Friday, February 06, 2009

A Romantic Dinner IN

I have to admit that the best Valentine's Day I ever had was in the third grade. We did the typical class exchange of the paper valentines in the hokey decorated shoeboxes. This was back in the day before chocolate was marketed by the truckloads in garish shades of pink and purple for purchase at the grocery store. When I was in the third grade, if you got a Valentine with a sucker in it then you were awesome. Anyway, a beautiful boy with black hair and tan skin, presented me with a full-size chocolate bar, the little card AND sucker taped to the back. (This boy's name was Rhett--could anything be more luscious?) It wasn't as if he was a secret crush or anything: he was my true love from the first grade until the end of the fourth. At which point I started growing up. He did not, and never did in all the years I knew him. I've sometimes wondered if he ever did.

I mean, honestly, after enjoying a brief sojourn as the Naked Mole Rat of Mrs. McColley's third grade classroom, what could compare?

The years I actually HAD a boyfriend-like person in my life over VD were almost worse because there is some kind of expectation. February 1992 and February 1998 come most prominently to mind. The latter is somehow all mixed up in my head with the only time I have seen Titanic--I am not certain if I actually saw it that night, but there are a couple of weeks that month with such a blur of embarrassing memories that it is all the same.

Plantboy and I have seldom gone out on Valentine's Day. This wall-flower attitude is for a variety of reasons: VD on a weeknight, availability of babysitting on a day when lots of people go out, finances, and a reluctance to make the day into all that big of a deal. Still, I do like to make an effort to acknowledge the day: I usually make a nice supper, decorate the table, give tiny presents at each plate, etc.

Two weeks ago we went to Olive Garden which has a special dish this month they are calling "Four Cheese Stuffed Mezzaluna." I subbed shrimp for chicken. It was very, very good. Then, last Saturday I got a bee in my bonnet to re-create it. I did; and while I am sure that it would be very easy to tell the difference in a taste test, I am not at all certain that mine would lose a head to head contest. My picture isn't quite as pretty; I need to take my food shots on white plates and white linens in the sunlight. Still, the result is divine and your special someone will think this is even better than a big candy bar.

I have no idea what "Mezzaluna" means, so I will give mine its own name:

Ravioli in Sweet Cream Sauce with Basalmic-glazed Pork Chops

Heat 4 Tbsp high quality olive oil on medium high and add about half a head of garlic (I think I used six or eight medium sized cloves), roughly chopped, into the oil. Stir fry the garlic for about a minute and then add three Tbsp of flour. Sir continuously until flour is dissolved and no longer raw, about a minute. Reduce heat to medium-low. Then add 3/4 cream, 3/4 cup chicken broth and 1/3 cup sparkling apple juice. (I used Martinelli's; you have some choices for this third liquid ingredient--plain apple or white grape juice would be great or even the light syrup from a can of pears. I liked Martinelli's because the rest of the bottle is perfect with supper.)
Whisk the sauce together and keep over medium-low heat until bubbles break the surface and it becomes thick, stirring often. Stir in 4 oz. Parmesan cheese (I used the shaky kind, but fresh would be fine too.) Add white pepper to taste, or fresh ground black pepper. Taste and observe. If the sauce is too thick (which cream sauces tend to be) and too sweet, add another 1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth; if too thick and not sweet enough, add more apple juice, but only a tablespoon or two at a time. If not thick enough, add more cheese and cream.

Sorry the recipe isn't a little bit more exact--I tend to do a lot of things to taste or based on if they look "right." But what is right to you, may not be to me, you know what I mean?

When sauce is just right, turn it down to low, stirring every couple of minutes while you prepare the rest.

Put half a cup of balsamic vinegar with a teaspoon of sugar into a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until it has a syrupy texture and coats the back of a spoon. Stir often. This takes about 20 minutes; I didn't give it quite enough time, and so it is a little bit runny on my pork chops in the pictures.

Put a pot of water on to boil.

Cook thin pork chops in a large skillet coated with olive oil and a little bit of salt and pepper. When they are browned on both sides they are done. While the pork is cooking, use the other side of the skillet to saute julienne strips of red pepper.

When your water boils, add enough ravioli to serve how many you are cooking for. I used the large ravioli you can buy at Costco, just the cheese variety, though there is a triangular shaped spinach-filled one that would be extremely delicious with this sauce.

Most store-bought ravioli tells you that it is cooked when it floats, so watch it closely. Drain when cooked.

To serve, spoon sauce over cooked ravioli and garnish with red peppers and fresh basil ribbons. Serve pork on the side with a generous drizzling of the reduced balsamic vinegar. We had a crusty sourdough baguette that was perfect for mopping up left over sauce and vinegar.

For dessert, I made custard-sized chocolate lava cakes. Here is the recipe:
5 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate (I used bittersweet baking bar)
6 TBSP butter
4 eggs
1/2 cup + 2 TBSP sugar
1/2 cup + 2 TBSP flour
Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease 4 custard cups (or a LARGE muffin pan). Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler, stirring frequently, until smooth. Beat eggs, sugar and flour together. Add butter/chocolate mixture to the egg mixture slowly while stirring. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes. Don't use a tester, the inside should be gooey. Serve hot.
Serve either with ganache (super rich) or cream (really rich). For ganache, warm 1/2 cup of heavy cream until steam rises. Turn off heat, add six ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips and stir until creamy and thick. The cream should be sweetened, but not beaten--it just melts when it touches the cake.
Turn out each cake on a plate on either a bed of cream or ganache. Garnish generously with strawberries or raspberries.
I have no idea what to tell you to do about the dishes; I know that is really the best part of going out. Maybe Significant Other will be so impressed that he will volunteer? After all, there are few things more attractive than a man doing housework. . . Happy Valentine's Day.


Sunnie said...

food and me are still slightly on the outs with each other but i'm sure your dinner is delicious! i think last year for v-day we jake got take out and we ate at home. we did that another year, also. it is fun to have a nice dinner, kid free (sleeping). just like a real date.

chris w said...

I never stop being impressed by you. I doubt I ever will. I'm trying to remember who 1998 would have been... I think I do.

Suburban Hippie said...

Mezzaluna means fertile crescent (as in the moon.) It looks delicious.

It took me a couple of reads of the sentence about VD to figure out that you meant Valentines Day... I was thinking some other VD but since I knew you I knew that couldn't be right.

I'm tired alright.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I never had a significant other on V Day until I was married (my future husband asked first asked me out the week after it). I used to prefer calling it Singles Awareness Day. :)

Science Teacher Mommy said...

SH--I should have known that you would be the clever pasta girl. The "VD" thing is kind of an old joke. When I was, from time to time, a rather bitter single it seemed like a day to not so much celebrate love, as well, Eros--the Romans called him Cupid, but we take the word "erotic" from his name. You get my gist.

And I'm sure you remember "who 1998 was," Chris. I don't know if I would have survived 1998 without you.

Janssen said...

Wow, I'm extremely impressed!

chris w said...

I wasn't sure if I had my timeline right. I think you and I could write a book on life lessons learned from that time.

emandtrev said...

Everything looks and sounds absolutely delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipes, too. We always stay in on Valentine's Day and take turns making dinner from year to year. It is a fun tradition. Maybe I'll try out your recipe this year!