The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

So what if it was yesterday? I was too busy doing this stuff to write about it then. You’ll get what I give you and like it!

I made a special extra-romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for Mrs. Darien. Since I’m all proud of it, I’m going to talk about it here, and tell you how to make it too if you want to surprise Mrs. You with it next Valentine’s Day! Or next week or whatever. None of my business. It’s not a terribly complicated meal to make; it took me five hours start to finish, but a lot of that was research and shopping (the shopping took a lot longer than it should have, since I was looking for duck legs and went to several different markets trying in vain to find them). With a guide — like this one — it shouldn’t take more than 90 minutes start to finish, and a lot of that time will be spent waiting for things to finish in the oven. Anyhow, let’s begin!

Step 1: Appetizer

The appetizer I chose, since it’s Valentine’s Day and all, is chocolate-covered strawberries. Ingredients are as follows:

• Strawberries
• Chocolate chips / chunks / squares (semi-sweet or sweeter — don’t use unsweetened)
• Heavy cream
• Vanilla
• Salt

Put the cream and vanilla in a pan (if you’re doing one bag of chocolate chips — which will make a lot of dip — use about a cup of cream and a few drops of vanilla) and heat it over very low flame until it’s just beginning to steam. Once it’s steaming, add the chocolate and a pinch of salt, and stir it constantly until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. It may take a few minutes, but you seriously don’t want to stop stirring or it’ll burn. Don’t whip the shit out of it; you’re not in the World Series of Stirring, so take it easy. Just make sure you keep it moving. Once the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove it from the heat and let it stand while you rinse and dry the strawberries. Once the strawberries are thoroughly dry, hold them by the stems and dip them into the chocolate, rolling them around until they’re coated, and then set them on a plate / platter to cool. I like to dust mine with a little powdered sugar after they’re dipped, personally.

The wine I paired these with was an Australian Riesling — white with chocolate may seem a bit odd, but the chocolate isn’t terribly strong and I wanted to start with a lighter wine and move into the big red wines later in the meal. Rieslings are very crisp and mellow, with an excellent fruitiness that meshes well with the berries, and a very clean finish. One of my favourite whites by far.

Step 2: Entrée

The entrée I chose for the evening consisted of roasted chicken thighs with orange sauce, cheese-stuffed caramelised pears with prosciutto, and pasta alfredo. You’re probably thinking at this point that that’s a lot of fruit, and you’re not wrong; I figured something sweet and fruity would be appropriate for the day. Most of this dish can be prepared in advance, and I’ll note that below.

The first thing you’ll want to work on is the pears. For that, you’ll need the following:

• Two bosc pears
• 2 tbsp mascarpone
• 2 tbsp gorgonzola
• 4 thin slices of prosciutto
• Olive oil
• Salt
• Black pepper
• Raw unsalted hazelnuts, shelled

Note that I’m assuming you’re serving two people, since it’s a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. You’ll need to increase proportions accordingly if you’re in to the group thing.

Step one is to wash and dry the pears. Once that’s accomplished, cut them in half length-wise and rub them thoroughly with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place them cut-side down on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven at 375 for about 40 minutes. You should place these low in the oven. Since the amount of time they need to roast varies with the ripeness of the pears, you’ll need to keep an eye on them. When they’re done, they’ll be soft and bubbly, the cut part will be brown and smooshy, and the skin will be cracking and bubbling. If they’re black and crispy, that was too much. Rewind them.

While your pears are roasting, toast the hazelnuts. This is accomplished by heating a skillet over fairly high flame, and then tossing the nuts into it and shaking it around until they brown. That’s really it — no oil, no water, no goddamn eggs, no nothing. Just shake your hot nuts until they turn brown.

Once the pears are ready, you’ll want to set them aside to cool for a while. Once they’re cool, scoop out the cores with a spoon — don’t scoop out all the pear guts, just the hard part in the middle with all the seeds. Cream your mascarpone and gorgonzola together, and add a little bit of salt and pepper (be careful with the salt — gorgonzola is a salty cheese to begin with. As always, taste as you go). If you’re preparing in advance, stop here. The rest of this should be done immediately prior to service. Put about a tablespoon of the cheese mixture in the hollowed-out part of each pear half, then return them to the oven for about five minutes to melt the cheese. Serve immediately after removing from the oven, each pear half on a slice of prosciutto with a drizzle of olive oil on top, sprinkled with the toasted hazelnuts.

The chicken is as follows:

• Chicken thighs (preferably bone-in)
• Water
• Salt
• Olive oil
• Black pepper
• Rosemary
• Fennel seed (untoasted)
• One medium orange
• Light brown sugar
• Vodka
• Red and yellow (or orange if you have it) food colouring

The first thing to do is draw about two quarts of water and dissolve a half-cup of salt in it. Then place your chicken thighs in the water and let them soak for at least an hour — this is called "brining," and it will greatly improve the flavour and juiciness of the chicken. While that’s doing its thing, zest the orange, reserving both the orange and the zest. Once the chicken is done soaking, rinse it thoroughly with cold water and lay it in a roasting pan. Rub the chicken with olive oil, and then rub the orange zest into it. Crush some black pepper on top, and add the fennel and rosemary, and then give it one more brisk rubbing. Then throw that sumbitch in the oven — conveniently, this should roast at the same temperature as the pears (375), but in a higher position. (It’s almost like he planned that!) The chicken will take about an hour all told, and will be crispy and brown on the top when it’s finished.

To make the sauce, juice that orange into a small saucepan (pick out the seeds and any giant gobs of pulp — small bits of pulp are fine) and add a few tablespoons of brown sugar and a quarter cup (or so) of vodka. Turn it on low flame and let it bubble slowly — you want to reduce the hell out of this, so it’ll be a while. You should have about one-fifth the volume remaining when it’s finished. If you so desire, add two drops of red food colouring and three drops of yellow (or some amount I don’t know of orange if you have such a thing) — this will give it a nice vibrant orange colour. Also, I suggest not being an ass and sticking your face in to take a nice big whiff right when it starts to simmer — boiling vodka isn’t kind to your nasal cavity. So I’ve, umm, heard.

When the sauce has reduced, remove it from the heat and let it cool a bit to thicken. If you’re preparing in advance, stop here. Take the chicken out of the oven, and serve it topped with a drizzle of sauce. If you have enough sauce to do well more than a drizzle, resist the temptation to soak the shit out of the meat. Trust me on this one.

The final step here is the pasta. You’ll need:

• Some pasta (any type you like)
• Heavy cream
• Butter
• Parmesan cheese
• Garlic
• Salt
• Black pepper

Dried pasta is fine, but fresh is better — see my article on that if you’re keen on making your own. Still, if you can’t be arsed (or, like me, don’t think to do pasta until the last minute), dried will be fine. The only part of this dish you can prep in advance is cooking the pasta, and I’ll wager you can handle that without instruction. Once the pasta’s done to your liking, drain it and cool it (run cold water through it and toss it around until it’s cold), then oil it and set it aside. We’ll come back to it later.

When you’re ready to roll, put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large sautée pan and get it melting over medium-high flame. Once it’s melted, throw in some minced garlic (crushed if you absolutely must, but minced is prefered) and let it sizzle for a moment, then add a cup of cream. Once that’s bubbling nicely, grate some parmesan cheese into it, and give that time to bubble and melt. Then throw in the pasta, salt, and pepper, and let it bubble and simmer until it’s thick and adheres to the noodles. If you’re looking at noodles in a cream soup, it needs to simmer longer. Once it’s ready it’ll "crackle" a little bit; if it’s full-on popping and squeaking, you’ve gone too far. Rewind it.

To put this all together into one meal, I suggest preparing in advance as much as you can. Once that’s all done, the timing on the chicken becomes the limiting factor; finish the pears and the pasta when the chicken’s almost done. As these things go, it’s not terribly difficult to time. I personally begin the plate with the pasta, then shingle the chicken alongside it; in the remaining space I place my prosciutto and pears, and tuck a leaf of some curly green on the edge for colour — watercress is probably my first choice, though anything similar would be fine. Hell, you could probably use goddamn romaine lettuce if it’s what you have. The finished product should look like this:

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The light in my kitchen isn’t very good, but you get the idea. I paired this with a strong blueberry wine (of all things); it turned out to be a lot oakier than I expected, but that helps to cut down on the sweetness of the blueberries, and does a good job of balancing a meal that, frankly, is otherwise rather lacking in earthy flavours.

Step 3: Dessert

The meal here was rather sweet and fruity, so for dessert we take the easy way out — ice wine! I have a vidal blanc lurking in my fridge that’s quite nice, and also a more traditional ice riesling. If you need to have a more food-type dessert, I’d suggest going with a cheese plate of some type, since you’re not likely to want fruit or sweets to finish a meal like this.

It makes for quite the intimidating wall of text, I know, but it’s not actually that hard to make, and a fancy dinner like this can be a major part of a romantic Valentine’s day for you and yours. I know we enjoyed ours quite a bit.

And, no, you can’t see the pictures from the rest of the night. You can’t see the movie either.


February 15th, 2008 Posted by | Recipes | no comments

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