Valentine’s Day is less than a week away. Have you made reservations yet for a romantic dinner with your sweetheart?
If so, where? Please share that information. Mount Airy is not exactly running amok with charming venues offering candlelit dinners for two.
Most likely, if you are planning a dinner out, you’re going out of town and will be dropping some serious coin for the experience. And hopefully, you’ve already made your reservation since competition is stiff for overpriced prix fixe dinners of heart-shaped food with a tiny split of champagne.
There is another option. A romantic dinner at home has a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is the considerable savings. You don’t need to settle for a couple of heart-shaped tuna sandwiches to save money either. Although if that’s what you want, it would be kind of cute.
Go heavy on the chocolate, relentless with red and as much heart-shaped food as you can manage and you will be doing as well as almost any restaurant’s Valentine special.
Heart-shaped pizza is about as simple as it gets. And bound to be a success if you have not been able to score a babysitter and your romantic dinner will include children. You might even consider buying some extra-large cookie cutters and making single-serving pizzas. If you can’t get rid of the kids for the evening, you can at least put them to work cutting out dough and assembling pizzas.
Restaurants usually offer steaks as a Valentine’s special. A recipe follows for skirt steak that will put some red meat on the table at a price so reasonable you’ll have money left over for rose petals to scatter on the bed.
Shellfish is often associated with lovers. Oysters particularly are considered aphrodisiacs and often find their way onto more upscale Valentine’s Day menus. For the do-it-yourselfer in Mount Airy, Lowes Foods offers oysters at 80 cents apiece, which is almost 10 bucks for a dozen. Littleneck clams are $7.99 for a bag of 16 but mussels are only $5.99 for a two-pound bag.
They don’t call mussels “poor man’s oysters” for nothing. It looks like we have a winner. A two-pound bag of mussels will serve four to six people on the half shell as an appetizer or as a pasta dish for a main course. Much cheaper than oysters and you get that same primitive, cave-man pleasure of scraping your food right out of the shell and casting the shells aside in a big pile. If you are cooking for two, really love mussels and don’t mind if your menu is a little repetitive, use half of the bag for the first course and the other half for the main.
If you’re concerned about the budget for your Valentine feast, real champagne is probably not going to make it into the mix but that does not mean you have to skip the bubbly. A bottle of prosecco can be had for anywhere from six to ten dollars depending on where you shop and Trader Joe’s has their own brand of blanc de blancs from France for only $4.99. It is surprisingly palatable and the cork makes just as festive a pop as the good stuff that costs 10 times as much.
Of course, no Valentine dinner is complete without dessert and that dessert must be either red, chocolate or heart-shaped. It’s better if your dessert is two of the three and preferably all three. A recipe is provided for both chocolate and red. If you’ve got an ice cream machine, chocolate sorbet is super cheap to make and only requires four ingredients. Adding an ice cream machine to the ingredient list would certainly be a budget buster, so if you don’t already have one, go with raspberry cream cupcakes. You can’t do better than fresh raspberries when it comes to red. Made with cake mix, they’re super easy and if you switched out vanilla cake mix for chocolate, you’d hit two of the three prerequisites for a Valentine dessert. Use a heart-shaped template to dust the top with powdered sugar and you’ve hit the trifecta.
As Julia would say, “Bon appetit!” And you should too. Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t be fancy.
Broiled Mussels With Herb Butter
Use any mixture of dried herbs that pleases you or that you have on hand to keep costs down. Italian seasoning mix is a good choice if you stock it in your spice rack. No problem with using fresh herbs but they cost more.
2 lbs. fresh mussels, scrubbed clean
1 cup dry white wine or can of beer
2 garlic cloves
1/2 stick butter, softened
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
Discard any mussels that are open. Put the closed mussels into a pan, pour over the wine or beer and bring to the boil. Cook until the shells have opened, discarding any that do not open. Crush or mince the garlic, add with herbs to the softened butter. Discard the empty half shell from each mussel. Spread the remaining mussel shell with the herb butter and arrange the shells on a baking sheet. Brown under a preheated hot broiler. Transfer to a serving dish with tongs and serve at once.
This recipe is for a bread machine but if you don’t have one, just do it by hand. Recipe calls for pepperoni and olives but feel free to choose toppings of your choice. use a pizza stone if you have one and if you want to cut the pepperoni into heart shapes, knock yourself out.
3 cups bread flour
1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons chopped rosemary
1 (14 ounce) can pizza sauce
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
15 slices pepperoni
1 (2.25 ounce) can sliced black olives
Place bread flour, yeast, water, and 2 tablespoons olive oil into the bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select the Dough setting. Press Start. When the dough is finished, knead rosemary into the dough. Preheat oven to 400°F. Divide the dough into three portions. Shape each piece into a heart shape about 1/2 inch thick. Brush with remaining olive oil, and spread a thin layer of pizza sauce on each pizza. Sprinkle cheese over pizza sauce, and arrange pepperoni and sliced olives on top. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese has melted and crust is browned.
Skirt Steak with Lemon and Chili-Roasted Potatoes
1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold or new potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
Kosher salt and pepper
8 sprigs thyme
1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
1 lemon, quartered
Heat oven to 425°F. Mix the potatoes, oil, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and thyme in a medium bowl. Transfer to a roasting pan and cook, stirring once, until crisp and golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove the potatoes from oven, transfer to individual plates, and wipe the pan clean. Heat broiler. Season the steak with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place on the clean roasting pan. Broil the steak to the desired doneness, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with the potatoes and lemon quarters.
Linguine con le cozze
Linguine with mussels
5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
24 mussels, scrubbed and rinsed
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 pound linguine
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Bring 7 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. In a 12- to 14 inch saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and pepper flakes and cook until soft, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the mussels and cook 1 minute, stirring regularly. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Meanwhile drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Cook the mussels until they have all opened, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta well and toss into the pan with the mussels. Cook together for 50 seconds, add the parsley. Toss well, and serve in a warm serving bowl.
Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet
This indulgent bittersweet chocolate sorbet is also low-fat but don’t say anything and no one will know. Freeze the sorbet up to two days in advance; let stand at room temperature 15 minutes to soften a bit before scooping.
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in sugar and cocoa; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; add chocolate and vanilla, stirring until chocolate melts. Cover and chill completely. Pour chocolate mixture into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Spoon sorbet into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze 1 hour or until firm.
Raspberry Cream Cupcakes
Fresh raspberries are never cheap and certainly not out of season so if you’re doing a dinner for two, only buy one pack and just do half of them. The rest can be topped with plain whipped cream. You and your sweetie probably don’t need all 18 of them for dinner anyway.
1 (18.25-ounce) box white cake mix
1 1/3 cups water
3 large eggs whites
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 (6-ounce) containers fresh raspberries, cut in half or 1 (16-ounce) container fresh strawberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus additional for dusting
Line 18 muffin cups with muffin papers. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Using an electric mixer, beat the cake mix, water, egg whites, melted butter, almond extract, and vanilla extract in a large bowl for 2 minutes, or until the batter is well blended. Using about 1/3 cup of batter for each cupcake, spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake the cupcakes until they are very pale golden on top, about 15 minutes. Cool the cupcakes completely on a cooling rack. Using a fork, coarsely mash 1 1/2 containers of raspberries in a medium bowl. Beat the cream and 1/3 cup of powdered sugar in a large bowl until firm peaks form. Fold the mashed raspberries into the whipped cream. Remove the muffin papers from the cupcakes and cut the tops off of each cupcake. Spoon the raspberry whipped cream atop the cupcake bottoms. Place the cupcake tops on the cupcakes. Dust with more powdered sugar and serve with the remaining berries.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.