Cooking Up Ideas for a Special Valentine’s Day Dinner

Valentine’s Day offers the most wonderful reminder to express the appreciation and fondness for the one you love or desire. It’s purpose in that is singular. It’s focus is on one. Whether you plan lavishly or simply, it allows you the opportunity to show that special someone how you feel in a variety of ways.

As Jane detailed in her post on Sea of Shoes, we had the most fun planning and creating some menu ideas on how you could treat your Valentine the way we would treat ourselves, by cooking and sharing a delicious dinner together. We were thrilled that her project with Pandora wanted to be a part of it as well.

Jane and I always love a good charcuterie or cheese board and we felt early on in the planning that there’s no way we could go without one here. This is our special dinner after all. It also allowed us to attempt something we talk a lot about but never make, crackers. We always have trouble finding a great cracker at the grocery, and when we do, they seem a bit low on quantity and a bit high on price. We’d rather use that money on another cheese we’ve been meaning to try or a delicious pate from the deli. This recipe was a problem solver, easy to make, and an overall game changer for the both of us. We’ve now made it a few times over. Thanks, Martha!

 




Basil Flatbread Crackers

4 dozen

40 minutes



ingredients

2 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of chopped fresh basil leaves,
and about 20-25 whole medium to small basil leaves
1 tsp of course salt
1 tsp of sugar
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
1 cup of heavy cream
1 egg white for egg was

instructions

Preheat over to 375 degrees

Place flour, chopped basil, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly blended. Add butter and pulse until the mixture has a course meal appearance. Add cream with the machine running, pulse until dough forms.

Briefly knead dough and separated in 4 equal rectangles, wrap, and place in the refrigerator until cool (approx 30 minutes).

Roll 1 piece of dough out on a floured surface until very thin (about 1/8″ inch thin if you can) and in the shape of a rectangle. You want it to fit within your parchment paper lined baking sheet. Transfer to baking sheet and brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Now you can add whole basil leaves by gently pressing them into the thin dough.

Before baking, score the dough with a fork to avoid air bubbles, place into the over, and back for 20 minutes (or until golden brown and crisp). Once removed from the oven, allow to cool, and then break apart.

For the main course, we wanted to do something with scallops and possible a puree but I’m on a quest to perfect basic grits. For some reason, I either miss the mark on properly cooked grits and they either end up under-cooked or way too mushy. Luckily there’s been such a resurgence in Southern cuisine over the past decade, and that thing we call the ‘Internet’, I’ve managed to get much better at preparing them. I highly recommend visiting the Anson Mills website for both grains and helpful recipes.




Simple Yellow Corn Grits

4 servings

1.5 hours



ingredients

1 cup of Course Ground Yellow Grits
2.5 Cups (to start) of Spring Water
1 tbsp of sea salt
3 tbsp of unsalted butter
1 tsp of fresh ground black pepper

instructions

Place grits in a medium sized heavy-bottomed saucepan and pour in the water letting them soak for approximately a minute or two. Once the grits have settled, you can skim the top of any bits floating at the top of the water.

Set the pan over medium high heat and stir consistently until the mixture starts to simmer. This will take about 6-8 minutes. At this point, cover the pan and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. You’re now in for the long haul of checking on them every 20-30 minutes. In a separate pan, keep roughly 2-2.5 cups of water over a low heat so that it’s hot and ready to add to the grits each time you stir the girts and they can hold the spoon upright. When that happens, add about 1.5 cups of hot water to the grits and stir, recover, and check again in 20-30 minutes to repeat the cycle. You’ll want to keep adding water to the reserve as well. This will go on for 4-5 rounds. Add salt about midway through.

When the grits are soft and creamy, add butter and stir until thoroughly melted and mixed. Finish off with the pepper.

The Dolin-Blanc part of the recipe for Pan Seared Scallops is completely a spur of the moment decision and a happy accident. The white wine I was going to use to merely deglaze the pan was otherwise occupied at the time so I figured the Dolin would serve the same purpose. It quickly thickened and smelled delicious mixed with the pan drippings so I tried it out of curiosity. It was a wonderful surprise so I decided to use it.




DOLIN-BLANC SCALLOPS

with pesto oil & sautéed boo choy

4 servings

20 minutes



ingredients

pesto

1 cup of fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup of grated parmesan
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of walnuts
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp each of salt and pepper

scallops

2 qty 1/4” thick slices of pancetta, diced
1/2 cup of Dolin-Blanc Vermouth
3 tbsp of olive oil
4 large scallops, cleaned

bok choy

1/4 cup of chicken stock
1 tsp of corn starch
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb of baby bok choy, stems cut to about 1 inch.
Pinch of salt and a pinch of fresh ground pepper

instructions

pesto

Place the basil and walnuts into a food processor and pulse several times. Follow by adding garlic and parmesan and pulse a few times more. Scrape down the sides. Start the processor again, and while it’s running, add the oil to emulsify without separating. Finally, add some salt and pepper to taste and pulse a time or two for good measure.

scallops

Place diced pancetta in a cool frying pan and bring to medium heat, stirring as needed. Once cooked, remove pancetta and rest on a paper towel. Drain the grease. Put the pan back on the heat and add the Dolin-Blanc to deglaze and loosen the bits. Let this simmer for about 2-3 minutes, remove and pour into a bowl nearby.

Put the pan back over the heat and turn it to medium-high. Add olive oil, and then place all four scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper, into the pan until seared golden brown on one side. Flip scallops and continue cooking until cooked through in the middle. While the scallops are cooking after the flip, start spooning the Dolin-Blanc pan sauce over the top of each one.

When the scallops are cooked properly, remove from heat and place on top of your grits, garnishing with thinly sliced chilis (we used Thai) and pancetta. Finally, drizzle a bit of your pesto oil over the top.

bok choy

Whisk together the stock and corn starch in a bowl and set aside

Heat the oil in a large skillet and add garlic on medium heat for about 30 seconds.

Add the bok choy and stir and toss until the leaves start to wilt.

Pour the stock mix into the pan and cook while stirring for roughly a minute.

Remove from heat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and plate.

There is no doubt in my mind that the crowning achievement of the day was Jane’s Fallen Chocolate Cake (sourced from Epicurious). I was distracted for most of its process working on the grits and scallops but when this finished it was truly a revelation. It looked so beautiful. Even better, it tasted amazing! It was the perfect example of Valentine’s Day cookery. Rich, Sweet, and absolutely decadent.




Fallen Chocolate Cake

10 servings

45 minutes



ingredients

cake

1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
3/4 cup of sugar, plus 2 tbsp for pan
10 oz of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp of vegetable oil (we used coconut blend)
6 large eggs
2 tbsp of natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp of vanilla extract
3/4 tsp of kosher salt

frosting

8 oz of mascarpone
1 cup chilled heavy cream
3 tbsp of powdered sugar

instructions

cake

Preheat the over to 350 degrees and prepare a 9″ springform pan with butter and a dusting of sugar.

Add chocolate, oil and 1/2 cup of butter to a large heatproof mixing bowl. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir often until melted and combined. Remove bowl.

Using 4 eggs, separate whites and yolks into two different medium sized bowls. Add cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, 1/4 cup sugar and remaining 2 eggs to the bowl with yolks and whisk until the mix is smooth. Slowly add yolk mix while whisking into the chocolate mixture until blended completely.

Blend egg whites with an electric mixer until the whites are frothy. While mixer is running, slowly beat in the 1/2 cup of sugar and mix until firm peaks form. Carefully fold egg whites into the chocolate mixture in 2 additions, folding each addition entirely before you add the next.

Pour batter into your prepared springform pan, smooth out the top and sprinkle remaining sugar over the top

Bake cake until the top rises, starts to crack, and the cake begins pulling for the edge of the pan (approx 35-45 minutes). Transfer baked cake to a cooling rack and let the cake cool entirely in the pan. During the cooling process, the cake will collapse in the center. This is where you will apply the frosting and berries.

frosting

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer at medium speed until soft peaks form. Removed cooled cake from pan and apply the whipped frosting to the top. Add berries.

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