There's little that's more romantic than a wonderful dinner enjoyed a deux in a cozy setting. With Valentine's Day in the offing, restaurant phones (and websites) are undoubtedly busy taking reservations for just such tete-a-tetes.
If you're into the "cooking is showing love" lifestyle, however, an even more romantic way to spend an evening with your honey is to fix a lovely meal you don't have to go out for. Dinner, and even a movie, seems just the thing for telling someone you have feelings for him (or her).
One of our favorite movies is "French Kiss," starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. It's funny and romantic, and not too girlie — if you take my meaning. It can provide a lighthearted background for you and your long-time love live-in while you enjoy the dinner — French, of course — that you lovingly prepare.
Our romantic French-style dinner for two features three courses. First up is some seafood. Not oysters — too obvious — but sea scallops. We like a dry white wine with this course. It should have a French name, of course — like Chardonnay — but needn't be imported.
Steak au poivre is our main dish. Simple, and ideal for us last-minute types. We like a pinot noir with this. It goes nicely with the warm spinach salad we fix to go with.
And for dessert? Ooh-la-la. Some petite choux (meaning little cabbages, roughly because of their free-form shapes), or if you prefer, call them profiteroles. We save the sparkling wine for dessert. Something soft and a bit on the sweet side. Either a sparkling rose, or even Asti Spumante.
Noix de Saint-Jacques Dorees
Translated, this means "golden" sea scallops, which get their gilt from a bit of curry powder and turmeric, as well as the fact that we only pan-fry the scallops on one side. This dish only takes about 15 minutes to prepare and another 15 to cook. You can do much of the prep work ahead. Some French baguette slices do well here.
1 large leek (about 3/4 pound), white part only
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch each curry powder and turmeric
1/2 cup heavy cream
About 1/3 of a bunch of chives, chopped
12 large sea scallops, rinsed well, patted dry
Juice of half of a lemon (about 1 tablespoon), divided
About 2 tablespoons olive oil
Cut white part of leeks lengthwise into 4 strips, then cut crosswise into 1/2 -inch pieces.
Wash well to remove any dirt. Pat very dry.
In a large, non-stick skillet over high, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and cook leeks for 1 minute, stirring. Add some pepper, and the curry powder and turmeric, then let any residual water in pan evaporate over high heat for about 1 1/2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium-high. Add cream and cook, keeping liquid at the boiling point and stirring often, until leeks have a soft, melt-in-your-mouth consistency, about 5 minutes. Add chives. Stir well. Remove from heat and keep handy.
In another large, non-stick skillet, over medium-high, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add scallops, at room temperature, and cook on one side only, just to the point when the uncooked side of the scallops just begin to lose their translucency. Immediately remove from heat.
Just before serving, stir some of the lemon juice, and the olive oil into the leek mixture. Taste, adding more lemon juice if desired.
To serve, arrange six scallops in a circle on each of two luncheon plates, golden side up. Use a slotted spoon to place a small mound of leek mixture in center of scallops. Drizzle leeks and scallops with some of the sauce. Serve more on the side, if desired. Makes 2 servings.
Steak au Poivre
Simply translated, this means peppered steak. The only secret to this recipe is to obtain the very best rib-eye steaks you can.
If you have a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, that's the tool to use. Otherwise, a heavy skillet whose handle can survive a 375-degree oven will do the trick.
2 smallish bone-in rib eye steaks (about 1 pound each), at room temperature
4 teaspoons coarse black pepper
1/3 cup brandy
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar
1 teaspoon coarsely crushed black peppercorns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea salt, for sprinkling, optional
Heat oven to 375 degrees. On stove top, heat a cast-iron or heavy, oven-proof skillet over high heat. Pat steaks dry and press 2 teaspoons black pepper into each steak (both sides). Put steaks into skillet and cook until blackened and they are easy to lift (with a spatula) from the skillet's surface. Turn steaks and place in heated oven. Cook to desired doneness (insta-read thermometer should read 125 degrees for medium rare).
Remove skillet from oven and transfer steaks to a cutting board; cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
Put skillet back on stove, over medium heat. Carefully add brandy and use a fireplace match to ignite it to burn off alcohol. Add cream, vinegar and peppercorns and simmer until quite thick. Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Taste for seasonings; add sea salt if you must.