Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Let Me Count The Ways

I've always had mixed feelings about Valentine's day. Sure, it's commercialized. Sure, it's cheesy. Sure, I hated it when I was single and chalked it up to a money making crap of a day. But all the same? It is nice to have a perfectly ridiculous excuse for a lovely, relaxed and romantic evening with one's significant other. And such a day needn't involve overpriced flowers or bad chocolate - such a day can be romantic in its own simple right.


When Greg and I were trying to decide what to do for Valentine's day, the first thought was to have a special meal at home. But I cook so often, it just wasn't appealing to me. Then we thought, let's go out. But the prix fixe menus turned us away. Finally, Greg came up with a great idea: he made me dinner instead.

Spanish White Wine: Really Good

I give great kudos to The Boy Who Does Everything. From hard wiring fog lights on his car, to redirecting plumbing lines, to replacing the entire exhaust system on my car, to digging up the main sewer line under our house and repairing it, to buying a tile cutter and tiling our bathroom, (all without having any experience with any of things before attempting them), to being successful in his career and family life, to being a kind and caring person at heart... he literally does it all. If he doesn't know how to do it, he figures it out how, and he does a better job than anyone else could. I could write pages about what an amazing guy he is in the practical ways, and that doesn't even begin to touch on what a great partner he is.

So on top of all of this talent in the ways I've gotten used to him being talented about, Greg, who doesn't cook much (though when he does, it's always good), decided to make Valentine's Day dinner while I sat on my bum in the living room. Whata' guy : )

First course: amazing fried oysters. He breaded them in pancake batter with various spices and used the Le Creuset to bring them to a perfect brown, served with a horseradish dipping sauce. They were, quite frankly, amazing. I've never had oysters, but if he'll make them this way, I could eat them every day.

Pancake Batter Fried Oysters with Dipping Sauce

Next came the main dish: lemon dill pan fried salmon with herbed potatoes. It was light but filling, herby and buttery. Paired with a bottle of Spanish white wine, it felt like summer by the sea in February.

Main Course: Lemon Dill Pan Fried Salmon and Rosemary Red Potatoes

I was in charge of dessert. For a Salmon dish, I decided on a dessert I had recently at Greg's company Christmas Party, held at an upscale French restaurant called Union League: poached pears. I poached the pears in Riesling wine and vanilla based on Alton Brown's recipe, with a little added sugar for sweetness.

What I'm really proud of, however, is the homemade caramel sauce. I wanted a soft, creamy caramel sauce to serve over fragile, poached fruit and ice cream. That sounded like heavy cream should be involved, but I didn't have heavy cream last night and I couldn't find a recipe I liked. Thus, I started with a basic sugar caramel and tried some things till I figured it out. The right ratio of butter and coconut milk did the trick. It was creamy, smooth, and the perfect texture to go on top of the pears. If you don't like the flavor of coconut, don't worry - you can't taste the coconut here, it'll just be creamy.

This dessert was really, really good: ice cold pears, rich vanilla ice cream, reduced wine sauce the bottom of the bowl, and hot caramel sauce to pour over top.

Poached pear out of focus on the left, vanilla ice cream our of focus on the right, and delicious creamy caramel right in view

The highlight of the whole night was when Tori wanted to see what was in a paper bag, and Greg gave it a little nudge to wedge the bag onto her face. She proceeded to stumble around the kitchen and then ran into the parlor to say Hi to me with a giant paper bag over her face, smashing into walls and tripping over her own paws. Moments like those are ones that remind me of what it is that I love about her silly, food loving, uncoordinated self.

Having finished dinner, dessert, and a bottle of wine, suddenly it seemed as if, okay, "that was really nice. This feels so nice and normal". Then I realized the kinds of lives we are fortunate enough to lead. Greg and I sit down to a romantic dinner at least 4 times a week. We go out once or twice a week. We watch movies together and hang out together almost every evening. We take the dogs to the park and come home to the home that we've built together.

Thanks, Greg. Love ya'.

Nothing left but melted ice cream and a pear stem!

Poached Pears in a Riesling Vanilla Sauce
Serves 2

1 bottle Riesling Wine
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Red Bartlett Pears

  1. Find a saucepan of the right size to provide depth to submerge the pears. Bring the wine, sugar and vanilla extract to a slow boil.
  2. Meanwhile, peel skin from pears and slice in half. Remove the core from the entire length of the pear
  3. Add pears to boiling poaching liquid and poach until almost cooked through (depending on the ripeness of the pear, 10-30 minutes).
  4. Remove pears and reduce poaching liquid by one half. Cover pears with reduced poaching liquid in a small bowl and chill at least several hours, or overnight

Coconut Caramel Sauce
Makes, quite a bit

2 tbsp corn syrup
1.5 cups white sugar
Just enough water to cover
Pinch salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tbsp coconut milk

  1. Add corn syrup in a dollop to the bottom of a small saucepan or saucier. Pour sugar into the pan and add just enough water cover the sugar. Turn heat to medium and observe the sugar careful. Do Not Stir! Instead, use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides of the pan (this will prevent recrystallization of the sugar solution before it caramelizes, something that would ruin the caramel).
  2. The sugar will not caramelize until the water evaporates off, but once this occurs it will start turning a golden color. As the color gets darker, lower the heat (there is some carry-over cooking that occurs, since both the sugar solution and the pot hold on to quite a bit of heat). Once the caramel deepens to the right color, turn off the heat completely and stir in the butter and coconut milk.
  3. Be careful. Caramel is very hot and can be dangerous.

Poached Pears with Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce

Serve one pear with a scoop of ice cream, a few spoonfuls of reduced poaching liquid, and hot caramel to top. Enjoy.


Becca! said...

First time reader. First time writer...

Your blog makes me hungry.

Jenifer said...

You had me at Reisling. That's my favorite wine and I always have a bottle on hand. Now, I just have to get the pears.

Freya said...

This is my first time on your site - it's lovely!
What a wonderful V-Day meal you had! It looks perfect! I love the deep fried oysters!

Anonymous said...

That Greg sounds very handy. How come he doesn't know how to shave?
The Vday meal looked and sounded great. I was offered the opportunity to cook for 12 instead of 2--to bring a dish to a buffet,but needed lots of time to walk Luca and went to the Hotel Jacaranda instead. Great Blog, Nancy

Susan said...

Hold on to him. Tight! What a lovely dinner.

Rachael said...

Becca - hello

Jenifer - interesting, I actually couldn't quite get into this particular bottle (this is the first time I've tasted it, since I don't drink too much and Greg doesn't like reisling), but I am sure they all taste differently! I'd definitely give this a shot, though. If you liek reisling, you could probably even make it without the sugar and just enjoy the flavor of the wine

freya - thanks!! nice to see you

Nancy - I'm liking the beard on him (we'll see if he keeps growing it out). Also, I'm sure Luca appreciated it! Our two have been giving us heck lately... a few more walks would probably do wonders!!

susan - thanks : )

Catherine said...

Hi Rachael,

Thanks for visiting Albion Cooks and commenting! I'm very psyched to find your blog!