Be My Valentine
This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Thursday. That means that not only Valentine’s Day itself, but the entire weekend will be considered appropriate for Valentine’s Day activities. One of the most popular ways for Valentines to show they care is to arrange a special dinner date, preferably at a cozy, romantic restaurant. And because that is so popular, it is not something that a Valentine should leave till the last minute to plan. Restaurant reservations will go like hotcakes and without one, you will find yourself and your special someone waiting and waiting with many other hungry, fidgety lovebirds.
I have a suggestion that is simple, affordable and should put a smile on your sweetie’s face. You can easily turn your kitchen or dining room into the most romantic, desirable table in town. First things first. Make an effort. This IS the time to drag out the fancy china and Grandmother’s table linens. If your household is more modest than grand, you can still make it special. Set the mood with unscented candles, soft music and flowers on the table. A small grocery store bouquet will do. Cut the stems so the blossoms are just barely above the rim of a juice glass or jelly jar or small bottle. Now for the menu. If your honey is game for it, make the dinner together. It can be ready in well under an hour, which will go quickly if you are having fun together. Open a bottle of wine. A lovely red Merlot is full of anti-oxidants, but whatever you both enjoy is the wine you should choose. Prepare some nibbles.
A walnut stuffed Medjool date is quick, delicious and goes wonderfully with wine. Simply use a small, sharp knife to cut a slit into the long edge of the date. Remove the pit and replace with a walnut half. This is easily a two bite snack, so make up a small plate of six or eight to enjoy with your wine as you prepare the feast.
As you are preparing your appetizer dates, begin baking the spaghetti squash for the SPAGHETTI SQUASH WITH BASIL LEMON AVOCADO SAUCE AND CHERRY TOMATOES, as that will take the most time if you do it in the oven.
(You could speed up the cooking by using the microwave. Prep the squash according to the recipe, but cook 8-10 minutes in your microwave instead of 30 minutes in the oven.) This is a light but satisfying side dish that pairs perfectly with BAKED SALMON FILETS WITH LEMON AND PARSLEY.
And because no Valentine’s dinner is complete without a decadent dessert, I have included a super simple recipe from TV chef Ellie Krieger.
ELLIE KRIEGER’S 3-INGREDIENT CHOCOLATE BARK would be best made earlier in the day, but since it only takes 1 hour to set in the fridge, you could get it going while your spaghetti squash is cooking.
The best thing about this menu is that it is light, but satisfying, easy to prepare and full of heart-healthy ingredients. What better way to show you care!
ELLIE KRIEGER’S 3-INGREDIENT CHOCOLATE BARK
Makes 24 pieces
1 cup whole, skin-on almonds 12 ounces dark chocolate (60-70 percent cocoa solids, or bittersweet), finely chopped 1/3 cup tart dried cherries or dried blueberries
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9 x 12 inch baking dish with parchment paper.
Place the almonds on baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant, 7-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place about ¾ of the chocolate into a double boiler set over a pot of barely simmering water. Make sure the water is at least 2 inches away from the bottom of the double boiler. Heat, stirring, until the chocolate is melted. Take the double boiler off the pot of hot water and place it on a towel on the countertop. Add the remaining chocolate and stir until melted.
Pour the melted chocolate into the lined baking dish, spreading it out with a spatula so it is evenly distributed. Scatter the almonds and cherries over the top, then chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour to set. Once set, remove from the parchment and break up into 24 pieces. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH WITH BASIL LEMON AVOCADO SAUCE AND CHERRY TOMATOES
1 small to medium sized spaghetti squash
1 clove garlic
¼ cup fresh basil
Juice of ½ lemon
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper to taste
To prepare the spaghetti squash: Preheat the oven to 375°F and halve squash lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard seeds from the middle of each half. Arrange squash in a 9x13-inch casserole dish, cut-side down. Pour 1/2 cup water into the dish and bake until just tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
While the squash bakes, make the sauce. To make the sauce: In a food processor, combine the garlic and basil and pulse until minced. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and flesh of the avocado and process until smooth and creamy. If necessary, add a small amount of water to reach the desire consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
When squash is tender, remove from oven and let cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, rake a fork back and forth across the squash to remove its flesh in strands…like spaghetti! Put squash strands into a large bowl and pour sauce over. Mix thoroughly. Top with halved cherry tomatoes and serve.
BAKED SALMON FILETS WITH LEMON AND PARSLEY
2 6-8 ounce salmon filets (Wild Alaskan Salmon - Chinook, Sockeye or Coho)
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 fresh lemon
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 300°
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment.
Cut the fresh lemon in half, then cut each half into 4 wedges. Cut 4 of the wedges in half.
Brush the salmon filets lightly with olive oil on all sides. Place the salmon filets skin side down on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the small wedges of lemon on top of the filets and then sprinkle half of the parsley over all.
Bake for 15-18 minutes until salmon is just opaque in the center.
Remove salmon from oven when done and sprinkle remaining parsley over the filets. Serve with large lemon wedges.