A feast for your valentine
In England and France during the Middle Ages – Feb. 14 – halfway through the second month of the year, was considered the day that birds began to mate. The day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters or sending a lover’s token.
Our present day customs associated with Valentine’s Day had their origin in this conventional belief.
In the 21st century, it seems to me, Valentine’s Day has become not just a tradition for sweethearts but a day we honor and celebrate the various people who make our lives rich.
Nothing says, “I love you” or “I appreciate you” better than a Valentine’s Feast.
Forget Hallmark! The kitchen is the best place to put a little fire under the pot. Love, like good cooking, gets stagnant if we don’t take it to new levels.
Not always easy when it comes to relationships, but in cooking all we need to do is open a cookbook, try something new and get those creative juices flowing.
The recipes that follow are not meant to be a complete dinner menu but a jumping off place. New inspiration to add to your repertoire of personal favorites. If a dinner is to be enjoyed by all, including the cook, simplicity is an essential ingredient.
For that reason these recipes are not time consuming and, where appropriate, notes are given as to tasks that can be done the day before. Candles and flowers are always in order because we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths.
I’ve sent my invitation. Have you sent yours?
A kaleidoscope of flavors, from delicate to assertive, peppery to tangy, makes this salad a wonderful light main dish. Cook the potatoes a day ahead and preparation will take less than 20 minutes.
Provencal Potato and Shrimp Salad
1 pound thin-skinned potatoes (about 3 medium size)
2 medium-size shallots or 6 green onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound green beans, ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound medium shrimp
Fresh grated pepper to taste
10-15 cherry-type tomatoes, sliced in half
3 tablespoons chopped parsley, basil or cilantro
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
4-5 ounces mesclun salad greens, washed and spun dry
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Cook potatoes in a medium saucepan until softened, about 10 minutes.
If you prefer the green beans to have a more cooked texture or if they are larger in size, add them to the pan the last 3 minutes of cooking.
Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and the lemon juice to a large skillet and saute the shrimp, about 4 minutes, or until they turn pink.
Add the vinegar, mustard, shallots, salt and pepper to a blender or food processor. Blend, slowly pouring in the remaining olive oil until smooth.
Cut cooled potatoes into bite-size pieces and add to a large salad bowl along with the tomatoes, parsley, drained shrimp, and greens. Add salad dressing and toss lightly. Add additional salt and grated pepper if desired. Makes 6 servings.
Ready to heat and serve polenta is available in most grocery chains or at your natural foods grocer. Look for it in the refrigerated section or the deli.
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 plastic wrapped tube of polenta, cut into 83/4-inch thick slices
1 bunch chard or a mixture of greens, such as kale, spinach or mustard greens-washed and chopped (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup roasted peppers from a jar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Generous grating of black pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Monterey Pepper Jack or Cheddar cheese
Melt butter or olive oil in a 12-inch skillet with a lid. Add the slices of polenta and fry on medium low, about 3 minutes on each side, until lightly crisp.
Drain greens in a colander before adding to the pan. The moisture left clinging to the leaves will be just enough liquid without being too watery.
Add the greens, tomatoes, roasted peppers, salt and pepper to the pan. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chard is crisp tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the cheese and replace the lid; heat through until melted. Serve by scooping up a slice of polenta topped with a mound of vegetables. Makes 6 servings
Compare prices in your favorite market. You may find the more buttery Gorgonzola blue cheese from Italy is a better price than American produced blue cheeses. Place it in the freezer for a few minutes and it may crumble more easily for you.
Bitter Greens, Pear and Gorgonzola
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces torn red leaf or butter lettuce
3 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Generous grinding of black pepper
2 medium pears, cut into one half inch pieces
3 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
5 ounces of mesclun mix of greens
Add the olive oil, orange juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to a blender and blend. In a salad spinner wash and dry the salad greens. Add to a large salad bowl.
In a small saucepan on low heat dry roast the walnuts, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. (This is optional. You can also add them raw.) Add pear, crumbled blue cheese, and walnuts to the salad.
Toss with the salad dressing and serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
What Valentine feast is complete without chocolate? Layering brownies, berries, and cream creates a dessert that’s as pretty as it is delicious.
Berry Delicious Brownies
11/4 cups sugar plus 2 tablespoons
three quarter cup butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
one half cup bottled chocolate syrup
3 (1 ounce) squares of unsweetened chocolate
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
21/2 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 pint whipping cream or vanilla yogurt
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine 11/4 cups of the sugar, butter and chocolate in a medium-large saucepan; cook over low heat until butter and chocolate melt, stirring continuously. Remove from heat, and cool 5 minutes. Stir in eggs, flour, and nuts.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 8×8 square baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes and cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile whip the cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until light and fluffy. Serve brownie in a small glass dessert bowl. Top with a spoonful of chocolate syrup and strawberries. Finish with a dollop of sweetened whip cream, if desired.
Patti Bess is an author, radio host and recipe developer. She lives in Grass Valley.
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