You’re all familiar with it, the Catch-22 that is the romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. Whether you’re dining out or dining in we tend to indulge in the spirit of the occasion. We get appetizers, a bottle of wine, and usually order from the occasion-specific menu that caters to stereotypically ‘romantic’ food; large juicy steaks, pastas, lobster drowning in butter. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of those choices save for one glaring logistical problem, after you’ve eaten that (and probably split a decadent chocolate dessert), you’ve been rendered practically comatose. Given the romance is expected to culminate in the bedroom for most, or at least with something other than yawns and two alka-seltzers, this hardly seems practical.
Some would you have me fly in the face of tradition and rearrange your evening festivities such that the meal comes last (a recovery if you will for depleted nutrients and energy) but me, I’m a bit of a traditionalist (as is Katie) so I instead opted to reset our expectations of the Valentine’s Day meal, while sticking to the innate romance-generating principles of the meal (nobody ever looked at tacos and said “how romantic”).
(NOTE: We scheduled our celebratory meal for Sunday night, to be able to partake in whatever dietary components we wanted, even if most of the meal was actually compliant with our eating plan).
Observation #1: One must always cook with wine. So Katie opened a bottle of California Cabernet (I don’t recall what label or year, but I will post it later).
We started with some bacon-wrapped scallops. Neither of us are huge scallop fans and probably have them twice a year at most. A couple decent sized (U10-12) scallops wrapped in good bacon and baked for 20-30 minutes with some butter and shallot, then finished with chipotle-lime finishing butter (available at Wegman’s) and served on a crostini made from a slice of demi-baguette toasted in a skillet with some olive oil, garlic, and red pepper, makes for a pretty light start to things while everything else is cooking or being brought together.
Pacing is key to the don’t-fill-up-on-dinner trick. Don’t try to impress by having everything come out too quickly (pardon the double entendre).
Once the app was done and I had cleared, on to the main course. It’s not cheap, but the lamb rack at Whole Foods can’t be beat. If it can, please tell me where I can get better, and don’t say from a guy in Lancaster PA because I am not driving 4 hours to find out. Seasoned moderately and seared, then finished in the oven, the meat came out medium rare (as intended) and juicy.
Combine about 8 strawberries, the same number of blackberries, a small shallot, some butter, some sherry (a half a cup, maybe?) along with pinches of salt, sugar, rosemary, and thyme. Simmer that until reduced to a good thick sauce and the berries are all but completely broken down. You can do this ahead of time and if it overthickens just loosen it back up with more sherry, red wine, or a fruity hot tea as I did.
In a bowl zest about a tablespoon of blood orange zest, then peel the orange and slice out 2 wedges and macerate those into the bowl as well to generate as much juice as you can, removing any stringy peels. While whisking, drizzle in some good olive oil (salad olive oil, not the normal cooking stuff), and a couple drops of truffle oil if you have it. Salt and pepper to taste, then toss 3-4 heaping handfuls of rocket in the dressing. When coated, mound the rocket on two plates (I’m assuming you’re cooking for two, if you’re not then scale this up to your needs), drop some thinly sliced shallot on it, and slice out wedges of the rest of the blood orange on top. Squeeze the remaining “skeleton” of the blood orange on top to get as much juice as possible, top with some goat cheese, crumbled bacon, salt and pepper and you’re done constructing the salad.
The only thing left to do is slice and arrange the lamb, garnish with the sauce you had simmering, and serve. My personal take on the dish is below, you’ll notice it’s not too different from about a million presentations of the same or similar dishes online.
As for the result, it was exactly as expected, it was fully enjoyable and every bite was satisfying and tasty, the sweetness of the lamb being amplified by the sauce while not becoming syrupy at all, offset by the wine and herbs, and the salad added all the contrasting elements you’d want to round things out with tart and peppery rocket, smoky bacon, and creamy goat cheese. And neither of us felt even slightly groggy, bloated, or “stuffed” from the experience, even after some strawberries in calvados-infused cream for dessert.
So there you have it – my take on how to eat properly for romance. Pass on cream sauces or heavy fattening meals and try to condense your flavors (and your preparation and presentation) into something effortless but still classy. Pile of lettuce, 4 pieces of meat, a sauce that took 5 minutes to make. To paraphrase a classic beer slogan; tastes great, less filling.