Super Bowl behind us, Valentine’s Day before us, there is always a reason to enjoy good food no matter what label is used. Valentine’s Day has become a favorite time for us, especially since we began making reservations for an intimate dinner at our own table. No crowds, no pressure, dress however you please (use your imagination here), and there’s nothing wrong with saving a few pennies too.
The first time we made dinner for Valentine’s Day, it was Tomato & Basil Bruschetta, Bouillabaisse, and Chocolate Mink on the menu. Last year, our sweetheart dinner included Prosciutto Wrapped Goat Cheese-Stuffed Shrimp, Bacon Wrapped Dates, Grilled Veal Chops, and Chocolate Truffles in Coconut. Whether we choose an exotic menu of firsts or center our attention on an old favorite with a special dessert, what matters is the time we share together.
This year, we are planning a tapas themed menu—a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks—though not necessarily based on Spanish cuisine. One recipe we have already identified is Classic Clams Casino from Fine Cooking, which looks like a fun way to get things started. Since considerable time will be focused on several recipes, we will keep dessert easy with Dark Chocolate Mousse, either Thomas Keller’s version or go with a classic French recipe.
Looking for an easy recipe for that special dinner?
Last week when proofing the crab dip for the Super Bowl, I was also working on this recipe for crab cakes. Crab Cakes with Mango-Lime Sauce is a simple, elegant choice for a Valentine dinner as a starter or entrée. Its crisp exterior and sweet crab with savory spices marries well with the mango, lime, and chipotle flavors of the sauce. Of course, you could shape them into hearts instead of patties—it’s nice when something is uncomplicated, yet extraordinary. I haven’t decided which I like better, crab cakes for dinner or the leftovers under the creamy yolk of a poached egg for breakfast the next day. I guess the best answer is making enough so you can have both!
- 1 large egg -- lightly beaten
- 2 scallions -- chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley -- finely chopped
- ¼ cup red or yellow bell pepper -- diced
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼-1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 pound lump crab meat -- picked through
- ½-3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- olive oil
- 1 whole ripe mango -- peeled, flesh removed from seed
- 2-3 tablespoons lime juice -- fresh squeezed
- ½ teaspoon garlic -- minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
- 1 teaspoon Chipotle Tabasco
- ⅛ teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt -- to taste
- aged balsamic -- optional, for garnish
- Pick through crab and remove any shell debris. Mix the first eight ingredients together and then gently fold into crabmeat.
- Form mixture into evenly sized balls. Roll in panko bread crumbs and flatten into patties. Mixture will be a little delicate, but should not fall apart once flattened into patties. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook crab cakes until golden brown on each side.
- Sauce can be made just before starting to cook the crab cakes. Place all the sauce ingredients in a food processor and blend until pureed. Transfer to a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat to warm sauce and meld flavors, about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally, adjust seasoning as desired.
- Serve crab cakes with sauce and a drizzle of aged balsamic, if desired.
A few more thoughts on a cooking with your sweetheart …
Keep it simple, yet interesting. If making a three course meal (appetizer, main, dessert), choose one course to have a degree of difficulty, not all three. This gives you something to look forward to without being overwhelming.
You cook, they don’t. My husband has often described me as “being in the zone” when I’m in the kitchen. I admit it can be a little intense. When we decided to cook together, I knew right away being bossy or a making things perfect was not going to foster a romantic mood no matter how many candles were lit. Let go and relax.
Don’t know what to make? Sometimes it is easier to narrow down a menu if you decide on a theme or particular cuisine. Food themes from a favorite movie or destination (where you’ve been or where you plan to go) can be fun too.
If you are planning a special evening at home and you’d like some tips on creating a unique setting or atmosphere, check out an earlier post about setting up a chef’s table. That post includes a list of other fun ways to slip in an extra “I love you” here and there.
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