Romantic Dinner for Two

My husband and I enjoy going out for dinner quite often.  Although since moving to MA it’s been a little less frequent.  It’s probably a combination of there being fewer restaurants really close by and having a kitchen now that we can really spread out in.  It makes it so easier to cook.  Going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day really isn’t our idea of romance though – the crowds, the wait, the need to make reservations a month in advance, fixed menus…no thanks.  So while Erik was busy at work I decided to bring the restaurant to us.  I moved a table into our family room next the fireplace, added some candles, music and spent the day cooking a delicious meal.  A warm, cozy, quiet night at home with my love while the snow fell outside – utter perfection…until morning when it was time to shovel.

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THE MENU

SPINACH SALAD WITH APPLES AND PECANS SERVED WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

Baby spinach topped with thinly sliced apples, pomegranate arils, a touch of cranberry and pecans.  The salad is drizzled with a fresh balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

FILET MIGNON WITH GORGONZOLA SAUCE AND PORT WINE REDUCTION

Perfectly seared Filet Mignon served atop a slightly sweet port wine reduction and topped with a creamy Gorgonzola sauce.  Accompanied by Potato Stacks baked to perfection with a touch of Parmesan and fresh rosemary.

FRESHLY BAKED POPOVERS ON THE SIDE

A delicate interior surrounded by a crisp crust with a hint of Parmesan.

BAILEY’S AND BROWNIE TRIFLES

The meal is finished with a layered trifle of perfection.  Gooey chocolate brownie nestled between homemade chocolate and Bailey’s Irish Cream puddings.  A touch of crunch with sliced almonds and topped with fresh whipped cream.


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Recipes and Instructions 

FRESH POPOVERS
Recipe adapted from Neiman Marcus Cookbook
Makes 6

  • 1 3/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°F

Place the milk in a bowl and microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until warm to the touch.

Add the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk until combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the eggs and beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until foamy and pale in color. Turn down the mixer to low, add the warm milk. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Fold in the cheese. Let the batter rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

Spray a popover pan with nonstick spray. Fill the cups almost to the top. Place the popover pan on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the oven down to 375°F and bake for 30 to 35 minutes longer, until the popovers are a deep golden brown on the outside and airy on the inside.


SPINACH SALAD WITH APPLES AND PECANS SERVED WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

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This is a super easy salad and was inspired by variety of salads that I love.  It was a last minute decision so I pulled it together with ingredients that I always have on hand.  The dressing is my go to.  I am pushing further and further way from store bought dressing, except for Ranch, that is something I will leave to the pro’s.

SALAD

  • 1 cups baby spinach
  • 1/2 Braeburn or Gala Apple, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup pecan, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate arils
  • 2 Tablespoons dried cranberries
  • Fresh, Shaved Parmesan cheese

DRESSING

  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • pinch of salt & pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

To make the vinaigrette, add all of the dressing ingredients, except the oil, to a blender.  Blend until combined.  While the blender is running carefully remove the cap from the lid.  Slowly drizzle the olive oil and continue to blend for 1-2 minutes.  The mustard will help to pull the vinegar and oil together so the dressing will become emulsified.  There is far more dressing here than needed but the great thing is that since its’ emulsified it will stay together in the fridge and wont separate.  You can keep this in the fridge and enjoy it for up to a week.

To serve, place spinach on a plate, top with apple, pecans, pomegranate arils, cranberries.  Drizzle with dressing and shave fresh Parmesan cheese over it. Serve immediately.


FILET MIGNON WITH GORGONZOLA SAUCE AND PORT WINE REDUCTION

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FILET MIGNON

  • 2 – 1 inch thick filet, trimmed of fat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons tablespoon Old Bay
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt, plus more for sprinkling

To prepare the filet:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Sprinkle the meat with salt, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning. Allow the meat to come to room temperature at least 30 minutes.

Heat an oven safe sauté pan over high heat until the pan is very hot, about 2 minutes.

While the pan is heating Combine the horseradish, black pepper, garlic, and salt in a small mixing bowl and set it aside.

Sear the meat until evenly browned on all sides, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from the heat.

Rub all sides of the meat with the mustard.

Using the back of a spoon, or your hands press the horseradish mixture over the mustard on the top and sides of the filet.  At this point I inserted the probe of my instant thermometer into the center of one of the filets.

Transfer the sauté pan to the oven and roast the filet until it reaches desired doneness – rare (120 to 125 degrees F on an instant meat thermometer) and about 35 minutes for medium-rare (130 to 140 degrees F on an instant meat thermometer).

Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes


PORT WINE REDUCTION

  • 1/4 cup(s) chopped shallots
  • 1 medium chopped carrot
  • 1 dried bay leaves
  • 1 cup port wine
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup mixed herbs, parsley, rosemary, thyme

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Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Simmer on medium to medium high for about 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to about half of the amount.  At this point you will have far more vegetables than broth.  Strain the broth into a bowl through a metal sieve or cheesecloth. Set aside, this can be served at room temperature.


GORGONZOLA CREAM SAUCE

This can be prepared while the meat is resting…

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons cream or half and half
  • 1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Add the milk and cream to a small saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until it has reduced to half of the amount, about 5-7 minutes.  Whisk in the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.

To plate: Drizzle a bit of the port reduction on a plate, top with steak and drizzle some cream sauce on top.


RED BABY POTATO STACKS WITH PARMESAN AND ROSEMARY 

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped, plus extra for garnish
  • Himalayan pink salt and pepper
  • About 10 ounces (in weight) baby red potatoes, thinly sliced

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 4 large muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl whisk together butter, oil, Parmesan, chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper.

Add potatoes and toss to coat.

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Layer the potatoes slices in a spiral pattern so they hold their form.  Fill them to the top since they will shrink.  Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the edges and tops are browned and center is tender.

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Remove from the oven and use a spoon to carefully remove them from the pan.  Transfer directly to the plate and enjoy right away.

Note: These would be just as delicious with Yukon Gold and your favorite variety of potato.


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BAILEY’S AND BROWNIE TRIFLES

Serves 4 (in 8-10 oz glasses)

CHOCOLATE PUDDING

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent)

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In a medium bowl add butter, vanilla, and chocolate and set aside.

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In a medium saucepan add sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Add egg yolk and whisk until combined, it will have a crumbly texture. Slowly whisk in the milk and mix until combined.

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Place the saucepan over medium heat whisking constantly to prevent it from burning. Cook until bubbles form around the edge.  Continue to whisk over the heat for another 1-2 minutes. Immediately pour the pudding mixture over the butter and chocolate.  Whisk until combined and cooled slightly. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate 3 hours.


FRENCH VANILLA & BAILEY’S PUDDING

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cups skim milk
  • 1 nib (50 mil) or 1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)
  • Pinch of salt

In a medium bowl add butter, vanilla, vanilla bean paste if using and Baileys.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch.  Add the egg yolks and continue whisking into a paste.  Slowly add the milk and whisk to combine.   Gently stir over medium heat until bubbling.  Once the mixture starts bubbling, continue to cook and whisk for 2-3 more minutes, whisking constantly.   Pour over the butter & vanilla mixture and whisk until combined.  Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate 3 hours.

Just for the record, I could eat the entire bowl of this pudding!  Seriously, it is that good! The vanilla bean paste puts it over the edge and that Bailey’s – my, oh my! I didn’t want to buy an entire bottle of Bailey’s because it would, well, it should, take us forever to go through.  I wanted the creamy flavor though.  I figured it was safer to buy a nib, a term I recently learned.  It was the perfect amount.  I found Vanilla-Cinnamon Bailey’s, it was delicious! Any of the flavors would be just as yummy.

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So for the brownie layer there is really only one cup of brownie crumbs needed.  Since I already had all of the ingredients I decided to make a full batch of one of my favorite brownie recipes. I trust they won’t go to waste.  The link for the recipe is below.  The site includes some great tips and thoughts on the preparation.  I use dark chocolate versus milk chocolate but other than that I followed the directions fully.

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ULTIMATE BROWNIES

  • 1 cup dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch or 7×11 inch baking pan with parchment paper allowing the paper to hang over the sides.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Add a couple of inches of water to a pan and place a heat safe glass bowl over the pan to create a double boiler.  Be sure the water is not high enough to reach the bottom of the bowl.  Add the chocolate, butter and unsweetened chocolate to the bowl and bring the water to a simmer.  Stir occasionally, until melted and combined well.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool a bit.

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In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. Add the flour and salt, folding gently until combined.

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Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake until a tester comes out with moist crumbs still attached, 35 to 40. Do not overbake. Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.  Carefully remove by lifting the edges of the parchment paper and transfer the brownies (parchment still attached) to a cooking rack.  Cool completely

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Tip:  To “chop” the unsweetened chocolate I actually put it in a heavy duty ziplock bag and I used a kitchen mallet to break it into small pieces.  I find this so much easier than trying to cut it with a knife, less cleanup too.  Don’t close the bag all of the way.  Simply place your hand over the opening of the bag, allowing the air to escape as you pound away. Use caution depending on the type of counter top you have.  I use this trick a lot for chopped nuts too.  There could be some sharp edges on the chocolate that could tear the bag.  Keep this in mind when picking it up so you can avoid a mess.  Yup, I learned this the hard way.

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http://www.handletheheat.com/ultimate-brownies/

Brownie and Almond Layer:

  • 1 cup of crushed brownie crumb
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Assembly:

  1. Add both chocolate and vanilla pudding to separate pastry bags or large ziplock bags.
  2. Snip the corner of each bag.
  3. Pipe a chocolate layer onto bottom of glass
  4. Sprinkle crushed brownie and sliced roasted almonds on top of chocolate layer
  5. Pipe vanilla pudding on top
  6. Continue layering by repeating steps 3-5
  7. Top with whipped cream and a few brownie crumbs

This is a decadent yet light dessert, the perfect ending to a perfect meal for two.  This could be served in a high ball or wine glass for a fancy presentation.  The pudding recipes make enough for four servings.  Prepare all now or leave the extra pudding aside to enjoy on its own tomorrow.

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Roasted Beet & Citrus Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

This was the healthy addition to our Superbowl feast.  I am slowing introducing more salad options to my husband and I was pleasantly surprised that he really liked this.  The flavors are crisp and fresh and the dressing was a perfect compliment.

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 I got the inspiration from www.snixykitchen.com/2013/06/10/roasted-beet-and-citrus-salad-with-mustard-vinaigrette/ theirs is much prettier and had a better variety but a bit of improvising with the ingredients I had on hand still made a very tasty salad.

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  • 2-3 cups mixed greens
  • 1/2 cup shaved Fennel
  • 1 fresh orange, peel removed and segments removed from membrane
  • 3 small or 2 medium roasted beets chopped or sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons pistachios, coarsely chopped

Dijon Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon dijon or honey mustard
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey (not pictured)
  • ¼ cup olive oil plus more for coating the beets
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Scrub beets well and place on top of foil.  Drizzle with olive oil and wrap the foil tightly around the beets (seem on top) to create a bundle.  Place the packet on a baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool.  Once cool the skin can be peeled easily with a vegetable peeler or pairing knife.  Slice the beets.

Layer together the mixed greens, beets, orange and shaved fennel.

To make the dressing – whisk the mustard, vinegar, honey olive oil, salt, and pepper together. The original dressing did not include honey but it feel it really brings the flavor together nicely.  Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables.  Sprinkle with pistachios and serve.