Menu Ideas: A&K’s Passion Plates
While many foods are considered aphrodisiacs, we've heard time and again from our guest chefs on Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag that passion is the most important ingredient in any dish. Whether you're cooking up a memorable feast for a loved one or for a group of good friends, don't be afraid to experiment! Here is what we'll have simmering in our Valentine's Day kitchen:
Anna’s Fiery Fare
For me, creating a memorable menu is all about pairing unique flavours in unexpected yet pleasing combinations. Pay attention to the subtle textures of the ingredients, and how they layer together with your accompanying side dishes to create a innovative experience for your taste buds and palate.
Appetizer: Thin Crust Pizza
Who says pizza isn’t romantic? I may be a little biased, but perfectly-constructed, thin-crust pizza dough is like a blank canvas on which you can show off your talent for combining flavour and texture.
For a libido-inflaming combo, try fig (an aphrodisiac) and fresh basil, with grated grana and mozzarella, fresh ground pepper, and good olive oil drizzled on top. Add a sprinkle of dried chili flakes for some zing. Be sure to use San Marzano tomatoes if available.
Salad: Roast Crunchy Raw Beetroot Salad with Feta & Pear
From Cook with Jamie, this is a good option to follow your pizza appetizer since it’s light, but filled with nutrients.
If you’ve got good knife skills, all you need is your trusty chef’s knife to slice and dice the beet and pear into perfect matchsticks. If you’re a little more novice, a Japanese mandoline is the perfect tool for this job.
Remember to take the feta out of the fridge about 30 minutes ahead and let it come to room temperature so that you can enjoy the full flavour of the cheese.
It’s a quick and simple recipe to add some Valentine-themed colour to your table, and you can make it ahead of time (add the dressing at the last minute).
As Jamie says, “it’s a treat and a half.” Here’s the recipe on JamieOliver.com.
Main: Sole à la Grenobloise
From Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter, this no-fail recipe is simple and light. It’s got just the right amount of flavour to keep your palate stimulated and lead your red, beet-stained taste buds in a new direction. Serve with boiled new potatoes.
Dessert: Super Food Chocolate Fondue
Time to dust off that fondue pot! As I’ve already mentioned, I’m a big fan of being creative in the kitchen, and fondue is a great way to explore and experiment.
Prepare a delectable, bite-size selection of dip-able super foods that go well with chocolate, including fruits like strawberries, raspberries, pears, blackberries, mangoes, papaya, peaches, bananas, and blueberries.
Source the best organic dark chocolate you can find, at least 70% cacao. Chocolate fondue sauce is quite easy to make. Some recipes call for butter, others call for heavy cream (30% MF or more).
Melt the butter or heat the cream carefully in a heavy saucepan. (Be very careful not to scorch it.)
Smash the still-wrapped chocolate bar into chip-size pieces and melt it into your butter or cream.
If needed, add some sweetness with vanilla. Slice a vanilla bean pod and scrape the insides into your chocolate mix, or use the best pure organic vanilla extract you can find.
Use a zester to add freshly-grated cinnamon (a super food that’s good for your blood and cholesterol level) into your chocolate mix. Or try a little freshly-ground nutmeg. Remember, less is more. It’s easier to add more spices than to fix it if you’ve added too much.
- Once your sauce is all mixed to taste, transfer it to your fondue pot.
Crush some walnuts, almonds, pecans and other nuts for an extra post-dip, nutrient-rich coating.
Experiment with using pomegranate seeds as another outer layer coating option.
For the even more adventurous types, sprinkle a little coarse sea salt (try Fleur de Sel or Maldon) on your chocolate-covered delight. Also try a splash of pure extra virgin olive oil and see what your taste buds think!
Ask your local vintner for wine suggestions that will go well with your dark chocolate delight.Enjoy your super food Valentine’s treat without guilt!
And if it’s that kind of date, here are some ideas for the morning after the night before.
For a little hair of the dog, mix up some Spicy Bloody Marys (see recipe in Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill).
Once you’ve woken up a bit, put on the coffee, and scramble some eggs. You don’t need a cookbook for that: 4 free range eggs, a shot of cream, salt and pepper, couple dashes of hot sauce. Whisk, then cook slowly. Don’t overcook.
Serve the eggs over thick-sliced toast with sauteed, sliced tomatoes, OR either marinara sauce from Giada’s Everyday Italian or “Lee’s homemade sriracha” sauce from Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter. On top, add shaved Parmesan and drizzle with good olive oil. It’s the best morning after sandwich ever!
Kristina’s Amorous Eatables
While I enjoy a spicy and exotic food, I really appreciate the classics. The key for a Valentine’s day feast is to keep it light so you don’t end up feeling over-full, bloated, or sleepy after the meal when things really should be heating up.
Also, remember to spend some time talking (and flirting) between courses so that you can digest a bit before moving onto the next savoury delight.
Appetizer: Devils on Horseback
Read into it what you will, but these bite-sized, bacon-wrapped mouthfuls are bursting with flavour and are sure to please. You can find many variations of this recipe available online, some use dates, others use prunes.
The basic idea is to stuff dates (already pitted) with a hard, flavourful cheese like asiago or pecorino, then wrap each date in a slice of bacon. Stick a toothpick through the centre to keep the roll together, bake for about 20-25 minutes at 400F until the bacon is cooked. Voilà!
Salad: Endive Salad
Super simple, yet crisp and refreshing, this endive salad recipe with coarse mustard dressing takes advantage of an under-used winter vegetable. It’s from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, and the instructions are only a couple of sentences long. My kind of recipe! Goes great with duck.
Main: Duck À L’Orange
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I cannot get enough of Anthony Bourdain’s Duck À L’Orange. We made it on cook day for the Les Halles episode, and I’ve had vivid dreams about it ever since.
It’s is a surefire hit, but try to use the best ingredients available. It really makes a difference. Look for an organic or grain-fed heritage duck at your local butcher. And remove the pith off the oranges, not like I did it on cook day. (Yes, I have to admit Anna was right on that one.)
Dessert: Chocolate Pepper Cookies
Here’s a little spicy post-dinner kick to get you in the mood for the rest of the evening’s romantic activities. I borrowed this recipe from a friend, and added the extra ingredient for a twist of my own. The best part? Cookie & jam sandwiches! (Works well with a spoonful of ice cream in the middle too.) Don’t be afraid to drizzle a little chocolate or caramel sauce over the whole thing too. Ooey-gooey goodness.
The secret to great cookies? Don’t overcook, and use good quality baking sheets so that the bottoms come out evenly browned while the tops stay moist and chewy.
CHOCOLATE PEPPER COOKIES
1 ½ cups unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups sifted flour
1 ½ cups cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Sugar, additional flour and cocoa powder for rolling
Raspberry jam optional
1. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs until the mixture is fluffy.
2. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add them to the butter/sugar mixture, one cup at a time, beating each time until everything is well mixed.
3. Take the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a flattened round, wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of one hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.
5. On a sugared and floured board or countertop (you can also add some cocoa powder) roll out the dough with a rolling pin to 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. I use anything from holiday motifs to teddy bears to heart shape cook cutters. (The latter works well for the jam sandwich cookies.)
6. Place cookies on the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not allow them to brown, so keep a close eye on them. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
7. If desired, spread a little bit of jam between two cookies to form a sandwich.
Breakfast: French Toast Casserole with Bourbon Crème Anglaise
Another recipe I keep coming back to is the French Toast Casserole from Bon Appetit, Y’all. You can make it ahead of time (up to 12 hours before). Just throw it in the oven in the morning and climb back into your cozy in bed together for a little extra snuggling while it warms up. Lucky us! Cookbook author Virgina Willis has the recipe posted on her blog.
And don’t forget the espresso!