Serving up a special Valentine's Day

Food

February 05, 2006|By SANDRA PINCKNEY

IT MAY TAKE MORE time to plan a romantic dinner for two at home than to make dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant, but there are many advantages.

There is something quite wonderful about cooking a special meal for the one you love and enjoying it together.

No traffic, no parking, plus both you and your valentine can enjoy as much wine as you like, then move right onto the after-dinner festivities in the comfort of your own home.

But this will only work if you are organized.

You want to be relaxed, not stressed, on the big night.

Here are a few tips.

The night before:

Set the table. Use the good stuff. Take out the best china, silverware, linens, and candles. Don't forget the candles. Everything, and everyone, looks better by candlelight.

Choose your music. You want to set the right tone for intimate conversation.

Prepare any part of your menu that can be done in advance.

Chill the wine.

Arrange your flowers. Red is the color of passion.

Put small arrangements everywhere -- in the living room, dining room, bedroom, even the bathroom!

I've left the most important thing for last -- the menu. Keep it simple.

You don't want to exhaust yourself making a lot of dishes. Make it interesting.

You want to pique the senses ... all of them.

The aromas should hit that special someone as soon as he or she opens the door.

You want something flavorful, fragrant and stimulating to the appetite.

Like curry. Shrimp curry is a perfect recipe for romance. Curry is basically a dish of meat, seafood or vegetables cooked in a savory sauce with garlic, ginger and exotic spices.

If you've never made it before, you may have to buy some ingredients that you ordinarily don't have at home -- but it's worth it. It's easy to prepare, and it's good for your lover's heart.

Garlic and ginger lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as does turmeric, the spice that gives curry powder its golden yellow color.

It gets better: Hot chili peppers (used to turn up the heat in curries) contain high levels of a compound called capsaicin, which is an extraordinary anti-inflammatory, an analgesic (great for headache, arthritis and sinus relief), and helps the body burn calories and fat!

Serve the spicy shrimp curry over rice.

Add a simple cucumber salad to cool things off a bit. And to heat things back up again, serve strawberries dipped in chocolate for dessert.

The chocolate sauce takes no time to put together, and you can pick up a dessert fondue pot for less than $20.

The jury may be out on the health benefits of chocolate-covered strawberries, but one thing is certain: You'll both feel good.

The rest is up to you.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sandra Pinckney, a former Baltimore TV journalist, is host of Food Finds on the Food Network. Send comments to unisun@balt sun.com

SHRIMP CURRY

SERVES 3

Juice of 1 lime

1 pound of large shrimp (21-25 per pound), cleaned and deveined

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (see note 1)

1 medium onion chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

one 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 tablespoon red curry paste (see note 2)

one 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (see note 3)

one 14-ounce can of water

1 / 4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne pepper to taste

Squeeze half the lime and add a dash of salt over cleaned shrimp, and put aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic and ginger with a dash of salt until onions are golden (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Stir in the curry paste, stirring frequently for about a minute. Add coconut milk and water and bring to a boil.

Taste for heat. If you need more, add cayenne pepper to taste and salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes until sauce thickens.

Add shrimp and cilantro to the curry, cover with a lid and simmer for another 4 minutes, then squeeze in some fresh lime juice.

Serve over a bed of basmati rice. Garnish with remaining lime and a sprig of cilantro.

Note 1: You can use peanut or canola.

Note 2: Curry paste in jars has a richer taste than powder. It comes in hot, medium and mild.

Note 3: Make sure that the coconut milk is unsweetened. You'll find it in the Asian food section of the supermarket.

CUCUMBER SALAD

1 English cucumber chopped

1 cup rice vinegar (you can substitute white)

1 / 4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

red chili flakes -- optional

In a small saucepan combine vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to boil. Pour mixture over cucumbers. Add dash of chili flakes.

Stir. Cover with plastic wrap and cool. Store in refrigerator.

Can be made in advance.

CHOCOLATE-COVERED STRAWBERRIES

1 / 2 cup heavy whipping cream

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate cut into small bits

Shot of Grand Marnier, cherry liqueur or my favorite, raspberry liqueur - optional

large strawberries (you can also dip bananas, marshmallows. Use your imagination.)

Heat the cream in a pot over moderate heat until cream comes to a boil.

Add the chocolate bits. Remove from heat.

Whisk until chocolate is fully melted.

Add liqueur.

(If you need to thin sauce, add a little more cream.)

Pour into fondue pot over lowest possible flame.

Using fondue forks (or wooden skewers), dip

and enjoy.

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