Valentine's Day Recipes

Valentine’s Day Made Easy

Uh, oh. Forgot to make reservations at your favorite restaurant for Valentine’s Day? Never fear. You can skip the crowded restaurant and have time to make your very own cozy, fast and fresh Valentine’s Day dinner at home.

But if you are too busy to make a reservation how can you find the time to make a fabulous meal? For the time pressed and over-stressed, the trick to feeding your sweetheart a romantic dinner lies in keeping it simple but elegant. Luckily, there’s more than one way to express your love on a dinner plate. Check out the following menus and recipes for three different but delectable meals for two.  Only you know how much time you have to cook up romance. Choose accordingly.

If You Can’t Bear to Think About Turning on the Stove

No problem. You can still dine deliciously. Drive to Heinen’s and make a salad from the salad bar. Choose from a wide assortment of add-ins like strawberries, oranges, cheeses, nuts and croutons. Arrange it all on salad plates and drizzle with the dressing of your choice once you get home.

From the To-Go case choose a few slices of beef filet, cheesy mashed potatoes and sautéed broccolini or the roasted vegetables of your choice. Once home, arrange it all artfully on a plate, microwave until hot and serve with your best flatware and a cloth napkin. Flowers, fire and music are optional.

A great bottle of wine makes a great meal even more of an occasion. Pair the beef up with a bottle of Newton, a claret blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes. It’s smooth, rich, seductive and only $25.

It wouldn’t be a Valentine dinner without dessert. Stop by the Heinen’s bakery and pick up a couple of cannoli or gourmet chocolate brownies (the caramel ones are awesome). Cut the brownies into pieces so you can just pop them in your mouth. They’ll go great with the last few sips of wine.

If You Have 30 Minutes to Make a Meal

You can’t go wrong whipping up fresh Pasta Carbonara. Go ahead and pick up the salad and dessert in the first menu and the few ingredients you’ll need to make this epic pasta dish. Classic pasta carbonara is rich, smoky, salty and cheesy…the epitome of comfort food. The eggy sauce thickens just enough when tossed with the hot pasta, crispy bacon and nutty Parmesan. Though pasta carbonara isn’t exactly health food, I believe that everyone could use a heaping helping of carbohydrate comfort on a regular basis… especially on Valentine’s Day.

It’s a good idea to drink Italian wine with Italian food and this classic pasta would taste great with a medium bodied Chianti. Look for Riserva on the label as it generally denotes a higher quality.

If You Have a Little More Time

More time to devote to wining and dining your sweetie? I have the perfect celebratory dinner for two: Rib-Eye Steak Florentine with Potato and Parsnip Galettes. Don’t let the fancy words scare you. That’s a steak with spinach and a potato pancake. But, it does sound much more celebratory doesn’t it?

Rib-eyes are a lush cut of steak thanks to the generous marbling that runs through a steer’s juicy ribs. Add a crispy on the outside potato cake perfumed with parsnip and thyme, sautéed spinach, a few shavings of Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon for a taste of the fertile valleys of Tuscany. All this in 40 minutes and with one pan cleanup.

If you’re feeling flush go for an Italian Barolo wine here. They’re comparable to a fine Cabernet and the best ones are round and lush… perfect with a steak. If you don’t want to spend that much, choose a red blend or a claret which often combines cabernet, merlot, zinfandel and some of the lesser known blendable reds. The Newton discussed in the first menu would be great with this steak.

You can always go with a purchased dessert, but it can be worth it to make a home-made chocolate mousse.  Luscious, decadent and done in a flash…this version is as simple as it gets. All you do is melt a generous amount of good quality chocolate with a splash of coffee and fold it into a billowing cloud of whipped cream. How fast and easy it that?

If you feel like a lighter dessert, there’s nothing as refreshing as Navel oranges with caramel. When all our other fruit and veggie friends lay dormant, citrus fruits come to life. A perfect remedy for the winter blues, navel oranges are at their best in the dead of winter and a drizzle of caramel makes them even better,

It never hurts to plan ahead. Decide on your menu and pick up supplies the day before so you aren’t rushed on the big day. And don’t forget the flowers!

Pasta Carbonara

Good cheese is a real shortcut to the best flavor, but that often means you must buy a chunk and grate it yourself. Look for individually wrapped chunks in the cheese bin section at your grocery. Real Parmesan Reggiano has a dot matrix design on the rind. Look for a chunk with only one side of the rind (that hard inedible outer covering) attached for the best bang for your buck.

Serves 2

4 strips bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese, divided
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt plus 2 teaspoons, divided
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 oz fresh linguine (I use Ohio City Pasta)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Fill a 12-inch frying pan with water (up to about 1-inch from the top) and heat it over medium-high heat, covered, until it boils.

While the water comes to a boil, chop the bacon, mince the garlic and parsley and grate the cheese on a large cutting board in separate piles. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl with 1/4 teaspoon salt and few grinds of pepper.

When the water boils add the 2 teaspoons salt and the fresh pasta to the pot. Stir once or twice to keep the pasta from sticking and cook the pasta 1 minute less than directed on the package. Test the pasta a by fishing out a piece and cutting it in half. It’s important that the pasta isn’t completely cooked at this point. You should see a small dot of uncooked pasta in the center and it will be a little chewy. Don’t worry, the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce.

Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir about 2 tablespoons of the water into the egg mixture.  Drain the pasta in a strainer in the sink and run cold water over it for a second just to stop the cooking. It should still be hot.

Return the hot pan to the heat and add the oil and chopped bacon. Cook the bacon until it’s crispy, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bacon to the egg mixture and remove the pan from the heat.

Add the garlic to hot pan and cook it in the hot bacon fat off heat for about 20 seconds or until it is fragrant. It should sizzle. Return the drained pasta to the pot and toss it in the hot bacon fat for about 1 minute to reheat it. Quickly pour in the egg mixture and all but 2 tbsp/30 ml of the cheese and toss to blend the ingredients thoroughly. The egg should thicken into a sauce. Add more of the reserved pasta water if it seems dry. Taste it for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if it needs it.

Heap the pasta onto the two heated plates and garnish the tops with the reserved cheese and parsley.

Tip: It’s really important that the dinner plates are hot when you serve this dish. Pasta has a tendency to cool off quickly when piled onto a cold plate, so be sure to heat them up in the microwave for a minute to take the chill off of them.

Rib-Eye Steaks Florentine with Parsnip and Potato Galettes

Start to finish: 40 minutes
Hands on time: 30 minutes

As the name suggests a rib-eye is cut from the rib section of a steer but it can also be called a Delmonico. Meat from the rib section is tender and marbled with the fat that makes a steak juicy and flavorful. Nearby are the loin and top sirloin cuts so this steak comes from a pretty good neighborhood. It usually appears in your grocer’s case in boneless form and that’s how you want it here.

Serves 2

Two 8 oz boneless rib eye steaks, about 3/4-in thick, at room temperature
Salt for sprinkling plus 1/4 teaspoon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Yukon gold potato, peeled and grated, about 1 cup
1 parsnip, peeled and grated, about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Shaved Parmesan Reggiano cheese to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
6 oz baby spinach (I use the bagged variety so I don’t have to wash it)
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 lemon

About 30 minutes before you plan to eat, transfer the steaks from the fridge to the kitchen counter. Pat them dry with paper towels and salt and pepper them on both sides. This step removes the chill from the meat so that it cooks faster and more evenly, resulting in a juicier steak.

While the steaks warm up, grate the potato and parsnip in a medium bowl and combine them with the flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, thyme and pepper to taste. Shave the Parmesan with a vegetable peeler into long strips and set it aside.

Now you’re ready to cook: Heat a 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the oil shimmers add the shredded potato/parsnip mixture in 2 mounds, flattening them into galettes (or pancakes) about 5 inches wide. Use the back side of a fork, scrunching and pressing the top and sides to make them neat and compact. Don’t try to move them until they’ve browned and firmed up, about 3 minutes. Using a thin edged spatula, carefully flip them over to brown the other side, pressing lightly with the spatula to flatten and compress. Once they’re browned and cooked through, another 3 minutes, transfer the galettes to a heated plate and keep them warm while you cook the steak.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the hot pan and when it shimmers add the seasoned room temperature steaks. They should sizzle and spit a little. Remember how you didn’t bother the pancakes until they’d browned? Same thing here. Cook the steaks until a crust forms on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip the steaks with tongs and cook the other side for about 3 minutes for medium-rare meat, another 4 minutes for medium. Transfer the meat to a warm plate and let it rest while you cook the spinach. It will only take a second.

There should be some oil left in the pan along with some cooked on steak juices and seasoning which will effortlessly add flavor to the spinach. Add the spinach (it can be wet if you had to wash it) to the pan along with the nutmeg and cook it just until it’s wilted, about 1 minute. Add a splash of water to bring up the browned meat juices if they haven’t already incorporated into the spinach. Taste for seasoning and remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer the galettes to 2 heated plates and top them with the spinach and steak. If you feel like living like an Italian tonight, and who wouldn’t, garnish the top of the steaks with the shaved cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Chocolate Mousse

Hands on: 20 minutes
Start to finish: 20 minutes

You’ll love how easy it is to whip up this decadent chocolate dessert.

Tip: When a double boiler is not in your kitchen cadre, a stainless steel bowl comes to the rescue. It does double duty as a mixing bowl and is an efficient heatproof container to set over a pan of simmering water.

Serves 2

4oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons strong coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 cup whipping cream

Combine the chocolate and coffee in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan simmering water. Stir until melted and smooth. Be careful not to get it too hot or it becomes grainy. Remove the bowl from the simmering water and whisk in the vanilla and salt.  Set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold in about 1/4 of the whipped cream to the melted chocolate to lighten. Add the chocolate mixture to the remaining whipped cream and continue to fold gently to combine. Spoon the mousse into chilled serving cups or bowls.

Make-ahead: Chocolate mousse can be made a day ahead and kept covered and refrigerated.

Navel Oranges with Caramel

Hands on time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: 30 minutes

A perfect remedy for the winter blues, navel oranges are at their best in the dead of winter. When all our other fruit and veggie friends lay dormant, citrus fruits come to life. And though you may pick the seeds from seeded oranges, seedless navel oranges really work best for this dish.

Serves 2

2 navel oranges, peeled and sliced into rounds
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water

Arrange the oranges on a heatproof serving plate.

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Don’t stir. Swirl the pan to wet down the sugar and a few times more to melt the sugar evenly. About 2 or 3 minutes after the sugar has melted (about 6 minutes total) and it is liquid, the syrup will begin to amber. At this point watch the syrup carefully as it will brown quickly. Once the sugar is a dark amber, remove it from the heat and drizzle it over the oranges. It will harden on contact. Be very careful not to let any drip on you as it will burn.

Serve warm or chill the oranges in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours.

Make-ahead: The hard caramel will melt into a delicious caramel syrup if the oranges are held covered and refrigerated for more than 4 hours. It’s great both ways.

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Carla Snyder
Posted by: Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes. Look for Carla on Facebook, Twitter (carlacooks), Pinterest and at where she blogs about everything from cooking for two to easy weekend entertaining for a crowd.

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