(Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
Food and romance are as much a part of Valentine’s Day as chocolates, red roses and sweet whispers. And nowhere does that pair play out more than in the kitchen.
“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Credit Harriet Van Horne, the late columnist-celebrity, for that bit of wisdom. English author Virginia Woolf (“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”) would probably agree.
Mixing it up in the kitchen is a delicious way for a couple to celebrate Valentine’s Day, perhaps with a bottle of bubbly adding sparkle to the proceedings. Choose a menu of your favorite dishes or consider this easy-to-prepare, easy-on-the-wallet menu.
Gather up all the white candles in your home (avoid scented ones) and cluster them on the table.
If you make the chocolate mousse the night before, the meal can be put together in 30 to 45 minutes, laughter included, with time enough to savor the food and each other. Start by popping the cork on a bottle of sparkling cava (an inexpensive Spanish bubbly) and stuffing tiny “love apples” (pommes d’amour, aka tomatoes) with an herbed cheese or smoked trout spread. Prepare the scaloppine, cook up the orzo and wilt a favorite green (spinach?) in a bit of olive oil and finish with Parmesan shavings.
The finale: A decadent and super simple chocolate dessert. For as Lucy Van Pelt, that “Peanuts” gal, would say: “All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Scaloppine in Lemon Sauce
Prep: 20 minutes; Cook: 20 minutes; Makes: 2 servings
Adapted from “Lidia’s Italy in America” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. The original recipe calls for veal but also suggests less pricey turkey or chicken cutlets.
4 slices turkey or chicken cutlets, about ¾ pound
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled
½ lemon, with rind, thinly sliced
¼ cup pitted green olives, cut into strips
2 tablespoons tiny capers, drained
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Pound meat slices between pieces of waxed paper to an even ¼-inch thickness. Season with salt. Melt 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Spread flour on a plate; lightly dredge meat in flour, tapping off excess. Lay slices, in batches, in skillet so pieces don’t touch. Cook until edges caramelize, 1-2 minutes. Turn to caramelize other side; transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining slices.
Increase heat to high. Add garlic and lemon slices to skillet; turn lemon to caramelize both sides. Add olives and capers; let sizzle 1 minute. Pour in wine and lemon juice. Heat sauce to a boil. Add ½ cup hot water. Boil sauce until reduced by half. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter in pieces. Reduce heat to a simmer. Return meat slices to pan. Simmer to heat through; do not overcook. Arrange meat on a warm platter. Stir parsley into sauce; pour sauce over meat.
Orzo With Red Peppers
Makes: 2 servings
1 cup orzo
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red pepper, sliced
Cook orzo in a saucepan of salted boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain well; return to saucepan. Drizzle with olive oil.
Toss with red pepper. Keep warm.
Eggless Chocolate Mousse
Makes: 2 servings
Adapted from “The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook,” by Mireille Guiliano. Prepare the night before, cover and refrigerate. Remove about an hour before serving.
1 cup whipping cream, divided
2½ ounces dark chocolate (70 to 80 percent)
½ teaspoon vanilla
Shelled, toasted pistachios (optional)
In a small, heavy saucepan, heat ¼ cup whipping cream to a boil; do not scorch.
Meanwhile, chop chocolate and place in a large bowl. Pour hot cream over chopped chocolate. Let melt 2 minutes; stir until smooth. Add ½ teaspoon vanilla. Cool until mixture is warm to the touch.
Whip ¾ cup chilled whipping cream until stiff peaks form; be careful not to overwhip. Gently fold half the whipped cream into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining whipped cream. Mousse will be a bit soft.
Spoon into 2 serving dishes; cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve garnished with shelled, toasted pistachios and more whipped cream, if you like.