VALENTINE’S DINNER FOR TWO

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Oh, sure, you could make a reservation for two at some swank resto, but if you really want to get to your loved one’s heart (or other body parts — and I make no judgment call on that point), show off your culinary skills with a simple but très elegant dinner à deux. It’s not difficult, trust me. (And of course, it wouldnt be Canadian without at least one dish using maple syrup, right?) Just read through everything so you’re prepared.

OK, let’s start with an overall menu. I’ve adapted this one from a couple of sources, but with a few tweaks here and there to make it my own. It breaks down into four simple dishes: a soup, a main course, a side, and a dessert. Everything is pretty light on the carbs and the calories (well, except for the dessert, but hey, by then, who’s counting freaking calories???)

In terms of timing, make the cupcakes earlier in the day. They’ll keep. Then, that evening, start with the chicken about an hour before you plan on serving. Once it’s in the oven, prepare the soup. Then wrap it up with the spinach, which can literally be made in the last two minutes. While your date is relaxing from the feast, you can quickly melt the chocolate for the dessert and serve it deliciously hot. Oo baby….

OK, let’s go through it.

SOUP: CALIFORNIA BISQUE

2 c. whole milk
2½ c. vegetable stock
1 small head cauliflower (about 1 pound total), separated into florets
3/4 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
4 sprigs thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 c. cubed ciabatta bread
1/3 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. pomegranate seeds
Chopped chives, for serving

Combine milk, stock, cauliflower, potato, onion, garlic, and thyme in a large saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are very tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Add bread and cook, stirring often, until toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Discard thyme sprigs. Puree soup, in batches, in a blender until smooth. Add cream and pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with croutons, pomegranate seeds, and chives.

MAIN COURSE: MAPLE ROASTED CHICKEN

2 tbsp olive oil
2 large chicken quarters, sprinkled with a few pinches of salt
2 carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
1 large potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 small onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 425F. Have a small casserole dish or an 8×8 pan ready.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Once hot, add the chicken quarters, skin side down, and brown for 5 minutes. Flip and brown the other side for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the carrots, potatoes, onion, and garlic to a large bowl and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sea salt. Spread into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Once the chicken has finished browning, place chicken on top of the vegetables, skin side up. Brush evenly with maple syrup and sprinkle with thyme. Bake for 45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165F. Serve immediately, removing garlic peels while eating.

SIDE: STEAMED SPINACH

1 pound fresh spinach, stems removed, rinsed well but not dried
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Place spinach in a large pot. Cover tightly, and cook over high heat until spinach begins to wilt, about 2 minutes. Toss with oil, season with salt and pepper.

DESSERT: CHOCOLATE CHERRY CUPCAKES FOR TWO

3 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp reduced-fat chocolate milk
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp cherry extract
1 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips, melted (You can do this in the microwave)
2 cherries, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F and line two portions of a muffin tin with liners. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a bowl.

Stir in chocolate milk, oil and cherry extract. Mix until the batter is well incorporated and divide batter into the two liners. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Spread half of the melted chocolate on each cupcake and garnish with a cherry.

OK, at this point in the evening, you’re on your own, but after this, he (or she) is gonna find it really difficult to resist your obvious charms. Have fun and remember to play safe.

(For more Canadian recipes worth a nod or two, check out Tastefully Canadian, available at Amazon.)

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