Friday, February 10, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Yep, I'm a little early but I thought I'd share my Valentine dinner plans with all of you. One thing...promise you won't tell the Hubs because I'm planning to surprise him. Of course, he'll walk to the table and say "What devilish delight are we having tonight?" and roll his eyes because he knows I'm the Mad Scientist of the Kitchen and there's nothing I love more than trying new dishes  ;-)

First up, a little delectable to make your mouth happy. That's what Amuse Bouche is all about.

Amuse Bouche: Ricotta Crostini with Truffle Honey and Lemon Zest

Time: 10 minutes

Find the best ricotta you can at a local market or Italian specialty store (or make your own!) then scoop it onto lightly toasted bread. Topping the amuses bouches with truffle oil, honey and lemon zest fills your mouth with all kinds of sexy sensations, perfect for kissing between bites.

1 ficelle (a loaf of bread like a baguette but much thinner), thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
1 ½ cups ricotta
zest of 1 lemon
Lemon slices for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Arrange the bread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes, until lightly browned on the top, but not hard.

In the meantime, place the honey in a small mixing bowl and heat in the microwave for 5-10 seconds, until slightly warmer than room temperature. Mix in the truffle oil until well combined.

Rub the tops of the crostini pieces with the garlic cloves. Top each round of bread with a smear of ricotta, a drizzle of truffle honey and a sprinkle of zest.

To serve, arrange on a platter and place the lemon slices on the side.

Next up, a pretty appetizer in Valentine's colors (red and white)....
Grilled Radicchio With Thyme-Honey Drizzle

Time: 12 minutes

Continuing the theme of sweetness, this purpley-pink veggie is seared to perfection, then dressed with a slightly tangy but deliciously sweet dressing. The dish is best eaten right when you make it, so you get bonus romance points for working together in the kitchen.

1 small head radicchio
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
about ¼ cup shaved pecorino

Trim the radicchio, removing its outer layer. Cut it in half through the root, then cut each half into 3 wedges. If the root is very big, trim it down on each wedge with a paring knife.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard, honey, a pinch of salt, a good grind of fresh pepper and the thyme. Stir well with a fork and set aside.

Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, then arrange the wedges in the pan, one of their flat sides down.

Cook for about 2 minutes, until quite brown, then flip and cook each wedge on its second flat side for another 1-2 minutes. Remove the radicchio to a plate and sprinkle with salt. Turn the heat down to low and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is just golden, about 20 seconds.

Add the vinegar mixture, stir to distribute, and let it bubble down for about 20 seconds—it will reduce and become syrupy almost immediately. Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the dressing over the radicchio. Top with the shaved pecorino and more fresh pepper.

Now for the main dish,
Main Course: Penne alla Vodka

Time: 35 minutes

On Valentine's Day, nothing is as big a downer as floppy penne. But when made al dente, this luscious pasta dish practically screams romance; be sure to savor every last, insanely rich bite.

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
1 quart marinara sauce
½ cup vodka
½ cup cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
8 basil leaves, julienned (optional)
1 pound penne pasta

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the chili flakes and cook until just sizzling, about 2 minutes.

Carefully pour in the marinara and the vodka. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring consistently, for 10-15 minutes, until reduced.

Stir in the cream, Parmesan and half the basil (if using), and cook until the cheese has melted and the whole sauce is luscious and pink.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander, or transfer to the sauce using a slotted spoon.

Toss with the sauce until combined. Cook for another minute. Then garnish with the remaining basil, and few shreds of Parmesan, and serve alongside the extra block of cheese for grating.

NOTE: The sauce can be made in advance. If it is too thick, add 1/4 cup of pasta water to thin it slightly when you toss it with the pasta.

Finally, and because it's Valentine's Day, a dessert to bring you closer together. Chocolate is the lover's choice, no? 

Double Chocolate Fondue Recipe


    1 cup sugar
    2 cans (5 ounces each) evaporated milk, divided
    1/2 cup baking cocoa
    4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Cubed pound cake and assorted fresh fruit


    In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 1 can milk. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved.
    In a small bowl, whisk cocoa and remaining milk until smooth. Add to sugar mixture; bring to a boil, whisking constantly.
    Remove from the heat; stir in chocolate and butter until melted. Stir in vanilla. Keep warm. Serve with cake and fruit. Yield: 1-1/3 cups.

Nutritional Facts 1/4 cup (calculated without cake and fruit) equals 226 calories, 12 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 17 mg cholesterol, 51 mg sodium, 32 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 5 g protein.

Enjoy and Happy Valentine's Day!
Note: The first three recipes came from and the fondue came from Taste of Home. 

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