15 February 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Our Valentine's Day dinner went off without a hitch. I was really pleased with all the recipes I chose, and though I'm not usually one for making a big fuss over the table settings, I thought it looked beautiful.

I used red napkins as our placemats and set the table with our wedding china and silver. We enjoyed pink champagne in our toasting flutes and a nice Cabernet with dinner in the red wine glasses. The centerpiece is the cake topper from our wedding cake, and even the candlesticks were a shower gift from my mom. The candles I had were too slender for the holders, so I wrapped rubber bands around the bottoms to keep them in place.

I wanted to spread the meal out so we weren't stuffed, so in the afternoon, we nibbled at a cheddar cheese fondue - the original recipe is from one of our favorite restaurants - The Melting Pot. One of Andrew's only requests on our wedding registry was an electric fondue pot, and this was a great occasion to use it. The recipe I used was very vague in terms of amounts, other than their recommendation of 4 ounces of liquid. I found this made a very small amount of fondue, so my recipe is based on double the liquid.

Cheddar Cheese Fondue

8 ounces beer - I usedBass Ale
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 tsp. mustard powder
6 shakes Worchestershire sauce
10 grinds of pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Pour the beer into the fondue pot and set pot to 5-1/2. Add the seasonings and the garlic and allow to bubble for a few moments.

Stir in the cheese in batches, whisking with your fondue fork (or a whisk!) to incorporate the cheese.

We served our cheddar fondue with green apples only - I didn't want to get too full for our dinner! The Melting Pot serves theirs with green and red apples, white and brown bread, carrots, and cauliflower.

Fondue is such an easy thing to make, and it serves well as an appetizer or even a small meal unto itself. If you didn't have a fondue pot, I'd imagine you could make this recipe using a double boiler.

Later in the evening, we moved on to our appetizer. I wanted to do seafood, and I was hoping for a tuna sashimi, but at the last minute I opted for sea scallops instead. I was happy with my choice, and thought the scallops were a good compliment to the meal that followed. The recipe was simple yet elegant, and most importantly, it was delicious.

Sea Scallops in Garlic Butter
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen
6 large sea scallops, cleaned and patted dry
1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced garlic

After rinsing the scallops and drying them on a paper towel, I transferred them to my cutting board. As I was done chopping vegetables on it, I dried it and placed my tablespoon of flour on the board. I gently rolled each scallop in the flour while the olive oil and butter heated in the pan.

Add scallops to pan and cook about two minutes on each side. I added the garlic after all the scallops were in the pan.

This easy dish was so delicious. The garlic was soft and buttery, the scallops were perfectly cooked, and I think Andrew and I would have been happy to each eat a giant plateful of the scallops and call it a night.

Kalyn recommended garnishing with fresh parsley - I used dried tarragon instead. It provided a nice aromatic without adding any intense flavor to the dish. I would recommend this recipe to anyone who has never worked with scallops before - it's a simple recipe that will definitely impress any seafood lover.

The main event involved two new recipes - I know people always say not to try out new recipes on a special occasion, but I figured since it was just Andrew and I, there would be plenty of time, no pressure, and I'd be able to focus on following the recipe. I made the Broccoli Gratin that afternoon and took it out of the fridge when I served the scallops so it could come up to room temperature in time to serve with dinner.

Beef Medallions in Red Wine Sauce

Cook's Recipes has a fantastic recipe for beef medallions. After a simple Google search, I found exactly what I was looking for. I'm not going to recreate the recipe here, becauseI followed it exactly. Feel free to check out the website for the full recipe.

I had my butcher cut the filet mignon that was on sale into a beautiful loin shape. After I told him what I was looking for, he happily went into the back, retrieved a huge piece of filet, and trimmed all the fat for me. See how pretty:

Despite the expense of the meat, I still used my bootleg meat tenderizer - my Chicago Cutlery knife sharpener wrapped in plastic. In the background, you can see the meat after I cut it crosswise into 1" thick medallions.

Here's a photo of the medallions post-pounding:

While I was working with the meat, I let the butter and onions do their thing, then added the flour to create a lovely roux.

I can't believe I didn't get a picture after I added the red wine and beef broth. The sauce was much too thin for my liking, so I whisked in some more flour. I felt like a dunce when I first added the flour, because rather than whisking the flour into a spoonful of broth in a little dish, I just dumped it in.

Amazingly enough, it worked out fine - all the flour dissolved with some vigorous whisking, the sauce thickened, and everything was perfect. I will definitely make this recipe again - albeit most likely with a cheaper cut of meat!

Broccoli Gratin

adapted from A Taste of France

Our yummy side dish was basically a grown up version of broccoli covered in cheese.

2 medium heads broccoli, cut into florets
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 c. milk
4 tbsp. heavy cream
nutmeg, salt, pepper
3/4 c. mozzarella cheese

To start, blanch the broccoli by steaming until al dente, then plunge into ice water.

While the broccoli steams and cools, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for about 1 minute, forming a roux. Pour in the milk "all in one go" as the recipe instructs and whisk continuously over medium high heat.

Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, cream, and half the cheese.

Add the broccoli to the saucepan and stir to coat. Transfer to an oven safe baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes.

One of my biggest concerns when I'm preparing a special meal is making sure that food is ready at the right time. In order to ensure my timing is perfect, I usually set myself to a loose schedule. I think about my tasks ahead of time - which pans I'll need, what the oven temperature needs to be for which dish, whether certain things can sit if necessary.

By prepping the Broccoli Gratin earlier in the day, my stovetop and my time were free to make the scallops. At the same time the scallops were sauteeing, I browned my beef. I let the scallops rest for about three minutes in their pan - this gave me time to prepare the red wine sauce for the Beef Medallions. While we ate the scallops, the sauce simmered away and the broccoli baked in the oven. By the time we had cleared the plates, our dinner was ready. For dessert, I served Molten Lava Cakes. I will update with the recipe and photos as soon as I can.

I hope your Valentine's Day was sweet!


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful meal!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Everything looks amazing!

Anonymous said...

That fondue sounds delicious! If you're really into fondue my Mom has passed down this recipe to me: http://petitechef.wordpress.com/recipes/creamy-veggie-fondue/
and I love that scallop garlic recipe! Thanks!!