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Making a special dinner with your Valentine

 

Building a menu

Looking for the perfect Valentine's Day meal? Area cooking instructors put these dishes together to teach to their classes.

Rhonda Schuldt, Passionate Cooking, Sewickley:

* Eggplant and Herbed Goat Cheese Napoleon

* Roasted Planked Salmon with Sesame-Soy Glaze

* Roasted Asparagus and Prosciutto Bundles

* Truffled Yukon Golds

* Premium chocolate with red zinfandel wine

Rita Venturino, Rita's Italian Table, Richland:

* Frutta Salada -- tender greens tossed with grapes, blackberries and toasted pecans, splashed with a pomegranate vinaigrette

* Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce

* Chicken Scaloppine -- thinly pounded chicken breasts, sauteed and finished with a creamy chicken broth sauce

* Baci Cake -- chocolate hazelnut torte

Gaynor Grant, Sweetwater Cooking, South Side:

* Smoked Salmon and Leek Quiches

* Sesame Chicken with Peach Sauce

* Heart-shaped Artichoke and Fennel Ravioli with tomato-fennel sauce

* Fresh salad greens with tomato basil vinaigrette

* Coeur a la Creme -- French cream dessert

Chef Christopher Sotkovsky, instructor, Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, for Crate cooking school, Green Tree:

* Individual Portobello Stuffed Shrimp

* Mediterranean Greens Salad

* Tuscan Spiced Pork Loin with Risotto Milanese

* Grilled Asparagus and Red Peppers

* Chocolate Mousse

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Molten chocolate pudding

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By Karin Welzel
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

It might not be the food on the plate that makes a romantic dinner for Valentine's Day, but how the meal got there.

This Valentine's Day, romance is waiting at home, right in the kitchen.

"Today, the innate sensuality of food can be found by cooking for someone and with someone," says Martha Hopkins, co-author with Randall Lockridge of "The New Inter Courses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook" (Terrace Publishing, $29.95).

It can be as simple as a cup of coffee.


"Coffee used to be expensive and rare," which led people to lend it aphrodisiac qualities, she says. "Now it's on every street corner. But if your husband makes you a cup of coffee and puts just the right amount of sugar in it and brings it to you, that cup of coffee says he cares for you."

Cooking together at home -- for Valentine's Day or "just because" -- can spark romance and encourage conversation that can be sorely lacking among today's busy couples, says Rhonda Schuldt, of Sewickley, director of Passionate Food, a company that offers private cooking classes to individuals, couples and groups.

"If you are going to cook together, don't make it a big production," she advises, especially considering that Feb. 14 this year is on a "school night." "Don't make it a big and heavy meal. And it shouldn't be time-consuming."

Part of the sensual experience of sharing cooking duties is to "set the stage," Schuldt says.

"Open a split of champagne, light a candle and put on some music to get in the mood to work together. Pick dishes that need a minimum of work and that also are heart-healthy -- you want to prolong that relationship. The food should be elegant, but simple, and the ingredients easy to find."

Pairing up as cooks and determining individual roles in the kitchen "can strengthen a relationship," she says. "It gives people more confidence. And it adds love to the eating process."

Rita Venturino, director of Rita Venturino's Italian Table cooking school, in Richland, is one of several culinary teachers offering classes for couples who want to prepare a home-cooked Valentine's meal. Her menu for "Romance in the Kitchen" includes gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, and a chocolate dessert called Baci Cake.

"Definitely chocolate," she says about picking an appropriate dessert. Her cake is similar to a flourless chocolate torte, with ground hazelnuts substituting for flour, and she bakes it in a heart-shaped pan.

"Gnocchi is very romantic to make together," says Venturino. Two people working on forming the beloved Italian potato pasta make quick work of what might be a time-consuming task, she says. "It's important when making gnocchi to get the proper feel for the dough -- something else that's sensual."

Once a menu is decided, a couple should divide tasks according to likes and dislikes, as well as interests, Hopkins says.

"Maybe one person loves to do desserts, or baking, that involve a lot of details. The other might be a 'MacGyver cook,' experimenting and putting together things as they go," she says.

Warning: "Don't tell each other how to do something, unless advice is asked."

Above all, says Schuldt, who operates Passionate Food with her husband, Jeff, "This shouldn't be a chore. Don't prepare foods that cause long interruptions at the table."

To keep the fires burning after the main course, she suggests that couples just toss the dirty plates in the sink to worry about later, cuddle on the couch and indulge in fine chocolate and a California zinfandel for dessert.

This can even be a family activity, says Schuldt, who has a 7-year-old son, Morgan. Just put the kids to bed after dinner, then pop the cork.


The menu:

Deviled Crab Dip Appetizer

Green Leaf, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad

Coriander-Studded Tenderloin Steak

Gratin Dauphinoise

Molten Chocolate Puddings


Deviled Crab Dip

This appetizer is from "Everyday Celebrations: Savoring Food, Family, and Life at Home" by Donata Maggipinto (Chronicle Books LLC, $24.95 paperback).

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded, finely chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 3 cups fresh bread crumbs, divided
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shells
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh flatleaf (Italian) parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Crudites or crackers, for serving

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 6-cup baking dish.

In a medium-size skillet or saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, for about 3 minutes. Add the green pepper and celery and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Put 2 cups bread crumbs in a large bowl and gradually stir in the milk. Mix well. Let stand for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the crumbs are moistened evenly. Add the crabmeat, onion mixture, parsley, lemon juice and mustard. Mix well. Add the cayenne, salt and black pepper.

Spoon the mixture into the baking dish. Place the remaining bread crumbs in a bowl. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and stir it onto the crumbs, then toss to coat them with the butter. Sprinkle evenly over the crab mixture.

Bake until lightly browned, for 25-30 minutes. Serve with crudites or crackers.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Green Leaf, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad Dip

This wintry salad is from "The South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook" by Arthur Agatston M.D. (Rodale Inc., $27.95).

  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 head (3/4 pound) green leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces (6 cups loosely packed)
  • 1/2 Bosc pear, cored and thinly sliced
  • 3 ounces plain soft goat cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven or toaster oven to 275 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking tray and bake until fragrant and lightly browned, for about 10 minutes. Roughly chop the nuts.

Place the oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper in a jar with a lid. Close tightly and shake vigorously to combine.

Place the lettuce and pear slices in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the dressing and toss. Divide among 4 salad plates, sprinkle with the cheese and nuts and serve.

Makes 4 servings, 3 cups each.


Coriander-Studded Tenderloin Steak

This recipe is from "The Sonoma Diet Cookbook" (Meredith Books, $24.95).

  • 4 (3 to 4 ounces each) beef tenderloin steaks, cut 1 inch thick
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds or cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Heat the broiler. Trim the fat from the steaks, and season with salt.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, olive oil, chives, garlic, coriander seeds, celery seeds and black pepper. Brush the mixture onto both sides of each steak.

Place the steaks on the unheated rack of a broiler pan. Broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 12-14 minutes for medium-rare (145 degrees) or 15-18 minutes for medium (160 degrees), turning once halfway through the broiling time.

Makes 4 servings.


Gratin Dauphinoise

This cheesy potato sidedish is from "Easy Entertaining" by Darina Allen (Kyle Books, $35).

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup milk, warmed
  • 1/2 cup light cream (coffee cream)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, sliced
  • 2 1/4 pounds even-sized potatoes
  • 1 1/2 to 2 ounces Gruyère or cheddar cheese, grated (about { 1/2} cup)

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a 2 1/2-quart baking dish, sprinkle the garlic, salt and white pepper. Add the milk, cream and butter slices and place the dish in the oven to heat.

Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the potatoes. When the milk is bubbling at the edges, remove the dish from the oven, but do not turn off the oven. Strew the sliced potatoes into the dish and sprinkle with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the top is golden.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Molten Chocolate Puddings

This recipe is from "Easy Entertaining" by Darina Allen (Kyle Books, $35). Although the recipe makes 6 servings, you can bake two for your special dinner and refrigerate or freeze the rest of the filled molds for later baking. These also can be served with vanilla ice cream.

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, plus extra for greasing the molds
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 4 ounces premium semisweet dark chocolate, chopped (about {2/3} cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Confectioners' sugar

Lightly whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving

If the puddings are to be baked immediately, heat the oven to 450 degrees and place a baking tray in the oven to heat.

Generously butter and flour 6 molds (3 1/2 inches across and 2 1/4 inches deep, with a 2/3 cup capacity), then tap the molds upside down on the counter to shake out the excess flour. Line the bottoms of the molds with parchment paper.

Put the chocolate and 1 stick butter in the top of a double boiler over hot water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and let it sit until the chocolate is melted. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale and doubled in volume. Add the melted chocolate and butter while still warm, and mix gently but thoroughly.

Sift 2 teaspoons flour over the chocolate mixture and work in with a spatula until just combined. Spoon into the well-buttered molds until each is about 2/3 full.

If baking immediately, set the molds on the heated baking tray and bake for 6-7 minutes. Alternatively, the puddings can be covered lightly with plastic wrap, kept at room temperature and baked later. They also can be refrigerated, but bring them to room temperature before baking.

When they come out of the oven, invert each pudding onto a warmed dessert plate, wait for 10 seconds, then lift off the molds. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve with a spoonful of whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Makes 6 servings.

Karin Welzel can be reached at kwelzel@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7992.

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