belated valentines dinner

True to form, we celebrated Valentine’s Day late this year. My father-in-law was alone this Valentine’s so he brought over Sichuan take-out for dinner on the 14th. Not a bad way to spend Valentine’s Day since I didn’t have to do any cooking or preparation. But I promised to make my husband a nice dinner at home (after the kids went to sleep), which is the easiest way to celebrate Valentines when you have two little ones. No babysitter needed and we could dine in our sweatpants. So the Friday after Valentine’s Day, I made him this menu:

White potatoes with creme fraiche, caviar and chive

Citrus crab salad with grapefruit, avocado, microgreens and pomegranate seeds

Sea scallops with orange sesame dipping sauce, celery root puree, baby zucchini and carrots, brussel sprout leaves with pomegranate and pine nuts

Java chip & pistachio ice creams with white chocolate and pink salt

Cheese platter of chocolate cheddar, cambozola, almond biscuits and honey marcona almonds

St. Supery “Virtu” Meritage, Napa Valley, 2006

Amuse bouche: white potatoes with creme fraiche, caviar and chive

I first had this as an hors d’oeuvres at a friend’s wedding many years ago. It was a mini baked potato topped with creme fraiche and caviar. The saltiness from the caviar was the perfect compliment to the little white potato. A few years ago when a friend was planning a bridal shower, she asked for ideas for canapés to make. I told her about this. She made it and it was a hit. Since then, we’ve made it together for another cocktail party. It never fails to impress and is always tasty. After making this a few times, there are some tips that we’ve developed to make it easier. Boil the potatoes ahead of time, and slice them immediately after boiling. I cut the potatoes in half and cut a very small slice on each end so it’s easier to sit on a plate without rolling around. I leave the potatoes in the fridge to chill until I’m just about ready to assemble and serve. It’s better to have the potatoes cool down before assembling because if the potato is still warm, the heat will melt the creme fraiche and it won’t look as pretty. I used a melon baller to scoop out a very shallow cavity, where I piped the creme fraiche using a ziploc bag, with a corner cut out for the piping tip. I gently laid on the caviar using ice tongs. It is much harder than it seems because caviar are tricky little suckers. Doing this made me realize why portions are so small at fancy restaurants. It takes forever to make things look pretty on a plate. It was like performing surgery. I was going to put 5 or 6 little potato halves on each plate but opted for just 4 because it took so long for me to assemble them. But the effect was worth it.

Appetizer: citrus crab salad with grapefruit, avocado, microgreens and pomegranate seeds

I saw microgreens at the market and knew I wanted to make a salad with them. I also had a grapefruit in the fridge since before Christmas. It was still good and very sweet. I wanted to make a salad using these ingredients and figured I couldn’t go wrong by adding crab meat and avocado. I found this recipe and loosely based my salad on it. For the crab meat, I bought lump crab meat and marinated it using fresh squeezed juice from two oranges and a couple of lemons, a touch of honey, red pepper flakes and a pinch of black pepper. For the greens, I made a light dressing using olive oil, grapefruit juice, white balsamic vinegar and shallots (only because I had a shallot sitting on my countertop that needed to be used). I got the idea from a friend who just fed me a delicious lunch at her house. She made a simple salad of greens with a tasty dressing of olive oil, grapefruit juice and balsamic vinegar – that’s it, no salt or pepper needed. I drizzled some meyer lemon olive oil over the crab salad and greens just before serving. I also dotted the corners of the plate with the lemon oil and sprinkled some himalayan pink sea salt. When eating the salad, it was nice to grab some crab and drag my fork outward picking up a piece of avocado, grapefruit, greens and oil and salt along the way to form a perfect bite. The sweet grapefruit was really the highlight of this salad. The perfect punch of flavor.

Entree: sea scallops with orange sesame dipping sauce, celery root puree, baby zucchini and carrots, brussel sprout leaves with pomegranate and pine nuts

I’ve made these scallops several times before. I use this recipe for the dipping sauce and make it exactly as the recipe states. It always makes a great accompaniment. The sauce is a bit spicy but refreshing and sweet from the orange and honey. You can improvise if you don’t have all the ingredients like the ginger or cilantro or mint, and it can still taste delicious. I simply salted & peppered the scallops and seared them in a pan with olive oil. I love celery root puree, so much more than mashed potatoes. I looked at this recipe and made it using only one celery root (since it was just the two of us and we still had plenty leftover), three small potatoes from the amuse bouche, and 1/3 onion. I used an immersion blender to puree and it tasted good without much else. I did salt the milk/water before boiling and added a touch of salt and white pepper after blending. I skipped the butter and added a couple tablespoons of heavy cream instead for even more creaminess. As for the vegetables, I do love brussel sprouts but am experiencing a bit of brussel sprout overload lately. So I just peeled some leaves and blanched them in boiling water for 15 seconds. When I decorated the plate with the brussel sprout leaves, I thought it needed more color so I added a few pomegranate seeds leftover from the salad and some pine nuts. They actually made for a nice little bite with a brightness from the pomegranate and crunch from the pine nut.  I saw the baby zucchini at the market and couldn’t resist. They were just too cute. I sautéed them with the carrots in butter and added plenty of salt. Nothing too fussy. I’ve had vegetables prepared simply like this at fancy restaurants and they come out surprisingly good. Even my husband who is not a vegetable lover loved these.

Dessert: Java chip & pistachio ice cream with white chocolate and pink salt

Cheese platter of chocolate cheddar, cambozola, almond biscuits and honey marcona almonds

I just saw Aarti Sequeira make a chocolate ginger pudding pie on the Nate Show (neither of which I ever watch) and thought it sounded delicious and easy to make. Love ginger and chocolate. I bought all the ingredients to make the pie, but decided to skip making dessert since we were going to Yosemite the next morning and I didn’t want to leave any leftover pie over the weekend. So I decided to just do a cheese plate since Hubs loves cheese more than sweets. I found a cheddar with chocolate swirls in it which sounded interesting since I’ve tasted some really good cheeses that remind me of chocolate. I heated up honey and marcona almonds in a sauce pan, and served it with the cambozola and crispy Almondina biscuits (which have raisins and almonds in them). The combo actually made for something as delicious, if not more, than any cake or tart I could have had for dessert. We already had the ice cream in the freezer so I just melted the white chocolate leftover from making the heart cookies and laid down a smear of it and put down some more pink sea salt. I’ll make the chocolate pie another time, now that I have all the ingredients on hand.

Tip: I bought almost all the ingredients for this meal at Trader Joes, including the lump crab meat, American caviar ($20 for 1 oz), micro-greens and baby zucchini. The only things I bought elsewhere were the sea scallops (from Ranch 99 Market), celery root (from our local Monterey Market), and the ice cream which was Haagen Dazs (java chip) and Ciao Bella gelato (pistachio). We bought the wine from St. Supery vineyard in Napa.

Bon appétit! I probably won’t be making a meal like this until next Valentine’s Day.

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