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Valentine’s Day Dinner

Reservations are scarce, restaurants are crowded, and the weather can be frightful this time of year — so why brave the Valentine’s Day scramble for a restaurant reservation when you can go to the best restaurant of all: The one in your kitchen. You don’t need to make a reservation, you get to call the shots on the lighting, the music — and most importantly — the menu.

 

 

 

The secret to this menu is fresh, top-quality ingredients simply and deliciously. All you will need to do is a quick shop and do it early in the day if you can, then get out some candles and cue your favorite music for an intimate meal you can have ready in under an hour.

Plus, the act of preparing a meal for, or maybe even with, someone can be a romantic gesture. So, yes, a Valentine’s Day date night at home can be special, memorable, romantic — and delicious. Here’s our ultimate Valentine’s Day dinner menu that feels just as special as a table at a fine dining restaurant, minus the whole going-out hassle and it will leave you plenty of time for relaxed, indulgent dining.

 

 

THE MENU

 

Oysters

Oysters

Start with an appetizer of sweet, briny, velvety oysters: They are  the classic aphrodisiac for lovers and a great at-home treat. You can shuck them yourself — just watch this how-to video.

Serving them can be as simple as placing some lemon wedges and a small bowl of cocktail sauce on the side, or try an easy topping like chimichurri, a fresh, herbal sauce that is an unexpectedly delicious topping for oysters; try this recipe for a simple mild chimichurri sauce with chopped bacon and finely diced jalapeño, a pleasure for bacon lovers.

Oysters can also be served with sriracha and lime, a modern riff on the spicy-tangy combo. Also, a  Classic mignonette sauce, a sophisticated pairing of red-wine vinegar and shallots that’s so easy to make. They will be absolutely delicious.

 

 

Surf & turf: Ribeye Steak and Lobster Tails
Few dishes say “special occasion” like surf and turf, a white tablecloth classic. Pair a beautifully marbled, ribeye with creamy, rich lobster tail.

There’s nothing quite like sharing tender, succulent lobster with someone you love. Wild-caught lobster tails are a fantastic way to indulge,How to Cook: Steamed Lobster Tails with minimal prep and mess (no bibs required!). Steamed lobster is a classic and tops for enjoying the pure taste of the luscious tail meat. Or you can roast the tails with a flavorful herb topping; this easy recipe shows you how.

You will want one or two tails per person, and have extra lemon slices and melted butter on the side, plus some flaky seas salt and cracked pepper — simplicity rules.

 

 

Twice-baked New Potatoes
Baking these creamy, fluffy potatoes twice — once to cook the potato, and again to crisp up the topping — gives a special occasion­–worthy upgrade to an otherwise everyday side dish. The technique results in a much more striking visual presentation than standard mashed potato fare, without being too labor-intensive or tedious. Add an extra-special touch of decadence by topping with chives and caviar.

 

 

Lemony Asparagus Spears
With their juicy stalks and slightly crispy ends, oven-roasted asparagus make a perfect counterpart to a fancy entrée like steak and lobster. Plus, it’s delicious enough to stand on its own without taking over the plate. Steam the spears or blanch them in lightly salted water, and they’ll be ready in minutes; cook them just until they turn bright green and the stalks just turn tender. Drizzle them with a little fresh lemon juice for a subtle pop of acidity and sprinkle of salt and pepper that takes this takes this side dish to the next level. For the roasted version on this dish click on the link here.

Simple roasted asparagus recipe (the perfect spring side dish!) - cookieandkate.com

                   Photo Credit: Cookie+Kate

 

 

Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Chocolate Covered StrawberriesEvery romantic dinner should end things on a sweet note. Chocolate-covered strawberries are an all-time classic romantic dessert, and for good reason: The juicy, sweet-tart berries pair perfectly with the creaminess of milk chocolate or the bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate. For and easy chocolate-covered strawberry recipe click on the link here.

 

 

Don’t Forget the Bubbly
For the requisite champagne, fill your flutes with Jacques Bardelot Brut, a crisp, dry French  Champagne with clean and balanced flavors that will complement, rather than overpower, the meal. Not a fan of bubbly? Consider the wine pairing or H&G Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with the ribeye.

Another suggestion is a sparkling wine: Toad Hollow Risque French Sparkling Wine,  which is a fruity sparkling wine with a natural delicate sweetness.

And in serving champagne or wine at at home with your special dinner has another benefit to staying in: no corkage fee!

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Braised Chicken with Tuscan Kale and Andouille Sausage

chicken and kale.jpgA traditional Italian dish of braised chicken nestled in a bed of earthy kale and sweet red peppers makes a perfect combination with the spiciness of Louisiana Creole andouille sausage, giving you a one-skillet meal packed with lots of flavor!

Serves 6

Ingredients:

For the Chicken:
6 chicken thighs on the bone with skin, about 2 pounds total
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly black ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bread
1 large sweet onion, quartered, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
7 ounces fully cooked andouille sausage, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 cups (10 ounces) roughly chopped Tuscan kale*
½ cup dry white wine or chicken broth

For the Crostini:
6 thick slices French or Italian bread
3 tablespoons crumbled feta
Fresh chopped parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions:
Season chicken generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large (14-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, skin side down, in single, uncrowded layer. (Use two pans if necessary.) Cook until nicely browned and skin is crisped, about 12 minutes. (Turn on the exhaust fan and use a splatter guard to keep mess to a minimum.) Flip chicken; brown the other side, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate skin side up so it stays crispy.

Spoon off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet. Add onion and red pepper. Cook, stir occasionally, over medium heat until onion is nicely golden, about 8 minutes. Add sliced sausage and garlic; cook, 1 minute. Stir in kale. Cook, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in wine to mix well. Nestle the chicken, crispy skin side up, into the kale mixture leaving the skin uncovered. Cook, uncovered, on low until chicken juices run clear, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat broiler. Brush bread slices on both sides with olive oil. Broil bread, 4 inches from heat source until golden, about 1 minute. Flip; top with a little feta cheese. Broil the second side until golden, about 30 seconds.

Sprinkle chicken with parsley leaves. Serve chicken with the bread for mopping up all the pan juices.

*Cook’s Note:
Polish sausage can be substituted for the andouille for a milder dish. Cleaned and cut Tuscan kale, also known as black or lacinato kale, is sold in 10-ounce bags at some grocers. If Tuscan kale is not available in your local area, you can substitute 2 small bunches (about 1 pound total) kale, then trim off tough stems before cutting into 2-inch pieces.

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Thank you so much!

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Poulet Basquaise

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Poulet Basquaise (Basque-Style Chicken)

When most people think of the Basque Country, they think of Spain.

Bilbao began the so-called Guggenheim effect. You see, the opening of the GuggenheimGuggenH.jpg Museum in Bilbao in northern Spain in 1997, shows how an imaginatively designed museum commissioned by an energetic mayor can help turn a city around. Visitors’ spending in Bilbao in the first three years after the museum opened raised over ($110m) in taxes for the regional government, enough to recoup the construction costs and leave something over.  In 2012, more than 1m people visited the museum, at least half of them from abroad. This was the third-highest number ever, so the building continues to attract visitors even though the collection on display is modest. Other cities without historic cultural centers now look to Bilbao as a model for what vision and imagination can achieve……hence the “Bilbao Guggenheim Effect”.  In addition, San Sebastián has all those Michelin star restaurants. And Pamplona, notoriously, lets bulls run through its streets once a year.week-pamplona_2611466b.jpg

The Basques are an ancient people who have inhabited this territory for thousands of tt2years.The Basque Country is made up of three distinct  administrative regions (the Autonomous Communities of the Basque Country and Navarre in Spain and the Northern Basque Country in France)  and  seven provinces, three of which are in southwestern France.

44MapBasquecolToday, the Spanish part is an autonomous region with a Basque government, while the French part answers to the central government in Paris. The Spanish side has had a strong independence movement, which has lately been eclipsed by Catalonia’s. At the height of its activity in the latter part of the last century, ETA, the Basque separatist group, did most of its fighting on the Spanish side, saving the French side as a hideout…….but I digress. That is another history lesson for another time.

Basque cuisine is influenced by the abundance of produce from the sea on one side and the fertile Ebro valley on the other. The great mountainous nature of the Basque Country has led to a difference between coastal cuisine dominated by fish and seafood, and inland cuisine with fresh and cured meats, many vegetables and legumes, and freshwater fish and salt cod. The French and Spanish influence is strong also, with a noted difference between the cuisine of either side of the modern border; even iconic Basque dishes and products, such as txakoli from the South, or Gâteau Basque (Biskotx) and Jambon de Bayonne from the North, are rarely seen on the other side.

Basques have also been quick to absorb new ingredients and techniques from new settlers and from their own trade and exploration links. Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal created a chocolate and confectionery industry in Bayonne still well-known today, and part of a wider confectionery and pastry tradition across the Basque Country. Basques also embraced the potato and the capsicum, used in hams, sausages and recipes, with pepper festivals around the area, notably Ezpeleta and Puente la Reina. And last but not least, in keeping with the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is more commonly used than butter in Basque cooking.

And with all of that local produce  available to the Basque, it is no wonder that Poulet Basquaise  or Chicken Basquise (or Basque Chicken)  is a local favorite. Chicken Basquaise is a dish that defines the simple elegance of French Basque cooking.

So, I know you are asking, “exactly what is Chicken Basquaise”?  Well, first of all, a basquaise is a type of dish prepared in the style of Basque cuisine that often includes tomatoes and sweet or hot red peppers. Chicken Basquaise originated in the town of   Soule . Originally consisting of vegetables and bread, this dish typical consists of  browned chicken pieces, then cooked in a casserole with a Pipérade, which is a mixture of ripe tomatoes , red and green peppers, garlic, onions and Espelette pepper.

And before you start to  cook this dish, you will need to make the Pipérade before you begin.10987_piperade_3000

Pipérade trumpets the versatility of French Basque cuisine.  This simple sauté is enlivened with the local cured pork, Bayonne ham, and a spicy paprika known as piment d’Espelette. In my version of this dish, I added a little of bit of Creole smoked sausage and bacon, for smokiness. Pipérade  is  great over braised chicken and baked fish, but you can also heed Julia Child’s advice and use it to top a plain omelette. Simply divine!

Chicken Basquaise is guaranteed to make your heart sing and your belly cry out for more. This  is a dish where Espelette peppers and chicken go together like the French and kissing,…….. Chicken Basquaise is a dish to smooch over. So make it a date – Chicken  Basquaise is one meal you’ll want to enjoy and get up close and personal with!

Serves 4

Ingredients:
6 medium tomatoes
4 chicken quarters, leg and thigh portions, skin on
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
4 ounces thinly sliced Bayonne ham, cut into 1/2-inch squares
4 ounces smoked sausage, sliced
4 ounces bacon, diced
4 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves, coarsely chopped.
1 medium dried bay leaf
2 medium red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips
2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons piment d’Espelette
2/3 to 3/4 cups chicken stock
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions:
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a medium bowl halfway with ice and water. Using the tip of a knife, remove the stem and cut a shallow X-shape into the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water and blanch until the skin just starts to pucker and loosen, about 10 seconds. Drain and immediately immerse the tomatoes in the ice water bath. Using a small knife, peel the loosened skin and cut each tomato in half. With a small spoon, scrape out any seeds, then core and coarsely chop the remaining flesh. Set aside.

Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a 3-1/2- or 5-quart casserole or large Dutch oven.

When oil shimmers, add chicken pieces in a single layer (do this in batches, if needed) and let cook until very brown, turn, and repeat until pieces are well-browned all over, about 10 minutes per batch. Remove browned pieces to a plate and set aside. Discard excess oil and wipe out the pot with paper towels.

To the same pot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the oil shimmers, add the ham, smoked sausage and bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat mixture to a plate and set aside.

Return the pan to heat, add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil, and, once heated, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring rarely, until soft and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Stir in the herbs and pepper slices and season well with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring rarely, until the peppers are slightly softened, about 10 minutes.

Deglaze the pot with wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Add the chicken stock. Stir in the diced tomatoes, meat mixture, and piment d’Espelette. Return the chicken to the pot.  Reduce heat, cover with a lid and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes.

To serve, remove the bay leaf  and sprinkle fresh parsley over the chicken. Serve with rice or potatoes, on the side, if desired.

Suggested wine pairing: Domaine Ilarria Irouléguy Rouge, France.

Go all-in on the Basquaise with a not-well-known Basque wine. Made from a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Irouléguy’s not a delicate wine, but nor is it as big as wines made with these varieties in the New World. Its smoky flavor and dark fruits will merge nicely with the rustic onions, garlic, and red Espelette peppers in the sauce!

Cook’s Notes:
The traditional recipe calls for 2 pounds fresh cubed tomatoes, but one 14-ounce can of whole peeled canned tomatoes can  also be used as a substitute, in this recipe.

It is also a tradition to use a  3- to 3-1/2-pound broiler chicken, cut into 8 pieces, for this dish. You can always  ask your butcher to cut up the chicken for you at your local grocery store.

Bayonne ham is a cured ham product from the French Basque country. If you can’t find it in your local area, you can always use prosciutto or bacon.

Piment d’Espelette is France’s only native pepper, and it is so highly revered that it is protected by AOC status. It has a nice heat and is worth seeking out at a gourmet grocery or online. If you have trouble finding it, you can substitute cayenne pepper or paprika.

All photographs and content are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

Thank you so much!

TODAY.com Parenting Team FC Contributor

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