Recipes for Romance

Our Februarys are jammed with Carnival events, so we sometimes forget how many important days actually occur in this short month.

Our Februarys are jammed with Carnival events, so we sometimes forget how many important days actually occur in this short month. There’s Groundhog Day, Presidents Day and, most romantically, Valentine’s Day. If you add up 12 days of parades, that’s more than half of the month that we are celebrating something. Whew! It is a good thing we know how to handle fun here.

Valentine’s Day can slip through the cracks somewhere between Twelfth Night and Rex. But if you’re young and in love, or older and sentimental, a quiet dinner for two may be just the prescription for a cold winter night to remember.

Restaurants, of course, lure most lovers on this occasion, yet a scintillating menu presented as a labor of love will rival a public place on this special night. And, certainly, this gift scores from the hands of male or female cooks.

I have prepared some of my favorite dishes, including some so-called aphrodisiacs (oysters and chocolate), for this stunning meal and asked Marc Pelletier, a Martin Wine Cellar consultant, to match the perfect wines.

The menu includes a deviled oyster appetizer; a salad of gourmet greens spiked with roasted beets, candied pistachios and blue cheese; tender beef fillets topped with a red wine sauce, and chocolate mousse crowned with whipped cream and toasted almonds. You can make the extras a day ahead – the candied pistachios, toasted almonds – as well as the chocolate mousse.

A few extra tips: Don’t forget red roses and candles for the table. If you have kids, eat late. Put on soft music, light a fire and enjoy the most romantic night of February.

3 tablespoons butter, divided
3 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 oysters, well-drained
1 tablespoon chopped
flat-leaf parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup half and half

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter 2 ovenproof ramekins, or 1 small baking dish, using 1 teaspoon.

Melt remaining butter in a small skillet and sauté green onions and garlic until soft. Remove from heat.

After straining oysters and reserving liquid for another use if desired, check each oyster for shell. Then chop oysters coarsely and mix with onions and garlic. Add parsley, salt, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and 1/3-cup of the breadcrumbs and mix. Spoon into serving dishes, top with remaining breadcrumbs and pour half-and-half over the top. 

Bake for 30 minutes until brown on top.

Serves 2.

Recommended wine: Vina Godeval, a Spanish white wine from Bodegas Godeval vineyards; or Sancerre, a French sauvignon blanc from La Poussie Sancerre in the Loire Valley.

2 small fresh beets
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive
oil, divided
1/4 cup pistachio nuts
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
Cayenne pepper
2 cups gourmet greens such
as field greens or a combina-
tion or baby arugula, frisée
and oak leaf
Purple onion, several thin slices
2 tablespoons good-quality
blue cheese
1 teaspooon raspberry or other
fruity vinegar
Freshly grated black pepper
to taste
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut stems off of and scrub beets. Grease with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Place in a pot, add a small amount of water (just enough to cover bottom of pot), cover and roast in oven until a knife slides through easily, about 30 to 40 minutes. Cool, rub off rough edges and cut into small strips (julienne).

To candy pistachios, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix sugar and water in small pot and heat, stirring. Mix in nuts, bring to a boil and cook, stirring for a minute or two. Strain and sprinkle lightly with salt and cayenne pepper, mixing well until coated. Spread on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until crisp, about 7 minutes. Cool and chop roughly.

To serve salad, place greens in a bowl. Add beets, pistachios, onion and crumbled blue cheese. Add remaining olive oil and vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss.

Serves 2 to 4.

2 beef filets, about
6 1/2 ounces each
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 green onion, minced
1/3 cup red wine such as
cabernet savignon
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, minced

Cook the filets minutes before you are ready to serve. Ahead of time, season filets with salt and pepper, pressing the seasonings into the meat. Mince onion and parsley.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In a small heavy skillet, over medium hot heat, melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Cook the filets for 3 minutes on one side, then 2 minutes on the other for rare, adding a minute on the second side for medium-rare, and another minute for medium. Remove from skillet to an ovenproof plate and place in oven with a sheet of aluminum foil loosely on top. The filets may cook slightly more in the oven.

Back to the skillet, add remaining butter and sauté onions until soft. Add Worstershire and red wine and cook over medium-hot heat until reduced by half and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

To serve, place filets on plates and pour sauce over.

Serves 2.

Recommended wine: Malbec, an Argentine wine from Doña Paula vineyards; or a California cabernet sauvignon from Larkmead Vineyards.

1/2 cup semi-sweet
chocolate chips
1 tablespoon water
3 eggs, separated
1/ pint whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a double boiler, over hot water, place chocolate chips and water. Melt chocolate, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each.

Beat egg whites in an electric mixer until stiff. Fold gently into chocolate mixture. Pour into 4 ramekins, cover and chill. This can be made a day ahead.

Whip cream in an electric mixer, adding vanilla extract near the end.

Toast almonds in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until they are slightly browning.

To serve, top mousse with a couple of tablespoons of whipped cream and a few toasted almonds.

Serves 4, leaving 2 for the next day.

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