Sunday, March 18, 2012

Valentine's Day Dinner

Hello lovers and friends!

While I may be about a month late, I figured it would be fun to relate this year's Valentine's Day dinner extravaganza in a blog post. Better late than never!

I basically put this together off the top of my head, with a few bits of inspiration coming to me here and there, in the week leading up to V-Day. For example, for the dessert course, the use of pineapple was based mainly on the fact that it was on sale at my local supermarket.

So, let's just get into it and see how it goes! It must be noted that this is a meal that might require you to take the day off work, or at least cut out a few hours early! I guess it depends on your sweetie's schedule. I had the benefit of having the day off and my love, Kari, working till about 6 pm. It should also be noted that I made all three courses basically in one fell swoop instead of cooking then eating one course at a time. An oven on 200 Fahrenheit keeps food warm without cooking it further, as long as you don't leave the food in for very long: 15 minutes is fine, an hour might be a bit much.

Now, before we get into the preparation portion of the evening, let's assume that all these recipes serve 2 people.

Appetizer Course

For the appetizer course, I was partially inspired by a plate I had at Town Restaurant here in Ottawa last year, where they put some lovely brined green olive spirals over seared sea scallops. It was a beautiful flavour combination that I'd been meaning to attempt to re-create for a while and now was the time. But I also wanted to add some bacon flavouring to the dish as well. After all, scallops and bacon are about as good a flavour combo as one can find, no matter how cliché. Of course, when you rub and smoke your own pork belly for the "bacon", and throw on an olive "relish", maybe you're going beyond clichés...

Sea Scallops w. Pork Belly and Olive Relish

Smoked Pork Belly "Lardons"


- 2 pounds pork belly, skin removed; cut into 4 equal portions


- 4 tbsp Berbere spice
- 4 tbsp powdered lime leaf (available at Asian grocery stores, especially Thai)
- 1 cup brown sugar

- Mix well with hands and rub into meat. Seal in a large plastic bag and let sit in fridge overnight. Remove from fridge and pat dry with paper towel. Allow meat to sit out for about an hour to air dry.
- Smoke at 220-230 F for about 2 hours using lump maple charcoal and pecan wood chips.
- Once the pork belly has been smoked, take half and cut into small cubes.
- Fry until crispy and set aside on paper towels.

Pork Belly - ready for the smoker after 12 hours rubbed in the fridge


Olive Relish

- 6 Kalamata olives and 4 brined green Sicilian olives (they should be a darker green than Manzanilla, firm and come with the pit still in them), pitted and roughly minced.
- 1clove pickled garlic, minced (use raw garlic if you don't have pickled)
- 1 teaspoon each toasted cumin and coriander seeds (to toast spices like this, just put them in a non-stick frying pan at high heat for about 4-5 minutes, moving the pan constantly until the spices toast and become fragrant), ground fine in mortar and pestle or spice grinder (or using a mallet?)
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- Black pepper to taste
- Mix all ingredients in a side serving dish and set aside.

Olive Relish

Seared Scallops

- 6 large sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter

- In a skillet, melt butter until nearly browning.
- Sear scallops in butter until cooked through (be careful not to overcook!)
- Place scallops on a bed of arugula and top with pork belly and olive relish. You can also add toasted pecans for some extra flavour and crunch. 

This dish should be paired with a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Pinot Grigio.

Appetizer course - Butter-Seared Scallops, Smoked Pork Belly and Olive Relish (forgot the damned bed of arugula!)

It turned out to be a really tasty appetizer (hell, it could have been an entire meal in itself!). The flavours complimented each other nicely, but I credit the ingredients for that. I just wish I'd remembered the bed of arugula, it would have added a lovely crispness and liveliness to the dish, but its omission didn't really take anything away.

Main Course

There's something about a good piece of beef grilled rare/medium rare that speaks to the sensual nature of Valentine's Day. It's rich, luscious and juicy, especially when it's a very tender cut. I lucked out when shopping for the meat because the butcher (Saslove's) had the tail ends of a beef tenderloin (which is the same cut used for filet mignon) for a very good price. I figured since it was V-Day, I had to go the decadent route with this bad boy. So, after having figured out how to make brown butter not too long ago, I thought a mix of that and truffle oil would be a good way to top the beef. As I made the sauce, I noticed that it lacked body, so why not add some blue cheese?

I wanted to keep the sides fairly simple, so I went with roasted potatoes (albeit purple) and carrots. Now, it's me, so the potatoes had to be topped with smoked blue cheese and the carrots had to be glazed with maple syrup, ginger and a bit of lime juice.

Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Blue Cheese-Truffle Oil-Brown Butter Sauce, Roasted Purple Potatoes and Maple-Ginger Glazed Carrots

In order to help with your time management, I'll be going in order of preparation.

Purple spuds a-roastin'...
Roasted Potatoes

- 1 pound new potatoes (or purple potatoes)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- pinch rosemay sprigs
- pinch thyme
- 100 g smoked blue cheese

- Preheat oven to 350 Farenheit.
- Clean potatoes.
- Toss potatoes in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs.
- Line an oven-safe dish with aluminium foil and spread potatoes out.
- Roast potatoes until they can be easily pierced by a fork or toothpick (20 minutes, give or take).
- Remove from oven, slice in half and crumble smoked blue cheese over top.
- Put back in oven until cheese is melted. Reduce heat to 200 F to keep warm.

A rainbow of carrots
Maple-Ginger Glazed Carrots

- 4-5 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- juice of 1/4 lime

- Set a pot of salted water to boil.
- Once water is boiling, add carrots and boil to desired softness (10-15 minutes).
- Drain carrots in a strainer.
- In pot, melt butter and sauté ginger for about 2-3 minutes.
- Return carrots to pot and stir in maple syrup and lime.
- Remove from heat and move to oven to keep warm.

Grilled to perfection!
Beef Tenderloin

 - 1 pound beef tenderloin tips
- salt and pepper to taste

- Season beef with salt and pepper
- Prepare fire in grill and get very hot (350 degrees or more). Sear meat for about 5 minutes on each side, getting to rare/medium rare.
- Tent in foil to rest for 10 minutes. Move to oven at 200 degrees to keep warm if necessary.

Brown Butter Sauce

- 1 tbsp salted butter
- 1/2 tsp truffle oil
- 1 tsp crumbled blue cheese (fairly mild)

- Melt butter on high heat and cook until it foams and browns.
- Stir in truffle oil and cheese, stir until cheese has melted.
To serve, slice beef into medallions and plate, spooning sauce over the meat. Serve with carrots and potatoes.  

Beef Tenderloin with Brown Butter Sauce, Maple-Ginger Carrots and Roasted Potatoes

Serve this with a big bold red wine, such as a California Zinfandel. Like this one:

The name says it all...

The result? Quite good I'd say! The beef was perfectly cooked (something I've never been the best at), the sauce was luxurious (luckily I didn't use too much of it), the potatoes were also really tasty. I found the carrots had a bit of a medicinal undertone, but Kari liked 'em!


As I've said before, dessert isn't really my forté. I usually avoid making them altogether, but it was V-Day and I had to go above and beyond. Luckily the inspiration for this came pretty easily. We had a gorgeous meal at Play on New Year's Eve and the dessert was a Pineapple Meringue Pie (of sorts) with a Rum Caramel. Well, I didn't have the time or inclination to make a pie crust, but I figured some grilled pineapple would work well, especially if it was swimming in my own rum caramel! So, I picked up a little bottle of the 'good stuff' (Appleton Estate Rum) and made it happen. It helps that the recipe is ridiculously easy! 

Grilled Pineapple with Rum Caramel  


- 1 pineapple, cored and sliced into pieces a 1/2 centimetre thick (how big the actual pieces are is up to you)

- Place on hot grill and grill for about 6-7 minutes a side, until soft but not mush.

Rum Caramel  

- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2-3 tbsp high-quality light/amber rum
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- small pinch cinnamon

- Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in brown sugar; keep stirring until melted.
- Add rum, vanilla and cinnamon.
- Cook sauce for another 3-4 minutes and spoon over grilled pineapple.

I paired this one with one of Kari's favourite drinks: Ice Cider. It's not well known outside of Quebec, we had only first tried it at this year's Wine and Food Show, but Kari was insta-hooked. I actually liked it too! And I HATE the cider you get in bars (e.g. Strongbow). BLECH! But Ice Cider tastes almost like an apple syrup. It's very sweet, but the acidity and tartness of the apple cut through it beautifully, unlike the more well-known Icewines of Ontario which I find achingly cloying.

Dessert - Grilled Pineapple with Rum Caramel; Ice Cider on the side!

This one was a pretty big hit for the Rum Caramel; the pineapple not as much (I undercooked it)... But yeah, I'm thinking Rum Caramel on good vanilla ice cream will be a popular dessert in Casa del Unicorn this Summer!

So there it is! A pretty successful Valentine's Day feast! What did you all make your sweeties? I'd love to hear what you have to say!


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