Monday, February 8, 2010

Romantic Dinner In

My husband and I have a little romantic ritual. Each year for Valentine's Day, instead of going out, paying high prices, and getting mediocre service at a restaurant, we stay home. Doesn't sound romantic yet? Just wait.

We dress up as though we're headed to a fancy restaurant. We light candles, play our favorite music, open a nice bottle of wine, and have a romantic dinner at home. With a little planning you can have the same experience. I promise it will be stress-free.

Here's a sample menu for your romantic Valentine's Dinner In. It's not the most original menu but the main focus is ease. Remember, low stress equals romance!

Shrimp Cocktail a la Gazpacho or Mushroom Toasts (see recipe under Seasonal Food Guide - Fall post)
Mixed Green or Iceberg Wedge Salad
Steak with Blue Cheese Butter & Baked Potato
Something Chocolate

Everything I am suggesting can be done ahead of time so you can enjoy your evening. Here's how it breaks down.

  • Shrimp Cocktail a la Gazpacho
    Here's little twist on a classic. Buy 8 to 10 jumbo, cooked, peeled shrimp (or uncooked, if you prefer to steam them yourself), a hot-house cucumber, cocktail sauce and lemon. Wash and finely dice about half of the cucumber. Spoon the diced cucumber into martini glasses or wine glasses, top with a couple tablespoons of cocktail sauce, and hang the shrimp off the rim of the glass. Garnish with a lemon slice or lemon twist and refrigerate until dinner.

  • Mixed Green or Iceberg Wedge Salad
    If you are making a simple mixed green salad, try your own vinaigrette (see recipe under Guiltless Gourmet post) or just purchase a favorite. Place a handful of mixed baby greens onto two salad plates, garnish with tomato if you wish, and place the salads (without dressing) in the refrigerator until dinner.

    If you would prefer the iceberg wedge salad, purchase a small firm head of iceberg lettuce and cut it in half vertically through the core. Create a wedge by cutting one half vertically again. Trim away the sliver of the core. Place each wedge onto a salad plate, garnish with your choice of crumbled bacon, chopped hard-boiled eggs, sliced green onions and tomatoes. Refrigerate without the dressing until dinner, then serve with a good quality bottled or homemade bleu cheese dressing.

  • Steak with Blue Cheese Butter
    If you haven't made a compound butter before, you'll be surprised how easy it is. You can create all kinds of flavors and they can be stored in your freezer for months wrapped in plastic. This particular butter is wonderful on green beans and baked potatoes, as well as steak.

    Combine 4 ounces (1 stick) of room temperature butter with 4 ounce of crumbled blue cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots, and cracked black pepper to taste. Blend until relatively smooth, however some blue cheese chunks are good. Spoon onto waxed or parchment paper and roll snuggly into a cylinder shape. Refrigerate until firm.

  • Now, all you have left is to wash and prepare your potato for baking and season your steaks. Put your potato in the oven a half an hour before you plan to start your shrimp cocktail that way it will have been in the oven for a full hour by the time you are ready for your main dish.

    Here's how the evening will go. You will come into the kitchen looking beautiful. Your significant other will hand you a drink and a kiss. Together you'll bring the Shrimp Cocktail to the table. Perhaps your significant other will clear the table and bring out the salad? Together you'll cook your steaks, top them with a pat of the amazing Blue Cheese Butter you made earlier and enjoy them with your baked potatoes.

    Dinner will end with something chocolate - your choice! Maybe a hot fudge sundae or a fancy dessert from the gourmet market? In the end, you have had a romantic evening for a lot less than you would have paid at your local restaurant. So when the mood strikes you, head upstairs!