Tuesday, February 14, 2006


HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, dear readers! Romantic times call for romantic cuisine, and I have an enchanting menu for your consideration.

First of all, can you beat a steak dinner for the ultimate date night fare? I think not. And my personal passion is the rib eye. My sweet friend and mother figure, Dr. Ruth McDowell Cook, was the first one to introduce me to the joys of the succulent rib eye steak. At the university where we both taught years ago, they used to give us a turkey for Christmas as a gesture of holiday spirit. And they would always present us with the ten-pound bird at our semi-formal Christmas Tea. As you can imagine, none of us really enjoyed hauling a frozen carcass around in our finery! So eventually, they switched to giving us gift certificates to a local butcher instead. As Ruth and her husband Cecil were empty nesters, they didn’t really have much use for a big turkey. So it was their custom to use the gift certificate for two juicy rib eyes instead. I thought them silly until they made me one. WOW! Up until that point, I thought the best steaks were New York strips or T-bones. Boy, was I mistaken! And after tinkering with my special marinade for the past decade or so, I think I have achieved carnivorous perfection.

This is more a technique than a precise recipe, but here’s what you do. Drizzle each thick rib eye steak with olive oil (about a tablespoon?). Then pour on a little balsamic vinegar, also about a tablespoon. Next pour on maybe a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (preferably whole-grained), and about a teaspoon of freshly minced garlic. Massage these items into the meat like a wet rub. Sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper and a little of your favorite herb blend (Italian, or Herbes de Provence, or dried thyme leaves), and then flip the steaks and repeat all of this on the other side. Do NOT be tempted to mix the ingredients up like a vinaigrette beforehand and just pour it over. I don’t know why, but it just tastes better if you apply one ingredient at a time and then massage everything in (we are all better after a tender, loving massage, right?). Marinate for about 30 minutes at room temperature, or for several hours in the fridge. Then the steaks can be grilled or pan-seared. Incredible!

The perfect accompaniment to the special rib eyes is a baked Yukon Gold potato with butter and sour cream and chives (I also enjoy a little lemon pepper on mine, thank you). And then you’ll want a nice salad. One of my very favorites comes from my wonderful friend, Rob (who is also a dear friend of the infamous Salsa Derek!). I think Rob got the recipe from one of his favorite restaurants in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, but I am a bit fuzzy on the details. In any case, again I will share more of a methodology than a specific recipe. You should sauté some sliced mushrooms in butter with some freshly minced garlic. When the garlic is soft and the mushrooms take on some color, deglaze the pan with a good splash (or two!) of sweet vermouth, though white wine would do in a pinch. Then you put all of this atop a bed of baby spinach, along with some crumbled cheese (Rob prefers feta, but I like buttermilk blue myself). Drizzle the salad with a little balsamic vinegar, and garnish with some cashews. Delish!

Finally, there is the matter of dessert. Of course, a chocolate recipe is absolutely de rigueur, as Martha would say. And as I pride myself on my pound cakes, I have chosen double-dark mocha pound cake in mini-bundt molds to be served with a generous dollop of homemade raspberry curd. Now for these things, I WILL give actual recipes! ;-) The first is one of my most cherished recipes. It is from one of my “dog friends” who has PBGV’s as I do, and it is an heirloom recipe from her “Mamaw.” I have added cocoa powder and espresso powder to make a mocha version, but omit these things, and you will have the most incredible golden vanilla pound cake that you have ever wrapped your lips around! And of course, there are endless variations on the theme. Lemon pound cake with a lemon glaze, cranberry pound cake with an orange (or blood orange!) glaze, or an eggnog version served with a sugared plum sauce for the holidays. Use your imagination! But I think dark chocolate is best for Valentine’s Day, don't you?

Double-Dark Mocha Pound Cake

2 sticks butter, softened
1/3 cup shortening
5 large whole eggs
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour (measure on the 3rd and last sift)
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (to make it doubly-dark, use 5 tablespoons of black cocoa instead)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1 cup whole milk (If you want to live dangerously—and I always do—half and half makes it melt in your mouth! But for the chocolate cake, I often use buttermilk here instead of milk or half-n-half.)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or 2!)

Preheat oven to 325. Spray bundt pan and lightly flour entire surface. (Or the Pam with flour for baking makes it even easier!) Cream butter and shortening together at slow mixer speed. Add sugar and eggs, one at a time, alternating with the sugar. Begin and end with sugar. Scrape bowl often. When all added, set mixer on high speed for exactly four minutes. Sift flour three times, adding baking powder and salt on last sift, then measure 3 cups. Add vanilla to milk and stir. Add milk and flour to mixer bowl, alternating ingredients, beginning and ending with flour. Spoon batter gently into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Depending on the size of your bundt pan, you may want to put a foil covered cookie sheet under the cake rack in the oven. Sometimes it runs over through the center tube of the bundt pan about 1/2 cup. The cake will take from 1 hour 15 minutes to 90 minutes to cook depending on your altitude, humidity and oven calibration. Test by inserting a knife. It's done when it comes out a little oily but no batter. You may also use mini-bundt pans, baking for about 30 minutes. Cool on rack precisely 10 minutes and turn immediately out on a plate.

Raspberry Curd (adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts)

(makes 2 cups, enough to fill one 9" tart shell).

3 half-pint baskets raspberries
about 1/2 c. sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks.

Puree the raspberries and put them through a fine strainer to remove the seeds. Measure 1 1/2 c. puree, heat it in a non-corrosive saucepan, and stir in the sugar and butter. Taste and add the lemon juice to taste. Whisk the eggs and egg yolks just enough to mix them, then stir in some of the hot puree to warm them. Return to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick--it shouldreach a temperature of 170 degrees. Remove from heat, then I personally add two more tablespoons of butter to enrich the curd and make it truly supple! Chill. Serve with vanilla or chocolate pound cake, or you might use it to fill a tart.

I hope you all get a chance to share this romantic menu with a special person of your choosing (or the one you chose long ago). XOXOXO--Gina

No comments: