Sunday, February 10, 2008

Valentine's Goodie Recipes

So you want to make a Valentine's Day dinner for your sweetie. I don't blame you for wanting to stay in and have an intimate evening instead of being stuck at some restaurant with strangers. Here are a few tips for stress-free entertaining:

Create atmosphere with unscented candles, flowers and mood music or a movie in the background.

Keep it light (nobody wants to be too full later in the evening).

Finger foods are fun and sexy.

Create a sensual menu with different tastes and textures.

Here are some foolproof recipes for easy, impressive and romantic foods.

The menu: Ravishing Rose Cocktail
Smoked Salmon Chips with Creme Fraiche and Chives
Panna Cotta with Rasperries
Best Chocolate Cupcakes Ever

A pink cocktail is a must for Valentine's and I can't think of anything more romantic than the flavor of roses. It's just an added bonus that rose water is prized for its calming and aphrodisiac qualities.

If you want to take the V-Day theme further, make raspberry ice cubes by taking a small heart-shaped mold and filling it with a combination of strained raspberry puree, water and a splash of raspberry liqueur or Alize Red Passion; freeze overnight.

Ravishing Rose Cocktail

2 ounces Sence Bulgarian Rose Essence (at Whole Foods & BevMo)
1 tablespoon raspberry puree
3 ounces chilled brut sparkling wine, like Sofia

Add the rose essence and raspberry puree to a champagne flute. Top off with chilled brut sparkling wine or champagne. Garnish with a fresh raspberry or a heart-shaped raspberry ice cube.

Whether its a cocktail party or dinner, I love making a meal out of finger foods and appetizers. Smoked salmon and potato pancakes is great, but the pancakes can be a bother. This potato chip version will be one of your favorite party appetizers; just be sure to use good quality wild smoked salmon that's not too salty.

Smoked Salmon Chips with Creme Fraiche and Chives
12 large natural-style ridged potato chips (use the kind for dipping)
12 one-inch by 1-1/2 inch squares of smoked wild salmon
1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
fresh chives, snipped into little pieces

Select your 12 perfect chips and lay them out on a platter. Fold over a piece of smoked salmon and place on top of a chip. Top with a dab of creme fraiche if using or sour cream and a few pieces of chives. Repeat with the remaining chips. Eat immediately or they'll keep in the fridge for an hour or two.

Suggested Bubbly Pairing: Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee (hint, hint)

I love the creamy and delicate Italian dessert panna cotta, which means cooked cream. It's like a creme brulee without the crunchy topping and truly the easiest thing ever. This recipe is from Mark Bittman's classic "How to Cook Everything" (Macmillan, 1998) and it always works. Garnish with fresh raspberries, or make a compote of raspberries, blueberries and a splash of your favorite liqueur heated gently in a saucepan or the microwave.

Panna Cotta
1 cup milk
1 (1/4 ounce) package unflavored gelatin
1 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
Assorted berries or a mixed berry sauce

Pour 1/2 cup milk in a medium saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for 5 minutes so gelatin blooms or puffs up slightly. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring until the gelatin dissolves completely.

Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the black seeds; add seeds and pods to the pot along with the rest of the milk, cream and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until steam rises from the pot. Turn off heat, cover and let steep for 15 to 30 minutes.

Remove the vanilla pod, and pour the mixture into six custard cups or little bowls. Chill until set, about 2 hours. Serve in the cups or dip cups in hot water for 10 seconds, loosen the edge with the tip of a knife and invert onto dessert plates. Serve the same day with berries or sauce if you like.

Suggested bubbly pairing: Nivole Moscato d'Asti

For most people, any kind of chocolate is irresistable on Valentine's Day, but for me it has to be bittersweet and baked into a moist little cake. Adapted from a Nancy Silverton recipe, these decadent cupcakes studded with dark chocolate fill the bill.

Best Ever Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 12 large cupcakes or 48 mini ones

1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
One 1/4 ounce package dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled, plus extr for greasing pan
5 eggs
1-1/3 cups coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
powdered sugar

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over yeast in a small mixing bowl. Pour lukewarm water over sugar and yeast. Let sit until yeast softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup flour and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Sift together cocoa powder, remaining 1 cup sugar and remaining 3/4 cup flour. Make a large well in the center of te dry ingredients and pour in butter, eggs and yeast mixture. Whisk together liquids and gradually incorporate the dry ingredients. Keep whisking until everything is thoroughly mixed. Stir in chopped chocolate.

Spoon batter into muffin tins that have been lightly greased with melted butter, filling to the rim. Bake at 375 on middle rack until cakes are firm to touch, 18 to 20 minutes for regular size or 7 to 8 minutes for minis. Dust with powdered sugar while warm and serve right away, though these keep very well for a few days in an airtight container. To make a chocolate ganache frosting, place 4 ounces chopped chocolate and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a Pyrex cup. Microwave on medium until the chocolate starts to lose its form. Whisk together into frosting.

Suggested bubbly pairing: Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui

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