The food of love often includes truffles and chocolate and champagne. Pommes d'amour, or love apples, as the French call tomatoes, are also appropriate on Valentine's Day. (You've got to hand it to the French regarding romanticism in music and in vegetable nomenclature, as potatoes are called pommes de terre, or apples of the earth.) Dates, are suggestive, as are the juicy seeds of the pomegranate. I say, put them all in your Valentine's Day dinner, and invite another couple to dine. Whether your goal is to eradicate winter's doldrums, or immortalize Cupid (once a religious holiday, it was Chaucer who first shifted the focus to romantic love), now's the time to scoot some chairs in front of the fireplace and delight in the warmth of a splendid meal. Don't have a fireplace? Then set a table, even a card table, in an unexpected place -- a living room corner, for example, that's warm and cozy. My menu for this day of affection features: Champagne with a splash of pomegranate juice, served with fleshy Medjool dates and chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano Fresh Pasta with Truffle Butter Wine-Dark Beef Stew Horseradish Potato Puree Roasted Beets With Balsamic Syrup & Walnuts Chocolate Oblivion with Sun-dried Cherries
What to drink? Open a bottle of Saint Amour -- a sleek French red wine that is fuller-bodied than most other Beaujolais. With dessert, a snifter of Malvasia (a sweet dessert wine from Italy) would be nifty.
If you're so inclined, you can make the lusty beef stew two days before Valentine's Day, as it improves with age. Even the mashed potatoes can be made and gently reheated. Tomorrow I'll post the recipes for the radically simple pasta dish and the ruby beets. Chocolate Oblivion is my Valentine gift to you on the morning of February 14th.
Wine-Dark Beef Stew The secret ingredient here is...hoisin! It adds great complexity to the flavor of the sauce. Use shin meat, also known as shank meat for the most tender results.
3 pounds beef shin or chuck (net weight) 3 tablespoons olive oil 3 heaping cups finely chopped yellow onion 1/2 cup hoisin sauce 2 cups cabernet sauvignon 14-ounces diced tomatoes with herbs 5 fresh bay leaves 1 pound long, slender carrots 1 tablespoon arrowroot a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds, or fresh thyme leaves, for garnishing
Cut meat into 2-1/2-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Heat oil in a large heavy casserole with a cover. Add onions. Cook over medium heat until soft and brown, stirring often. Add meat in stages and cook over high heat until browned on all sides. In a medium bowl, stir together hoisin, 1 cup wine, and diced tomatoes with its liquid. Pour over the meat and add bay leaves. Cover pot and cook over low heat 1 hour. Peel carrots and cut on the bias into 1-inch lengths. Add to the pot. Cover and cook 1-3/4 hours longer until meat is fork-tender. Transfer meat and carrots to a large bowl using a slotted spoon. Add 1 cup wine to the pot and cook over high heat until the sauce is reduced to 2-1/2 cups. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dissolve arrowroot in 1 tablespoon water and add to sauce. Continue to cook over medium heat until thick. Return meat and carrots to pot and heat gently. Garnish with pomegranate seeds or thyme. Serves 4 to 6
Horseradish Potato Puree If you follow the steps below, you can process potatoes in a food processor without them becoming glutinous provided you follow the simple steps below.
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes 1-1/2 cups milk 1 large clove garlic 1/3 cup prepared white horseradish 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Peel potatoes. If large, cut in half. Place potatoes in a large saucepan with salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and place cover askew. Cook until tender, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, put milk in a medium saucepan. Push garlic through a press and add to the milk. Bring just to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Drain potatoes, saving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Place in a large bowl and use a potato masher. Add hot milk and horseradish, mashing until creamy. Cut butter into pieces and stir into potatoes. At this point you can briefly process them, add a little cooking water. Add salt and pepper. Heat gently before serving. Serves 4 to 6