Sunday, February 20, 2011

Will you be my Valentine?

Ah, Valentines Day.  What, you think it's silly?  Well I do, too.  But it's also a great excuse to go all out in the kitchen.  And let me tell you:  I know how to do it right.

First and most importantly you have to have a plan of attack.  I chose to go a more formal route with several plated courses.  Know what you are capable of and what you will enjoy making: there's no shame in one simple, well-executed dish.  Make sure not to over-burden yourself or your dinner will end up more stressful than romantic.

Start by making a list of everything you want to make.  Include each separate element and step.  If you are making a pie, list making the pie crust, making the filling, and baking it.  Determine which steps can be completed ahead of time.  Write out every ingredient you need.  Double check what you already have and cross out what you don't need to buy.  Do your grocery shopping the day before and get started with as much meal prep as possible.  You don't want to spend all of your time in the kitchen and leave your Valentine waiting alone.  Beyond the actual food, make sure to set aside time to set the table, clean up some of the messes you've already made, and get yourself ready.  Now that you have an idea of how long everything might take, add an hour.  Seriously.  If you don't end up needing it then you can sit down, relax with a glass of wine, and look like the ultimate at-ease hostess when your guest arrives.

Now, on to the food!

1.  The Appetizer  (sorry, no picture)
Keep it simple: just a couple of easy to put together bites to take the edge off your hunger. 
- Slices of baguette topped with a tapenade of chopped green olives, sun dried tomatoes, and olive oil.  The spread can be made the day before.
- Crispy pancetta rounds with a few crumbles of blue cheese

2.  The Salad
This beet, orange, and fennel salad looks like a fauvist masterpiece on the plate.  Its beauty masks its easy preparation.
- Thinly slice one orange and remove peels.
- Scrub and thinly slice one beet (well, part of a beet, you probably won't need all of it).
- Fan the oranges and beets onto the plate.
- Remove the stalks from one fennel bulb and outer layer of bulb, if damaged.
- Quarter the bulb and cut away the core.
- Thinly slice the fennel and toss with salt and pepper.
- Place a neat pile of fennel in the center of the plate
- Garnish the oranges and beets with a few thin slices of shallots and some fennel fronds.
- Drizzle salad with a vinaigrette of good quality olive oil, orange juice (squeezed from the end slices), a little balsamic, and salt.

3. The Entree
Part One:  Seared Duck Breast with Pomegranate Sauce
I found the original recipes through Martha Stewart here and here.  I mostly followed the recipes, but I will do a separate post including the details.

Part Two:  Parsnip and Celery Root Puree
- Earlier in the day, scrub two parsnips and peel one small celery root.  (Don't get those mega-parsnips.  They should be the size of a normal carrot, more or less.)
- Chop them into half-inch cubes.
- Sautee in a large pan with 1 tablespoon butter  and a generous dash of salt until completely tender.  You should be able to easily mash a piece with a fork.
- Send them through a ricer (preferred) or mash by hand.
- Set aside until you are cooking your duck.
- While the duck is browning, warm the riced roots with 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon cream, and milk added until desire consistency is reached, stirring to achieve smoothness.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Part Three: Swiss Chard with Caramelized Red Onions
- The day before (or that morning), slice one small red onion.
- Add to a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and saute on medium-low heat until completely wilted and caramelized.
- Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and toss until liquid has evaporated.
- Set onions aside (refrigerate over night).
- While duck cooks, wash and remove the spines from one bundle of swiss chard.  Tear into palm sized pieces.
- Sautee in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- When leaves are wilted, stir in red onion.

4.  The Dessert: Spiced Chocolate Souffle with Cardamom Creme Anglaise
I used this recipe for the souffle, as I had made it successfully a few weeks ago, simply adding 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper.  I found this recipe for the creme anglaise.  I halved the souffle recipe and quartered the creme recipe, and the amounts were perfect (though the creme would keep several days and you'll wish you'd have made more).  The creme anglaise can (and should) be made the day before.  I also chopped my chocolate the day before, (it takes longer than you think it will).  The souffle mix can be made earlier in the day.  I made mine as the last bit of prep work before my valentine arrived.  The time it takes to bake the souffle after finishing your entree is perfect for holding hands while sipping on wine.

Happy Valentines and Happy Anytimes!  Enjoy!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Breakfast for Dinner

Breakfast for dinner doesn't have to mean maple syrup.  Rather, it can be a source of inspiration that you transform with more traditional dinner flavors.  With a surplus of rejected brioche and a late dinner requiring hungry haste, I threw together a savory French toast.

Slice the brioche or bread, preferable a tad stale.  Whisk together an egg (those who like eggs may want two) and a cup of milk.  Season with salt, pepper, thyme, and 1/4 tsp mustard (something good and spicy, not the yellow stuff).  Fresh herbs will impart a brighter flavor.  Place the slices in a shallow pan, pierce them all over with a fork, and pour the egg mixture over.  Let the slices soak at least 5 minutes, turning over once.

While they soak, start heating a heavy pan over medium.  Also slice some cremini mushrooms and set them aside.  Add a small slice of butter to the pan, then add the bread slices.  There should be a slight sizzle.  After about 3-4 minutes, turn the slices and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  They should be browned on both sides.  Remove them from the pan and set aside.  Add another small slice of butter, then add the mushroom to saute.  Add a dash of salt and cook until they are lightly browned.  Spoon the mushrooms over the toast and serve immediately.

Brioche French toast isn't exactly the lightest of dinners, so serve it with a simple salad with lemon vinaigrette and/or some fresh sliced fruit.  Oh, and I won't tell if you have this for breakfast-breakfast.  Maple syrup is overrated.