The very first Valentine’s Day Hua and I spent together, he invited me over to his apartment and cooked for me for the first time. I still remember, he made me teryaki salmon and baby bok choy (yeah, knew he was a keeper then). We ate at his coffee table, sitting on big throw pillows, and tried to be coy as one does only a few months into a relationship.
We’ve certainly come a long way. We survived a cross-country relationship. Flew way past the nervous flirting stage and dove right into the good stuff. The lovey dovey-ness. The learning to communicate-ness. The never forgetting to cherish and appreciate one another-ness.
There is no one I enjoy sharing a delicious meal with more than my love. And no matter how much we enjoy going out to eat, there is always something special about staying at home and cooking for one another. After all, home is where the heart is.
For a special Valentine’s Day meal, we start with this irresistibly pretty dish I like to call Heart Beet Salad. It’s a dramatic, heart-shaped, layered Napoleon of beet slices and goat cheese. Blood orange and cara cara segments adorn this arugula salad, and toasted hazelnuts are the finishing touch.
For our main course, we’re bringing it back to salmon. Hua knew what he was doing back then. Salmon is a great special date night choice because it’s almost impossible to mess up. Because it’s naturally high in fat, it’s pretty forgiving if you accidentally overcook it. It also cooks really quickly, so let’s get to our side dish first: Braised Fennel with Pancetta.
I’ve been loving fennel this season. This particular preparation brings out the mellow sweetness of the vegetable and takes down the licorice flavor to just a background bass note. Slow cooking it in Madeira wine and crispy pancetta creates a sweet, slightly smoky, caramelized glaze.
It’s a rich tasting side dish without feeling weighed down. (Which is good, you know…when you want to stay mobile and spritely after dinner.)
Which brings me back to the salmon. Unlike a big steak dinner, this meal won’t put you right to bed in a food coma afterwards — which is not to say that it still can’t be a special occasion meal. We bump up the luxe factor with a beurre blanc sauce here. Beurre blanc, say it with me. It just sounds sexy. It’s easy to make too, and isn’t as finicky as some other egg-based French sauces. Really, it just calls for a lot of butter, whisked into a reduction of white wine and vinegar. The kick of acid from that reduction is wonderful with the richness of the butter. And the dill — you can’t go wrong with dill and salmon.
For dessert, I have two words for you: Nutella Soufflés. Boom.
Beets and goat cheese salad get a V-Day makeover with a little help from a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Blood oranges, cara cara oranges, arugula, and toasted hazelnuts complete this irresistibly pretty dish.
Special Equipment: heart-shaped cookie cutter; be sure that your cookie cutter fits within the circumference of your beets
Recipe Source: LickMySpoon.com.
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Braised Fennel with Pancetta
Fennel braised with pancetta and Madeira wine make a rich side dish that doesn’t feel heavy. (Adapted from SF Cooking School).
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 lb fennel
1/2 cup Madeira wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Salmon with Dill Beurre Blanc
A simple baked salmon gets fancified with a luxe beurre blanc flavored with lemony dill.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
2 (6-ounce) pieces skinless salmon fillet
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 oz (1/8 cup) dry white wine (like Sauvignon Blanc)
1 oz (1/8 cup) white wine vinegar
6 oz (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 teaspoon chopped dill
Salt and white pepper to taste