valentine’s dinner recipes

The dinner went really well and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves (particularly the birthday girl who had to blow out a little candle in the top of her poached pear!). I, being the perfectionist that I am, was a little disappointed in the scallops, but it serves me right for picking the cheap bay scallops instead of the jumbo ones. Here are the recipes, one by one.

The Salad
Here is the recipe for the Chopped Apple Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Blue Cheese, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette (you’ll just have to click on the link). Instead of pomegranate molasses (has anyone ever even seen that?) I used POM – the pomegranate juice that you buy at the store. I was also unable to find endive anywhere in Moscow (I went to 4 different grocery stores!), so that got nixed. I think the secret to this salad is finding a really good blue cheese. I got a Danish Blue (as the recipe recommends) and it was perfectly creamy. Avoid anything pre-crumbled, because I think that’s going to be too dry. As far as these kinds of salads go (the ones with greens, walnuts, fruit, and some sort of blue cheese) I thought that this one was really good (and one of the guys even had seconds, if that gives you any indication!).

The Main Dish
photo courtesy of williams-sonoma.com

Here is the recipe for Sauteed Scallops with Orange, Fennel, and Ginger. While we’re at it, I would highly recommend checking out the recipes on the Williams-Sonoma website. I’ve always been pleased with their recipes (more reliable than Martha Stewart ones), and there are hundreds and hundreds of recipes on the website, and it’s really easy to search for them. Anyway. Like I mentioned, I was a little disappointed in how this turned out, but it’s all my fault and I anticipate making this recipe again, the right way. My first mistake was going the cheaper way and buying the small bay scallops. That was bad, because if you’ll notice, you’re supposed to sear the scallops on each side till they turn golden, and that’s just hard to do when you have a hundred tiny little scallops in your pan. They were also really really juicy, so they ended up simmering in the liquid and getting tough rather than searing and staying soft inside. I also didn’t realize that I was out of ginger, so that was also sad. And be sure to use two whole fennel bulbs – I only used one and I regretted it. So, use all the ingredients, spend the extra money on the right ones, and probably only make this for two people so that you can 1) afford the scallops! and 2)concentrate on searing the scallops well (so that’ll mean halving the recipe).

The Starchy Side
Ah, now for the Gratin Dauphinois. I have no recipe to link to on this one because I kind of just looked at a bunch of recipes and took the best bits from each of them to create this dish. I’m going to give it to you not as I made it, but as I will make it next time.

6-7 medium-ish yukon gold potatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons butter
salt and black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1 pint half-and-half
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1+ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly (like you would scalloped potatoes). Set aside. Thoroughly butter the bottom and sides of a 9×9-ish baking dish and then sprinkle with garlic.

Simmer the sliced potatoes in milk for about 10 minutes to remove the acid. I did not do this, and it resulted in some curdling of the cream which did not look good. You want this to look nice and creamy.

Arrange the potatoes in three layers in the pan, sprinkling each layer with a bit of salt and pepper, 1/3 of the cheese, and a little extra butter if you like. The top layer of potatoes should be well covered with gruyere and dotted with a little more butter. Whisk the half-and-half, milk, and egg together and pour into the pan along the sides; the level should stop about 1/2 inch from the top of the pan so that it doesn’t bubble over and make a mess of your oven. Sprinkle generously with the freshly grated nutmeg. There should be enough nutmeg on this thing that when you taste it, you question whether it really is a potato dish. If you’ve never used freshly grated nutmeg before, start now. Buy the whole nutmeg and use the finest grater on your square cheese grater thingy.

Cook uncovered in a 350 degree oven until potatoes are tender, top is golden brown, and your house smells deliciously of nutmeg. This should take about an hour (cover it with foil if it browns too quickly). Remove from the oven and cool a little before serving.

The Green Side
This is the easiest bit.

2 bunches of asparagus (rinsed and tough ends cut off)

Heat the butter in a large pan. Add the asparagus. Toss it about a bit till it turns the color of emeralds and is a little softened. Transfer to a plate, and shave big curls of gouda all over it. Voila! Perfection!

The Dessert
photo courtesy of williams-sonoma.com

Here is the recipe for the Pears Poached in Red Wine. It was pretty easy, even though it took a little while to simmer the pears till they got tender. I was unable to let them refrigerate for 8 hours (mine only sat for 4), but they still turned out well. I also had to use some really firm Bosc pears, but the simmering made them tender and yummy. Next time, I’d like to garnish them with a large, thin chocolate heart. I think I’ll melt down some dark chocolate and pour it into some heart cookie cutters set on parchment paper and let them cool. And then maybe use a bit of melted white chocolate to drizzle over the whole thing. I have a hard time accepting fruit alone as a dessert, I guess. 🙂

And there you have it! I think that’s all of the recipes. If you try any of these for your Valentine’s Day, let me know how they turn out for you!!


6 Responses to “valentine’s dinner recipes”

  1. February 11, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I have trouble cooking with wine or nice cheese because the grocery bill is slim till after law school, and I just want to eat the cheese and drink the wine! Buying cheese is a guilty pleasure, especially because the husband does not join me in it. He finds cheeses ok. I find them divine.

  2. February 11, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Ah yes, the age old problem of justification. The blue cheese that I got was actually only $2.50, and that would be plenty for the salad for two. I kept running into the problem of buying special cheeses (like gruyere or what have you) for recipes and not using the whole thing and then letting it go to waste, so I started grating up the whole block of cheese and just freezing what I don’t use. That obviously wouldn’t work well for a blue cheese, but for the harder cheeses it works quite well, and it helps with the grocery bill!

  3. 3 inyemel
    February 12, 2008 at 11:55 am

    The reason the scallops were so “juice” is likely that you got what are called “wet” scallops. That (more than the size) would be why they are less expensive. Wet packed scallops are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) before freezing, which causes them to absorb liquid, making them bigger. That makes them less expensive by the pound, but when you cook them that liquid weeps out, causing exactly what you were talking about. Bay scallops can be just as good/tender as sea scallps as long as you make sure they’re “dry” or not treated. Hope that helps. I enjoy reading your site.

  4. February 12, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Wow, thanks for the info! So now the problem is finding out where to get the ‘dry’ scallops. I went to our most expensive grocery store here (the only one with a ‘butcher’s counter’ where they actually cut and wrap the meat for you), and they only had the ‘wet’ scallops (the ones I bought). Maybe I just need to admit that I live inland and will never have an easy time finding really good quality seafood!

  5. February 12, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Do you know if the Fish People stand is still running? They bring in fresh seafood and used to sell it in the old Co-Op parking lot. It may be a seasonal thing, but I knew people in Moscow that bought from them frequently and really liked their selection & quality. Just FYI.

  6. February 12, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Yes, the Fish People are still there on Fridays, but I’ve always been a little scared of their prices and the idea of buying fish from a trailer. It’s a snobbish thing, I know, but I’m still scared. I think I need a few more good reports to trust them.

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