By Blakely Trettenero
It sounds so dreamy, doesn’t it – going out for a romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day?
Except it doesn’t always turn out that way. All too often the restaurant is crowded, the servers cranky and the “exclusive” prix fixe menu is limited and expensive. Not to mention that should you decide to get affectionate – you’re in a public place.
“There are so many advantages to dining in on that special night,” says Chef Blakely Trettenero, who writes about her culinary adventures on her blog, Everyday Gourmet with Blakely (www.gourmetwithblakely.com). “It’s more comfortable, less expensive and super exclusive, because you can have whatever you want – from the cocktails to the entrée to dessert.
“And what better way to show you care than to cook a fantastic meal for – or with – that someone special?”
If the idea of pulling together a fancy dinner on a weeknight (Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday this year), fear not. Trettenero says there are plenty of delicious recipes that will tickle your true love’s taste buds without taking hours to make. (Just in case you want to save your energy for later.)
Here are a few of Trettenero’s favorite romantic dishes:
Vanilla Bean & Bourbon Champagne Cocktail
The best of both worlds: Champagne for the ladies and bourbon for the men!
Vanilla Bean Simple Syrup
1. 1/2 cup sugar
2. 1/2 cup water
3. 1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half
1. 1 tablespoon vanilla bean simple syrup
2. 1 dash bitters
3. Squeeze of lemon juice
4. 1/2 ounce bourbon of choice
1. First, make the simple syrup. In a small pan over medium-high heat add the sugar, water and split vanilla bean. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and it has come to a slight simmer.
2. Turn it off and set it aside to steep and come to room temperature.
3. When the simple syrup is cooled it’s time to make the cocktail. In your champagne glass add the simple syrup, a dash of bitters, a squeeze of lemon juice and the bourbon. Give it a stir to combine.
4. Top it off with cold champagne, add a lemon twist and serve!
Herbed Savory Palmiers
Perfect for Valentine’s Day – this pastry is heart-shaped!
1. 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
2. 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, minced
3. 4 cloves garlic, minced
4. 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5. 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
6. 1 tablespoon olive oil
9. 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
10. 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees
2. In a bowl, add the finely chopped sundried tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped rosemary, chopped thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix until combined and set aside
3. On a lightly floured surface, slightly roll out your thawed puff pastry sheet and transfer to a cutting board
4. To the rolled out puff pastry add the sundried tomato and herb mixture evenly
5. Evenly sprinkle the top with the grated Parmesan and Gruyere cheese
6. Starting on one side, roll the puff pastry tightly, stopping at the middle
7. Roll the other side of the puff pastry tightly until you reach the middle
8. Cut into 1-inch pieces and place on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Put them into the oven and let them bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown
9. Once they’re baked, serve them warm
Baked Chicken Thighs with Tomatoes, Artichokes & Capers
1. 2 pounds chicken thighs (about 4 thighs)
4. drizzle of olive oil
5. 1 medium onion, diced small
6. 3 cloves garlic, minced
7. 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
8. 1 teaspoon brown sugar
9. 1 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
10. 1 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
11. 2 teaspoons drained capers
12. 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, then preheat a heavy-bottomed pan with a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat
2. Use paper towel to soak up any extra moisture on the chicken. This prevents the chicken from getting golden brown when you sear it. Season both sides with salt and pepper and put the chicken in the preheated oil, skin side down
3. Cook the chicken until golden brown on one side, then flip to cook on the other side. You’re not trying to cook the chicken through, only brown it!
4. Once the chicken is brown on both sides, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate and set it aside
5. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain most of it, leaving only about a teaspoon or so in the bottom
6. Add the diced onions with a pinch of salt and pepper to the pan and cook for a few minutes until opaque
7. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute
8. Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan, scraping the bottom to get up any bits at the bottom. Add the brown sugar to the balsamic vinegar, stir to combine, and let it cook until slightly reduced, about 7-8 minutes
9. Add the can of tomatoes into the pan and turn off the heat. Use a knife to roughly cut up the tomatoes in the pan and then add the drained artichokes and capers. Give it a stir to mix everything together
10. Add the chicken thighs back into the pan, nestling them into the tomato mixture. Add the rosemary sprigs to the top and put the pan into the preheated oven uncovered
11. Let it cook for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through
12. Serve with a simple side and you have a gourmet dinner ready in no time.
1. 2 cups pitted cherries, cut in half
2. 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
3. 3 eggs
4. 3/4 granulated sugar
5. 1 tablespoon brown sugar
6. 1/4 teaspoon salt
7. 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
8. 1 cup whole milk
9. 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
10. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11. Powdered sugar (optional)
1. The hardest part of this recipe is removing the pits from the cherries. I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I just get the pits out the old-fashioned way. I cut the cherries in half, twist the two halves to expose the pit, and take my knife and cut it out
2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
3. In a 9-inch buttered and floured pie pan, add the fresh cherry halves and slivered almonds
4. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, salt, flour, milk, almond extract and vanilla extract until completely smooth. Pour the batter over the cherries and almonds and put in the oven
5. Let the clafoutis cook for 35-45 minutes depending on your oven.
6. Take the clafoutis out of the oven and let it cool slightly. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.
About Blakely Trettenero
Blakely Trettenero, host of the Everyday Gourmet with Blakely (www.gourmetwithblakely.com) and Hungry for Travels (www.hungryfortravels.com) websites, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Florida. She is a world traveler, having visited more than 30 countries, and is becoming a frequent guest on TV.