Make me a sandwich!...Valentine's Day edition
I've never been a big proponent of Valentine's Day celebrations. I don't mind the card or wishing someone love on Valentine's Day but I never felt like it was something to take all too seriously. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying those people that put a lot of time and effort into the celebration of the day are wasting time. It just wasn't my thing. With that in mind, I decided to make a four course meal for Rizzo and I to celebrate Valentine's Day.
First Course - Grilled Melon with Prosciutto and Mozzarella
Rizzo is a huge fan of salted meats. She will consume any salted meat faster than Loudoun County Public Schools cancel classes because of the threat of snow. I had a quick recipe from my Food and Wine magazine subscription (which provided all my recipes for this meal) for grilled melon. I never thought to grill melon before serving so I gave it a try.
It's a really easy process. You simply brush some olive oil on the melon slices, cover them with salt and pepper, grill on a hot grill pan (or, you know, an actual grill) until they are slightly browned (about 2 minutes on each side), then top with prosciutto and mozzarella. It makes for an excellent started because (1) it is really easy to do and (2) by grilling the melon you give the impression that you are some sort of avant-garde cook trying something innovative. They taste pretty good too.
Second Course - Caesar Salad
Yes, I went outside the box and made a Caesar salad. This was really hard because not only did I have to buy and wash the lettuce but I also had to buy croutons and a Caesar dressing. I literally spent minutes debating what dressing to purchase. It was also excruciating having to wash and then use a salad spinner to clean the lettuce. This was by far the hardest part of the entire meal. I can't recommend enough that you avoid the hassle that goes into preparing a Caesar salad. It's devastating.
Third Course - Roasted Chicken with Peppers, Onions, and Italian Sausage
There is nothing easier and yet still classy as roasting a chicken. The meal turns out delicious and the preparation time and the cooking time are reasonable. I, again, got this idea from Food & Wine for using a bundt pan to roast a chicken and all the sides in a single dish. The results are great and the process couldn't be easier. First, cover the center of the bundt pan with foil. You'll see why when we get to the chicken. Next, cut up all the onions and peppers you may want and put them into a bowl. I used one red onion, one red bell pepper, one yellow bell pepper, and four various other sweet peppers. Slice a couple of Italian sausages in half length wise and add to the bowl of vegetables. Add some olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) and some oregano (about a tablespoon) to the bowl and mix up all the vegetables and sausages to make sure they get covered. Add the mixture to the bottom of the bundt pan.
Next you have to prep the chicken. Use a brush and liberally cover every part of the whole chicken you can get to with olive oil. Don't be shy. Really get those breasts and thighs nice and oily. Next, cover the chicken in oregano and pepper. I'm not a big salt fan so I didn't use salt but if you are one to use salt as a seasoning than go ahead and add that too. Now, position the chicken so the center of the bundt pan goes right up inside of the body cavity of the chicken. Guess what, your preparation is done.
Now throw that bad bird into a 450 degree oven for about an hour, or until a thermometer reads 155 degrees on the inner thigh, and you are all set.
Take the bird from the oven and let it sit on a cutting board for about 15 minutes. The bird needs to rest and you want it to cool off so you can carve it up without burning your hands.What do you while you are waiting? I suggest drinking. Scotch is always a good choice but wine, beer, or whiskey will also satisfy. These beverages will also go well with the melon and the salad that was already prepared.
After everything is rested, carve the bird and serve up the entire thing on a shiny serving platter. If you are married, I suggest using your wedding china for this service. Your wedding guests spent hundreds of dollars on dishes that (in all probability) will never see the light of day. I'm willing to bet that some of your wedding china still has price tags (ours did). Cutting up the chicken and serving it on a bed of roasted peppers, onions, and Italian sausage makes for a lovely presentation.
Fourth Course - Peach Clafoutis
I went all fancy for dessert making a french dessert called a clafoutis. Here is another tip for you would-be cooks out there; make anything with a french name, no matter how easy it is to make, and you will look like a superstar. I know this because making a clafoutis is about the easiest dessert you can make but since your guests won't be able to pronounce it you will come off like you are Julia Child.
This is so easy that I'm going to tell you how to make this dish without the assistance of my notes or recipe. Mix together three eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of half & half, three tablespoons of flower, 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon zest, and about a teaspoon of salt (just a dab will do ya). Got that all mixed up? Okay, poor that mixture into a 1 quart baking dish. Slice up your favorite fruit and layer it on top of the mixture. The original recipe that I was using called for apricots but since I couldn't find any fresh around here (not a surprise) I went with peaches. Pop that dude in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes (basically until the egg sets) and you are all done.
Let it sit for awhile to cool off (usually this dish is served luke warm). Cut it up, cover in powdered sugar, and chow down. I'm not an egg person so this worked out great. The lemon zest and the peaches really dominate the flavor that are sweetened by the powdered sugar. Another simple dish that will make you feel like a champion.
Don't forget that you can make this the night before. I cooked this up on Saturday so it would be ready to go on Sunday. Just cut it up, zap it in the microwave, and serve.
What I learned most from this four course meal is that it doesn't require a lot of complex cooking techniques or an over abundance of ingredients to make some delicious food. The key is to by the most fresh and highest quality ingredients you can afford to make something truly outstanding. I went to the upscale, local market to get everything I could. The chicken was one of those free-range, grass-fed, hippy chickens. The sausage was made from a pig that was given a daily Swedish massage from an actual Swed. The peaches came from trees that were watered hourly using the tears of joy from actual angels. The Caesar Dressing came from a glass jar (they can't all be winners). If you choose nothing but the finest ingredients and take your time in the kitchen even simple recipes can turn into gourmet meals.
P.S. See, you'll even start speaking like a foodie.
P.P.S. Here are some bonus pictures from our Valentine's Day dinner.