Tag Archives: Valentine’s Day

My Valentine’s Dinner…At Home

Note: This photo-filled post is best viewed at the blog site.

The core of At Home’s philosophy is that sharing a good meal at home is the ideal way to make human connection. And that by planning ahead and spreading tasks over time, preparing food can be a pleasure and not a chore. So it was for My Valentine’s Dinner. Pre-dinner entertainment included watching Pixar’s delightful “Up” — part of Christina’s goal of watching all 10 Oscar nominated films before the Oscars. “Up” turned out to be the perfect Valentine’s foil — an adventure fueled by love with a grouchy Ed Asner providing the voice of the aged hero.

Christina’s dinner requests: A light meal that included the “tea” from our wedding and shrimp. I wanted each course to have some romantic reference that could include the color red.

My Valentine’s Menu

Radish, Baby Mizuna & Belgian Endive with Feta
Red Wine Vinaigrette

Wild Mushroom “Tea” with Fois Gras Stuffed Morels
“Angel Hair” of Parsnips, Carrots & Celery
Shaved Parmesan

Grilled Saffron Shrimp
Braised Fennel, Leeks & Artichokes
Tasso Risotto

Winter Citrus Fruit Salad with Candied Kumquats
Burnt Caramel Chocolates with Hawaiian Sea Salt

To Kalon Vineyard I Block Fume Blanc 2004
Robert Mondavi Winery

Most shopping was completed on Thursday and prep gently spread over Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. Flowers arranged on Sunday.

The table was set by mid-afternoon.

Our first course — like much of menu planning — was more a matter of imagination and shopping than any culinary skill. Our lovely light salad was an “appetizing” mix of color, taste and texture. It included a base of shredded Belgian endive leaves, a small nest of baby mizuna that I found at Whole Foods, thin sliced red radishes that spent several hours in cold water prior to thin slicing to maximize their crispness and a topping of Mt. Vikos feta cheese. The dressing — made Sunday morning — included finely chopped shallots, good quality red wine vinegar, Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. This simplest course was probably the course of our dinner that we enjoyed the most. Slightly bitter endive, spicy mizuna, peppery radishes and salty feta and a just a little drizzled dressing that balanced the richness of olive oil with the sharpness of red wine vinegar infused with a gentle onion-ness from the shallots.

We had a spectacularly delicious wedding a year ago November 29th at The Franklin Institute — catered, naturally, by Frog Commissary Catering. Our first course that evening was “borrowed” from a dinner we had a Jean Georges in NYC. It was a Wild Mushroom “Tea.” The wonderfully theatrical element was that after presenting beautifully styled bowls artfully loaded with wild mushrooms and vegetables, waiters poured into the bowls a “tea” made from the soaking liquid from dried wild mushrooms.

Certainly more complicated than our first course, this was hardly difficult to prepare. The “tea” includes the dried mushroom soaking liquid, a touch of fresh thyme and rosemary, a splash of white wine, a few thin slices of garlic and some bits of vegetables leftover from making fine matchsticks of parsnips, carrots and celery that would form a nest in the center of the bowl on which the fois gras stuffed morels would sit. The tea was steeped over low heat to infuse, strained, lightly salted and set aside. I bought a thin slice of duck fois gras mousse from Di Bruno’s and cut shards to stuff into some select soaked morel. I lightly sauteed soaked morels and chanterelles in butter with some chopped shallots. The “angel hair” of vegetables were separately microwaved to soften with a little water in the bottom of covered bowls.

Before we sat down to dinner, I arranged the ingredients in bowls. When it was time to serve, I microwaved each bowl for just under a minute to warm while not melting the fois gras, topped with a few celery leaves and shaved parmesan and brought the bowls to the table.

The steaming hot “tea,” at the ready in a tea pot, was poured into the bowl and the perfume of wild mushrooms exploded. It was a delicious reminder of our wedding dinner.

As tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, I decided that our “shrimp course” would be an homage to the approaching Mardi Gras.

My Thursday night dinner was steamed mussels. Mussel “stock” — the result of steaming mussels in white wine — was to be the basis of my braising and risotto liquid. I added to this the shells from the shrimp that I peeled and strained.  On Saturday I braised the leeks and fennel with saffron and some stock. I trimmed whole artichokes down to the “bottom” –  just the meaty core, along with two baby artichokes. I blanched the artichokes in lemon water to keep from discoloring. Sunday morning I marinated the shrimp in saffron, crushed pink peppercorn, garlic and olive oil. Sunday afternoon I cut tasso — a spiced Cajun ham — into small cubes and cooked them with shallots in a pot. Next I added aborio rice and cooked until the rice turned from opaque to translucent. I let this sit until just before dinner when I gradually added the rest of my mussel stock and some store-bought chicken stock to nearly finish my Tasso Risotto.

Just before serving, I grilled the shrimp in a pre-heated grill pan, re-heated the braised fennel and leeks along with the artichoke bottoms, added more stock to heat the thin out and finish the risotto. On to waiting plates, an added lemon wedge and off to our table. Yum.

Our Valentine’s dinner concluded with Winter Citrus Fruit – pink Cara Cara oranges, red grapefruit, murcotts, honeybells (a recent gift from my Florida-residing mother) and deep red blood oranges. I segmented all of the fruit Saturday morning so all that I had to do was arrange it in bowls, accented with two luscious chocolates.

Candying kumquats is simple. Pick off any little bit of green stem that remains, cut in half, pick out the seeds, cook in simple syrup until translucent, drain (reserve the syrup — it’s a delicious sweetener ) — and place on rack to dry for at least a day and as much as three days. Unused candied kumquats sit in granulated in my kitchen — a snack at-the-ready. You can find the recipe for candied kumquats as part of the recipe for Tangerine Kumquat Martinis in a December post or on Page 47 of At Home. To candy 1 pint of kumquats, I used 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water.

Our dinner wine was a very special bottle that I had picked up a few years ago at the Robert Mondavi Winery. We needed a wine that could hold up across courses with very different spirits. The wine was a 2004 Fume Blanc. What made this special is that it comes from what are believed to be the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines in North America located in the revered To Kalon I Block plot of grapes at the foot of the Mayacamus Mountains in Napa’s Oakville district.

Overall, I continue to make the mistake of too much food. All the courses worked and it was a wonderful dinner, but by dinner’s end we both felt more stuffed than pleasantly sated. Other than our small salad starter, each course could have been a third less in size.

I suspect that you think this was lots of work. But here’s the point. I enjoy cooking. It only becomes less enjoyable when I feel pressured and over-worked. By planning and spreading out my tasks over several days — and with a few good college basketball games and the start of the Winter Olympics on my kitchen TV — and by being organized, preparing dinner for My Valentine was a pleasure…At Home. Your dinner does not have to be this dinner. But, the moral of the story is the same.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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The Commissary’s Strawberry Heart Tarts

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner and, for many, another “snow day,” it’s a good day to plan to make Strawberry Heart Tarts. Tart shells may be made and lined with chocolate in advance, and filed just before serving. Heart Tarts make for a luscious Valentine’s dessert or make a batch and deliver a special Valentine’s gift to those you love. If you are unable to find heart-shaped gelatin molds, buy two Coeur a la Creme molds and make the tart shells two-at-a-time. They bake very quickly.

Strawberry Heart Tarts from The Frog Commissary Cookbook

One day just prior to the opening of The Commissary, Anne found herself pondering the questions of what new desserts to open the restaurant with and what to do with all the heart-shaped gelatin molds lying about Frog after one Valentine’s Day bout with coeur à la crème. On a whim, she draped pastry dough over the backs of the molds and baked them. The Heart Tart was born! The muses then went to work on the filling; chocolate, pastry cream, and strawberries converged. The Commissary opened serving 12 a day; then came a catering order for 70, and the Heart Tarts were off and running. The process soon had to be streamlined to meet the demand—pastry cream became cream cheese filling, and a machine was purchased to mix huge batches of dough.  A dessert truly original to The Commissary, the Heart Tart has claimed a legion of followers who adore its combination of crisp crust, toothsome chocolate lining, rich cream filling, and crowning of glazed jumbo berries. Anne’s husband, Chris, is one of those fans, and in her wedding vows, Anne promised him “unlimited Heart Tarts.”

The tart’s elegant appearance belies its ease of prepara­tion, especially once you have the heart-shaped gelatin molds in hand. The pastry takes just seconds in a food processor, and when baked, the shells can be kept on hand in the freezer (don’t remove from the mold when freezing them), ever ready to dazzle unexpected guests or brighten a midweek dinner. The filling will easily keep a week in the refrigerator, and the chocolate and berries are very simple last-minute additions.

Tart Shells
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3 tablespoons cold water

Cream Cheese Filling
8 ounces softened cream cheese
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier*
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 pints of strawberries
1/3  cup sieved or seedless raspberry jam

1 Make the shells: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, butter, and shortening. Whiz for several seconds until crumbly. Add the water and whiz until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 1/2 hour. (It can also be held in the refrigerator for up to 4 days but bring it to room temperature before using.)
2 To roll and bake the shells, preheat the oven to 350°. Bring the dough to a workable temperature and divide into 6 equal portions. On a floured surface, roll each portion of dough into a circle large enough to drape over the back of one of the gelatin molds. Trim off any excess and prick the molded dough several times with a fork. Set the 6 molds dough-side-up on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until pale gold and crisp. Cool the shells completely while still on the molds.
3 Make the filling: In a mixer or food processor, combine all the ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
4 Assemble tarts: Fill the tarts as close to serving time as possible. If you are not serving them immediately, do at least keep them well chilled. Remove the shells from their molds and set upright. Melt the chocolate in a small pan over simmering water, then divide it among the 6 shells and spread evenly over the bottom of each. Let the chocolate cool 10 minutes before filling. Divide the cream cheese filling among the 6 shells. Stem the strawberries and toss gently with the jam to coat. Top each tart with 5-8 berries (depending on their size) stem-end-down.

Yield 6 individual heart-shaped tarts

* Grand Marnier is a pricey item to buy just for Heart Tarts. It’s the best, but you may substitute other sweet orange-accented liqueurs such as Cointreau or Triple Sec.

More Frog Commissary Recipes
Classic recipes like Strawberry Heart Tarts are featured in The Frog Commissary Cookbook are included in At Home Online, At Home’s companion website. Book owners may print the recipe from there. You may also purchase The Frog Commissary Cookbook at www.athomebysteveposes.com.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Entertaining Thoughts

It’s another home bound snowy day in the northeast with the gift of unexpected free time. My hope is that you have already planned your Valentine’s Dinner at home. But, if not, today gives you bonus time to turn Valentine’s Dinner into a couple’s Valentine’s weekend of wine and food shopping, cooking together and enjoying a special evening at home.

If Valentine’s dinner is not your cup of tea, then plan today to celebrate the Lunar (Chinese) New Year that also falls on this Sunday. Invite a few friends, pick a few recipes from At Home and plan to celebrate the New Year. Consider doing the shopping in advance, inviting friends in the early afternoon, assigning recipes — conveniently printed from At Home Online — and have them join you in preparing your Lunar New Year’s celebration. I defy you to plan a more fun time with friends.

The critical first step in entertaining at home is to make the commitment to do it. Given enough time to plan and spread your tasks, entertaining at home is a pleasure and not a chore. We have busy lives and planning to entertain at home may not be top of mind. Today is good day to commit to, begin thinking about and planning for up-coming at home entertaining opportunities. A place to start is to use some of today to browse through At Home for entertaining ideas, inspiration and planning tools. If you have not bought your copy of At Home — today’s an excellent day to order the book and At Home Online, it’s companion website for book owners, and begin incorporating the pleasures of entertaining at home into your life. It’s also a good day to visit the blog site and exploring past blogs. Know someone who might enjoy the blog?  Good day to email a friend about it.

Here’s a schedule of at home entertaining opportunities over the next several months:
Sunday, February 14  Valentine’s Day and Lunar (Chinese) New Year
Tuesday, February 16   Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras Day)
Sunday, March 7  The Oscars
Tuesday, March 30th  First night of Passover
Sunday, April 4  Easter
Sunday, May 9 Mother’s Day
Sunday, June 20 Father’s Day

Thank you for visiting.
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Be My Valentine…At Home!

We are lucky this year as a series of date-determined “holidays” are falling on Sundays. For home entertainers, that leaves Friday evening, Saturday and into Sunday to spread out your tasks so you get your one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival.

Valentine’s Day is this Sunday evening. For some reason, Valentine’s Day has become associated with restaurant dining. But how much more intimate and romantic is candlelight and music in the comfort of your home? By working together, a loving couple can share the imagining, planning, shopping, cooking and serving one another their Valentine’s dinner into a weekend model for their loving relationship. Plan for an early dinner so dessert comes while the night is still young. (Leave clean-up until Monday evening after work. Just rinse and stack the dirty dishes.)

So, skip the over-priced, over-crowded restaurant Valentine’s scene and plan to entertain yourselves this Valentine’s Day…at home. It will be half the cost and twice the fun!

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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