Romance was in the air, and we had a beautiful 1999 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne, given to us in November by dear friends of ours, that needed to be made good use of. My husband and I have had two failed attempts to go out for Valentine’s Day, due to sick kiddos and shortage of babysitters. Alas, we resolved ourselves to celebrating at home, until such time as I am lucky enough to be served by someone else.
So, I surfed my usual recipe pages for something elegant and sophisticated, yet not to hard on the budget or difficult. Scallops are a favorite shellfish for both of us; so I stumbled upon this recipe at the food network site:
Names never scare me. I knew that anything Emeril doctored up that I could barely pronounce had potential. Sure, it called for truffles – and a couple of years ago I would have made the trip to Whole Foods to spend the $25.00 for the jar. But I had some truffle oil in the cabinet which would do just fine for these tight-wad times of 2010.
For those of you unfamiliar, a truffle is a delectable mushroom that is difficult to harvest, is grown in only a few places in the world, (mainly France) and therefore, costs about your monthly payment to your IRA. Not to be confused with a chocolate truffle – which is a chocolatiers’ delicious sweet knockoff of the real thing.
This dish was superb. I changed quite a few things though, to make it easier, less expensive, and less time-consuming.
This is what I did differently:
1. I used regular lemons instead of Meyer lemons, because that’s all my store had.
2. I didn’t use any truffles. Instead, I very thinly sliced a few fresh baby portobellos (cremini mushrooms) for the presentation. Then, I used my black truffle oil to make the dressing and drizzled a little extra over the whole thing at the end.
3. I didn’t buy puff pastry. Instead, I happened to have some leftover phyllo dough sheets in my refrigerator from a recipe I had done over New Year’s. Using a heart-shaped large cookie cutter, cut out a few stacks of heart-shaped dough, about 6 inches in diameter. Then I quickly separated the heart phyllo sheets into stacks of two or three sheets on the baking sheet as per Emeril’s directions. I brushed the tops of the hearts with a little butter melted in the microwave. Then I baked them only for about 5 minutes or so. It’s a good thing I checked the baking hearts then, because phyllo is much thinner than puff pastry and I hadn’t accounted for that. Lucky! They were just golden and crispy.
4. I used tin foil in place of parchment paper for baking the heart stacks.
5. I went on a wild goose chase to find Enoki mushrooms. Normally, I would have prepared ahead of time, and found them easily at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. But this was a whim, so after visits to three major grocery stores within a square mile in twenty minutes – I finally found them at the fourth , a stinky Vietnamese market. The shrooms were fresh. That’s all that mattered. And it was the one ingredient I wasn’t willing to sacrifice – because it made the presentation.
6. No creme fraiche available at my local stores. Instead, whole greek-style, plain yogurt was an equally delicious and a healthier substitute.
7. For the dressing, I used some of the fabulous champagne and white vinegar instead of store-bought champagne vinegar. about a 2:1 ratio. You could use a dry white wine with good results.
We wanted a light dinner, but the scallop recipe just seemed a little too light – and while I was inspired by the dish’s sophistication, I decided to do a soup for a first course so we wouldn’t be hungry afterward -as sometimes happens after a light and sophisticated meal. In keeping with new commitment to health during Lent, I opted for a butternut squash soup from Giada DeLaurentis; she rarely lets me down, and I thought the texture would be creamy enough to satisfy my fat craving.
It originally was written to serve six as a first course, so I figured I could cut it in half and maybe still have a cup left for the kids to try the next day. Besides, I was going the lazy way at the store – didn’t want an extra 15 minutes prep time cutting up squash – and more than two bags of pre-cut butternut squash was just too expensive. When I got to the store, the only pre-cut squash was with a cinnamon sauce – but I could see from the bag, that it was just a chunk of brown sugar that would melt upon heating. So I just opened the bags and discarded the chunks of cinnamon sugar and voila – I had pre-cut, unseasoned butternut squash for my recipe.
Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter – which is unusual for me, and it was PERFECT. I’m not kidding you. My husband said it was so fine, smooth, and velvety, and assumed it took a long time to make (it didn’t). It was healthy and creamy, without an ounce of cream. Unbelievable. I was surprised by the ease with which this came together. And, it could easily be a light supper, all on its own – perhaps even vegetarian, if vegetable stock were used instead of chicken stock.
A quick, traditional, French appetizer
Whenever I do a fancy dinner at home for the two of us, I like to do a very light appetizer or an amuse-bouche. We are lucky enough to have a new, authentic French (Basque-style) deli nearby, so we happened to have a wonderful country-style pate in the fridge. Then remembering that my mom had given me some small, vintage aspic cutters a long time ago, I was inspired to again incorporate the Valentine’s day theme.
I carmelized a few onions and added a little brown sugar to them to garnish the appetizer, and served the pate in the traditional way with some grainy Dijon mustard and toast points.
To round out the meal, my husband had also bought – in honor of our late celebration – some fabulous chocolate mousse and fresh pear pastries from the French guy at the deli. It’s a good thing, because while I love to cook, I’m not one for making desserts.
When it was all said and done, this was a fabulous Valentine’s day celebration. I wish I had taken photos of the beautiful dessert that DH had brought home for us, but I had been preparing our dinner for two hours, blogging simultaneously, and it was 9:30 pm by the time we got to dessert… so you’ll just have to imagine how pretty it was.
Here were the courses that I prepared, finished: