Valentine’s Day with a Dash of Romance

Last year, Valentine’s Day fell on a Friday. As a Catholic who observes the “No Meat on Friday” rule, it was a challenge to create an entirely meatless menu without falling back on the old “romantic” standby – lobster. I went with Pan-seared Scallops in a Lemon Sauce, Shrimp Risotto and Steamed Broccoli with Garlic Butter. Dessert was a family favorite – French Silk Pie. (If you’d like to check it out – here’s the link Valentine’s Day Menu – For a Catholic Friday).

This year I was very tempted to go with Filet Mignon Lili. I have several recipes for Filet Mignon Lili. The traditional recipe calls for a few ingredients that aren’t easy to come by – Foie Gras Medallions (up until recently California had imposed a ban on Foie Gras) and thin slices (shavings) of Black Truffle (cost is a factor here – a 1 oz Winter Black Truffle will set you back about $90.00). As we all know, there are no true substitutes for Foie Gras or Truffles. You can get by with  perhaps a high-grade pate in some recipes. As for the truffles,  perhaps some mushrooms cooked in Truffle oil, although hardly the same thing. Now that the state’s ban has been lifted on Foie Gras, I went in search of the real deal. I’m sorry, but I cannot rationalize spending $30.00 or more (depending upon the farm) for a few ounces of what amounts to as liver. Okay – to-die-for out of this world swoon over liver, but liver none the less. I cannot bring myself to push that “add to my cart” button – not even for Valentine’s Day. With $120.00 invested in two ingredients, the cost of prime Filet Mignon isn’t even an after-thought.  So no – traditional Filet Mignon Lili is out. (Unless I win the lottery!)

What’s that, you say? Not even for Valentine’s Day?! Have you no romantic spirit? I must confess, Hubby and I stopped celebrating the commercial aspects of Valentine’s Day years ago. We have gone out for a nice dinner in the past (the last time was 2004), but for the most part it’s a home-cooked meal and a special dessert. (I don’t care much for eating out on “special” days like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day – most restaurants are way overbooked and I feel pressured to eat and run rather than to linger over my food while engaging in quiet conversation). For us, all the hearts and flowers and expensive gifts that are supposed to scream “I love you” aren’t part of the deal. As Hubby once put it “Everyday with you is Valentine’s Day.” So when he shows up with flowers in the middle of the week, that’s romantic. When I’m busy with a project and my guys surprise me by cooking dinner, that says “I love you” loud and clear. Am I right?

All that said, Valentine’s Day should be acknowledged with a little something special. “Special” doesn’t necessarily mean “fancy”. Simple, comfort foods can convey the message “I love you” just as easily as multi-course gourmet meals. After all, the language of love is such a personal language that it cannot be defined – not even by Madison Avenue ad campaigns, despite all their efforts.

In our house, we all adore Italian dishes. Cooking together, to me, is romantic. Again, a personal thing. For Valentine’s Day this year, we decided to make something we all like – Chicken Marsala. (It was a toss-up between the Marsala and the Chicken Piccata – Mema Style – the Marsala won. Have you seen the selection of mushrooms in the market right now? Wow!)

My usual side for Chicken Marsala are roasted potatoes. In my mind, the two go hand-in-hand. Besides, I love roasted potatoes. For this year’s Valentine’s Day Menu I drew some inspiration while dining out. (Imagine – inspired about food paring while dining – what a novel concept!)

Last weekend, Hubby, Kiddo and I spent a day playing “tourist” along the famous Pier 39 in San Francisco. We ended our day with sunset supper at Neptune’s Waterfront Grill overlooking the bay. Hubby and I both had the Dungeness Crab with drawn butter (whole for Hubby, half for me). While the crab was good; the sides knocked my socks off – so straightforward yet so tasty and colorful – Sautéed Asparagus and Baby Carrot Tips.  I could not resist paring these two simple vegetables with my Marsala. Of course, no Valentine’s Day menu could be complete without chocolate in the mix. Since Valentine’s Day is a family affair, I went for something we all enjoy. Molten Lava Cake seemed the perfect dessert to end a lovely meal.

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On the Menu
Chicken Marsala
Smoky Pan-Seared Asparagus 
Browned Butter and Brown-Sugar Glazed Baby Carrots
Molten Lava Cake with Fresh Berries

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Chicken - Chicken Marsala crop 02-14-2013Chicken Marsala
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut to create 8 breasts
3 Tablespoons Flour
1/2 Tablespoons Oregano
Salt to Taste
Pepper to Taste
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced Portobello or other assorted mushrooms
½ cup Marsala wine (more to taste)
¼ Cup Chicken Broth
1/2 Tablespoon Brown Gravy Mix (the powder stuff)

Place the breast flat on a cutting board with the fuller side closest to you, the thinner point away from you. Find the center spot to cut breast evenly (or as close to evenly as possible) in half, make a small slit in the breast. Turn breast so that the thicker part is facing your blade-wielding hand. (For me, that’s right). Insert blade into the slit, pressing down gently on the breast with your free hand and slice length-wise. You should end up with two thin breast halves. Set aside and repeat with remaining breasts.

In a shallow dish combine flour, salt, pepper and oregano. Coat chicken pieces in flour mixture.

In a large skillet, melt butter in olive oil over medium heat. Place chicken in pan and lightly brown on both sides.

Add mushrooms. Pour in wine and chicken broth, cover and simmer chicken 10 minutes, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

Taste and adjust sauce as needed – if too sweet, add small amount of Chicken Broth, if not sweet enough, add small amount of Marsala Wine.  Remove chicken from the pan and transfer to a rimmed serving platter.  Tent and keep warm.

Add Brown Gravy Mix and continue to cook an additional 10 minutes to allow sauce to reduce and thicken.  Return chicken to the pan, roll to coat with sauce.

Place chicken on serving platter, spoon sauce over and around chicken.

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Pan Seared Asparagus Tips (2)Smoky Pan Seared Asparagus
1 lb green asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon Basil olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
juice of 1/2 lemon, freshly squeezed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the asparagus and trim off the ends, leaving spears about 8 inches long.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter to sizzling. Turn down the heat to medium and add the asparagus.

Using a broad spatula, turn the spears over from time to time until they are browned more or less evenly, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. The spears will remain mainly green, with patches of crispy brown. Check for doneness by tasting a spear. It should be tender but slightly al dente.

Sprinkle the asparagus with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and transfer to a serving platter or individual plates.

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Glazed Carrots (2)Browned-Butter and Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots
1 Bunch Baby Carrots, tops intact
2 Tablespoons Water
Pinch of Salt
4 Tablespoons Butter
4 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Kahlua

Trim tops of carrots, leaving about 1 inch of the “green” intact.

Wash and peel carrots. Place in a microwave safe dish.

Add water and a pinch of salt. Microwave on HIGH for 3-5 minutes, until carrots are tender-crisp.

Heat empty skillet until almost smoking. Remove skillet from heat, add butter. Butter will begin to brown almost immediately. Add brown sugar, stir until sugar has dissolved to create a nice glaze.

Add Kahlua, swirl pan to blend.

Place carrots in pan with butter. Swirl to coat carrots with glaze.

Place pan on low heat. Continue to swirl until carrots are nicely glazed and everything is hot.

Transfer to serving platter. Serve immediately.

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Molten Lava Cake with Fresh Berries
4 Squares Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate
½ Cup Butter
1 Cup Powdered Sugar, Sifted
2 Whole Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
6 Tablespoons Flour
Fresh Berries for Garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter 4 small custard cups or ramekins; place on a baking sheet and set aside.

Microwave chocolate squares and butter in a large microwaveable bowl on high for approximate 1 minute or until butter is melted. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted.

Sift powdered sugar into chocolate mixture. Add whole eggs and whisk until blended. Add egg yolks and mix well. Stir flour into batter. Spoon batter into prepared cups or ramekins.

Bake 13-14 minutes or until sides of cake are firm but centers are still soft. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes.

Carefully run thin knife around cake to loosen; invert onto dessert plates.

Dust with additional powdered sugar. Garnish each dish with fresh fruit such as raspberries, blackberries and/or strawberries. (Since only a small amount of fruit is used for the garnish, it’s the perfect time to think ahead – fresh fruit with breakfast in the morning!)

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