Every year on February 14th, people frantically run around trying to find the perfect gift to tell someone how much they love them. There was a time that I was turned off by the commercialism of Valentine’s, and with good reason. Come February, we are bombarded with advertising telling us to buy flowers, cards and trinkets. I started to change my tune in the last few years and decided to take the day as an extra opportunity to show someone that I care. Instead of buying something though, I try to do or make something. My first Valentine’s Day with Dustin was 8 years ago. I cooked him spaghetti and veal meat balls. Although the meal was delicious, that was also the day I learned what veal actually was. This year, I decided to bring the cooking tradition back and made a 4 course meal. I started by dressing up the coffee table as our faux dining area and decorating the room with pink accents. Making the pom poms that I hung over the table was probably the most time consuming thing I did all day, but it really added that last little Valentine’s touch.
After decorating, I finally started cooking. My menu was on the heavier side, so I started with a salad. I am a huge fan of adding warm elements to a salad. Otherwise it can be pretty boring. This is a simple recipe which calls for toasting almonds and cranberries in a dab of butter. Served right after cooking, these warm additions completely change the dish.
I always try to know what is in the food I’m buying, so one day while grocery shopping I took out my iPhone and started looking up the ingredients in a bottle of salad dressing. After a while, I was grossed out and I’ve been making my own salad dressing ever since. Can’t say I miss the bottled stuff at all.
My next course was pasta. I gathered my ingredients: Pine nuts, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano Cheese, garlic, and a lot of basil. This is a really quick sauce recipe that you can store in the the fridge for 3-4 days or freeze for up to 6 months. I grated the cheese then wilted the basil in boiling water for a few seconds. I boiled garlic in a separate pan for 2-3 minutes to soften it and reduce the intensity of its flavor so it didn’t dominate the sauce.
While I used a food processor, I think a blender would also work if one has some extra patience to make sure the contents circulate properly and don’t over-blend at the bottom. The original recipe technically called for an immersion style hand blender so that is clearly an option as well. I topped off the pasta with extra Parmesan. I love Italian food because if done well and with fresh ingredients, a few simple steps can yield a huge punch of flavor.
The meat course was next. This was my first time cooking quail. I found the uncooked miniature stature of the bird to be somewhat alarming. I had seen pictures of it cooked though, so I hoped for the best. I chopped mint leaves, added them atop the pint sized birds, drizzled on some honey and added salt and pepper. I broiled the quail until golden brown, which turned out to be about 5 minutes on each side.
Dustin said that the couscous, combined with the sweetness of the raisins and crunch of the pine nuts, was the perfect balance to the quail. Although I’ve been a vegetarian for a while, I still remember which flavors work with certain meats. I’ve never eaten quail before, (which has a slight gamey smell to it, much like venison) so this was a bit of a shot in the dark. I’m glad all the flavors worked well together.
Siting at our coffee table was surprisingly comfortable. I made fresh mojitos, which turned out to be more rum than anything. That probably added to our relaxing dining atmosphere. I think our dog (Mia) enjoyed viewing everything in such close proximity too.
Moving on to the final course: Dessert. I made a chocolate mousse. I worried about using raw eggs, so I bought my usual organic free-range eggs, but made sure they were from a local farm in the hopes that they would be fresher and somehow safer. I added boiling cream to some chopped chocolate. After whisking for a few minutes, everything melted together and I let the mixture cool. I was on a tight deadline so I probably didn’t let it cool as much as I should before I added my egg whites. The main thing to avoid here is cooking the egg whites when they are added to the cream and chocolate. The recipe I was working from then called for a whipping cream siphon charged with a gas cartridge to fluff the mouse. Since I don’t have one of those, I relied on our mixer’s whisk. As a result, we had more of a pudding than a mouse, but it tasted great.
Still on the dessert course, I was in the mood for something on the lighter side. Dustin had made waffles and poached pears the day before, which also yielded a large amount of sweet pear flavored syrup. To poach the pears, he combined Moscato wine, a simple syrup of sugar and water, cinnamon, honey, and a split vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan. He added whole peeled pears and simmered everything until the pears softened. I’m hungry just writing about it. Once the pears were completely cooked, they were removed from the syrup and everything was allowed to cool. The syrup left in the pan after this process was fantastic so we saved every drop of it. Fast forwarding back to Valentine’s Day night, I toasted our homemade waffle from the day before and topped it with fresh whipped cream (mixed with a bit of powdered sugar), the pear syrup, and almonds.
Cooking 4 courses was a lot to take on in one night, but they turned out great. Dustin appreciated the effort and returned the gesture with a cute handmade card and the gift of a nice clean kitchen.
The recipes I used this night were based on some I found in “The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria”. I love the step by step imagery in this recipe book and it’s entirely likely that we’ll be purchasing our own copy soon. I’m a very visual person and this book’s style of presentation is extremely easy to follow even though many of the recipes are new to me.
The poached pear recipe is based on one by Giada DeLaurentiis, found here.
The waffle recipe Dustin used is different from the one we’ve previously mentioned on Chickypea and can be found here.