the crock pot with some rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and star anise. I set the ribs on top, poured a bit more wine and some chicken stock over the top and let everything simmer away for the afternoon.

As a side dish, we chose tarragon spaetzle from Stewart Woodman’s “Shefzilla: Conquering Haute Cuisine at Home” book. We have never made spaetzle (thick, noodley dumplings), but received a spaetzle maker as a gift. I made the dough according to the recipe — flour, egg, milk, salt, chopped tarragon, fresh nutmeg — and let it rest for awhile. It was a lot stickier than I thought it would be. Every time I picked up the ball of dough it stuck to my hands like industrial glue. It also stuck to the spaetzle maker and wouldn’t push through the little holes. Woodman’s recipe called for cutting up the dough so I tried that, but it stuck to everything — the knife, my hands, the cutting board. As the boiling water mocked me, I decided to oil everything — the knife, my hands, the cutting board, the dough — and that made life in spaetzle-ville a lot easier. Little noodley dumpling by little noodley dumpling, I dropped them into the boiling water and K fished them out since he was at the stove.

While I was cursing sticky spaetzle dough (in a loving, Valentine’s way, of course), K was making the syrah sauce for the short ribs. He took a few ladles full of cooking liquid, strained out the solids, added some port, honey and tomato paste and reduced it.

With the ribs falling-apart tender, the sauce silky and the spaetzle cooked and fluffy, the main course was finished. Silky actually doesn’t even begin to describe this sauce as it was seduction on a plate. It enrobed the short ribs, which melted as soon as you bit into them. The spaetzle was substantial, but tender and they tasted perfect after a quick swipe through the sauce as well.

Silky Syrah Short Ribs with Tarragon Spaetzle

Dessert
After taking a break to open gifts, we moved on to our made-ahead-assembled-at-the-last-minute dessert — Poached Pears with Poire William Caramel Sauce from Eric Ripert’s book “A Return to Cooking.”

While K was assembling the salad and reducing the sauce, I filled up a huge pot with water, sugar and a vanilla bean, peeled two Bosc pears and let them simmer in the sweet liquid for about 30 minutes. Then I melted sugar in a pot before adding some heavy cream. The recipe calls for the addition of Poire William, but we couldn’t find that. We did, however, have pear vodka on hand (thanks to Master Mixologist K) and used that in the caramel instead. I also crushed up some pistachios to put into our vanilla almond milk ice cream (K is not a fan of the lactose).

When it was time to celebrate with dessert, we mixed the ice “cream” with the pistachios and put that in the bottom of the bowl, popped the warm pear on top and drizzled warm caramel sauce over the whole thing. It was sweet, but not too sweet and naturally sweet because of the pear. The pear-flavored caramel was lovely and the pistachios added a nice crunch to the creamy ice milk (I added too many pistachios though). The pear was plump and glistening and it was a great balance of warm and cool.

Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce

K enjoyed a lovely glass of red wine with his meal. Because of my recent health challenges, I’ve been staying away from wine, but here’s how awesome my hubby is — he picked up a bottle of alcohol-free white “wine” and some bubbly Perrier so I wouldn’t miss out on the experience. A happy and delicious Valentine’s Day was had by all. Hope you had a great day (and a spectacular meal) as well.

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